Sunday, February 20, 2022

Interesting Interview: Steve Emecz

If you've read a Sherlockian pastiche in the past 15 years, chances are Steve Emecz had something to do with it.  Steve's MX Publishing was my first publisher when I had an idea to turn Sherlock Holmes into a criminal mastermind back in 2017 and I remember just how nice of a guy Steve was on our calls in the led up to it.  In fact, Steve is the whole reason I have this blog today!  So when Steve asked me to be interviewed for the MX Audio app I was happy to help.  And it dawned on me that Steve Emecz, someone who should've been one of my first interviews had never been invited!  Mea culpa.  Better late than never, I guess.  

In preparing for my interview with Steve and his interview here, I delved back into the MX site.  Holy cow, are there a ton of books there!  And even though MX is known for their pastiches, there are some really great selections of scholarship, biography, and media studies as well.  I've always known that MX Publishing is tied to philanthropy, but wasn't aware of just how much of their business gives to worthy causes.  So I sure didn't feel bad adding a few more MX titles to my bookshelves this week.  And I think after this week's interview with Steve Emecz, you may just want to add a few more of their books to your collection as well to support a good guy and the good he does in the world.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

For me there are three levels. Shelockian is someone who likes Sherlock. Holmesian is someone who is more traditional (you shouldn't use the name Sherlock anyway as in his time he would have been 'Holmes') and then the really focused group the Doyleans. So for me, a Sherlockian is someone who likes Sherlock Holmes in whatever format and era.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

In 2008 we were approached by Alistair Duncan with a book called Eliminate The Impossible. It's a review of the stories and actors that had played the main characters to that point in time (before RDJ and Cumberbatch) and we began publishing Holmes non-fiction and then once the big new adaptations came out we started publishing fiction too and it's grown from there.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

My day job is in technology so completely removed from Holmes. I've been lucky to have travelled extensively with my career in the last 30 years and publishing is the ideal own business to pursue alongside a day job as it is all done in the evenings and weekends.

What is your favorite canonical story?

It's The Hound simply because I have been involved in many adaptations of it and seen it on screen and stage. MX has lots of books on The Hound from a graphic novel and stage plays through to biographies (The Hound of The Baskervilles). In a recent interview with Scott Monty and Burt Wolder of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere for our app, Scott talked about how Conan Doyle wrote the moor as a character and I think he's onto something there.

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

There are so many to choose from - Lee Child is my favourite writer personally and he was at Granada studios at the same time as Jeremy Brett so he tops my list of non-Sherlock writers. David Marcum as the most prolific editor and writer of Holmes pastiches and finally Otto Penzler as a collector, publisher and owner of the Mysterious Bookshop.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I like other adaptations that are based on Holmes - my favourite being House with Hugh Laurie and of course Reacher - though he doesn't have a Watson so I think House just about edges it for me in terms of Sherlockian influence.

The MX catalog is gigantic!  What are one or two highlights from your time in putting out so many books?

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories is an amazing collection which is up to thirty volumes now with more to come. Over 800 stories and 200 authors and lots of big names taking part. 

I also love the novels and our partnership with Mondadori the big Italian publisher who have translated over fifty now - from those probably The Vatican Cameos is the highlight as it has won several awards and has an endorsement from Lee Child. 

The Art of Sherlock Holmes has been an amazing project with 56 pieces of art created from our stories - building the Virtual Gallery was a lot of fun. Created and curated by one of our novelists Phil Growick, I was lucky enough to be at the gallery launch of book one in the USA and we're working on some more fun things for that. My personal favourite from the collection is Christina Major's piece featuring Irene Adler.

MX is also known for its philanthropic endeavors.  How did they come about?

There are four main programmes we work with. The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories supports Undershaw school for children with learning disabilities. We got involved when the original building was going to be destroyed and we supported the team looking to save the building (working with Stephen Fry, Mark Gatiss and others). I then became a patron of the school and we've raised over $95k for the school now. 

The second is Happy Life Mission which my wife brought me into when she took a career break to volunteer in Kenya. We've spent eight Christmases there with the kids and people can read up about this years' trip on our blog. It's a baby rescue centre that has saved the lives of over 800 abandoned babies in Nairobi. 

The third is the UN WFP (World Food Programme) for whom I am an advisor and technology mentor. The team won the Nobel peace prize in 2020 which was an amazing experience to be a small part of. 

The fourth is iHeart who work with teenage mental health - it started in the UK but spreading worldwide now. We have more on our About Us section on our website.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

If you're looking for short stories very similar to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I would start with Volume 1 of the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories - with the knowledge that if you like them there are more than 800 more to come. 

If you are a Jeremy Brett fan then the biography, Jeremy Brett Playing a Part which won the Sherlock Holmes Book of The Year 2021. 
Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

Three trends I think. I'm sure the expansion of characters to the canon that weren't supported at the time will continue and expand a lot. From strong female characters (Enola Holmes) to LGBTQ+ and BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) characters etc. 

I expect Sherlockiana will enter the Metaverse very soon and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. 

We expect many more readers to switch over to audio - it's our fastest growing format. So much so that we created an app 'The MX Audio Collection' for fans which enables us to load stories, but also interviews with Sherlockians and other content. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Interesting Interview: Al Shaw

I got to know Al Shaw from various conferences.  Always welcoming and sardonic, he is a great guy to hang around with (as long as you can accept the fact that your hair is never going to look as good as his).  No matter the topic, you can count on Al to have some knowledge of it.  As the head of the Chicago scion, Hugo's Companions, his is a name that is known all throughout the Midwest.

When Peter Eckrich and I started coming up with names of people to participate in The Finest Assorted Collection, we quickly learned about Al and his pipe collection.  And what goes better with Holmes than pipes?  I don't know about anyone else out there, but the thought of taking up pipe smoking has crossed my mind a time or two as I enjoy the Canon.  But for now I will live vicariously through Al.  And we can all see Sherlockiana through his eyes right now with this week's interview! 

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?  

A person who enjoys reading the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Canon), and pursues their interest in that Victorian world according to paradigm that it describes. 

How did you become a Sherlockian? 

In 1971 the Chicago Tribute ran an article stating that Sherlock Holmes' Birthdays was being celebrated by Hugo's Companions and it gave a contact address. (There was no email, kids)

I wrote and received an invitation to that dinner.  I was warmly greeted by the late John Neiminski, and, by the end of the evening, was invited to future meetings.

What was your profession before you retired and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian? 

I was an IT manager. Thank goodness it did not affect my enjoyment whatsoever.  ;-) 1895 is quite always from the world of bits, hard drives and bytes. I much prefer the bite of a gigantic hound.

What is your favorite canonical story? 

"The Red-Headed League." I have had my own share of three pipe problems. Haven't we all?

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

Dino Argyropoulos; He is the editor of the Grimpen Mire Gazette and is responsible for it rebirth. He is the Secretary of Hugo's Companion's, one of the two forces behind success as Master Of the Hounds. (The other being Monica Schmidt) Dino has probably won more Holmes quizzes than even local Holmes quizmasters, David Humphries and Phil Cunningham.  He is a retired Librarian that seems to now be a  library of knowledge unto himself.   One might say that he is my brother from another mother.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you? 

I would say the Solar Pons books. Perhaps because Derleth was a Midwest local who really and truly understood the meaning of 'pastiche.'

How did you become a Sherlockian pipe collector? 

The short answer is : When a pipe smoker is a Sherlockian, it is inevitable.

To smoke a pipe while reading the canon, it is quite nearly possible to see the yellow fog swirl past the window pane. The scent of past shag tobaccos linger in the pages.

Chicago has a rich Sherlockian history and active community.  What should people from outside of the Windy City know about your Sherlockian world? 

First I think there is a misconception about Chicago's Sherlockian scene. There is not one major Scion. There is here, one scion or another so that each may find there preference. There are actually so many that I can only name a few; Hugo's Companions is the oldest and was spawned to feed members to The Hounds Of The Baskerville (sic) . The Hounds BTW, is one of the few and oldest actual chapters of the BSI and not a scion. The Criterion Bar is probably the oldest Chicago stand alone scion,  There also are The Sherlock Holmes and All That Jazz Society, The Watsonians, The Torists, The Bee Speckled Band and the Scotland Yarders to name the first few that pop into my head.

Many people are members of multiple groups some just of one according to that group's particular focus. I would say there is bolt for every nut.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians? 

I would say if you have not read it, acquire a copy of Barring Gould's Annotated Sherlock Homes. It was the first real major undertaking that has spawned the others of that ilk.

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

Well THAT my friend is the question, For me the issue is will people still read the Canon?  So let's look at the past to perhaps perceive the future. When what we now call Old Time Radio came upon the scene, people said (I was told by those who were there, I am not THAT old) that is the end of reading. We can can now hear the stories on the radio. That together with films, Ellie Norwood, even Gillette, did give the less inclined to eschew books. But the stories lived, then came TV with Ronald Howard and even god help us, Cumberbatch. Yet books of the Canon still persist.  Today there is the Internet and Zoom.

So let me close with this paraphrase;

... still the game's afoot for those with ears

Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:

... A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane

As night descends upon this fabled street:

A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,

The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.

Here, though the world explode, these two survive,

And it is always eighteen ninety-five.