Sunday, July 19, 2020

Interesting Interview: Jacquelynn Morris

Jacquelynn Morris is one of those rare people who are welcoming and fiery at the same time.  She's one of those Sherlockians who isn't clamoring to do everything everywhere, but when she flexes her canonical muscles, you realize you're in the presence of a keystone in our hobby.  She started Scintillation of Scions, has contributed to plenty of Sherlockian anthologies, is on the Board of Advisors for, and probably a million other things I don't know about because Jacquelynn is not one to toot her own horn.  In fact when I invited her to be interviewed, she said she probably wouldn't have much to say... you be the judge of that.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
I’m not sure that I can. When I first became active in the Sherlockian community the word was understood to mean those whose pastime was reading, writing, and discussing the Canon as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Since 2009/2010, when the first Robert Downey, Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” film was released and the first season of BBC Sherlock was introduced in the UK, there was a period of enlightenment where people who had never read one of the stories took a sudden interest in Holmes and Watson as presented onscreen. 

Luckily, many liked the characters so much that they became absorbed in the source material of the original stories. Many of those newly-besotted became aficionados in their own way, bringing fresh perspectives and sparking lively discussions while also appreciating—and eventually participating in—more scholarly and traditional pursuits in the community. The definition of “Sherlockian” became more fluid than it had previously, and though there was an adjustment period I feel we have all reaped the benefits of a resurgence of interest in our favorite consulting detective.

How did you become a Sherlockian?
I was a great fan of the stories back when I was around 11 or 12 years old, but had no understanding of the existence of the literary community until many, many years later. It wasn’t until around 1994 or so when my brother and sister-in-law recommended the Granada Jeremy Brett series that I rediscovered Holmes. From there it was a complete immersion back into the stories again, while at the same time I became involved in other mystery fiction. Then I joined AOL with the screen name “Sherlockia” (which I had intended to be “Sherlockian,” but AOL limited names to 10 characters), found what was then the Mystery Fiction Forum, and my life would never be the same.

One of my first searches in AOL’s Mystery Fiction Forum was for anything Sherlock Holmes related. There was a Sunday evening chat, “The Scandalous Bohemians,” where each week’s chat focused on one of the canonical stories. There were questions for discussion among the small group of participants and the chat hosts, which included my now long-time friend, Regina Stinson. It was through Regina, who had long been involved in all things Sherlockian, that I first found out about the international community of Holmes aficionados, including the existence of scion societies. Before long I was entrenched in the AOL Mystery Fiction Forum, became a volunteer there, and was assigned the “Hardboiled Mysteries” message board as monitor, moderator, and discussion-starter. On the message board I met a great number of mystery writers who posted regularly; among them future BSIs-to-be Jan Burke, Dana Cameron, and my BSI classmate of 2014, SJ Rozan.

To wrap up this exceedingly long answer to your simple question, I’ll just say that through mystery fiction on AOL I began attending fan-run mystery conventions, where I met Debbie Clark, member of Watson’s Tin Box, who invited me to a meeting. Within two years I was the group’s Gasogene (president) for a year. It was all downhill from there!

What is your favorite canonical story? 
Had you asked me this prior to 2014, I might have answered differently, but since my BSI Investiture is “The Lion’s Mane” I would have to choose that story. When Chris Redmond asked me to contribute to his About Sixty anthology I requested it, to which he graciously agreed. Should you pick up a copy of ABOUT SIXTY you’ll read my defense of that story as the best of them all (Hint: Some of my defense involves it being one of only two of the 56 short stories and 4 novels that is narrated by Holmes himself).  

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
Among my Sherlockian friends whom I am privileged to know, I would say that one of the most interesting is Bonnie MacBird, whom I first met in 2012 through our common interest in saving Undershaw, Arthur Conan Doyle’s former home in the UK. 

Bonnie is the author of three (so far) Sherlock Holmes pastiches: ART IN THE BLOOD, UNQUIET SPIRITS, and THE DEVIL’S DUE (in addition, she has contributed to a number of Sherlockian publications). She has a fascinating history—she wrote the original screenplay for the movie TRON, won three Emmy Awards for documentary writing/producing, she’s a playwright and director, and teaches acting. 

Time spent with Bonnie is always a delight; I’ve had the pleasure of her company at many Sherlockian events over the years, and even once had a lovely tea at her flat in London. She knows a great deal about many, many things, and is a charming and thoughtful conversationalist. Discussing Holmes with Bonnie is a special treat—I hope you have an opportunity to meet her sometime.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
Oh, there are so many subsets! There are the collectors of books, the collectors of ephemera, people with careers in science and medicine which add so much to our understanding of Canon, writers, artists, curators, sewists of historical garb, historians, archivists, tobacco experts, creators of authentic 221b sitting rooms, experts on the history of the BSI and individuals who added to the hobby throughout its history—it is an embarrassment of riches. Just about any direction one finds to go in our interest in and study of anything related to Canon, there will be fellow travelers. I love the variety, and so have not fixed on any one subset. 

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
I enjoy finding an angle in a story that may not have caught anyone else’s attention, then researching that angle to prove or disprove my own theory about it. As an example, when I was asked to contribute to the BSI Manuscript Series for The Wrong Passage (“The Golden Pince-Nez”) regarding the poison Anna Coram used, the angle I found was that though it is assumed by nearly everyone that Anna died from the poison the story never says that she did. Through researching poisons available at the time and consulting with experts of my acquaintance I was able to support my theory and propose what poison it had to have been. I love research, even when it doesn’t prove what I want it to!

You've been involved with Scintillation of Scions since the beginning.  How did it come about and what are some of your favorite memories from it?
Scintillation sprang nearly fully-formed from my head during a road trip in early 2008; with the support of Watson’s Tin Box and Peter Blau’s blessing we held the first Scintillation in August 2008. My favorite memory is of that very first event, when we had no money, no one knew who or what we were, I sucked at delegating and tried to do too much myself (bad plan), but, as the years following would continue to prove, Sherlockians are generous and hard-working and will step up to offer to help. That first time was when I saw my vision take on shape and form through the efforts of kindred spirits who shared that vision. It would all have been a terrible flop if not for Watson’s Tin Box, Andy Solberg, Peter Blau, Bill Hyder, Art Renkwitz, Denny Dobry, John Sherwood, Regina Stinson, Joel and Karen Ballard, and the late Paul Churchill, who believed in me.

The vision I had for Scintillation (the name, by the way, was created by Tin Boxer Debbie Clark, as a collective noun, “A Scintillation of Scions”) was to have a Sherlockian “family reunion” for the East Coast aside from BSI Weekend. I imagined a one-track symposium, an afternoon tea, and time for people to socialize and get to know people from other scions. Before we knew it, Scintillation had become known across the country with upwards of 100 attendees (deliberately capped at that number by me, as my vision was not for an all-out convention but for an intimate gathering of kindred spirits). The first couple of years we had to find speakers, but from then on well-known Sherlockians were asking us if they could speak! After ten years of organizing the event, with the help and hard work of an exceptional committee, I decided that it was time for another person’s vision, new ideas, different directions, so Scintillation X was my last, and Karen Wilson has quite successfully taken the reins. The committee stayed on with her and Greg Ruby, with his year's of event planning, came on board. I am exceedingly proud of every one of the Scintillation team!

And speaking of conferences, I first got to meet you at Holmes, Doyle, and Friends back in 2018 where you gave an enlightening talk on the importance of tea in the Canon.  What types of teas do you think Holmes and Watson would prefer?
Interesting question! We know they drink coffee as it’s mentioned in the Canon, but as for tea I would imagine they would enjoy a strong black tea in the afternoon. I see for Holmes and Watson a good Earl Grey, like Kusmi Tea’s Anastasia (my personal favorite), or Fortnum & Mason’s Smoky Earl Grey (named after Charles, the second Earl Grey, not to be confused with the British actor, Charles Gray, who was Granada’s Mycroft). 

Though these particular blends would have to be sent back to 1895 via a time machine, surely their equivalents were available through different tea vendors in their London. As Earl Grey tea is not traditionally served with milk, neither Holmes nor Watson would muddy the distinct flavor of the bergamot in the tea. Rather, I would expect Holmes to drink his tea straight and Watson to add a bit of sugar or honey and, if Mrs. Hudson was so inclined, a slice of lemon for his cup.  

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
I have not only recommended it, but I’ve bought copies (8 copies so far, according to Amazon) as gifts of Steve Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes for Dummies. It’s a perfect introduction for new Sherlockians and a valuable resource for the rest of us. I find myself going back to it regularly for information or to refresh my own memory. It really is a great book!

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now? 
In 5 years’ time I expect that we will all be settled into our particular avenues of interest while continuing to encourage others to discover Holmes and Watson. I’ve been told by those with a longer history in the hobby than myself that there is a resurgence of interest every 15 years or so; there was one during the Jeremy Brett years, then the Robert Downey, Jr. films and BBC Sherlock, which we are still experiencing. 

I hope that should I still be above ground 10 years from now perhaps we might be fortunate to have adaptations more aligned with Canon with regard to the stories, as Granada once attempted to do. More diversity in actors and even settings would be optimal; it is the stories with those characters and their unique friendship that caught us up in all of this to begin with. I would love to see Doyle’s stories on screen, loyal to the originals, the plots minimally altered and adapted as time and budget would permit. (I might discourage a showrunner/producer from putting The Mazarin Stone on screen--no one needs that!) 


  1. Great interview! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Fun interview. Jacquelynn is a very nice person. We met many many years ago at the Dayton Symposium. It was her talk about saving Undershaw that got me involved in that project. I always enjoy all of her presentations.