Sunday, June 27, 2021

Interesting Interview: Steve Mason

A typical Interesting Interview participant a few days to get their answers back to me.  Steve Mason holds the new speed record by far.  From my initial invitation email to him submitting his answers, he was done with all of this in five hours!  And I have no doubt it would've been done more quickly if I had responded to the in-between emails sooner.  But I'm not surprised by Steve's quick turnaround on a Sherlockian project because it seems that this man lives and breathes Sherlockiana from his home office.  

I first met Steve a few years ago when he and his son Rusty were driving to New York from Texas and decided to make a roundabout trip to visit with Sherlockians they hadn't met in person yet.  Since then, I've gotten to know him much better and he never ceases to amaze me with all of the projects he has going on.  As I was prepping today's post, I started making a running list of all of the Sherlockian projects I know Steve is involved with:  He is the head of The Crew of the Barque Lone Star scion, has made their monthly zoom meetings one of the most popular out there, oversees their annual publishing projects, writes the Baker Street Elementary comic strip along with his son, Rusty, and Joe Fay, is the Beacon Society Communications Chair, created the society's website, oversees the Fortescue Scholarship, publishes the Sherlock's Spotlight Gazette, created the Sherlockian Societies website, puts out the canonical word search puzzles, collects Sherlockian actor autographs, cross-stitches Sherlockian projects, and I know there's more that I can't remember!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

In lieu of a definition, I would instead say how you know a Sherlockian when you see one.  A true Sherlockian is the person who, when first introduced to someone for the first time, will somehow slip the name Sherlock Holmes into the conversation within a reasonable, but quick, time frame.  Additionally, a true Sherlockian will show their colors by hanging around others who want to talk about Sherlock Holmes, and not come up with any excuse they can to escape another Sherlockian.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

At the age of seven, I found my father’s copy of the 1949 paperback “Hound of the Baskervilles”, and was hooked, even though I didn’t understand much of it. I re-read the entire Canon over and over again throughout junior high and high school.  In 1999, I was so lucky to work with another Sherlockian (Dorothy McManus) while in Washington DC, who took me to my first Scion Society meeting, the Red Circle of DC, where I was blessed to meet Peter Blau.  As soon as I returned to Dallas, I searched out the Crew of the Barque Lone Star and started attending their meetings.

What is your favorite canonical story?

It would have to be “The Adventure of the Three Students” as I have had the privilege of administering the Fortescue Scholarship Exams for the Beacon Society for several years.  I will always be thankful to Susan Diamond for allowing me that opportunity.

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

As I assume you are talking about someone who is still with us, I am going to cheat and list two… my two mentors when I first joined the Crew, Don Hobbs and Jim Webb.  Both are distinguished Sherlockians, who have given talks internationally. More importantly, both of them believe sincerely in passing it forward.  They will always take the time to answer questions and provide guidance to anyone who asks for it. It also helps that both of them have a great sense of humor.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

While I collected autographs of those who had portrayed Sherlock Holmes for years (usually just signed programs from plays I attended), Howard Ostrom got me hooked into making it a full-fledged activity.  While I will never be an expert on all who have played Sherlock as Howard is (and Russell Merritt, and Roger Johnson, and others), I simply enjoy collecting the autographs and reaching out to as many as I can who have had the thrill of playing Sherlock.

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

Since my son, Rusty, Joe Fay, and I continue to produce the “Baker Street Elementary” comic strip on a weekly basis, I find it fun to determine what things can be put into the comic strip that would be time-appropriate… it’s a challenge writing a strip that you can’t include TV, radio, airplanes, basketball, etc.  I am very much appreciative to Liese Sherwood-Fabre, with her “The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes” series, which has helped me in this pursuit.

How and why did you become involved with the Beacon Society?

I have always believed that a good Sherlockian is one who wants to pass on our passion to the next generation.  Educating students about Sherlock through the Jan Stauber grants, as well as all of the other activities of the Beacon Society, seemed like a wonderful chance to help in this endeavor.  I was very honored when Bill Mason asked me to be the Chair of the Communications Committee several years ago.  I hope I have enriched the programs. It’s amazing how many wonderful people I have met through the Society.

As a Sherlockian that is behind the scenes in so many projects, what is one that you think more people should know about?

If they have not yet done so, I would highly recommend Sherlockians take the Fortescue Scholarship exams, including the recertification exams.  It is a great way for people to review the Canon, and learn more about the Sherlockian world.  Everyone who has finished the exams let me know how much they enjoyed taking them.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I am going to cheat again, by listing 2 books.  The first is one of the best books I have ever read on Sherlock Holmes, and that would be Mattias Bostrom’s “From Holmes to Sherlock”.  Mattias was simply amazing in the things he found to put in the book that many, if not most, Sherlockians were not aware of.  

The other book is one that I think some Sherlockians may have skipped, simply thinking they did not need to read it.  That would be Steven Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes for Dummies”.  I think even the most astute Sherlockians will learn a few things from the book, and it makes for a wonderful review of the Sherlockian world in which we all love.

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

I think the Sherlockian world will continue to expand as more and more people write pastiches, essays, plays, parodies, and everything else under the sun.  But to paraphrase another creator of a wonderful world for all of us, ““I hope we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by two people needing to share expenses.” And as the world of Sherlock Holmes continues to expand, I hope everyone will find the time to read, or re-read the Canon, on a regular basis. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Interesting Interview: Shana Carter

If you've been on a Sherlockian zoom meeting in the past year and a half, you're going to recognize this week's Interesting Interview.  Shana Carter is the woman who looks like she's calling in from a bookstore, but it's actually her own home.  Shana isn't someone who hogs the spotlight in these meetings, letting the more vociferous folks dominate the early minutes of every meeting when folks are asking if their microphones are on and wondering if the zoom link worked correctly.  But once it gets down to discussion of Sherlockian topics, Shana shines!  

Shana is quick to offer up Sherlockian opinions that are always well thought-out and often researched.  Any conversation she's a part of is heightened by her presences.  She's been a frequent speaker at 221B Con and can hold court on most things cinema-related.  And on top of all of that, she is one of the most delightful people you'll ever discuss this hobby with!  So let's get to know the fount of Sherlockian knowledge: Shana Carter!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

That's a tricky question. I'd say it comes down to the degree of investment. Ultimately, a Sherlockian is someone willing — perhaps "compelled" is a better word — to engage with Sherlock Holmes at a level beyond simple passive consumption.

How did you become a Sherlockian?
My path began at the age of nine (I think, I may have been younger), when my parents gave me a copy of The Complete Illustrated Sherlock Holmes, a volume which reproduces the stories illustrated by Sidney Paget as they first appeared in Strand Magazine. Then came the triple combo of Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985 (I was enough of a Sherlockian by then to guess the post-credits twist), The Great Mouse Detective in 1986, and the Granada Television series starring Jeremy Brett on PBS. 

I discovered the rest of the Canon in my junior high school library and read it, then moved on to all the pastiches I could find. In college (Cornell University, B.A., class of 1997) I wrote a paper titled "Art in the Blood" on how the depiction of Sherlock Holmes was influenced by the Aesthetic and Decadent movements. In 2004, I created a Sherlockian "fandom overview" for Crack Van, a fanfiction community on Livejournal. I finally attended my first Sherlockian event in 2012, the Baker Street Babes' inaugural Daintiest Thing Under A Bonnet Charity Ball, which is where I learned that the annual BSI Weekend includes events other than the Dinner which are open to anyone.

What is your favorite canonical story?
It's probably something of a cliché, but "A Scandal in Bohemia" was my introduction to Sherlock Holmes and will always hold pride of place in my heart. It helps that it's a fun romp, what with all the disguises and Holmes's possibly over-complicated scheme. That said, I'm also a big fan of "The Problem of Thor Bridge," which I'd argue is the story that comes closest to being a "fair play" mystery.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
I'd encourage newcomers to Sherlockiana to look up Vincent Starrett. His book The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a delightful introduction to the Great Game, and he also wrote the lovely sonnet, "221 B": "Here dwell together still two men of note / Who never lived and so can never die..." I had a printout of that poem taped to the outside of my dorm room door in college. 

As for contemporary Sherlockians, I'm so glad to have met the Belanger brothers, Derrick and Brian, who founded Belanger Books and run the international online scion Five Miles from Anywhere (meetings the first Saturday of every month).

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
Anyone who's seen me in a Zoom meeting knows I'm a bibliophile. My family moved from Miami to New York City when I was thirteen, which meant I could go to the Strand Book Store and the Mysterious Bookshop to feed my burgeoning appetite for pastiches and other Sherlockiana, like Otto Penzler's Sherlock Holmes Library. After college, I was lucky enough to work at St. Martin's Press for a few years, and brought home armfuls of free books. I still collect pastiches but my rate of acquisition has dropped a bit, partly because I've become a pickier reader, mostly due to space limitations. Unfortunately, as I've become more active in the community my interest in Holmesian scholarship has grown, so on balance I'm probably buying as many books as ever.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
If I plotted my interests out as a Venn diagram, there would be several that overlap with Sherlock Holmes. In grade school I went through a phase where I was really interested in the paranormal: cryptozoology, ufology, parapsychology, and anything to do with ghosts. I was thrilled when I learned that the man who created Sherlock Holmes was also a member of the Society for Psychical Research and a Spiritualist. That said, anyone who's attended one of the panels where I discussed ACD and Spiritualism knows that I'm more inclined to side with escape artist and scourge of false mediums Harry Houdini, who I was already a fan of before I knew of his connection to Conan Doyle. 

Incidentally, my favorite band is They Might Be Giants (they took their name from the 1971 film about a man who thinks he's Sherlock Holmes and the psychiatrist called in to diagnose him, Dr. Mildred Watson), who were playing in Atlanta, GA, the same weekend as the first 221Bcon; and I carry a torch for Buster Keaton, director and star of Sherlock Jr.

As a fan of classic movies, what are some of your favorite adaptations of Holmes and Watson from days gone by?
As a Sherlockian and a silent movie buff, I was thrilled by the rediscovery and restoration of the 1916 film adaptation of William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes and the 1929 German version of HOUN, Der Hund von Baskerville, both of which were long considered "lost" films. The Gillette movie enables us to see the first iconic portrayal of Holmes, but you can tell it was made when film technique was in its early days. The cinematography is far more sophisticated in the German film, which also has fantastic Baskerville Hall sets and a wonderfully unhinged Stapleton played by Fritz Rasp (familiar from Fritz Lang's Spione and Metropolis). 

However, the gold standard may still be the 1939 Hound of the Baskervilles from Twentieth-Century Fox, first of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce films; it has a marvelous soundstage moor, plus the greatest canonical fidelity of that series and, as a corollary, the most competent version of Watson that Bruce would ever play. I also have to give a shoutout to Young Sherlock Holmes, my introduction to the concept of the AU or "alternate universe" (in this case, "What if Holmes and Watson first met as schoolboys and fought an Egyptian cult?") and the first time I saw a fully CGI character (not that I had any idea then what computer-generated images were, I just knew the stained glass knight was awesome in every sense of the word).

You've been on lots of panels at 221B Con over the years.  What is a topic you would love to speak on that you haven't had the chance to yet?
I'd love to discuss the overlap between Sherlockiana and the H.P. Lovecraft fandom. We could talk about August Derleth, who co-founded Arkham House to print Lovecraft's writings, and then created the Mycroft & Moran imprint to publish his own stories about Sherlock Holmes expy Solar Pons and weird detective fiction by other authors. There are also a surprising number of stories that combine the ACD and HPL canons in various ways, like Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald."

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
I'm going to throw a curveball here by picking Naked Is the Best Disguise, by Samuel Rosenberg, who is to Holmesian scholarship what Hunter S. Thompson is to long-form journalism.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
I hope that Sherlockian societies continue to hold meetings via videoconference, or in a hybrid in-person/online format, on occasion; it's a great way to make events accessible for people who might not be able to participate for reasons of geography or disability. 

Meanwhile, I hope that those Sherlockians who do most of their activity online — bloggers, vloggers, fanfiction authors and digital fanart creators — start archiving their work offline; the internet is wonderful for disseminating content but not always great at preserving it.

* Cover image credit to Steven Rosen Photography
"Women in Canon 221B Con" screengrabs are from Howard Ostrom's Facebook group "Sherlock Holmes on Screens"

Monday, June 7, 2021

Buried Among His Old Books [SCAN]

Yesterday I received the best type of mail: BOOKS!

But not just any books, Sherlockian Scholarship.  Hard to find and out of print volumes that have been on my TBR list for years.

I'm an inveterate reader, but not a book collector.  I want to read as much as I can, but don't particularly care what condition a cover is or what printing it is.  And I'm very much a cheapskate.  Because of these things, getting some of the more obscure Sherlockian scholarship is a inner struggle for me.

But when Denny Dobry posted on Facebook last week about his open house and BSI Trust books sale, I knew I'd find some good stuff.  Little did I know just how good it would be!

As you can see from the pictures from Denny's post, there is a LOT of stuff for sale here.  And since I won't be able to go to his open house on August 21, I just sent him a quick email to see if he had a list of the books available.  Denny said it would actually be able for me to just send him my list and he would compare the two.  A few days later, I got an email back with titles and prices, and it was time for me to prioritize (remember: cheapskate).

Some of these titles I'd put on my TBR list years ago, so I didn't really remember what they were.  Turns out, I wasn't interested in a few of them anymore.  Others, Denny had multiple copies of, so I was happy to take the cheaper one and leave pristine copies for someone who would really appreciate its condition.

Once it was all said and done, a check was mailed, and somehow Denny's Medial Mail package to me arrived before my first class envelope to him. (The check's in the mail, I promise!)

So on a Saturday afternoon, I came home to an innocent looking cardboard box on my porch, but what was inside was a treasure:

The Oxford Sherlock Holmes 

    The Valley of Fear

    The Hound of the Baskervilles

    The Return

    The Adventures

    His Last Bow

So Painful a Scandal – John Berquist 

Sherlock Alive – Vincent Starrett 

Irregular Records of the Early Forties – Jon Lellenberg

Irregular Crises of the Late Forties – Jon Lellenberg 

France in the Blood – Catherine Cooke

Holmes’ Range – Walter Armstrong

The View-Halloa – Dana Richards

The Before Breakfast Pipe – David Hammer 

The Illustrious Client’s Casebook

The Illustrious Client's Third Casebook

As someone who is always on the lookout for Sherlockiana to read, I like to keep a healthy backlog of things to read as shown in my Sherlockian TBR shelf below.  These 15 new titles will get added to my bookcases of things to read and I feel very content knowing I'm not going to run out of reading material any time soon!

For those of you who can make it to Denny's house in Pennsylvania on August 21, here's the information on his open house:

Book Fair and Open House – Mark your calendar for August 21,2021 and plan to attend a Book Fair and Open House at Denny Dobry’s 221b Baker Street sitting room re-Creation in Reading, Pennsylvania. The re-creation has been described as the most detailed and accurate of all the existing re-creations. Thousands of books will be available for purchase at rock-bottom prices. These books have been donated to support the Baker Street Irregulars Trust Historical Archives. The selection includes many editions of the Canon, rare Sherlockian Scholarship titles, hundreds of pastiches & parodies, a variety of non-Sherlockian Doyle’s works, titles from other mystery writers (Sayers, Christie, Queen, Starrett etc.), an extensive Christopher Morley & P. G. Wodehouse selection and crime & British reference works. In addition, many items such as statues, glassware, mugs, games, jigsaw puzzles and posters will also be available. Publications by the Baker Street Irregular Press will also be available for sale. This sale likely provides the widest selection of Sherlockian items available anywhere.

The hours of the Open House/Book Fair will be from 10:00am until everyone is gone. The address is 5003 Stony Run Drive, Reading, PA. Lunch will be available. Reading is 100 miles from Manhattan, 80 miles from Baltimore and 40 miles from Philadelphia. Start planning your car pool.

If some out of towners stay over Friday and/or Saturday night, I would be happy to arrange for getting together for dinner.

You may contact Denny at