Sunday, January 24, 2021

Interesting Interview: Ross Davies

I wonder if Ross Davies ever sleeps.  As a Sherlockian, the man seems to know no end.  He makes literary maps, he curates a website of Sherlockian toasts, he designs bobbleheads and tchotchkes, he oversees Baker Street Irregulars events, he publishes The Baker Street Almanac every year, he has appeared in more Sherlockian publications than I can count, and he just put out a new book of scholarship last month, Holmes Reads Holmes.  And that's just what he does for his hobby!

To pay the bills, Ross is a law professor at George Mason University, which I can only assume takes up at least as much time as his Sherlockian activities.  From conversations we've had about education, I can tell that Ross puts a lot of thought into what is best for his students and what will help them succeed during and after their tenure in his classes.  

But wait!  There's more!  Ross Davies is the editor of a law journal, The Green Bag, is on the steering committee of the Nero Wolfe society, The Wolfe Pack, and is a SABR award-winning author.  (If you are a baseball fan, you realize that this might be the coolest thing I've ever typed.)

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Anyone who enjoys any part of Sherlock’s worlds.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, the Davies family spent large chunks of the summertime camping. In the tent (which was at that time yellow and huge and smelled like adventure, and is today still yellow), before lights out, our mom would read to my sister, my brother, and me.

She covered a pretty wide range of material, and some of it was Canonical. I remember most vividly being terrified by “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and awed by “The Valley of Fear.” Since then, much sleep has been lost courtesy of Arthur Conan Doyle, some of it reading, some of it lying awake and afraid in the dark. My dedication in the book “Holmes Reads Holmes” is to Rachel S. Davies. That’s mom, who is, by the way, the coolest person in the world.

What is your favorite canonical story?

It varies with the moods of the reader. Right now, “The Adventure of the Yellow Face” (my favorite illustration from the first printing is currently on the landing page of the Baker Street Almanac). The story is filled with love, misunderstanding and then understanding, and humility, and it concludes with an admission of imperfection of judgment by the best and wisest man Dr. Watson ever knew. We could all do with a whispered “Norbury” in our ear from time to time. 

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

A double answer is required. In alphabetical order by first name they are Crystal and Heather, and by last name they are Holloway and Noll. They are the brains and hearts behind 221B Con, and while it has always taken a great deal of both to make that con happen, the year 2020 proved that Heather and Crystal are superheroes. And chatting with them is a trip!

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Scions and other Sherlockian-Doylean organizations – their histories and their cultures. I would love to read more published histories of them. We’re trying to do something about that with the Baker Street Almanac. In recent years, Monica Schmidt (the BSA’s Editor of Scionical and Societal Reports (U.S.A.)) has been gathering annual news about groups in the U.S.A., and starting this year, Jay Ganguly (the BSA’s new Editor of Scionical and Societal Reports (Global)) is doing the same work for many other parts of the world.

In addition, we’ve been enlisting knowledgeable people to write full histories of some of the major, longstanding pillars of the Sherlockian-Doylean world. Julie McKuras wrote a history of The Norwegian Explorers for the 2019 BSA, and Steve Doyle wrote about Wessex Press for the 2020 BSA. I am happy to report that we will be continuing this in the 2021 BSA with something from Cliff Goldfarb about the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Public Library.

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

Where things are – reading maps and making maps. Many other things are distractingly interesting, of course (we all have too many Sherlockian interests?!), but maps will always be special. If you’d like to see a recent one, here is “The Adventure of the Resident Patient”

What was the impetus for starting The Baker Street Almanac?

Finally, an easy question! The Green Bag, Inc. – the little non-profit company that publishes the BSA -- actually specializes mostly in law-related publications. One of those publications is the “Green Bag Almanac & Reader,” which is an annual review of law and legal writing.

We have always added a bit of extra interest and entertainment to the “A&R” by including material related to some literary-cultural theme. For many years, we chose a new theme each year, ranging from baseball to Shakespeare, from breakfast to Thomas Nast, from presidential elections to Sherlock Holmes. It was that last theme that caused us trouble. We published a Sherlock-themed A&R in 2015. Reader response was so extraordinarily positive, and demands for a sequel so numerous and emphatic, that we violated our tradition of variation, postponed a planned whist-themed A&R, and put out a second Sherlock-themed edition in 2016.

There was plenty of demand for a third round of Sherlock, but enough was enough. In 2017 we published a long-planned A&R tribute to Thurgood Marshall, and in 2018 we finally put out our whist book. In other words, we moved on from the idea of another Sherlock-themed A&R. But many of our readers continued to pester us to do more. A publisher that ignores its readers is in great peril, and the Green Bag is a wimpy enterprise. Enter the BSA. In early 2018 we issued a small pamphlet to raise awareness of the project among prospective authors and readers. The response was good. We published our first big BSA in 2019, our second in 2020, and our 2021 edition will be in print in a few weeks.

As the overseer of the BSI outings, what do you look for when putting together such events?

Many things! I’ll mention two. First, balance. Our community is built on appreciation of the Canon, and also on appreciation of each other – on appreciation of both scholarship and of friendship. A successful BSI conference is a weekend devoted to cultivating both, and that means striking a balance in the schedule between formal presentations, organized activities, and informal social time.

We could, of course, easily fill two days with presentations, and two days with activities, and two days with eating and drinking and chatting with friends old and new. Alas, the six-day weekend appears to be something for which the world is not yet prepared, and so we invest a lot of effort in making difficult choices about what to do and not do in pursuit of an Irregularly well-balanced weekend. Past organizers have done a mighty good job, and I hope we can keep that going in the future.

Second, novelty. Historically, organizers have also done exceedingly well when it comes to picking new and interesting themes and locations, and also arranging for presentations of new, widely appealing, and previously unpublished and unpresented scholarship. Ensuring all of that interesting freshness is as difficult as achieving a pleasing balance. And again, I hope we can keep that going in the future.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Picture books are always good, and Sarah Obermuller-Bennett’s “A Study in Postcards: Sherlock Holmes in the Golden Age of the Picture Postcard” is a great one. I hope she writes a sequel.

Another extraordinary excellent bookish item that I especially admire is not, strictly speaking, a book itself -- is a hard-to-find supplement to Leslie S. Klinger’s superb “The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.” It is here and it is free.

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

Mars. I dearly hope that NASA decides that the best astronauts to send on the first mission to Mars are small old people (cheaper to transport, less to lose), and that when the first of them steps onto the red planet they say something like, “One sight for this small, near-sighted person to see, and one vast vista for all of visionary humanity to observe.” That, at least, is the plan. And there has been some progress already.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Interesting Interview: Carla Coupe

Carla Coupe was invested into the Baker Street Irregulars earlier this month, and I was taken by surprise when I heard her name. Not because I think she's unworthy of the recognition, quite the opposite. As long as I've known her, I've been under the assumption that she was already a member!

Carla recently took over as Head Light for the Beacon Society, and I'm very excited to see where her leadership takes an already fantastic organization.  She recently retired from Wildside Press, a publishing house that has put out some really great Sherlockian titles over the years, and has also done her fair share of Sherlockian writing, penning short stories for Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine back in the day, and is an all-around mystery fan, writing two Agatha Award nominated short stories.  

You could see why I'd thought Carla was already invested.  She's definitely got the credentials!  But Carla is more than just her resume.  To know Carla is to love her.  Her no-nonsense attitude is quietly overshadowed by her smile makes you want to give her a big old bearhug!  Carla is wickedly funny and very friendly, a wonderful combination.  So let's enjoy our first Interesting Interview of 2021 with Carla Coupe!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Easy. Anyone interested enough in Sherlock Holmes to read/watch/listen to anything Sherlock Holmes related is a Sherlockian.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

The usual way, I suppose. I read my first story at around 10 and then devoured the Canon. In my early teens I dragged our “portable” B&W TV into my bedroom and balanced it on a swaying TV tray every Saturday night to watch the Rathbone and Bruce movies on the late-late-programming. For many years, although I still periodically re-read the Canon and watched the occasional Holmes movie, I focused more on general mysteries. In 2009, I was asked to join Peter E. Blau and Dan Stashower on the Diane Rehm show to discuss HOUN (my favorite), and that re-kindled my interest in the world of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockians. I joined Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City in 2013 and traveled up to the NYC Birthday festivities the next year. From there it was all downhill.

What is your favorite canonical story?

HOUN. Not only for the delicious Holmes and Watson interactions, but also for the descriptions of Dartmoor and the splendid gothic atmosphere. My ASH moniker is “The Footsteps of a Gigantic Hound.”

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

Tough question. There are so many, but I’ll choose Dana Cameron (The Giant Rat of Sumatra). In addition to being wicked smaht (yeah, she’s from Boston), she’s a talented writer and all ’round fascinating person. Buy her a good single malt and you’ll be entertained the whole evening.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I admire those who have the space and funds to be collectors, but since I’m in the midst of doing Swedish death cleaning…. Hmmmm. Probably the world and British events referenced throughout, many of which were current when Watson was penning the Canon. My graduate and undergraduate degrees are in British history, so mention a date or event and I start sniffing around like a bloodhound. I can’t help it.

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

I’m fascinated by domestic history and items, so much of which is ephemeral—re-used and re-purposed until it disintegrates. Fabric and cheap pottery, as examples. The only reason earlier periods are called the stone age and the iron age is because stone and iron have lasted to the present day, whereas cloth and leather and pottery have not. The lives of the subjugated (or oppressed, if you prefer) and especially the lives of women have often been ignored or minimized in traditional historical studies. There are many stories of women, or servants in general, to mine in the Canon, I wrote a pastiche about Agatha in CHAS, because I felt that Holmes’ use of her in the case was not his finest moment and she deserved better.

You transitioned from being a Sherlockian short story writer to a Sherlockian publisher with Wildside Press. How did your experiences as a Sherlockian differ on either side of the desk?

In addition to all the other elements required to be a decent editor, I became more particular about period authenticity. If you’re going to write an alternate history—steampunk, whatever—that’s fantastic and I say go for it. But it must be clear from the outset that this is what you’re writing. Non-period dialogue, items, events, and plots in a pastiche immediately throw me out of the story. Decide what you’re writing and if you want it to be authentic, do your research.

As the new head of The Beacon Society, what are your plans for the group?

I’m fortunate that the Head-Lights who came before we did so much of the real ground-work. We have many excellent programs in place: the Susan Z. Diamond Beacon Award, the Jan Stauber Grants, the Fortescue Scholarship Exams, and the Junior Sherlockian Society. We’ve recently added the R. Joel Senter, Sr. Essay Contest and Sherlock’s Spotlight, a gazette for young Sherlockians. One of my goals is to continue to expand support for and access to these programs. Like so many organizations, we’re keeping watch on the pandemic situation and will adapt our programs if possible and as necessary.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Jeez, why don’t you ask me a difficult question? </sarcasm> What appeals to you? Pastiche? Scholarly article? Essay? A book I love that you can dip into at your leisure is A Curious Collection of Dates: Through The Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney (Gasogene Books). A delightful way to progress through the year with meaty nuggets of canonical information.

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

I hope younger folk and those entering the fandom provide an impetus to keep things fresh with new groups, new leaders and influencers, and hopefully new takes on the Canon through pastiches, comics, graphic novels, movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc. Of course we should celebrate the history of Sherlockians and their activities, but if we don’t pull in vigorous new blood, all that’s been built will fall into disuse and be forgotten, and that would be a shame.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Looking Over My Notes [NORW]

This wraps up my fourth year blogging at Interesting Though Elementary.  If you’ve been following along since the beginning, God bless your intrepid and patient soul.  I used to start off the year with Sherlockian resolutions and end each year with a review of how well I did and a separate post of all of the Sherlockian books I read in the year, but like the rest of the world in 2020, things changed.  So this will be my catch-all post for the year: a look back at Sherlockiana like one I've never seen before.

My biggest Sherlockian love is my home scion, The Parallel Case of St. Louis.  I won't take up too much space here going on and on about what a year we had, but if you're interested in those thoughts, I've posted it on our group's blog, The Parallelogram.

Looking back on 2020, I was a busy Sherlockian!  As if the day-to-day Sherlockian discussions on Twitter and keeping up with the Parallel Case of St. Louis's Facebook page weren't enough to keep me busy, I took on some big projects.  

Writing and Editing

For the past six years, I've been teaching a two-week unit on Sherlock Holmes to my fifth graders.  Over the past year and a half, I've worked on turning that into a book that would make some of the original canonical stories accessible to fourth to sixth grade readers, along with accompanying information that I present to my class.  After a ton of work and great feedback from non-Sherlockian teachers, I finally finished that project in November!  The publishing world slows down dramatically at the end of the year, so shopping this project around to literary agents will begin in earnest in January.  

And another book project wrapped up this year as well!  My friend, Peter Eckrich, reached out to me last year about doing something with the specifics of Sherlockian collecting, and over the following months, we were able to recruit some amazing folks to work with us.  During the first half of this year we finished up a great anthology on Sherlockian collecting titled The Finest Assorted Collection.  In this book, 27 Sherlockians have written essays about their specific niche collections.  Spending so much time working with these folks was one of the real highlights of my year and I found that I really love editing!  (Maybe not so much with my fifth graders, but Sherlockians are much easier to work with.)  The book was pitched and accepted by Wessex Press and is set for a publication in January 2022.  So even though Rebecca Romney cited it a few times in her Toronto talk a few weeks back, we will all have to wait a while to read about these interesting collections!

And speaking of editing, I got to work with some of my favorite Sherlockians on their own projects.  Bill Cochran, Heather Hinson, and Brad Keefauver all have some amazing things coming, and I feel very blessed that they let me have a peek behind the curtain in their creative processes.  

Another writing project included something I've been working towards for years.... I'm getting published in the Baker Street Journal!  An article I wrote on organized crime has been accepted for publication in 2021, which thrills me to no end.  If I never write another thing, I will have had something in the BSJ.  ...swoon...

Some other fun and exciting projects included a history of The Beacon Society for Ross Davies's amazing Baker Street Almanac, an article about Charlie Peace for The Serpentine Muse, a piece of fiction being accepted and held for future publication in the Sherlock Holmes Journal, an alternative take on A Study in Scarlet for The Watsonian, and an essay on curried mutton to an upcoming project that Margie Deck and Nancy Holder are heading up for Belanger Books, Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street.

And one of my pieces of work from last year was published this January, converging my two biggest interests, Sherlockiana and education.  I was very honored to be a part of the latest book in the BSI Professional Series, Education Never Ends: Educators, Education, and the Sherlockian Canon.  It debuted in the dealer's room of the BSI Birthday Weekend WHICH I GOT TO GO TO THIS YEAR!

Remember January?  It seemed so long ago....


I posted daily recaps of my excitement at being part of a huge weekend full of Sherlockians earlier in the year (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4), but thinking back on that trip can still make a smile creep across my face.  So, so many great people spending time together.  Whether it was formal presentations or chats in the hotel lobby, my first Birthday Weekend will always be a top Sherlockian memory for me.

Once all of the scions meetings went digital, I started out trying to go to as many  as I could, but as a teacher who has been bouncing in and out of remote learning for ten months now, I learned pretty quickly that there was no way to attend as much as I would like.  I just didn't have the stamina for it.  But man, did I enjoy the ones I got to go to and always look forward to what's coming up on the calendar, whether or not my eyes and psyche will allow me to attend.  

Other events had to be cancelled (Holmes, Doyle, and Friends, 221B Con) or postponed (Holmes in the Heartland), but others took to Zoom.  Scintillation of Scions set the standard with their Zoom format and happy hours, that was soon used by other fun events like Sherlockian Saturday at the Pratt.  

And 2020 saw my debut as a Sherlockian speaker as Elinor Gray shepherded me through fear of public speaking and I gave a talk at the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium.  Because of that presentation, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at this year's Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota's Christmas Dinner.  Both audiences were absolutely lovely and made public speaking slightly less terrifying.  But they were both audiences full of Sherlockians, so of course they were great!

Interesting Interviews

Hands down, the most rewarding Sherlockian activity this year was posting interviews on this blog with Sherlockians that I find fascinating.  And judging from the comments on Twitter and Facebook, I'm not the only one that found these folks engaging.  There are so many Sherlockians out there that it's easy to overlook or not hear of some of the great energy happening in our hobby, and I have absolutely loved giving folks in the spotlight.  These have proved so popular that I bumped it up from one to two each month and plan to continue that pace into 2021.

January 2020: Elinor Gray

February 2020: Bob Katz

March 2020: Monica Schmidt

April 2020: Susan Rice

May 2020: Burt Wolder

June 2020: Jay Ganguly

June 2020: Laurie King

June 2020: Steven Doyle

July 2020: Mike McSwiggin

July 2020: Jacquelyn Morris

August 2020: Jerry Margolin

August 2020: Charles Prepolec

September 2020: Maria Fleischhack

October 2020: Mike Ranieri

October 2020: Julie McKuras

November 2020: Mark Jones

November 2020: Sonia Fetherston

December 2020: Crystal Noll

December 2020: Greg Ruby

Books Read

2020 gave me plenty of time to read, and I hit about 295 books and journals this year.  Obviously all of them weren't Sherlockian, and I won't bore you with all of them, but here's a quick synopsis:

30 stories from the Canon

31 issues of The Baker Street Journal

32 other journals including The Holmes and Watson Report, The Serpentine Muse, The Watsonian, Canadian Holmes, The Norwegian Explorers' Christmas Annuals, The Newspapers, Baker Street West

26 scholarly books

14 pastiche & parodies

12 books about Sherlockian history

...and 3 books from Doyle's Rotary Coffin, they defy categorization

2020 has definitely been a challenging year on many fronts, but looking back I am so grateful for the community of Sherlockians out there.  Everyone in this hobby has gone above and beyond to help one another out and keep our minds from the world outside.  Even though most of us spent the year using technology more than ever before, plenty of times we were able to say it's still 1895.