Sunday, January 26, 2020

Interesting Interview: Elinor Gray

Elinor Gray emulates some of the best attributes of Sherlockiana.  She's welcoming, energetic, knowledgeable, and creative.  Like fellow western Sherlockian before her, John Bennett Shaw, she spreads Sherlockiana wherever she goes, joining or starting Sherlockian societies in every city she's lived in over the past few decades.  Her big tent approach to Sherlockiana has won over Sherlockians both old and new, and her energy has created new literature and events for all of us to enjoy.  

Elinor served as editor of the John H. Watson Society journal, The Watsonian, for three years and has published a lot of Sherlockian writing, with a full-length novel, a monograph, and appearances in five Sherlockian anthologies.  She co-founded The Retired Bee-Keepers of Sussex, keeps her own beehive, and is director of the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium.  Having recently been married and now providing foster care for a lucky child, Elinor was kind enough to stay up late one night and answer my interview request.  

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”? 
To me, a "Sherlockian" is anyone who participates in community surrounding Sherlock Holmes. I think a Sherlockian (or a Holmesian, if you want to cross the pond) can have any level of involvement with the canonical texts or the myriad adaptations. I'm sure there are lovers of Holmes who exist in solitude, who have no interest in gathering with or talking to other fans, but to me the community is the most important. How else do you find out that the term Sherlockian even exists?

How did you become a Sherlockian?
I remember carrying around a battered Doubleday when I was in middle school, and watching Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century as it was airing in the early 2000s. Later, in college, I was between fandoms when Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes came out, and halfway through my second viewing of the movie I thought to myself, "surely there's fanfiction about this." I found a treasure trove on LiveJournal and on Liquidfic (this was before Archive of Our Own), and knew I had to go back and read the original stories again. The rest, I suppose, is history? After college, I moved to London on a student visa and got myself a MA in London Studies at Queen Mary University of London with a thesis on feminism in the early 20th century as portrayed through popular literature, or Sherlock Holmes and ladies bicycling. I was in London while Sherlock's special Christmas/time travel episode was being filmed, and got to spend a few cold days on #setlock. I lived with 221B Con-runner Crystal Noll during that time, and I'd consider it the peak of my participation in Sherlockian fandom.

What is your favorite canonical story? 
I have a strong fondness for The Solitary Cyclist, as well as Silver Blaze

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting? 
I hope you have the chance to meet and spend time with Sonia Fetherston, a Sherlockian neighbor of mine here in Oregon. Sonia is one of the most interesting and generous people, and as a younger, queer Sherlockian I was grateful for her warm welcome. Sonia is a writer of renown and a collector of note, and is always sharing canonical quotes and interesting tidbits on Twitter. She is a delight to follow and chat with, and I always look forward to spending time with her over lunch or at Sherlockian gatherings.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you? 
As a reader and writer of fanfiction  I'm interested in the subset of fic, pastiche, and anything that asks "what if"? I love the room there is in the canon to explore– the gaps Conan Doyle left for us to fill– and telling stories about those gaps. There's so many different interpretations possible in fanfiction/pastiche, and I especially love that none of them have to cancel out any other one. All pastiche is valid in its own way, and readers can choose to absorb (or "headcanon") aspects of different extra-canonical stories to fill the gaps they're particularly interested in. Are Holmes and Watson in love with each other? Did Moriarty commit all those crimes? Is Irene Adler really dead? Maybe. Maybe not. Let's explore it.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes? 
Maps. I love maps. A few that I reference frequently while writing are Charles Booth's poverty map, and this ordinance overlay map of Victorian London in Incredible Detail by the National Library of Scotland. I also love maps of Sherlockian locations and theorizing about the layout of 221B. Spacial relations lend authenticity to fic, and I like getting into the weeds on street intersections and the duration of carriage rides. I consider London a character in the canon, and the changes it has experienced over time tell its story beautifully. 

Two part question: What was the impetus for the Left Coast Sherlockian Summit and what can folks look forward to next year?
The Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium was started out of jealousy for all the gatherings and goings on on the east coast that west-coast Sherlockians don't always get to participate in, given the cost of flights from one side of the country to the other. There are several west coast societies, and a few get-togethers on the calendar (such as the International Sherlockian Summit hosted by the Sound of the Baskervilles), but since Sherlock Seattle went on hiatus, nothing with a convention format exists over here. I waited a few years, but it became apparent that no one was going to put anything together for me, so I'd better do it for myself. I wanted to create a space where more "traditional" Sherlockians and "new fandom" Sherlockians could get together, compare notes, trade experiences, and make friends. I pride myself in being a crossover point for the old guard and the new, a canon fan who grew up online, and I like bringing people together to find common ground on something we all love.

Patrick Ewing, my friend and the current Grand Gander of the Noble and Most Singular Order of the Blue Carbuncle (Portland, OR's scion society), will be taking the reins for 2020, as my personal life has gotten more complicated with the addition of a wife, a new job, and a foster child. I'll still be participating in the running of the show, I just won't be quite as high up. Patrick will be keeping the format pretty much the same (one track of speakers, with vendors and extra-conference events), so folks can look forward to interesting and engaging talks on new topics, time to spend with friends both old and new, and the opportunity to explore a cool city!

It seems like everywhere you've lived you find or start a Sherlockian society.  What is the most important part of Sherlockian fellowship in your opinion? 
Intentional inclusivity is the most important factor to me when it comes to fellowship and community. I've been part of societies which are very open and welcoming to younger fans and adaptation fans, and I've been part of those which look askance at millennials and TV shows. I've had more fun at the ones that don't ask quite as many questions about your Sherlockian provenance or your canonical credentials, and which are concerned with everyone having a good time and celebrating the thing/man/character that brought us all together in the first place. I also think intentional awareness of a group's diversity goes a long way, and welcoming fans of color and queer people makes a group stronger and more interesting. Sitting around affirming one another's readings of the text is all well and good, but running into someone who reads it differently or brings a different life experience is so valuable and has applications beyond how many wives Watson may have actually had.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians? 
In perhaps a break from tradition, I recommend Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovich, 

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now? 
I hope there is another adaptation out, or perhaps that latest RDJ/Jude Law film we've been promised, and with it a new influx of fans to mingle with. I see women and other people who aren't cis men being admitted to the BSI at a rate more commensurate with their participation in the community since the beginning. I predict a few more run-ins among Sherlockians over whether fanfic is a good ("legitimate") way to explore a text or whether reputation trumps behavior. The sea of Sherlockians will always be widening, and I hope in a decade it'll be easier for those of us long-steeped in our comfortable communities to welcome the new perspectives. I don't see any signs of the global enthusiasm disappearing; perhaps only waning in the dry months. I'm looking forward to the next reason to gather.

Monday, January 20, 2020

BSI Weekend Day 4

Then we came to the end.  Sunday's alarm told me it was time to pack up before heading to my last event, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes brunch.  Checkout time was 11 and the brunch didn't start for a while after that, so a lot of us milled around for a while.  I got to spend a good amount of time with Michele Lopez from Italy, and he and I compared the difference between his experiences in Europe and mine in middle America.  Some people had flights that morning, so some of our goodbyes were said before the mass of us headed to brunch.

I was warned that the food wasn't very good at this brunch, but this was the last event of the weekend, so I was still looking forward to spending just a little bit more time with everyone.  I was pleasantly surprised by the food once I made my way through the buffet.  Bacon, sausage, potatoes, and tomatoes were all great.  There were also scrambled eggs and mushrooms, but I can't speak to those.  So, if anyone tells you the ASH brunch has sub-par food.  Let me reassure that it's very good.

But you know what's better than the food?  The camaraderie!  After so many structured meals and scores of speakers, this was a pleasant way to end the weekend.  You checked in, found a table, got your food, and mingled until it was time for you to head to the airport or train station.  I snagged a table with Monica Schmidt and Al Shaw and talked about Holmes in the Heartland, Chicago scions, whether or not Monica would make a good G.I. Joe villain, what Al thinks about paper straws, and plenty of other things that you do with your friends. 

Also in attendance was Susan Rice and Mickey Fromkin.  Susan and I have been emailing lately about her involvement with young Sherlockians back in the 70s.  As someone who spends a lot of time with kids, I was looking for any tips and tricks she remembered.  Susan told me to see her and Mickey at the Gillette luncheon and she would have some papers for me, but she would be too busy to talk then as they oversee the festivities.  She would have more time to talk at the BSI lunch the following day.  Good to her word, Susan had a manila envelope full of histories sitting on her lap at the Gillette luncheon, just waiting for me to show up.  I tried to spend some time with her on Saturday, but trying to talk to Susan Rice is like trying to get an audience with the Pope.  I swear,  there was a line of people wanting to have a few minutes with her!  Although I didn't get Susan time on Saturday, I did get to talk with Mickey, and she is such a wonderful person!  I want a reality show that just follows Susan and Mickey through their daily lives.  Mickey could easily do a whole show on just her Sherlockian shirts!

Anyway, I finally got time with Susan at the brunch on Sunday (after waiting in line).  She told me all about the Trifling Monographs meetings that she oversaw, some of the amazing quizzes held there, what students did as part of their meetings, and many other things.  There weren't any chairs around her, so I ended up sitting on the floor just to hear these stories.  Unfortunately, my knees aren't what they used to be, and I had to finally get up.  Sure enough, someone else was right there to take my place!

I then butted into Charles and Kris Prepolec, Dena Howlett, Bob Stek, and David Harnois's table for a while.  I learned about the Canadian marijuana laws, travels in Europe, theater carpentry, what a bad glass of Guinness tastes like, and plenty of other bric-a-brac.  Sunday's brunch was very much like the last day of summer camp.  Lots of pictures were being taken and everyone was relishing in those last few moments.  People drifted off in twos and threes, saying their goodbyes.  And when it was your turn, you made your rounds as well.

Cindy Brown and I shared an Uber to the airport, split up at our gates, and I was left to sit and appreciate how blessed I was to get to spend four days with some really great people.  Not only was I able to take time off of work for this trip, but donations to the John H. Watson fund allowed me to go, as I was a recipient of so many people's financial generosity.  But the generosity that will stick with me forever is the welcoming that I experienced from everyone I came across. 

From my first night, I was swept up in the good-nature of everyone there.  Friendships were strengthened, online acquaintances turned in to real life friends, new people were met, and a convivial atmosphere was all around us.  The elephant in the room is that the Baker Street Irregulars is an invitation only organization and the BSI dinner is also by invitation.  Those are facts, and I can't argue for or against them.  I can tell you that every other event during the weekend is open to everyone and another dinner is held during the BSI dinner to make sure that everyone has something to do.  The Lost in New York Dinner on Saturday was created specifically for people to have an event where they could get together.  I spent time with Republicans, Democrats, people with purple hair, people with no hair, gay, straight, young, old, longtime Sherlockians, and some who haven't even read all 60 stories.  Everyone got along with one another. 

I may never be invited to the BSI dinner again.  Will I be bummed?  Sure.  I loved being in that atmosphere with people I enjoy and respect.  But you know what?  I'm going back to New York next January whether I have an invitation or not.  Because this may be called the BSI Weekend, but only three events are actually put on by the BSI, and two of them are open to the public.  There is so much to do and so many people to spend time with.  For a Sherlockian like me who enjoys, no LOVES, spending time with other Sherlockians, this weekend was a dream come true.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

BSI Weekend Day 3

And then we came to the busiest of all the days: Saturday.

After another quick breakfast with Mark Jones, I was off to the Beacon Society board meeting.  If you are unfamiliar with the Beacon Society, it is a group dedicated to helping teachers, librarians, museum directors, theater directors, etc. introduce Sherlock Holmes to young people.  So many programs have been granted funds by the Beacon Society that it's hard to keep count.  If you know of someone who is in a position to teach or lead some kind of Sherlockian program for young people, please have them look into the Beacon Society.  We are always ready to support educators financially for their ideas or provide examples of other programs that they could build on.

The board meeting was great.  The Beacon Society continues to move forward, and soon will have a new program for libraries that's ready made for them.  I had to miss the open meeting where some things were discussed in more detail.  This was probably my biggest bummer of the whole weekend, as my friend Derrick Belanger won the Beacon Award for his tireless work introducing Holmes to kids.  But I had good reason: I had a book signing to do!

Two years ago, Marino Alvarez and Tim Greer reached out to me to write a chapter on teaching Sherlock Holmes to middle grade students for the BSI Professional Series book on education.  After a long anticipation, "Education Never Ends" was finally released on Saturday!  I thought I'd have a few books to sign along with the two editors and co-contributor Shannon Carlisle.  My idea of a "few" was a gross underestimation.  After AN HOUR AND A HALF of constant signing, the stream of BSI Press customers finally let up enough for me to visit the dealer's room.

Imagine Black Friday.  Now put that in one narrow hotel conference room and fill it with Sherlockians.  You have the BSI Weekend dealer's room.  You could take a second mortgage out to shop with and still feel like you missed something!  On one hand, I knew that signing books for the first hour and half kept me from buying books and items that I would like.  But my wallet and wife  were very happy that I didn't have free reign all morning.

I did pick up one of the first special editions of The Conan Doyle Review, The Newspapers 2020 from the Sherlockians of Baltimore, Canadian Holmes: the First Twenty-Five Years, a back issue of the BSJ, and of course, Education Never Ends.  Joe Eckrich couldn't make the trip this year, so he had me working as pack mule for him with all of the new releases from Wessex Press and BSI Press.  So once I was completely loaded down with purchases, it was up to my room to drop them off, and back down to the lobby for the quick trip to the BSI Reception Luncheon.

A quick word about the hotel lobby.  I get very anxious about new experiences, but I quickly learned that a friendly face could always be found in the Roosevelt Lobby and they would always offer to walk with you wherever you were going.  Traditional Sherlockians have received criticism for being cliquish and I found the opposite to be true this weekend.  Everyone in attendance was welcomed with open arms.  And if you didn't know someone ahead of time, all you had to do was stick out your hand and introduce yourself, especially in the hotel lobby.  This is probably fodder for a different blog post, but the Roosevelt lobby quickly soothed all of my anxiety about going to new events alone.

Back to the itinerary.  Back at the Reception Luncheon, you picked your own seats, and Greg Ruby and Mike McSwiggin cleverly put us right by the bar and close to the food line.  Smart men.  Other than Greg and Mike, I was lucky enough to sit with Jen Liang, Frank Cho, Denny Dobry and Ralph and Debbie Hall.  Al and Betsy Rosenblatt gave their wonderful year in review poem, Michael Kean gave a brief talk as new head of the BSI, and Peter Blau conducted the annual auction to support the John H Watson fund.  Other than that, the afternoon was for hanging out with friends while the snow came down outside.

Saturday night has traditionally not had an official event, although many folks use this as time to get out into the city, hang out with friends, or eat oysters.  Jerry and Chrys Kegley host an unofficial dinner for everyone else to have a structured event to go to.  It's a nice, laid back evening, with door prizes (so many magnets!), great beef stew, and a ridiculously hard quiz on modes of transportation.  The Kegleys have created a very welcoming evening that concludes around 9:00, with plenty of time for people to head downstairs to the bar and spend their last night in New York with friends.

O'Lunney's is the meeting place every night of the BSI Weekend, and most people end up there for at least one night during their stay.  I hadn't made it there yet, so Saturday was my night.  Moving around from table to table put me in lots of fun conversations with Heather Holloway, Crystal Noll, Chris Zordan, Rusty Mason, Anastasia Klimchynskaya, David Harnois, Tiffany Knight, Curtis Armstrong, Don Hobbs, Tim Greer, Ashley Polasek, Betsy Rosenblatt, Jen Liang, and a lot of other people.

We made it 2:21 AM at the bar, and I was ready for bed.  Some stronger souls than me closed down the bar at 4:00, but by that time I was asleep in my bed, resting up for my last day in New York.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

BSI Weekend Day 2

I always wondered why Brad Keefauver posts quick updates when he's at cons and events.  Now I know it's because one all-encompassing post would be way too much at once!

Friday kicked off with an informal get together with some Sherlockian teachers, known as the PTA (Priory Teachers Association) for breakfast in the lobby.  I keep saying this, but meeting Sherlockians in person after only knowing them through emails has never been a let down!  Derrick Belanger and Mark Jones definitely kept that streak alive.  Derrick is the powerhouse behind Belanger Books, an independent press that puts out specific Sherlockian topics, including a pastiche collection aimed at middle grade readers.  AND he's the recipient of this year's Beacon Society Beacon Award.  And has anyone heard of this new podcast Doings of Doyle?  That's Mark Jones.  He is a solid Doyleian, so much so that he had to rush off from our breakfast for a meeting about a new Arthur Conan Doyle society.  Shannon Carlisle joined us at the end, and the preeminent BSI teacher (who gave a toast to Mrs. Hudson last night, comparing her to a teacher of gifted children) always brings a lot of heart to a conversation.

After that, I had some down time.  And being a few blocks away from the New York Public Library, I couldn't NOT visit.  So it was off to take the required pictures of the library lions, Patience and Fortitude, marvel at the reading room, appreciate that J.D. Salinger was more than the guy who wrote "Catcher in the Rye," and visit the original Winnie the Pooh toys before heading off to my first official Sherlockian activity for the day.  Oh, and there was a gift shop at the library.  So....

The William Gillette Memorial Luncheon was next up for the day and it was a great turnout.  Unfortunately, I was one of the last people to register, so I found myself in the back of the room, so it was hard to hear the announcements some time.  But outweighing that, I had some delightful folks at my lunch table, including a fellow Illinoisian also in New York for her first time.  I also completed my I Hear of Sherlock bingo card by finally getting to meet Scott Monty in person.  Like me, he was a late registrant so the back of the room where were the cool kids hung out.

I headed back to the hotel, got to my room, and realized I'd left my key in the room.  On my way down to the lobby, I realized I'd left my library souvenirs and some Sherlockian articles at the restaurant.  On the way to the restaurant, I realized I still had to get a souvenir for my daughter.  So, I hot-footed it back to the restaurant, made a pointless trip to the Radio City Music Hall gift shop, hit up a NYC tchotchke shop, and finally made it back to my room with a new key.  After a much needed nap, it was time.  The BSI Dinner.

I love Sherlockians.  I find every single person in this hobby interesting.  And being in a room full of some of the most dedicated and intelligent Sherlockians was great.  David Harnois was a fellow first-timer, and we kept checking in with each other to appreciate how great the evening was.  I somehow lucked out to have a great set of table mates, Sonia Fetherston (who was too shy to let me take a picture with her), Evie Herzog, Jeffory Hart, Dan Polvere, Bill Mason, Marilynne McKay, and Barbara Cooper. 

After the program ended and investitures were issued (Carlina De La Cova!), the majority of folks adjourned to the bar downstairs.  Being a private club, only people staying at the Yale Club could order drinks, so poor Charles and Kris Prepolec had to field a bunch of drink orders when we first arrived.  Once I had a beer in hand, I took a minute to step away and help my wife deal with a power outage and beeping sump pump back home (being a grown up can be a headache sometimes), it was into the fray.  By this point, my anxiety was kicking in a bit, so when I was able to settle into a conversation with Ashley Polasek and Curtis Armstrong, it was nice to take a deep breath.  Curtis soon got pulled away, but was replaced by Ken Ludwig, and the three of us had probably my best conversation for the whole weekend so far.  Ashley shared her research on affirmative fandom vs. transformative fandom with us, and I now view the different camps of Sherlockians in a whole new light.  Ken and I may have found a way to spread The Beacon Society to a major library system, and plenty of other nice points. 

At 1 AM, the Yale Club kicked us out and it was back to my room and a few short hours of sleep before the Beacon Society meeting and the craziness of the next day.

BSI Weekend Day 1

Oh my goodness.

I am at the BSI Weekend in New York right now, and words can't describe how much fun this is! 

My original plan was to blog at the end of each day with quick updates, but the nonstop official and unofficial events, my own small amount of New York sightseeing, late night socializing, and early morning wake up times have all conspired against that plan.

Let's see.  Thursday.  That seems like a month ago.

Aside from being a Sherlockian, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to motivate students to become readers.  That led to me being appointed to the Scholastic Books Teacher Advisor Council for 2019.  So even though my tenure is over, I still reached out and got to spend a great afternoon at Scholastic headquarters and go out to lunch with some employees there.  Imagine whatever your favorite thing.  And then you get to go to the place where those things are made.  That's me with Scholastic.  I could write a book about how great that company is at promoting children's literacy, but this is a Sherlockian blog, so let's get the show on the road.

Thursday night was the Distinguished Speaker Lecture.  I was happy to snag a seat with Shannon Carlisle and Bill Mason from Nashville, some of my favorite Sherlockians.  Dr. Theodora Goss, author of the Athena Club series, gave a great talk about anthropology and its role in Victorian London.  It will be in an upcoming issue of the Baker Street Journal, so I won't try to summarize it here.  Dr. Goss really knows her stuff.

After that, I thought the night was done until I wandered into the lobby.  Everyone was there! Before I knew it, I had been invited out by Ray Betzner, Jenn Eaker, and Tim Greer.  Following along in their wake led me to a speakeasy diner where I was the only person at the table that didn't order French toast for dinner, and then to the Blue Bar to hear stories of olden times back in the 1900s. 

Later on, I headed up to the Wessex Press party in the Presidential Suite, and walking in was like a homecoming.  I can't even remember everyone in that room, but Steve Doyle, Mark Gagen, Al Shaw, Monica Schmidt, Greg Ruby, Charles and Kris Prepolec, Carlina De La Cova, Regina Stinson, Jacqueline Morris, Julie McKuras... I know I forgotten some folks, but you get the drift.  It was a great group of folks!  And as icing on the cake, I got to meet Burt Wolder in real life!  He is a very delightful fellow.

A lot of my interactions this weekend have been a lot of meeting people in real life that I've known through Twitter and email for years.  Everyone I've met has been so nice and welcoming this weekend.  And folks I've known only through online interactions even more so.  Well, I have two minutes to get my shoes back on and head to the next event.  Off we go!