Sunday, December 27, 2020

Interesting Interview: Greg Ruby

When the world went awry in March, Sherlockiana was put on pause.  You may have noticed that this is not the norm anymore, and that is thanks in large part to Greg Ruby.  Greg stepped in and quietly started running events and meetings via Zoom, happy to show any reticent Sherlockian that virtual meetings weren't scary.  If it weren't for Greg and a few other technologically adept Sherlockians out there, we may have reverted to sending telegrams to keep our Sherlockian activities alive!

So who is our hobby's Mr. Wizard?  First of all, Greg is an absolutely great guy.  Always happy to welcome folks to any conversation he's a part of, Greg's Sherlockian energy seems to know no bounds.  He's running THREE big scions, putting out an annual journal, and showing up to as many scion meetings as he can (of which he is a member of 23!).  And like I said, he's the man behind the curtain for so many major virtual events, including this year's Scintillation of Scions, A Saturday with Sherlock Holmes, and January's official BSI Birthday weekend events.  Greg is a beehive of Sherlockian activity, and one that doesn't get enough recognition for what he's done for us this year.  So, I think it's very fitting that I'm ending 2020's Interesting Interview series with the most important Sherlockian of 2020, Greg Ruby!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I consider anyone with a interest in Sherlock Holmes as a Sherlockian. My definition is somewhat broad to include fans of some of the recent movies and television shows, as well as pastiches.

I was at a Sherlockian meeting in pre-COVID times where a first-time attendee admitted to never reading one of the 60 stories but enjoyed watching Elementary episodes on television. Another attendee scolded that person telling them everything wrong, in their opinion, of the series. The first person never has returned to that club, but thankfully has attended other groups since and is working their way through the Canon.

Anything that introduces others to Sherlock Holmes is a good thing. I’m not particularly enamored with most pastiches but I know of several folks where that was their introduction to this wacky world of ours.

Of course, there are various levels of being a Sherlockian from the casual to the hardcore, and most settle into a level that suits them, which is great. Then there are the chronologists, but we’ll save that for another time….

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes in Mrs. Raver’s reading class in fifth grade. With some reservation here, I now admit that it is the only thing I remember from that year, including having to memorize some poem to be later recited.

In the years that passed, I would pick up some related volumes – gathering enough so they took up an entire shelf on the bookcase in my first apartment. A friend gave me a copy of Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street after seeing my shrine to Holmes. Still remember reading about the Baker Street Irregulars and playing the Game, thinking what a bunch of wackadoodles these folks were. There was no thought that 25 years later I would be dining with those wackadoodles annually.

Let’s fast-forward to Christmas of 2013. I severely broke my right ankle that day and would spend next 5+ months laid up in bed. A month before my accident, I rearranged my bookshelves to relocate my Holmes material to be within reach of my bed, otherwise it would have been Tom Clancy stories I would have been reading. Having some free time, I went online and discovered a Sherlock Holmes event was coming up in my area.

I would attend Scintillation of Scions that June, followed by my first meeting of the Six Napoleons of Baltimore a few days later. Each event / meeting that I would attend had other Sherlockians inviting me to attend other scion functions. By the end of that first year, I was travelling several hours away from Baltimore to northern New Jersey and other cities to talk about Sherlock Holmes with my new friends.

What is your favorite canonical story?

My favorite of the 60 stories was also my first story – “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” so my fifth-grade reading class was not a total loss. In fairness, this was around the same time I had started collecting coins, and I was enthralled by the inclusion of a counterfeiting money element in the story. This was reinforced with my next story of “The Red-Headed League,” dealing with the possible theft of gold French coins. There was a letdown when I then read “The Speckled Band” and there were no references to coins or money in the tale.

Dan Payton of the Great Alkali Plainsmen likes to tell the story that I cornered him after his presentation during the summer 2019 conference of the Norwegian Exploders of Minnesota, where he made an offhand comment criticizing 3GAR. I pointed out two reasons why he was wrong.

Holmes first appeared on television in 1937. They had their pick of all 56 short stories and would obviously choose the best story for that first broadcast. They chose 3GAR. Likewise, when the Granada / Jeremy Brett series aired “The Mazarin Stone,” they combined it with 3GAR to salvage the episode.

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

This is an unfair question in my opinion, as I have found every Sherlockian that I’ve met to be interesting. Since I have to answer with only one name, let’s go with my BSI 2019 classmate, Ira Brad Matetsky. IBM is a trial lawyer, based out of New York City, that I first met at the running of the 2015 Silver Blaze race at Saratoga (later leading us to be involved with recently published BSI volume Upon the Turf) where we had a wide ranging conversation that afternoon. I was amazed when I learned he was on the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee. An admirable Sherlockian with a wicked sense of humor in bad puns, he serves as the Werowance of the Wolfe Pack, the literary society for Nero Wolfe and Rex Stout fans.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Being a coin collector, that was the first subset that appealed to me. In the years since becoming active in Sherlockiana, I have branched out into what I call the pop-culture media. I actively seek out the old-time radio recordings and film/TV appearances with references to Holmes, skipping most of the fan-made material that is appearing on YouTube.

During the pandemic, I’ve started looking for cartoon versions of Holmes – editorial, daily comic strips and comic books – where it’s obvious who they are referencing.

But the biggest interest are the Sherlockian friends that I’ve made over the last six years.

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

The biggest research item are coins and other numismatic items with Sherlockian themes. When The Fourth Garrideb group was formed, we were aware of about 75 collectable items and thought it would be great to get up to 200 items. We are now at over 400 items cataloged.

In a related item, I have begun researching Louis Hector, the first actor to portray Holmes on television, with his stage and radio acting career.

I also enjoy doing some research regarding the old-time radio broadcasts. Before the pandemic, it appears that I stumbled across several recordings of the old Richard Gordon episodes from the early 1930s that have been forgotten. Hopefully, when things return to normal after the pandemic, I’ll be able to confirm these episodes.

For those of us outside of central Maryland, what is the difference between Baltimore's two scions, The Six Napoleons of Baltimore and the Sherlockians of Baltimore?

The quick answer is about 70 years. The Six Napoleons will be celebrating 75 years in September 2021 without any long hiatuses like many other groups have experienced over time. From its founding in 1946 until December 2017, the group was strictly males only for membership. After attending three meetings, attendees undergo a examination, lovingly (?) referred to as the Inquisition, where three Napoleons test the neophyte’s knowledge of the 60 stories. After the Inquisition, the now Postulant is expected to give a presentation at a future meeting and is then installed as a Napoleon.

The Sherlockians of Baltimore was formed in 2016 as I was being greedy – I wanted more Holmes than just a quarterly meeting of the Napoleons. Originally, I hoped to jumpstart the Carlton Club of Baltimore, the co-ed alternative to the Napoleons. Founded in 1971, the group had gone inactive before I came into the Sherlockian scene in 2014. After spending 18 months trying to track down the leadership of the Carlton Club and being frustrated at every turn, I brazenly announced a relaunch of the Carlton Club in February 2016. Within days of my announcement, word funneled down to me that they were still “active.” So, we changed gears, and launched the SOBs in May.

While I love the group names of the Speckled Band, the Copper Beeches, and other Sherlockian groups, I thought it be wise to have a straight-forward name of who and what we are to attract those not as familiar with the stories, and serve as a feeder system into the Napoleons and nearby Watson’s Tin Box.

Anyone who attends a SOB meeting is automatically considered a SOB and a member. After attending two physical meetings, they are issued a membership card so that they are now a “card-carrying SOB”. Giving a presentation, leading a story discussion or preparing a quiz earns the status of a “Certified SOB” with a Baltimore-themed moniker. As opposed to meeting on a weeknight at 6 pm, the SOBs gather on Saturdays at lunchtime in hopes of more attendees might be able to attend.

How did The Fourth Garrideb come about?

The early months of 2014 found me with lots of free time as I recuperated. While rereading the Canon, I remembered a conversation with Ed Rochette back during the 1994 American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money in Detroit. Ed was a longtime coin collector, who also served as a consultant to the Pobjoy Mint who had just a struck a series of Sherlock Holmes coins for the principality of Gibraltar. Ed had asked about an elongated cent my local coin club had rolled with a Sherlockian design (I had nothing to do with the design!). I promised Ed a sample and we went on to discuss forming a group of Sherlockian coin collectors. I was just starting my professional career and Ed was juggling several projects, so nothing happened until 2014 while I was stuck in bed.

I tracked down Bob Fritsch, a fellow longtime numismatist in New England who I also knew to be a Sherlockian, and bounced the idea off him. He liked the idea, so I arranged for a meeting space at the 2014 ANA event in Chicago. Seven of us crazy people showed up and joined on the spot, with Bob suggesting the name for our group. Six years later, we have over 100 members throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and South America.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Jack Tracy’s The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana has been a lifesaver for me, explaining terms that I encounter while reading the Canon. A more fun recommendation, and a delightful read, is A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes by Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney. Curious about what happens on a given day in the world of Sherlockiana? The book is my go to source before I attend any club meeting and has led me down many a research project.

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

The world of Sherlockiana will still be growing strong in the next decade. It will be interesting to see how we continue to incorporate the virtual elements into events as we move forward. While it is a poor substitute for being face to face with friends, I am now spoiled by being able to dial into meeting and events to talk about Holmes with new friends internationally. I expect that many groups will try to work this technology into future events.

Likewise, with the remaining stories coming out of copyright protection in the next few year, I expect to see more pastiches and adaptions coming forward. If the Enola Holmes stories lead to more films and the long-promised Robert Downey Jr. third film happens, there will be a steady flock of new Sherlockians.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Interesting Interview: Crystal Noll

If you've been around Sherlockiana at all over the past ten years, you've heard of Crystal Noll.  Crystal is the co-founder of the wildly popular 221B Con and co-editor of The Serpentine Muse, the journal of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes.  And that last sentence really shows her versatility in our hobby.  Crystal is in the forefront of new Holmes adaptations (she and Heather Holloway had a great interview talking about Enola Holmes on the Glitchy Pancakes podcast) but also embraces historical Sherlockiana.  

Her friendships with longtime Sherlockians show that old and new worlds can co-exist and have fun while doing so!  While Crystal is an absolute workhorse, she is also one of the most fun people out there.  Whether you're having a few drinks or engaged in a spirited conversation online, Crystal makes it fun.  So settle in and get ready for a wickedly smart and delightfully entertaining interview with a sparkplug of Sherlockiana, Crystal Noll!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

That is quite the question isn’t it? In fact, it has been the topic of many a debate in Sherlockian circles. 

Personally, I think that anyone who considers themselves a Sherlockian is one. Full stop. I know I’ll get some Twitter DM or Facebook message where someone disagrees with me, and that’s okay because many people consider being a Sherlockian at the core of their identity. And that is exactly my point. 

‘Sherlockian’ is a label that we claim or is granted to us, like mother, father, friend, scholar, T-bird, Pink Lady, Adventuress, Irregular, etc. If you’re so connected to it that you’re willing to hang it around your neck, then I assume you’ve got some sort of personal credentials and that you deserve it: even if those credentials are that you really like it.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I wasn’t lucky like all the people whose parents handed them a copy of the canon as a child and not being in any of the gifted classes, none of my teachers assigned Sherlock Holmes. So like so many memories in my adult life, it can be traced back to my unlikely friendship with Heather Holloway. 

We were returning to our alma mater, Georgia Southern University, to hear Angela Davis speak. Driving down I-16, Heather asks me if I know if our hotel has PBS, because there was a modern version of Sherlock Holmes airing that night. She just knew it wasn’t going to be any good, but had to see it anyway. One phone call later, and yes, the HoJo had PBS. 

We go to the fascinating talk and to hang out with friends after… here’s when you realize that we aren’t really good people. We lie to leave the get together early so we can rush back to the hotel and tune in. 

We weren’t even out of John Watson’s flat before I was hooked. 

Later, we went to the Waffle House, like you do in the south, for a late night dinner and to talk about the show. We were lamenting that we’d have to wait another week when I had my “eureka” type moment.

“This has already aired in the UK?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Heather.

“Well, we have the internet” I said. 

Don’t fret BBC executives who may be reading this. I promise that you have gotten so much of my monies… we’re good. Promise. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

I actually have two, and my favorite is dependent on whatever mood I am in at the time. 

The first is DANC. I mean, what’s not to love about it? It’s got a cypher, two(ish) love stories gone wrong, AND a connection to organized crime, which has always fascinated me. 

The second is EMPT. For some people this is going to be something they are going to scroll past quickly because they’ve heard me say it before. I think we all connect with Sherlock Holmes because there is something or someone in the stories that we see a bit of ourselves in. 

Initially, for me was John Watson. While I was never, and will never be, a medical doctor or in the military, there is something about his personality and character that spoke to me. As I was reading EMPT I came to realize that Sebastian Moran was the antithesis of Watson, so it is no surprise that I became intrigued by this semi-one off character. 

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

Oh bless your heart. You want only one.

Sheclockiana is full of interesting people and has given me so many friends (and so many wonderful memories), so picking just one is hard, but I am going to go with Roger Johnson. 

I don’t know how many people know, but on top of his being both a scholar and a gentleman, he is also the editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal and the curator of the Museum within the Sherlock Holmes Pub on Northumberland Avenue. Whenever I get back to London, I try to always make time to meet up with him and Jean Upton for a chat. It is definitely not to be missed.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I really am intrigued by the “Grand Game,” but not necessarily the way that it was originally intended to be played. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I can tip my hat to the literary agent just as much as the next person, but I like to dig deeper, like many Sherlockians. Which leads to your next question…

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

I love to spend my time researching Watson’s and Moran’s military lives. 

Recently, I have given a talk at Scintillation of Scions and at my local scion, Wisteria Lodge, about Dr. Watson going to war. Since then I have been asked to give one on the schooling and path a modern Watson would take. 

I’ve also found myself down the rabbit hole of tracking down Moran’s actual regiment(s) and his movements after being discharged before finding his way to that fateful night he crossed paths with Sherlock Holmes. 

You are one of the co-founders of the wildly popular 221B Con.  How did this convention come about?

Well, you see, it started with a Doctor Who convention called TimeGate… actually it was a Doctor Who and StarGate convention, but like so many of these events, they often offer other panels that are on topics that those fandoms are also interested in. 

A former BBC employee was giving a talk on Sherlock Holmes media adaptations. I remember walking out of that panel thinking that if I could know half of what he had forgotten about Sherlock Holmes, then I would be set for life. 

As the five original directors of 221B and one of our future staff members stood around and discussed the panel, we got to talking about what a Sherlock Holmes convention would have. And I don’t think any of us remember who said it, but someone made the statement “someone should start a Sherlock Holmes con.” Someone else replied, “why don’t we start a Sherlock Holmes con?”

By the time we left the hotel the next day we had a (really questionable) hotel contract, a domain name, multiple social media accounts, and a convention committee (also, no startup capital or any idea how to organize a con). 

And that, as they say, is history.  

On top of running a huge weekend like 221B Con, you also manage to co-edit The Serpentine Muse!  What goes into putting out issues of such a prolific journal?

Crying mostly. Actually, I am totally kidding. I just wanted to say that. 

Seriously though, it is an absolute honor for Heather (see? There she is again y’all) and me to co-edit the Muse. So many amazing women have worked amongst those pages, from the days they sat around Evelyn Herzog’s place and literally had to cut out and tape the entries into a journal format through the days Marilynne McKay and Susan Diamond passed over the reins, blood, sweat, tears (and booze from what I hear) have been poured into that journal. 

And I am not really sure whether I cried more the day that Evelyn sent Heather and me the email over the invite us to become Adventuresses or the moment she sent the first issue we completed off to the printers. Though I digress, you asked about the process. 

With a typical issue, lovely Sherlockians send us articles, toasts, quizzes, art, or photos that they would like to see included in a future edition of the Muse. Heather or I, mostly Heather, will check it out and, if it's right for us, slate it for publication. 

When it comes time to start the next issue, which I am sure other editors will agree with us, seems to be right about the time you finish the current issue, we check to see what we have available. We attempt to offer a variety of both short and longer pieces so that there is something to sink your teeth into and palate cleansers alike. Whimsical is always a word we try to keep in mind. If we can make the issues keep to some sort of theme, even better, but that rarely has happened for us. 

Each piece is copied into a Google Doc where Heather proofs and gently edit the pieces if needed. If larger changes need to be made, we reach back out to the authors with our requests, which in most cases is usually to break something into multiple parts. We really try not to do more than fix the occasional word if we can help it. 

At this time, yours truly, begins to pull together some of the Editor’s Commonplace Book (mostly the calendar and the mentions that get a run every time) and placing the pieces into the blank pages on InDesign.

Once I know how much space the articles will take up, we add in the pictures or any graphics that you see when you open the pages of The Serpentine Muse. 

The next step is to fill out our section of the ECB, since at this time we know more about what space we get to use to tell you about either happenings within the Sherlockian world or in general, what we want to babble about that issue. 

Heather will then proof it once again; I think to make sure I haven’t accidentally left half of someone’s article or toast beyond the bleed (but that hasn’t happened yet), and then we send it off to Evelyn to go through with her fine-toothed comb. And let me tell you, if you ever need something proofed, she’s the one you should go to. I have no problem admitting that she makes whatever you see when you open that cover better. 

At that point, final tweaks are made, and she sends it off to be printed. The magic from there to when you pull it out of the mailbox is all her. You should ask her about it one day (like how I squeezed in a second Sherlockian that people might find interesting?).

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

This is the question I think I will be judged for more than all others. LOL

If you’re into True Crime, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson is fantastic. 

I’m madly in love with the Timothy Wilde series by Lyndsay Faye. If you dive in, tell my boy Valentine “hey.” The Gods of Gotham is the first in the trilogy. 

If you want to stay in the Sherlock pastiche realm, The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas is one of my absolute favorites. Book One is A Study in Scarlet Women.

Really, I will put any book I am reading down or rush through it to have my hands empty when Lyndsay or Sherry release a new book. I just love their styles. 

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

Truth be told, in five years, I see Sherlockiana looking like it does now, but with a younger demographic. 

Ten years, well ten years is where you are really going to see the change. I think people have begun to realize that Sherlockiana isn’t the boys club that it used to be. The wonderful women who have come before us have paved the way for younger generations. Add to that the changing representations of Sherlock Holmes in the media, which means that more women, non binary, POC, and other demographics will feel they are more accepted. IMHO, that’s what it is starting to look like now. It just hasn’t made it to the larger circles yet.