This week's Interesting Interview is author extraordinaire Elizabeth Crowens! Elizabeth recently won the Leo B. Burnstein Scholarship from the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Her Time Travel Professor Series features Arthur Conan Doyle as a prominent character. And let me tell you, these books are fast paced adventures!
Elizabeth has been a Sherlockian for years now and a writer even longer. She's contributed to anthologies, magazines, websites, and a host of her own series which can all be found on her website. I could go on and on about Elizabeth's writing career, but it's time to hear from the lady herself!
How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
I like to take the broadminded approach and define it as anyone who is a fan of Sherlock Holmes in any medium--film, television, books, or theater, and is always hungry for more. They might not necessarily be scholars, but they are interested in scholarly accounts and references in regards to both Holmes and his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. You can't leave out Doyle!
Although many are centralized on Holmes, to me, a Sherlockian also extends to an interest in the history of the time period when these stories were written. This also includes other Victorian crime stories, forensics, science and medicine, manners and customs.
How did you become a Sherlockian?
By accident--LOL, or in Victorian terms-- I went in through the back door or the servant's entrance. I had already been writing the first novel in my alternate history series, Silent Meridian, involving my protagonist and Arthur Conan Doyle, with his interest in the Society of Psychical Research and Spiritualism. I needed to write a fight scene and wondered what kind of self-defense methods a Victorian person would use. Randomly, I Googled: Martial Arts and Sherlock Holmes, and I discovered a website for a local bartitsu dojo located where I live in New York City. (Doyle spelled it wrong as baritsu.) It happened that they had a class scheduled for the following day, and I showed up. That's where I met Rachel Klingberg who, in turn, introduced me to Susan Rice and Judith Freeman, who were former heads of ASH and the Priory Scholars, local scions in the New York City area. The New York dojo disbanded, but ASH and Priory Scholars have lived on.
What is your favorite canonical story?
"The Speckled Band," hands down. I thought the notion of the villain using a poisonous snake, slithering down a bell cord for a Victorian-era story, was wildly original.
Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
Why are you asking me that question? Every Sherlockian is interesting-- from someone like Robert Katz who can explain Victorian autopsies and pathology to Jeffrey Hatcher who wrote the screenplay for Mr. Holmes.
What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
I'm a movie nut. I don't read many pastiches, but I love watching non-Canonical stuff on film. I regularly attend the Theater-goers group that Monica Schmidt started. A Saturday afternoon matinee is just what I need sometimes, especially since we've been socially isolated for the past year and a half. I also have a secret, Holmes-inspired project that I finished and am trying to find a new literary agent to represent, but it's very hush-hush for now.
What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
The Victorian era was such an interesting time. Even more fun is making the excuse to travel across the pond to do my research in London, other areas of England, and Scotland, where Doyle was born and went to the university for medical school. I get a lot more out of traveling to a location, walking into buildings from that time period, and tasting the food than trying to look up stuff online.
Arthur Conan Doyle, a historical figure that so many of us know so well, plays a big part in your Time Traveler Professor book series. What research did you have to do to turn him into a character in these novels?
I spent nearly a week at the British Library going through handwritten letters. I read a lot of biographies and a fair amount of his other fiction and non-fiction, including his interaction with Houdini. Besides the two of them, I also read a lot of stuff on H.G. Wells and other authors from that time period.
How does being a novelist influence how you enjoy reading the Canon?
If I'm researching how to create realistic dialogue and descriptions, I'm better off reading material written during that time period. It's the real deal, although I have to tone it down for modern readers.
What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
I'd recommend that Sherlockians become familiar with some of Conan Doyle's other stories outside of Sherlock Holmes, along with some of his non-fiction works. Personally, I'm a fan of Doyle's ghost stories, Lot No. 249 being one of my favorites. I think it's also important to read a few biographies on Doyle. Not just one, but several, especially when Doyle assumed the role of a detective in the George Edalji and Oscar Slater cases.
Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
We can all agree that the pandemic has been a terrible thing in so many ways, but the one positive way that it's affected Sherlockiana is the ability to "Zoom" into meetings all over the world, connecting all sorts of people who are passionate about the Sherlock Holmes literary, film, and theatrical legacies.
Before the pandemic, it was impossible to attend everything. For me, even if money wasn't the factor, I wouldn't have time to write if I hopped on a plane to attend every scion function. Going forward, I'm hoping that people will consider hybrid options for those who can't always travel. The technology is there, and there are breakout rooms where people can chat with each other rather than passively watching a presenter on screen.