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.

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