Monday, March 26, 2018

They Were Keen Students

This morning, I spoke to the eighth grade language arts class at St. Rose Elementary School, about 35 minutes from my home.  My invitation to speak came way back in November, and like any good middle school assignment, I waiting until the last minute to write my speech.  I was asked to talk about Sherlock Holmes and the writing process.  Lucky for me, I had a speech on the writing process that I gave to another middle school so that part of the presentation was ready to go. 

But, I get to add a whole section on to my speech and talk about Sherlock Holmes?  Yes, please!

I knew the kids had read at least one Holmes story this year, but wasn't sure which one.  They were too old to be the target audience for Sherlock Gnomes, and St. Rose is a small farm town whose nearest movie theater is over a half hour away, so they probably didn't rush right out this weekend to see it.  BBC's Sherlock happened forever ago to 13 year-olds, and Elementary is for old people.  So, what would be my selling point?

Sherlock Holmes.  The cases.  Doctor Watson.

These topics might seem simplistic to the devoted Sherlockian, but when you get down to brass tacks, is there anything more interesting to the core of the Canon?  You have the original superhero, mysteries that defy logic but are yet solved with deduction, and the best wingman anyone could ask for.

I could've spoken all day about the Canon and what makes it so great, but teenagers don't want to hear an old guy talk at them about his hobbies.  I hit them with ten minutes of Sherlock Holmes talk, ten minutes of the writing process, and was lucky enough that the fifteen students in the room had some really great questions to carry me through the rest of the hour.

It turned out that the story they had read in class was "The Speckled Band."  Most of them were hazy on the particulars when I first started talking about it (one girl said, "That was way back in 2017!"), but once they realized I wasn't going to shut up about how good the story was, they jumped into the conversation.  We bantered about Grimsby Roylott and Holmes' early deduction with Helen Stoner. 

Anyone who's ever been around a group of kids, especially in a classroom, know that there's usually that one group of boys who want to be cool and funny.  So when one of those boys chimed in about how weird it was that the bed was bolted to the floor, I knew Doyle's story had made an impression.

From these kids today I learned a lot.  Most of it was awesome.  But when I pointed out that the Holmes stories have been around since 1886, and tried to contextualize it with pointing out how long ago NINETEEN 86 was to them... let's just say their reactions to 1986 didn't make me feel young.

But man, did we have some good conversations today.  We covered everything from Joseph Bell and The Strand to Logan Paul and Netflix.  I learned that none of them had seen BBC's Sherlock, but one guy said his brother watched "that show with the guy with the long coat," so I think we were talking about the same thing.

Although Sherlock Holmes and the writing process wasn't everyone's cup of tea in the room, everyone was very respectful and cool.  And there were some students there that were genuinely curious about the writing process!  One girl asked about how to manage the pacing of her writing, while another had a great question about the friendship in my book between Holmes and Watson.  You could tell these girls had the creative spark, and I hope they keep plugging away at whatever they're currently working on.

After a twenty minute speech and forty-five minutes of a really fun discussion, it was time for me to head home and the the students to head to their next class.  Even if everyone in the class doesn't immediately want to join their local Sherlockian society, they got out of work in class today, I got to talk about Sherlock Holmes for an hour, and we had some really good back and forth. 

I'll call it a win.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bearing Some Other Interpretation

This week found me taking in three different adaptions of Sherlock Holmes. 

As planned, I took in "The Missing Three Quarter" for The Irregular Canonical Book Club.  Normally, I prefer to read the stories from one of my two most frequently used version of the Canon.  But, report cards were due this week, I am working on another writing project whose deadline is looming, and life in general didn't allow for a lot of reading time.  So I "read" this week's story via audiobook, specifically "The Complete Sherlock Holmes," read by Simon Vance.  I know there are many other versions out there, but Simon Vance's delivery is fantastic and I would highly recommend this version to anyone interested.  A good audio production of the Canon can be a nice change of pace now and then.

Speaking of audiobooks...  I don't typically listen to Sherlockian audiobooks, because if I'm interested in the book, chances are I will want to have a copy of it on my bookshelf.  I've gotten away from pastiche recently, and wasn't too terribly interested in "A Study in Scarlet Women" when it first came out.  But when my library audio service offered it, I thought I would give it a try. 

I was expecting more canonical nods throughout the story, and left feeling a little disappointed because I wanted it to be more... well, Sherlockian.  "A Study in Scarlet Women" is a fine detective story with a good portrayal of what it was like as a woman on your own in Victorian London.  It felt a lot like Elementary to me, Sherlockian in name only.  These two incarnations really only use the name "Sherlock Holmes" and the idea of a detective as their starting points and create new worlds from there on out.  If you enjoy a good detective story, this is right up your alley.  But if you are looking for something closer to the Canon, you'll be left wanting.

Finally, the weekend rolled around.  And it was time to iron my dress shirts on Saturday.  What can I say?  I'm a party animal.

I've found that a Jeremy Brett episode is almost the perfect running time for this chore.  And man, does it make ironing much more pleasant.  This go-round was "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."  And man, do I love Grimsby Roylott.  "Holmes the meddler!  Holmes the busybody!"

The Granada series is always a delight to watch.  Jeremy Brett is the quintessential Holmes and whether it's Burke or Hardwicke, you're getting a reliable, capable, and quietly humorous Watson.  I could sit for hours and just watch clips of these two in 221B; what an amazing set!  I could go on and on about this series, but my guess is that I would be preaching to the choir here.

Anyway you look at it, there are some great ways to take in Sherlockiana and the Canon.  And the thing with these stories is that you can pick up new things from revisiting them or just let the familiarity wash over you.  How many characters and stories out there can we say the same about?  And that's why it's always 1895.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Holmes, Doyle and Friends

This past weekend was the fifth annual Holmes, Doyle and Friends conference in Dayton, Ohio put on by The Agra Treasurers.  Although I attended Nerve and Knowledge over the summer, this was my first full conference.  And what a conference it was!
My wife and daughter were quick to capitalize on the weekend as well, taking advantage of the hotel pool and the Boonshoft Museum.  And Friday was all about the American Girl store in Columbus, so I missed out on most of the welcome reception that evening.  I got to the reception just as it was wrapping up and after saying hello to some folks I knew, I had the singular pleasure of finally meeting Fran Martin in real life.  Fran is, hands down, one of the nicest Sherlockians I've ever met!  (It didn't hurt that she gave my daughter and me each a chocolate magnifying glass)  She is quiet and reserved, but a true delight to be around.  Meeting Fran should be on everyone's Sherlockian bucket list.

Although I missed out on most of the reception, luckily Sherlockians are a social group, so there were quite a few people ready to sit around a table at the hotel bar.  Until karaoke started.  Then it was coincidental how quickly we all felt tired and called it a night.

I had a vendor's table at the convention to sell copies of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, About Sixty and About Being a Sherlockian, so my morning started pretty early.  Before setting up the table, I headed down for breakfast, and although I sat down at a table by myself, I was soon joined by Joe and Peter Eckrich, Fran Martin, Ray Betzner and Monica Schmidt.  I was quickly learning that there aren't strangers when you're at a Sherlockian event.

I'm not a morning person, but Saturday morning was one of the real highlights of the weekend for me.  The program officially started at 10, but people started milling through the conference room checking out vendor tables and chatting up other Sherlockians starting as early at 8:00.  These two hours had over fifty Sherlockians socializing and shopping.  I was lucky enough to catch up with other Sherlockians, meet new ones, and even get talked into being part of a promo video for the Baker Street Journal.

A lot of my conversations with people Friday night and Saturday morning involved us introducing ourselves and immediately recognizing one another's names from the online world.  It was very nice to finally put a face to the Twitter accounts, Facebook comments, and blog posts.  And you know what?  They are even better in real life!

Another notable Sherlockian I met this week was Ray Betzner.  I have to say, I was familiar with Ray's name and his work on Studies in Starrett, so I was a little nervous meeting him.  Plus, the man can really rock a bow tie, a skill I am very envious of (When I try a bow tie, I look like someone tied a knot on a giraffe).  Ray is now one of my favorite Sherlockians.  His dry wit and quiet knowledge made every conversation I had with him a pleasure and I was sorry when each one ended.  At one point, my daughter was sitting with me at the vendor's table and Ray had a great conversation with her, and continued it when he saw her eating breakfast later that morning.  My daughter now calls him "the bow tie guy."

Holmes, Doyle and Friends was officially called to order a few minutes early and the festivities began!  As I said earlier, this was my first conference, and there wasn't a theme, so it was nice to see the range of topics covered throughout the day.  Members of the Agra Treasures ran a great program. 

Ray Betzner started the day off with an interesting look into the understudied role of Mary Watson and included one of the best lines as to why she deserves more attention: "Mary Watson wasn't Yoko Ono."

Donald Curtis was up next with a history of gentlemen's clubs in London, but not THAT kind of gentlemen's club.  And even though they are still called gentlemen's clubs, many of them are co-ed nowadays.

Jacquelyn Morris taught us all the difference between high tea and afternoon tea, something I was absolutely clueless about before her talk.  Plus, it made me think that my daughter and I should read Eloise at the Plaza together. 

And what's the perfect thing to do right after hearing about teas, scones, and jam?  Eat lunch.  Brad Keefauver showed up Saturday morning, and I hadn't had much time to talk with him so far, so I made it a point to sit by him and Bill Mason at lunch.  Just like at breakfast, we were soon surrounded by a bunch of other folks, some I'd met before, and some new.  But all of them were a blast to hang out with.

After lunch, Mark Friedman told us his play "Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Crown Jewel," complete with musical tracks.  I've posted about Sherlockian plays before, but Mark's play was one that I will definitely be checking out if it's anywhere near the St. Louis area.

Then came Monica Schmidt, who started her talk with a humorous and cringe-worthy story of what happens when someone from the internet copies the original artwork on your tattoo.  Shen then made all of us just a little wary as she delved into what it takes to be qualified as a hoarder.  There are six specific criteria, and no matter what my wife says, I'm in the clear. 

For now.

Steve Doyle was up next with a look at the connections between Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper.  His talk made a strong argument not only for Holmes' involvement in the investigation, but also the real reason why Holmes was cranky the morning that The Valley of Fear started.  And going by Steve's logic, it's time to rethink trekking to New York in January to celebrate Holmes' birthday.

Following Steve was one of the most informative talks of the day.  Brent Morris took everyone through an NSA analysis of how Holmes broke the cipher in The Dancing Men.  My notes from this talk were pretty extensive, but a few highlights are that the letter E accounts for 1/8 of normal English, the letters E,T,N,O,R,I,A and S are the most common (not R,S,T,L,N and E as Wheel of Fortune would have you believe), and that the most common letters in the English language are an anagram of "senorita."  That's got to come up in trivia at some point in my life, right?  Brent also kept referring to Holmes' work in DANC as "crypt analysis," and I kept getting images of Holmes working a code while inside the crypt from Shoscombe Old Place.

Liese Sherwood-Fabre rounded out the program with an insightful talk on the justice and penal system in Victorian England.  And making my teacher heart happy, she had handouts!

As the program wrapped up, I was happy to see that I'd sold a handful of books, and even happier to know that I was taking home more for myself to read.  That's what dealer's tables are for, right?

Dinner took us to a local BBQ spot and before we ate I was privy to my first ever speed word search.  It's stressful looking for all of those words while you're being timed!  Once everyone had their food, conversations started up all around the room.  Peter Eckrich and I spent quite a bit of time talking with Dan and Ann Andriacco, two wonderful folks.  Dan and Ann's son has recently been stationed close to St. Louis, so we were filling them in on all of the things to do with and without the grandkids every when they visit.  I was lucky enough to have Dan next to my table all day at the conference.  He's one of those folks I've emailed back and forth with and I always check his blog, but getting to spend time with him in person was so great. 

And that was my real take away from Holmes, Doyle and Friends.  If all of the day's talks were published somewhere they would be interesting reading.  But hearing them live as well as the questions and comments that came after were much better.  If all of the conversations I had had happened through email, I still would've been happy, but being part of a group over a meal or a beer is just so much better!  I started out my Sherlockian life as a guy who just interacted with people online, but the more and more I go to events, the more I know that Sherlockiana isn't just about the stories, it's about the people you engage with. 

And these are some good people. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Interesting Interviews: Beth Gallego

This week will start a new feature on Interesting Though Elementary: Interesting Interviews.  The world is full of great Sherlockians doing wonderful things.  Each month, I hope to con one of them into answering a few questions about their views on our hobby, their interests, and the impact that they have on the Sherlockian world.

My inaugural interview is with Beth Gallego, head of The John H. Watson Society.  The JHWS is the open and inclusive worldwide online Sherlockian society founded in 2013.  In the five years since it's inception, the JWHS has made its mark on Sherlockiana.  Establishing a regular journal, The Watsonian, putting out the annual John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt that invigorates and infuriates Sherlockians for an entire month, and publishing a very active blog are just a few of the society's contributions to Sherlockiana.

Beth Gallego is the acting head, or Boy in Buttons, of JHWS.  Besides overseeing a major Sherlockian society, Beth is a mother, wife, librarian and knitter.  All of these aspects of her life were chronicled in her delightful podcast, This Tangled Skein.  Some people are hoping for season five of Sherlock or the third movie of the Robert Downey Jr. series, but for my money, the real Sherlockian hiatus is waiting for Beth to have time to revive what was my favorite podcast while it aired. 

Beth also chronicles her reading adventures on her own personal blog and can be found weighing in on Sherlockian topics on Twitter.  Beth is truly one of the most interesting Sherlockians out there, and I consider myself very lucky to get her thoughts on Sherlockians, the Canon, and the John H. Watson Society.

How do you define the word 'Sherlockian'?

I define a "Sherlockian" as someone who is interested in Sherlock Holmes, in any of his many and varied incarnations. It's someone who reads a story or sees a show and thinks, "I need to know more about this guy." It's someone who ends up doing more than just reading or watching; someone who engages with the stories in some way, whether that's in research, writing, art, or socializing.
How did you become a Sherlockian?

I took my time in getting to Baker Street, but they do say that when the mind is ready, the master appears. So, for me, the Master appeared in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch. The short version of my Sherlockian origin story is that I watched (BBC) *Sherlock* in the time between Series 2 and Series 3, and I fell in love. I desperately needed to know more and to talk to people about my new obsession. There is a longer version that involves knitting, podcasts, and the Internet that I wrote for the book *About Being a Sherlockian* last year.

What is your favorite canonical story?

"The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" is the best story. (I wrote the essay on it for *About Sixty*.) I will admit to a soft spot for "The Illustrious Client" and "The Red-Headed League", though.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Adaptations and pastiches for young people: from board books to comic books to YA novels, I try to keep tabs on it all. I'm interested, too, in what I think of as "The Writings on the Writings on the Writings" - the history of Sherlockiana and Sherlockians, the way interest has waxed and waned over the years and the different ways people have expressed that interest, such as forming societies, writing books, creating art, and collecting anything and everything.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I like looking into some of the quirky details that pop up in the Canon. Like Watson's "rubber-soled tennis shoes" in CHAS or the Vegetarian Restaurant in REDH. After all, there's nothing so important as trifles.

What is the mission behind the John H. Watson Society and why was it formed?

The John H Watson Society was founded in friendship. Don Libey (the original "Buttons") created it as a birthday gift for his friend, Don Yates. He said that it was modeled on "the highly energetic and enthusiastic culture of The Napa Valley Napoleons of S. H." 

Our "Buttons" described the mission of the Society as "committed to recognition of Doctor Watson’s contributions, albeit often masked and misunderstood, to the cases, adventures and memoirs he wrote as the first biographer of Sherlock Holmes. The Society believes that Watson has an equality of stature with Holmes and that his accomplishments and talents deserve further scholarship and research. The various film and TV depictions of John H Watson have introduced opportunities for Revisionist concepts and writing never before entertained, and the endless research into the Traditionalist relationship of Watson to the Canon is, equally, verdant with new potential."

In addition to our website, we are a publishing Society, printing two issues of our journal, The Watsonian, each year. In the past, we have also published a series of monographs and a series of novellas by members of the Society. 

It has been, from the beginning, an open, Internet-based society welcoming Sherlockians from all over the world and at all stages of involvement. At heart, we're about having fun.

As head of JHWS, what is your role?

When our "Buttons" passed away, he left very big shoes to fill. The Society was his labor of love, and he performed a lot of the labor himself! When he appointed me the Associate Webmistress, he was spending several hours a day on the Society, an hour of which was just working on the technological aspects. He wrote the first two Treasure Hunts, created weekly quizzes, and posted a weekly discussion topic, in addition to other activity on the website and behind the scenes. After his unexpected passing, it took a team of several members to do what "Buttons" had been doing!

My primary role as "Selena Buttons" is to keep the Society running smoothly. I still take care of the website administrative tasks, and I'm always on the look-out for folks who would like to contribute to the blog, write quizzes, or contribute in some other way. I maintain the physical inventory of publication back issues for the Shop and fulfill orders. I communicate with our Publications Editor (who has her own team of Associate Editors) about the Watsonian issues and check in with our Treasurer about finances. I keep track of memberships; yes, I'm the one who assigns Society Monikers to new members. And I generally promote the Society wherever and whenever I can.
Since we are a large Society with members from many different backgrounds and points of view, discussions can become heated. There are some topics that people have *very strong feelings* about, and we don't all have to agree, but we do have to treat each other with respect. I sometimes have to remind people that we are here to engage with the Canon with a sense of fun. Friendship is our watchword: Dr Watson was the best friend one could ever hope to have. I strive to live up to that. 

Do you get to see the answers to the treasure hunt?  (Because I know a guy who might be willing to pay for them)

I don't! At least, not until everyone else does. 

What Sherlockian things do you like to read besides the Canon?

I subscribe to the *Baker Street Journal* and the *Serpentine Muse*, as well as receiving the *Sherlock Holmes Journal* and *Canadian Holmes* with membership in the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and the Bootmakers of Toronto, respectively. And, of course, *The Watsonian*. I find the range of scholarship fascinating and a little intimidating, frankly. I also read quite a bit of pastiche; some of it is fabulous (hi, Lyndsay Faye!), some of it not so much! I'm lucky to have an amazing used bookstore quite close to me, so I regularly drop in and find something interesting to take home. 

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

That's an interesting thing to ponder. In 2023, the last of the Case-Book stories should fall into public domain in the US. By then, I expect both CBS *Elementary* and the Guy Ritchie films will have wrapped up their runs. (I have faith that we will at some point get that third Ritchie film.) Then again, we'll probably have had one more series from the BBC, so there will be plenty of heated discussion in whatever online forum rises up between now and then. (#SorryNotSorry)
Scholarship will continue to explore the nooks and crannies of the Canon from points of view that have been underrepresented in the past. Local groups will form and sometimes disperse, just as they have for decades now.

For a long time, Sherlockians who wanted to talk to other Sherlockians had to get themselves to a scheduled meeting or wait for their words to appear in print, and then wait some more for the response to appear. Technology has given us nearly instant and constant opportunities for discussion with Sherlockians of radically different backgrounds and interests. This, of course, has been a double-edged sword. But the world only spins forward, and who knows what innovations will come in the next few years? 

I suspect we'll be just on the cusp of a new interpretation that sets off another surge of interest and brings in a new wave of fans.  A new movie, television show, Internet series, 3-D holographic interactive virtual reality experience.... I can't quite imagine what it will be. But I look forward to finding out.