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.