Sunday, November 25, 2018

If They Are of Any Use to Your Collection

In the past week and a half, I have been invited to go through two collections of Sherlockians that have passed away.  This obviously brings about mixed emotions: in one instance, I didn't know the deceased, so there is the respectful awkwardness of being invited into a stranger's home; in the other, there was the grief that I had so few meetings with a great man and Sherlockian.  And quite frankly, there's the excitement of what new treasures lie ahead of me before I get to see their collection.  In the best case scenario, you can acquire new items while helping the family to clear out some of the things they no longer want.

The first collection I visited, I was with two other Sherlockians, and we were told to take whatever we wanted.  At first I was hesitant, because I didn't want to seem crass.  But when I walked into this collection, a whole room with its walls lined with Sherlockian books, I realized they really DID want us to take stuff off of their hands.  This Sherlockian was known for his generosity, and would quite often buy extra copies of books so that he could give them away to newer members of our hobby.  I'm not making this up, there were SEVEN copies of Jack Tracy's Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana sitting on a shelf!

I was not only looking for myself, but for The St. Louis Sherlockian Research Collection, and thinking of important texts that I could pass on to newer members of The Parallel Case of St. Louis, so I left with quite a few boxes.  I have over 30 books to either add to the Research Collection or give to Parallel Case members.  This must be what Santa Claus feels like!

Yesterday I visited the second collection, a woman trying to rid herself of her husband's books from years gone by.  She was understandably hoping to be paid for whatever books we took, so even though I had a wallet full of birthday money, I still needed to be conscious of my budget as I looked through boxes and boxes in her basement. 

This second collection was from a man who enjoyed his pastiches more than the nitty gritty of research.  I passed over a lot, only opting to buy three books from this collection.  The rest of my money was spent on her husband's collection of Baker Street Journals. 

The Baker Street Journal is the best thing I get in the mail.  I love it.  And knowing that there are decades of back issues out there for me to read really puts a smile on my face.  So when I was able to buy 12 years worth of my favorite publication for a very reasonable price, I was all over it.

After these two trips, I'd filled my wife in on my new acquisitions and promised that they wouldn't take up THAT much room, she then put me on the other side of the equation.  "If something ever happened to you, what should I do with all of your books?"

Hmmm.  Hadn't thought about that.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

This Writing is of Extraordinary Interest

It's November, so the past two weeks have found me teaching my favorite topic of the year: Sherlock Holmes!

For the last 8 days of lessons (Veteran's Day and a snow day broke things up) we've been reading through some of the greats: The Blue Carbuncle, The Red-Headed League, The Speckled Band, The Copper Beeches, and A Scandal in Bohemia.  And after eight days of lessons, I still feel like I need more time!

We always do a writing component with the Sherlock Holmes unit.  The kids learn the story elements of a mystery, practice identifying them in BLUE, and then create their own Sherlock Holmes story, making sure to include each element.  These stories go through a couple of drafts, and then the final version is published three ways: one for me to grade, one to be collected in a class book, and one to be put in a decorated cover for the kids to take home. 

But this year, I was able to really drum up the writing aspect by telling the kids that they had the opportunity to get their stories published in an actual book because  Belanger Books is asking for submissions for a new collection of stories by and for young readers.  To my knowledge, this is the first collection of its kind, and what a great idea!  I'm a firm believer in the importance of classroom libraries, and when this book comes out, it will definitely be added to mine!

Now, will all of my kids submit?  Nope.  And even fewer will get accepted.  But what an impact this will have on the kids that go through the submission process!  This is a real life experience that shows kids that writing isn't just a school assignment.  There is a place in the world for what they are learning in class.  We could be looking at the seed of future authors, journalists, or fan fiction writers right now.

And it won't just resonate with this year's class.  If at least one kid from my school can get a story into this collection, who's to say that it won't prompt kids in the next few years to pick up a Sherlock Holmes book just to see what one of their peers has written?  Could that lead to other Sherlockian stories for that kid?  We can only hope!

With all of the regular lessons about Watson as a narrator, rising action in The Copper Beeches, how good villains are written, practicing reader's theater plays, and this writing project, I still haven't even had time to introduce my class to The Junior Sherlockian Society!  Good thing I have one more day left before Thanksgiving break! 

Tomorrow's lesson plans are to put on plays of REDH and BLUE for the other fifth grade classes, tell the kids about the Junior Sherlockian Society, and of course, watch The Great Mouse Detective.  Because it's important to expose students to one of the best interpretations of Holmes ever made.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Conversation May Prove More Important

I had two conversations with different Sherlockians this weekend that made me do a little pondering.

Saturday was The Parallel Case of St. Louis' final meeting of 2018 We had a new member join us this weekend, and she admitted later that she was a little nervous coming into an established group.  We've all been there: walking into a group that already has an set routine that you don't know, references and in-jokes that only make half-sense to you, wondering if what you have to say will fit with the group.  Ugh, just thinking about it makes my anxiety flare up.

I was able to spend a few minutes with our new member after the meeting, and it was a wonderfully delightful talk!  We got to talk about a few common Sherlockian interests, and at one point Johnlock was mentioned.  She graciously acknowledged that even though I'm not on the same page as her in our views on Johnlock, we still had plenty of common ground.  We said our goodbyes and I hope to see her at our next meeting in January.

Later that day, I was talking with a friend who has been a Sherlockian for many years.  He's active in a city where there's more than one scion, and was telling me about how old grudges between some of the members in different scions still influence relations between the groups decades later.

Now, taken one at a time, neither of these conversations are very earth-shattering.  But it struck me just how different these two situations were handled.  Sherlockiana is a hobby that we all come to with a shared interest in the stories of Sherlock Holmes.  No matter your political leanings, religious beliefs, or whatever divisive category we can put ourselves in, we are all starting from the same place: Sherlock Holmes.

From there, we can see the differences multiply.  Will Ferrell?  "devotee" vs. "fan"?  Johnlock?  Are these points of contention any different than women in the BSI or Rex Stout's "Watson was a Woman"?  They are just different interpretations of the same interest. 

The new member I spoke with on Saturday, (and I know this is clunky without me using her name, but I didn't ask ahead of time and don't want to be presumptuous) could easily blow me off because Johnlock isn't my thing.  The other conversation I had this weekend proves that it can happen, and it can last for years.  People in the same city, with the same hobby, refusing to work together because of some decades old disagreement.

And this isn't just because the disagreeing groups are old school Sherlockians and the generous one is a new school fan.  There are some disagreeable members of the new fandom and scores of wonderfully generous old school people.

So how do we become more of a welcoming community of fans, devotees, whatever we choose to call ourselves?

I don't have all of the answers.  Hell, I barely have any. 

But my one guiding light when navigating Sherlockiana is to remember that we are all starting from the same place: Sherlock Holmes.  From there, it's just about human decency.  We may stumble along the way (I know I have plenty of times), but if we can focus on the positives instead of the differences, I think we'd all be surprised to find out just how interesting Sherlockiana can be with other viewpoints.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Interesting Interview: Leah Guinn

Well, I interviewed an Indianan last month, so on to something different, right?  Nope!  We are keeping our Sherlockian interviews in the Hoosier state again this month, this time getting to know The Well-Read Sherlockian herself, Leah Guinn.  

You never know where Leah's writing will show up.  She, of course, has her own blog, The Well-Read Sherlockian, where she sporadically reviews Sherlockian pastiches, interviews authors, and oversees the best Sherlockian internet event in my opinion, the annual 12th Night Giveaway.  But she's also been published on Undershaw's blog, has a chapter in About Being a Sherlockian, and has co-authored a must-own almanac, A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes.

I've known Leah through the internet for a while now, but I was lucky enough to get to meet her and her husband Brett at Nerve and Knowledge II earlier this year.  I spent a good portion of the after party with the two of them and never wanted the night to end.  Leah Guinn is definitely an interesting Sherlockian!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

To me, a "Sherlockian" is someone who likes Sherlock Holmes (any version) to the point where they seek out more information about him (or her, because "versions"), and who, in most cases, wants to make a connection with others who feel the same. This could be someone who rereads the Canon and attends scion meetings, or it could be someone who likes to watch and rewatch film/tv incarnations while writing "coffee shop AU" fics for the internet.  If you're a Sherlockian, you know it.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

In a very long, roundabout process. I think I have almost always been aware of Sherlock Holmes, but I encountered him in many different ways. The first one was probably through Eve Titus' Basil and the Pygmy Cats, which I bought at a school book fair in the second grade--1974 or 1975. Two years later, when I was in 4th grade, I bought a collection of Holmes tales (again at the book fair). The first story had to be SIGN, because I remember immediately seeing the word "cocaine." I was a very good, religious girl, so I was utterly shocked and never read that book again. I didn't read any more Holmes until sometime in college. The first one was actually a pastiche by Edward Hanna, The Whitechapel Horror. I really liked that, so (now able to handle the mention of drugs) I decided to try the Canon again. This time it was HOUN, and to be honest, I was underwhelmed--too much Watson for my taste (I am definitely a Holmes woman).  Skip ahead a couple of decades to 2010: I had just barreled my way through Preston and Child's Agent Pendergast series and felt lost, the way you do when you've fallen in love with a book or a character. I knew that P&C had based some aspects of their hero on the Great Detective, so I reread Hanna, then went on to Lyndsay Faye's Dust and Shadow, a truly wonderful book. After that, I loaded STUD onto my kindle, and read (I kid you not) nothing but the Canon and Holmes-related work for an entire year.

What is your favorite canonical story?

Definitely ILLU. I've met (nonmurderous) people like the Baron; he was instantly familiar, and it was a lovely thing, seeing him get his comeuppance. I was also completely amazed by Conan Doyle's ability to write about psychopathy and sexual perversion in a way that was subtle enough to adhere to his time's moral standards, yet at the same time make it so recognizable to a 21st-century adult. It was obvious to me that he knew what kind of person he was writing about, and I find that fascinating.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Oh, we're all fascinating!  There is a young Sherlockian, however, in Minnesota--Soren Eversoll--whom you might want to interview. I met him briefly at the Norwegian Explorers conference in 2013.  He's a teenage member of the Norwegian Explorers.  Although I am a relatively new Sherlockian myself, I am in my fifties, and I like seeing "the young people" getting involved.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I really, really love researching 19th century crime, and I am an unapologetic BBC Sherlock fan. Yes, even S4.

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

Well, 19th century crime and detection, as well as the development of medicine during Holmes' and Watson's lifetime--or, rather, their earlier adulthood, as we know that they are both still with us.

Your blog, The Well-Read Sherlockian, focuses on pastiches.  What makes pastiche so interesting to you as a reader?

I was brought into the fandom through pastiche, and I see it as a way to extend the adventure when you've read the Canon and need more. It's interesting to see how many ways one can write about Holmes and Watson, and still have them be completely recognizable.   I began the blog because I honestly thought I'd be able to read and review ALL of the pastiche out there. But, as we all know now, that first entry was published right on the cusp of a pastiche explosion, so I really have no hope of achieving that goal!  As time has gone on, I have become more interested in what makes a good pastiche, and pointing those stories out to other readers. When I first started, I put out some bad reviews, but honestly, I enjoyed ranting about poor writing and being a Canonical Zealot far too much. I was a bit of a jerk. I've gravitated away from that, I hope. There are a lot of people out there writing and publishing pastiche, hopefully because they find it artistically fulfilling, and I really don't want to discourage them.  While I have no problem giving a (gentle) private critique, I'm at the point right now where I want to promote good work and be more of an encourager than a critic. And in my blog, I've tried to expand the meaning of being a "well-read Sherlockian" to include not only pastiche, but historical, biographical, and other works as well. The more you know about Holmes, Watson, and their world, the more you can appreciate them--and, if you choose, bring them to life in your own way.

What was the impetus behind your collaboration with Jaime Mahoney for A Curious Collection of Dates?

It all came from a throwaway post on the WRS Facebook page. I have a weird love of dates--the calendar kind, not the fruit kind, which are kind of icky. One night, I posted something to the effect that "wouldn't it be nice if there were some kind of calendar of important Sherlockian dates?" (This was, by the way, at an innocent, carefree time where I was only aware of Baring-Gould's chronology.) Jaime saw that post and messaged me, asking me if I were serious about that. Well, of course I was!  And I was completely in awe that Jaime N. Mahoney, blogger at Better Holmes and Gardens, the brilliant website that had inspired me to do my own, was actually messaging me about doing a project.  After some research into the tear-off kind of calendar, we both realized that we want to do something a little more in-depth. This resulted in a 4 hour-long phone conversation, at the end of which we were committed to an almanac, and to a wonderful friendship. This is Sherlockiana, really--you come for the detective, but you stay for the friends. I have to wonder if we're not all being set up by our patron saint, Stamford.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

This is such an unfair question, hahaha. Of course I am going to give you several.
For traditional pastiche: Dust and Shadow (Lyndsay Faye)
For non-traditional Sherlockian fiction:  Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles  (Kim Newman)
For Conan Doyle:  The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes  (Andrew Lycett); Arthur and Sherlock (Michael Sims); Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters (Lellenberg, Stashower, et al.)
Holmes in our culture:  From Holmes to Sherlock (Mattias Bostrom)

I also believe that we can all benefit from reading Conan Doyle's own biography, Memories and Adventures, as it gives you a sense of the man himself, and how he viewed his life. He's not chatty about his personal life, but that is interesting in and of itself.

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

I definitely think we will be around, about five years away from the Next Big Sherlock Holmes Thing with all of its attendant excitement and angst. We are getting more diverse, as we should be, and that trend will hopefully continue. The BSI will probably be on the verge of having its first female leader, if it hasn't happened already.  think it's important for local scions to remain healthy, and for others to spring up (I keep meaning to start one in Ft Wayne, but honestly, I don't have a lot of time at this point in my life). There are so many people out there who, even if they don't become obsessed with Holmes to the point of building large collections and being invested in the BSI, would still benefit from meeting others with like interests and finding outlets for their talents on a local scion level. And I would like to think that we would finally be done with arguing over the definition of a "real Sherlockian," but we all know that that is likely a three-pipe dream.