Monday, May 27, 2019

I Have Put It Upon Record [SOLI]

I'm assuming I'm in the majority here in that I hate the sound of my own voice.  Whether it's a video from long ago, hearing it on a voicemail, or my days as a radio morning show co-host, that's not how I think I sound.  So the few times I've been interviewed on podcasts when I was promoting my book, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, it was a necessary evil as far as I was concerned.

That book has been out for over a year and a half, so the promotion for it is over.  So why did I find myself on two different podcasts last week?  Well, because some friends asked me to, and I'm a sucker.

Last week was the first episode of The Watsonian Weekly, the new podcast from The John H. Watson Society.  For their soft open, I was asked to contribute a short book review.  I'm not a technophile, so Brad Keefauver had to walk me through how to record a file on my phone and email it to him.  (How far have we come that people can record on their phone, send a quick email, and it's suddenly part of a broadcast?!?)  This essentially made me my own producer.  Writing a script, timing my segment, listening back to my delivery (shudder), re-recording with a different pace and inflection... It was weird.  

But you know what?  The show came out nice.  It's a different format than one I'm used to for my podcasts.  The Watsonian Weekly is set up as an audio magazine, anchored by Brad Keefauver with different segments by different contributors.  The initial episode only had two different voice on it, my own and Margie Deck, who always brings a good puzzle to the table.

I just listened to episode two this morning, and it's nice to hear more voices this week.  Margie is back with the answer to last week's puzzle, and two new voices make debuts: Elinor Gray with two segments on beekeeping and Paul Thomas Miller with... well I never know how to describe Paul but he's always entertaining!  

There are a lot of Sherlock Holmes podcasts out there, so it's easy to think, "Really, another one?"  But The Watsonian Weekly takes a new angle on this and is definitely worth adding to your repertoire.  Except for my book reviews.  You can skip those.

Podcast number two of the week isn't a Sherlockian one at all.  My cousin, Josh Monken, is a genuinely curious guy.  As long as I can remember, he's been interested in making things.  He worked as a photojournalist for a while, then had his own photography business until the needs of being a husband and father put him in the corporate world.  He's tried his hand at writing a few novels, and has done a lot of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, all to scratch that creative itch.

But his podcast, What It Takes to Make, is different.  Instead of Josh making something, he's turned the tables and interviews a different creative type each week on what drives their creative processes.  His episodes are far ranging.  In the first six episodes he has interviewed a video game designer, fantasy author, documentarian, children's book author, musician, and me.

Josh is one of my favorite people in the world.  We see each other regularly at family functions, but our kids keep us from really getting to spend a lot of good time together.  So having an uninterrupted hour for the two of us to just talk was great.  And, since he was interviewing me about my Sherlockian hobby, he had to let me talk about Sherlock Holmes as much as I wanted!  

We started by reminiscing about video games and Josh's dad, moving onto talking about our grandpa's love of western novels, and discussing fan fiction vs. academic writing, just how far you let yourself go with fandom before we ever even got to Sherlockiana.  From there it was the importance (or lack thereof) of Arthur Conan Doyle to Sherlockiana, what a Sherlockian group is like, what "scholarly writings" actually means, and plenty more.  

Spending as much time as I do in Sherlockiana, I take for granted that the people I talk with about my hobby have roughly the same baseline as I do.  It was really fun to hear an outsider's thoughts on our hobby and Josh said "Wow" more than a few times to some of my descriptions of Sherlockians.

Even if listening to a Sherlockian talk to a non-Sherlockian isn't your thing, I would highly recommend What It Takes to Make.  It has a conversational interview style that feels like NPR without pretentiousness or pledge drives.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Interesting Interview: Heather Holloway

221B Con is THE annual event for the Sherlockian fandom.  Heather Holloway is the co-founder of this event along with Crystal Noll, sparking what has turned into a blazing inferno of friendship and fandom each spring in Atlanta, GA.  Heather started reading the Canon in high school and years later found herself in charge of an annual conference that quickly exceeded her and Crystal's expectations. 

Heather is a no-nonsense but welcoming Sherlockian that people immediately love when they meet her.  She's not afraid to call out nonsense and gate keeping when she sees it, but is even quicker to include folks a little hesitant to jump into this crazy world of Sherlockiana we all spend so much time in.  As you will soon see, she's passionate about our hobby and has years of canonical knowledge to back up her wide-ranging thoughts and deep love for The Great Detective.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I think that a Sherlockian is anyone who cares about Sherlock Holmes. I don’t feel that there is any criteria you have to meet to be a Sherlockian other than that. It doesn’t matter how you were introduced to Sherlock Holmes or what adaptations you like. It doesn’t matter if you have read all the Canon. I think a Sherlockian is any person for whom the characters and stories surrounding Sherlock Holmes, whatever form that may have taken, have resonated deeply. To me, that is the enduring legacy of Arthur Conan Doyle, chagrined as he would have been to hear it, that he created a character that can still have meaning in the lives of so many diverse people for so many different reasons.

How did you become a Sherlockian? 

And isn’t this the question? Our favorite to ask each other and our favorite to answer!

I first read SPEC in ninth grade. It was assigned by Mrs. Phyllis Bright in English class. During the discussion of the story she told us that ACD said that he always knew the end of the story before he started writing it, so that he could logically place all the evidence and clues throughout the story. That fascinated 14 year old me, so I immediately had my mom drive me to the public library so I could get a copy of the complete Canon (not that I knew to call it that at the time!) I was hooked from there.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I don’t know. Anything but MAZA? It’s like picking between favorite children! My standard answer is whichever one I’m in the middle of reading. I do really love MUSG. It has the spooky secret codes and hidden treasure that I have always loved in stories.

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

Just one? The most interesting Sherlockian I know is my best friend and fellow Con director Crystal Noll. Of course, I am biased, her being my best friend and all. But she and I have had some of the best conversations about Sherlock Holmes and Victoriana. Plus, unlike me, she can stay up long enough to close down a bar.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I enjoy looking at the Canon and the social structures of Victorian England. I love to see how ACD explored those social structures, both consciously and subconsciously, in his work.

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

This really relates to the previous question. I enjoy looking at the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and getting a better idea of what he believed. I have done research on his Spiritualism and how it is reflected in the Canon. Right now I’m working on a presentation for Scintillation of Scions on ACD’s use of dinosaurs in The Lost World. I’m particularly interested in how it illuminates his views on evolution and how it illustrates his interest in geology and paleontology. I also love looking at representations of women and social class in the Canon.

What is your favorite story from the years of 221B Con?

I’m going to tell you two stories: one that makes me laugh, and one that makes me remember why we organize the con.

The first year of our con was just after the second series of Sherlock had dropped. The five of us directors were kinda flying without a net. None of us had ever organized a con. We had signed a contract with the hotel that said we were expecting 75-100 people to attend and now had 700 people registered. You can imagine how many different things were running through our minds at the time.

During one hotel walk-through (and I can’t remember who said it, Crystal or me) but we asked if the hotel had roof access. The manager was understandably confused, but we explained that we were concerned that cosplayers would try to get on the roof for photo ops. I recall that he looked at us like we were a little crazy (kind of the way people look at first time moms who want to boil everything before their kids touch it) but agreed to make sure that the door to the roof was locked at all times.

Flash forward a week or two after con, and Crystal calls me laughing. She had found a post on Tumblr from one of our attendees. She was complaining that she had tried to get on the roof several times for a photo of her in Sherlock cosplay and was very upset that it was locked. She vehemently wished that the con directors had asked them to keep the roof access open for the use of her and other cosplayers. Some people agreed with her, but one woman jokingly commented that having the hotel lock off the roof was probably the smartest move we’d made while organizing the con. I couldn’t help but agree!

The second story happened 3 years ago. The hotel that we were at that year was also hosting a group of volleyball players from different high schools for a tournament of some kind. I was walking through the lobby when a 14 to 15 year old girl stopped me because she saw my director’s badge.

She was with her father and she was breathless with excitement. She said that she LOVED Sherlock Holmes. She watched all the BBC show and then she read all the stories. She even showed me her phone case which had a 221B door on it.

Her father said that she was so excited when she saw that there was a Sherlock Holmes con in the hotel. She begged him to let her walk around. He said that all she ever talked about anymore was Sherlock Holmes, and that she had never been to a con.

I took her to our operations room and gave her a few Sherlock Holmes related items like a mug and a couple of extra books we had. I just love the thought that there are so many young people coming to Sherlock Holmes and that, if they find us, we can be a nice supportive community for them.

What do you hope for the future of 221B Con? 

I hope that we can continue to provide a fun space for Sherlockians to come together and talk about the things we like. I’ve said before that there is a difference between being a Sherlockian and being in Sherlockiana. You can be a Sherlockian and never talk to another Sherlockian in your life. Being in Sherlockiana is like being in a big, odd, loud family. We want to keep the place open for the family reunion!

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Asking me this is sort of like asking a drug dealer what they have. Pushing books on other people is basically my most enjoyable hobby.

If you’re just starting out, I would say grab yourself a set of Baring-Gould. Otherwise, Sherlockians are some of the most well-read people on the planet. They don’t just stick with Holmes related content or even just mysteries. So, rather than give an exhaustive list of books, I’ll tell you a few of the books I’ve read lately and enjoyed.

Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent by Mary Laven - A non-fiction book that looks at why the Vatican ultimately decided nuns would be better off walled away from the general public. (Spoiler alert: Those nuns were saucy!)

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N. K. Jemisin - A series of short stories by the first person to ever win three Hugo Awards for best novel in a row. She has a fresh take on Sci-Fi and fantasy and the stories are varied while the theme is cogent.

Literally any of the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters - It is impossible to be unhappy while reading about Amelia Peabody.

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

I expect to see Sherlockiana grow. I expect to see a younger, more diverse group of people, and I can’t wait. Sherlockiana will always ebb and flow as certain adaptations resonate more with the current zeitgeist, but it will ALWAYS BE HERE. We don’t need a new show or movie for someone’s ninth grade English teacher to assign one story and change a girl’s life.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

You Came Back By An Unexpected Way [3STU]

May 4th is over and no one fell over a waterfall.  I've always been so-so on the whole Reichenbach Day but could never put my finger on why I felt that way.  Leave it to Brad Keefauver to speak my thoughts for me

"May 4 is a weird sort of Sherlockian holiday due to how comfortable we've become with Sherlock Holmes being unkillable."

Not today, Professor.
There it is.  Like my friend Bill Cochran points out, The Final Problem is really part one of a two part story.  For me at least, it feels odd to read either The Final Problem or The Adventure of the Empty House without the other one.  I understand the history of Reichenbach in the Canon, but don't get all the fuss for Sherlockians today.

In my mind, we should be celebrating the day Holmes CAME BACK.  That's when things get going again.  Watson faints, an old tiger hunter is captured, and Holmes is back on Baker Street.  This is a day to celebrate!

The problem with that, like many of our stories, is there's no agreed upon date.  Watson tells us it's sometime in April of 1894, but that doesn't give us a day to hang our deerstalkers on.  Chronologists who give it a specific date range from April 1st to 5th (I'm ignoring those who say EMPT was in February).  But three chronologists (Baring-Gould, Folsom, and Bradley) all say Holmes surprised Watson outside of Ronald Adair's house on April 5th.  So let's go with that.  It holds more water than the rationale for Holmes' birthday being on January 6th, which most people seem to roll with.  

April 5th is hereby declared... well I haven't come up with a good name for it yet.  We've got 11 months to figure that out.

But how should we celebrate?  Visit tigers at the zoo?  Play whist?  Have a wax model of yourself placed in a window?

C'mon.  We're Sherlockians!  We read.  Holmes came back to London disguised as a bookseller and even talked to Watson about the books on his shelf.  The answer is plain.

On April 5, to celebrate (Insert Holiday Name Here), we buy books and read!

I mean, couldn't we be considered "collector(s) of obscure volumes" with our own Sherlockian libraries?  Why not take this day to add to it and support our "little bookshop at the corner."  And you don't even need to faint when you fill your shelves!