Monday, August 26, 2019

Interesting interview: Liza Potts

The website has long been one of the premier online resources for fans of Sherlock Holmes.  Started in 1994, it was the first and only Sherlockian site on the internet at the time.  Over the years, it grew and grew, becoming too big for just one person to run effectively.

Enter Dr. Liza Potts.

On September 16, 2016, Dr. Potts and her team at WIDE Research at Michigan State University officially became the new caretakers of  The past three years have given us a redesign of the site, easier navigation, and scores and scores of new content for newbies and seasoned Sherlockians alike. 

But who is the woman behind the site?  Keep reading to find out a little bit more about Liza Potts and her views on Sherlockiana...

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
Now there’s a term that is far more contested than I could ever have imagined! For me, anyone who is interested in the Great Game can be a Sherlockian. Whether you’ve come to the community through film, fic, canon, graphic novels, television, audiobooks, radio, cosplay, manga, art, or whatever else - you are welcome. And to quote my betters “All Holmes is Good Holmes.”

How did you become a Sherlockian?
My father was a fan of Holmes in all his forms, especially Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. He started with the radio shows, listening to them as a youngster in the 1930’s. He loved science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. He was an older Dad, so I grew up watching older shows (“reruns”) a lot on PBS. I guess you could say I was raised as a true believer in the nerdly trinity of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, and Star Trek. My mother tried her best, but I was far more interested in canon than soaps (although the latter can lead me into eyebrow arching hysteria).

What is your favorite canonical story?
This question always gets me - we have so many to choose from! I love the mystery and moodiness of Hound and the strong feminist turn in Speckled Band. The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane holds a terrifying place in my heart as someone who has been stung by several jellyfish while growing up in Florida.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
Our lab at Michigan State University is home to a very diverse group of students, faculty, and specialists who work on the site together. Our students are awesome - curious, smart, resourceful, and interested in Sherlock Holmes and the community at large. In addition to reading the latest and greatest works from the community, they all have access to copies of the Adventures. They regularly attend our local scion meetings, The Greek Interpreters. And every year, we bring students to 221B Con to learn more about the community. Their take on Sherlockiana gives me a new perspective on how, where, and why our community is growing.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
I love maps, so visuals of rooms, locations, geography, and even workflows are exciting to me. In my office, I have a massive map of Victorian London and an illustration of the layout of 221B. I’ll happily stare off into space, examining these maps and imagining the possibilities.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
While much of my focus is on connecting digital bits for the Sherlock Holmes community, I am very interested in the spaces and places where Sherlockians meet and participate in memory-making activities - whether these are meetings, cons, events, or visiting story settings in London (which we have done on our study abroad trips). The ways in which our community is changing and growing is an area of my research.

What does a typical day's work look like for
We have a pretty steady workflow for revising content, ensuring that our links are up-to-date, responding to inquiries we receive through our online form, and reviewing new material as it comes along. We meet once a week as a team, and then communicate throughout the week using Slack. A typical day could include fixing a broken link, updating our Watson Wednesday content, howling at a post on Twitter, booking tickets for an event, and editing a new review submission.

As a curator of this hobby, what particular trends do you find interesting?
With over 300 pages and thousands of links, the trends that interest me the most are the ones that will help bring in new community members and sustain our enjoyment of the Great Detective and his Dear Doctor. When new students show up to our meetings, our first question is--aside from the ever important “what is your favorite kind of bagel so I can be sure to pick it up for our next lunch meeting”--where did you first encounter Sherlock Holmes and what is your favorite take on the canon? This leads us in so many interesting directions - anime, fan fiction, RDJ films, art about otters and hedgehogs, and more. Right now, we have an fantastic project manager who is a canon devotee and a content writer who knows Holmes only through anime. It’s awesome.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
I love the places that Lyndsay Faye has taken our detective, and Dust and Shadow is tops for me. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s stories about Mycroft are intriguing to me, and I am about to listen to his second book (a delight during long car rides!). Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald gave me the heebie jeebies (that’s a compliment). Finally, I definitely recommend the audio version of G.S. Denning’s A Study in Brimstone. I caught a flu of dire seriousness and didn’t give it much of a chance at first, but the audio version has me laughing and appreciating the exasperated cleverness of his work. you mean books that aren’t about Sherlock Holmes? Um...

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
Our community is definitely going through some changes, but I am confident that we will continue to carry on, as new generations make Holmes their own. It’s a privilege and a delight to be the caretaker of the great old house that is

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

You May Have Read of the Remarkable Explorations of a Norwegian Part 2

As promised, here is the rest of my recap of the Norwegian Explorers' weekend!

Saturday kicked off with what seemed a bit of a canonical stretch.... Sherlock Holmes and how he was connected to the game show scandals of the 50's.  Alan Rettig showed a clip of two contestants utterly NAILING Sherlockian trivia.  Even moreso that some noted Sherlockian scholars.  And how did they do it?  Well, the game was rigged, obviously.  We were all glad to hear that, because I think everyone in the room was feeling pretty inferior as we watched the contestants nail question after question!

Barbara Rusch was up next with her talk, "The Creeping Man and Other Dark Tales of the Canon" where she shared her thoughts on many themes found in the sixty stories including pantheism, Darwinism, eugenics, stereotypes, and genetic determination.  She asked the audience if these views should be attributed to Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle.

David Polvere followed that with an in-depth look at what "baritsu" could have been.  His argument was that it was "batitsu," a form of self defense popularized by E.W. Barton-Wright (and his amazing mustache).  Batitsu was publicized in magazines in the 1890's, and Holmes could have learned this before it became widely known to the Victorian public.  If so, it was batitsu that not only helped Holmes defeat Moriarty at Reichenbach, but it came in handy with another caped crusader many years later.

Everyone's favorite anthropologist, Carlina de la Cova, was up next with "A Most Worthy Colleague in Anthropology."  After bumming everyone out by telling us that Indiana Jones isn't a real anthropologist, she delved into the meat of her talk, the anthropological aspects of two stories in particular, The Sussex Vampire and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Carlina admitted that she was probably the only person in the room who finds Dr. Mortimer cool and announced that she didn't covet Holmes's skull, she covets Benedict Cumberbatch's.

Cheryll Fong made her third Norwegian Explorers's presentation with "Minneapolis and the Farewell Tour," a look at the Minneapolis Opera House where William Gillette performed during his farewell tour with Sherlock Holmes.  A lot of historical fact about a local institution that the locals really enjoyed, but the rest of us learned something new for sure: many theaters of the time reserved the uppermost seats for the city's prostitutes.  The more you know...

Dan Payton wrapped up the day's lectures with his talk, "Victorian Attitudes Toward America," where he showed the results of a poll of 60 Sherlockians to see if they could name all of the stories in the Canon where America is mentioned.  And in sticking with the theme of the conference, announced that the average Victorian would have considered America a dark, wicked, and strange place.

There was some downtime between the presentations and dinner.  Some folks retired to their rooms for a respite, while I searched out as much Sherlockian contact as I could.  I love these weekends for this reason: hanging out with other people who share an interest so strongly that we will travel and spend an entire weekend talking about our shared passion.  Whether it was the hotel lobby or the bar, there was always someone to pal around with.  (You may notice my anxiety had completely disappeared by this point.  Sherlockians have a special way to make people feel welcome.)

Dinner soon followed, and I was lucky enough to sit with friends both old and new.  Joe Eckrich and Ed Weiss from The Parallel Case of St. Louis as well as old friend Cindy Brown from Texas were at the table, and we were joined by Jerry and Judy Margolin and Charles and Kristin Prepolec.  The night's conversation was an absolute delight, and I was remiss to give it up for the guest speaker, but it was the always magnificent Bill Mason, so it was definitely worth paying attention to!

Bill started off his talk by wondering what would Sherlock Holmes think if he were to walk into the room we were all in that night?  Obviously, some people would accost him for a selfie, but after the hubbub died down, would he be happy with what we Sherlockians have done to him?  Bill Mason is an absolute delight, so let me just quote some of his choicest lines from the night.

On Irene Adler: "That whole Irene Adler love interest nonsense has been impossible to kill."

On pastiche team ups: "Forrest Gump has nothing on pastiche Sherlock Holmes."

On a recent adaptation: "The worst thing that's ever been done to Sherlock Holmes can be summed up in two words: Will Ferrell."  and  "I will actually admit to laughing at Will Ferrell's Sherlock Holmes.  And I didn't bother anybody because I was the only person in the theater!"

But even though Bill proposed that Holmes himself could take issue with some of the things we've done to him, he ended his talk on a positive note.  Bill listed scores of reasons why Sherlock Holmes has endured all of these years.  At the heart, he is a character that we love, and can you ask for more than that?

Peter Blau took the podium then to oversee the night's auction.  The items included two Collier's magazines, issues containing The Adventure of Black Peter and The Adventure of the Dying Detective.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman autographs were also auctioned off.  And the final item was an original conference poster signed by the Explorers' own artist, Amanda Downs Champlin.  Thanks to the generous bidders, the UM library collections will continue to keep going strong for years to come.

Surprise, surprise, a large group of us found our way to a bar and spent a good amount of time getting to know each other better before we wrapped up our last night in the friendly north.  Then it was back to the rooms and our portraits of Loni Anderson (never forget about Loni Anderson).

Sunday found us at our last day of the conference, and it kicked off with fellow educator, Shannon Carlisle.  Her talk, "Whimsical Little Incidents and Three Pipe Problems in a Sherlockian Themed Classroom" introduced many people in the room to her classroom where she annually creates new Sherlockians at her elementary school.  The intersection of Sherlockiana and education is a sweet spot for me, and Shannon deserves her own blog post for sure.  In the meantime, check out to see how kids in your life can join in this hobby with age appropriate activities.

It was then time for the "Long Suffering Companions" panel.  Judy Margolin shared the story of what it's like to live in a museum.  She shared some of her husband, Jerry's, more interesting materials, the rules they have in their house for display, and some of the people who started out as visitors and turned into good friends.

Mike McKuras, husband to Norwegian Explorer Julie McKuras, shared stories of Sherlockian travels as an NSS (Non-Sherlockian Spouse).  Mike was down in St. Louis at one point and managed to only take one picture, that of a Clydestale's rump.  Hopefully, Mike and Julie can make it down to next year's Holmes in the Heartland conference and find more things to photograph!

John Bennett Shaw's step-daughter Barbara wrapped up the talks with tales of living with Johnny Appleseed.  John was THE Sherlockian collector.  But not only did he collect items, but he was also known for collecting Sherlockian visitors.  John's collection went on to become a major component of the University of Minnesota's Sherlockian collection, so her talk was very pertinent to the room.

I was looking at a ten hour drive back home and school started the following day, so it was time for me to slip out and hit the road.  I was sorry to miss the radio play, which I heard was wonderful.  I was even more sorry to go without saying goodbye to all of the people I got to spend such a great four days with.  Sherlockian friends old and new and from this country and Canada were the absolute highlight of this trip. 

I fully admit that as the beginning of school loomed closer and closer in the days leading up to the Norwegian Explorers's conference, I wondered if it was a bad idea to go north for four days.  On my way back, I had no such reservations.  It was the best Sherlockian event I've ever been to, and it's a good thing they only happen every three years, otherwise my heart might burst with appreciation for all of the amazing people in our hobby!

So, here's to everyone who put on an absolutely wonderful event: from the bottom of my heart, thank you for giving us a place to get together, thanks for all of the time it took to coordinate, and thanks for the welcoming atmosphere you've created.  Your conference may have been about dark, wicked, and strange things, but you folks are the furthest thing from it.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

You May Have Read of the Remarkable Explorations of a Norwegian

Last weekend, I found myself in the lovely land of Minneapolis for the Norwegian Explorers's triennial conference.  I had always heard what a great conference it was.  I have to say, it exceeded all of my expectations.

First of all, the members of the Norwegian Explorers are absolutely delightful folks.  I met at least a half dozen of them over the weekend and they were all interesting, friendly, and welcoming.

And the conference itself?  Well, it lives up to the hype.

We arrived on Thursday in time for the welcome reception at the hotel.  That was very nerve-wracking for me.  There were 148 people at the conference, so walking into a room where I knew maybe a dozen or so was tough.  Luckily, The Parallel Case of St. Louis was represented with five members there, so I always had someone close at hand.

As the evening went on, I got to meet more people including Peter Blau (which I may have fan-boyed on Twitter about), and it was wonderful to finally meet so many Sherlockians in real life that I've talked with on Twitter or through email.  People I've collaborated with over the years or come to respect by reading their opinions or seeing how they treat others online turned out to be just as nice in person as they were in the virtual world.  At some point, it was rumored that a local bar had its own Ferris wheel and that's where the after-party was.  I ended up in a cab with three Sherlockians I had only known for about twenty minutes, and we were on our way.

The Red Circle of the Midwest
The weather was beautiful, so everyone hung out at the outdoor tables in between miniature golf holes (this was quite a bar!) until it was time to call it a night.  A car ride home with three other Sherlockians (one of whom I'd only known online, and one I'd just met that night), and it was back to my room to fall asleep under the gaze of the Loni Anderson portrait that was in every hotel room.

The hotel was... eclectic
Friday kicked off with Tim Johnson's stunning display from the Sherlock Holmes Collections in the university library.  Upstairs from that, Holmes's sitting room was available for view.  I could try and do justice to some of the amazing artifacts and detail of the sitting room, but I will let the pictures do the talking.


Back at the hotel, I had my vendor table set up to sell copies of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, Parallel Case of St. Louis scion pins, and duplicate issues of the Baker Street Journal from the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection.  Leading up to the conference, I was thinking that it was a mistake to get a dealer's table because I wouldn't be able to socialize and they aren't always worth the hassle.  Boy, was I wrong!  I met more people at my table than I ever would have if I were on my own.  So many people walked up just to say hi!  I sold out of Criminal Mastermind, and sold more pins than I had expected.  And the Research Collection easily sold more old issues of the BSJ than we ever have in a single event!

Ross Davies gave the day's first talk, discussing "Dark Places in the Empty House."  Ross has a knack for detailed canonical maps, and this was no different!  Not only did he present, in his words, "perhaps an exhaustively complete inventory" of the possible routes taken in EMPT, but each attendee went home with one of Ross's wonderfully detailed maps for the story.  A great artifact, indeed!

Regina Stinson's talk, "Deceptions, Disguises, and Dark Secrets," took us through Holmes' ability to use disguise throughout the Canon as well as other's uses.  She also shared an example of some people who aren't very good at telling a disguise from an actual person (*cough, cough* Nigel Bruce *cough*), and ended with this line about The Illustrious Client: "In the end, it was the baron who lost face."

David Harnois was up next with "Boswell's Journey to the Dark, Wicked, and Strange" in which he introduced many of people to his podcast, I Am Lost Without My Boswell, and went through the history of the show as well as the technical aspects for recording.  His research is nothing if not thorough, which explains why he had to test out handcuffs on his former roommate.  He didn't clarify if that's why the roommate is a former one...

The Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections business meeting was after, which included Tim Johnson's talk about the status of the collections.  Tim was the keynote speaker at last year's Holmes in the Heartland in St. Louis, and his speech there was unbelievable.  Seeing him speak again this year made me realize just what a wonderful person he is.  Tim cares for all of Sherlockiana and anyone interested in our hobby.  This quote from Tim really sums it up: "We're a little old.  We're a little white.  We need to be a big tent.  We need to expand our voices."  It would be a better world if we were all a little bit more like Tim Johnson.

The final talk of the night was given by Jeffrey Hatcher, screenwriter for Ian McKellan's "Mister Holmes."  He took issue with some of the clients that come to Baker Street describing some of them as "another really nice person whose been sent to Sherlock Holmes to introduce him to more interesting people."  Jeffrey then took nine people out of the audience and had them outline their own Sherlock Holmes play.  In all honesty, it was the end of the day, and this part drug on a little too long.  It was interesting and funny, but I was ready for dinner.

Day two wrapped up and I had acquired a LOT of new books for the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection.  (Just a little plug for the St. Louis collection, if you need to do any research on Holmes and you're in the St. Louis area, check it out!)

Anyway, seven of us loaded into a minivan to scour the area for dinner, only to end up two blocks away from the hotel that we started from.  A lot of fun was had there, and I somehow promised everyone at the table that I would watch the dreadful Dudley Moore "Hound of the Baskervilles" film.  I guess that's what I get for voicing my opinion on Will Ferrell so loudly.  And, like most Sherlockian get-togethers, we joined up with other groups back at the bar.  The night rolled on, and almost every topic under the sun was discussed before we all headed back to our rooms with Loni Anderson to watch over us.

To be continued...