Sunday, August 14, 2022

Interesting Interview: David Marcum

Every Sherlockian brings their own set of skills to this hobby of ours.  For my money, this week's Interesting Interviewee's big skill is energy.  David Marcum is a prolific Sherlockian author, editor, collector, chronologist, and unabashed fan of the written word.  I've followed David's blog for a while and am always entertained by what he has to say and when I published my first book with MX Publishing back in 2017, they had a million good things to say about David.

But it was having David be a part of The Finest Assorted Collection anthology that really helped me to understand this guy's devotion!  David has the world's largest collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches as far as I can tell.  But David puts his money where his mouth is, too.  He's written many of his own pastiches and edited a staggering amount of works by other Sherlockians.  But let's let him tell his own story.  Buckle up, because this guy has enough energy for ten of us!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

First of all, thanks to Rob Nunn for the opportunity to participate in this series.

Every time this question has been asked in previous interviews, I’ve read with great interest, and I really liked Janice Weiner’s recent answer (from July 24th, 2022) when she said that a Sherlockian has read The Canon. To me, however one finds their way here, they should read the Original Texts to understand the Original Holmes.

Contrary to the public persona I cultivate, I actually have a lot more interests than just Sherlock Holmes, and I try to keep in mind with each of them whether I’m simply a casual fan, or someone has made the extra effort to know the true original version of something. I’m in a number of groups – such as those related to Hercule Poirot or James Bond or Father Brown – where the casual fans only know (and only want to know) what they’ve seen from film versions, and they’ve never – sometimes proudly – bothered to go back and read the original books in order to understand the actual characters, settings, time periods, context, etc. Without putting in the work to have that baseline knowledge, they don’t truly understand what they’re a fan of.

I believe that it's the same in the Sherlockian World. If one only knows Holmes by way of media representations, for instance, or from recognizing a few well-known identifiers (such as a deerstalker), without knowing that the original Canonical stories occurred from 1881 to 1914, then one isn’t yet a Sherlockian. Casual fans are wonderful – we all started that way – and should be welcomed and encouraged, but for some of us a deeper spark was ignited, motivating us take those extra steps: To read more. To seek out and study and ponder more. That’s when you become a Sherlockian.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Like many, I was aware of Holmes before I took the deeper Sherlockian dive. When I was eight, I read my first mysteries, some of which mentioned Holmes, and that’s also the time when I read my first Solar Pons story, in a kid’s mystery anthology – so I’d seen the Holmes and Watson model before I “found” Holmes when I was ten, in 1975. One Saturday, I saw a re-run of A Study in Terror (a pastiche) on television and was then moved to read my sole Holmes book, an abridged copy of The Adventures. After that, I started reading whatever about Mr. Holmes I could find – The Canon, and at the same time the few pastiches that were then available.

I feel that my transition to an actual Sherlockian came down to a single electric moment. For my twelfth birthday, I requested and received the boxed set of Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. I’d already devoured B-G’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street a year or so before, but the Annotated version went to an entirely different and much deeper level – and when I flipped to the back and saw page after page of bibliographic references, it was like my head exploded – There was so much more about Holmes out there than just the sixty stories that I’d read and re-read, and I hadn’t known about any of it! And I wanted to know more – but there wasn’t very much Sherlockian scholarship or fellowship to be found in 1970’s East Tennessee, so I spent years – decades – as a solitary Sherlockian, reading Canon and pastiche and spinning my own theories and notions in solitude. I’m actually listed as a Sherlockian society of one person – The Diogenes Club West (East Tennessee Annex) – on Peter Blau’s List of Sherlockian Societies

For years, the only Sherlockians I “knew” (and this was just through telephone calls and letters) were Carolyn and Joel Senter, because their Classics Specialty catalogs were always the basis on of my birthday and Christmas wish lists. Somehow – maybe from them – I heard about From Gillette to Brett III in November 2011, and when I saw that both Nick Meyer and Bert Coules were going to be there, I impulsively decided to make the six-hour drive. As many have noted, one’s first visit to a Sherlockian event is magical, and the people are wonderful. Living where I do, it’s a serious commitment to travel to any Sherlockian gathering, but I’ve been to all of the later From Gillette to Brett’s, as well as occasional visits to TheNashville Scholars (my home Scion), and once to the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend in New York (in January 2020 – when COVID was probably already among us, but we didn’t know it yet). Luckily, in this day and age, contact with other Sherlockians can be maintained electronically when seeing one another in person doesn’t work out.

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

I’ve actually had a few professions, and I think that each has been influential. After college, I was a U.S. Federal Investigator for a number of years, and I traveled to various parts of the country and was able to indulge in my life-long habit of visiting bookstores, where I always bought Sherlockian volumes when I unexpectedly found them – both pastiches and scholarship – knowing that it’s best to grab them when one has the chance, because to go back and try to acquire them later is much more difficult and expensive.

After our federal agency was abruptly closed, I went back to school for a second degree in Civil Engineering – and being a student for a while was almost a career in itself. That time allowed me to take being a Sherlockian to a much deeper level. I was the supervisor at a full-time night job where I could study when things slowed down, and after doing my homework, I would read and re-read Holmes – both The Canon, as well as all of the pastiches I’d acquired over the years. It was then that I started making notes for what would eventually become my massive Canon and pastiche chronology, now over 1,000 dense pages, integrating novels, short stories, radio and television episodes, movies and scripts, comics, fan fiction, and unpublished manuscripts by year, month, day, and even hour. Also, I first truly discovered the internet while at school, and I was able to locate thousands of online traditional pastiches that I printed, read, chronologicized, and archived. (It’s a good thing, as many of them have since otherwise vanished.) I also learned of and managed to down and acquire many other pastiches in book form.

As a civil engineer, I’ve been able to continue collecting, and being an engineer has provided useful skills in the areas of editing and writing about Holmes, both of which have involved a certain amount of my time in the last few years. All of these professions have taught me that the only way that a project or task gets done is to sit down and do it. In each of these careers, managing tasks was essential. As a federal investigator, I usually had six to ten active cases on hand, and now as a senior civil engineer working for my hometown’s public works department, we usually have that many simultaneous ongoing projects. Writing new stories and editing anthologies is like managing those cases or projects – keeping an eye on all the pieces, and always working on some part of it and making forward progress so that when one part comes to a temporary halt, there’s always something else to address.

What is your favorite canonical story?

Like many, I think that my favorite Canonical adventure changes all the time, depending on the day, or what I get out of it during a particular re-read. Sometimes my temporary favorite is based on a story of my own that I’m writing if it happens to either be a direct sequel to a Canonical story, or if it uses one as a jumping-off place. (For example, I recently wrote a Solar Pons adventure where Pons’s client is an elderly Hall Pycroft. The story never mentions Holmes or the events of “The Stockbroker’s Clerk”, but for those who recognize Pycroft’s name and a few other Easter Eggs, it’s a nice semi-sequel.)

I guess if really pushed into a corner – and I’ve saved this difficult question for last – my answer today is “The Abbey Grange”. The setting and deductions are spot-on. It has a murder – and a heroic fellow who commits it for the right reasons. Watson is a British jury”, and there was never “a man who was more eminently fitted to represent one,” while Holmes is the judge, stating, “Once or twice in my career I feel that I have done more real harm by my discovery of the criminal than ever he had done by his crime. I have learned caution now, and I had rather play tricks with the law of England than with my own conscience.” Some of the best of later Nero Wolfe and Ellery Queen mysteries place those heroes in the same judge-like position.

Ask me tomorrow, and I’ll pick something else, but today I choose this one.

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

I’ve met so many amazing Sherlockians in the last few years (both in real life and online) that it’s very difficult to narrow the list down to just one, but I think that many would agree that the Sherlockian who has done so much for so many – authors, readers, and charities – is Steve Emecz.

In 2013, I rather timidly approached Steve by email to see about reprinting my first little-known pastiche volume, The Papers of SherlockHolmes. It turned out to be one of the most life-changing actions I’ve ever taken, leading me to all the fun and opportunities that I’ve had since. Steve has encouraged every idea that I’ve had, and he does the same with other authors.

Very early, Steve understood that the power of print-on-demand, combined with the internet, was the new publishing paradigm, especially when compared to the old ways of pre-printing vast numbers of just a few titles that take forever to actually be published, and then end up sitting around in boxes or on warehouse shelves, to eventually be sold – or not. MX Publishing was originally a non-Sherlockian company, but when Steve was initially approached with a Sherlockian title, he realized that this was a vast market ready to be explored. I wasn’t one of his very first authors, but I’ve been with MX for nearly a decade now, and it’s left me in awe to see how it’s grown, and all that it’s done for both authors without any other possibility of ever cracking the old paradigm, and for readers like me who want more and more Holmes, but can’t wait for the little bit that trickles through by way of the old publishing pathways. (In some ways, Steve’s method of getting Sherlockian material to the masses makes him a modern-day Sherlockian Gutenberg.)

Steve works closely with Derrick and Brian Belanger, founders and owners of Belanger Books – and two other good friends who are super-high on my list of Interesting Sherlockians. One would think that Steve’s MX Publishing and Belanger Books would be rivals, but in fact they work together closely for the betterment of the entire Sherlockian community, supporting each other’s projects, and each in turn supporting a number of charities. I’m extremely lucky to be associated with all of them.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Pastiches, of course. By far, what I want are more and more Holmes adventures. I found pastiches (in the form of the first two Nick Meyers novels) before I’d even read all of The Canon, so to me, a good pastiche is just as enjoyable and important as the originals. I’ve written elsewhere that there are three legs to the Sherlockian stool: The Canon, scholarship, and pastiches. I think that the latter doesn’t get nearly enough recognition. After all, when one looks back at any of the great resurgences of interest in Holmes – the kind that bring in new blood into the fandom – it’s usually been because of pastiches – William Gillette’s play, for example, and the Rathbone films. Nick Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1974) started a Golden Age that’s never really ended. Various film and television pastiches since then have also generated new waves of interest.

Some find The Canon first, but many more get there by way of pastiches. Some people dig even further for the scholarship, but many will never see any of that, as often it isn’t easily available or affordable to general readers – but those same general readers can always find good pastiches, especially these days when so many authors are working so hard to produce them, and MX and Belanger Books are delivering them.

In 2008, I was laid off from a civil engineering job and decided to use some of my free time to write my own pastiches – as I’d always wanted to write. Over the next few weeks, I completed nine adventures – and then did nothing with them for several years. Eventually I showed them to a few people and, from their encouraging responses, got the urge to share them in a real book. The Papers of Sherlock Holmes was initially published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box in 2011, and then I moved it to MX Publishing in 2013. After that, I wrote a Holmes novel, Sherlock Holmes and A Quantity ofDebt (2013), and another volume of short stories, Sherlock Holmes:Tangled Skeins (2015). Others have followed.

In early 2015, I came up with the idea of the MX anthologies and wrote a story for that. Other anthologies followed, and I wrote stories for all of them – both those that I’ve edited for MX and Belanger Books, and also for other publishers, and magazines as well. Overall (as of this interview,) I’ve written 98 Holmes pastiches (and 27 Solar Pons pastiches, which are very much like Holmes adventures), and I have requests to write six more Holmes stories by the end of the year. In addition to enthusiastically supporting pastiches, I also put my efforts into writing more of them.

As editor of more than 50 Sherlockian books, what are some memories that stand out from all of your work?

I never thought that I’d be editing Holmes pastiches – and now I’ve edited about 1,000 of them. I’d always wanted to write Holmes stories, but I only dipped into editing because I desired more adventures of the type that I wanted to read. I literally woke up one morning in early 2015, having just dreamed that I’d edited a Holmes pastiche volume. I ran the idea past a few friends and publisher Steve Emecz, and after they were encouraging, I began reaching out to pastiche authors. I had the feeling that I’d be lucky if I received a dozen new stories to make up a small paperback. Instead, the participation turned out to be much bigger than that. That first set grew to three massive simultaneous volumes of over sixty stories, and a few weeks after these were published, people were already asking about the next set. It was never meant to be more than a one-time thing, but the system was in place, so I solicited stories for another volume. And it’s just kept going . . . .

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories has now grown to 33 published volumes, and I’m currently editing Parts XXXIV, XXXV, and XXXVI, while soliciting stories for Part XXXVII – and possibly for Parts XXXIII and XXXIX too! We now have over 750 new traditional Canonical stories from over 200 contributors worldwide. Early on, we decided that the royalties would go to the Stepping Stones School (now known as “Undershaw”) for special needs children, located at Undershaw, one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former homes. As of earlier this summer, the books – by way of the first-rate author contributions and fan support – have incredibly raised over $100,000 for the school – and officials at the school have told me that even more important than the money is the fact that the books have raised awareness of the school around the world.

I have many amazing memories associated with these books. Early on, simply receiving new stories when I didn’t know if anyone would contribute at all was a thrill – and I’ve never stopped being thrilled when a new adventure shows up in my in-box. (I now get over 200 new stories each year for different anthologies, and the idea that people are sending me new Holmes adventures every few days still blows my mind!) By way of the MX anthologies, I’ve been able to edit a number of other Holmes collections for Belanger Books. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet hundreds of wonderful Sherlockians – in person or online – that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and I’ve been able to play in the Sherlockian sandbox when I probably wouldn’t have found a way to otherwise.

In Fall 2015, I was able to go to London and the launch party for the first three MX volumes. In 2016, I was invited back as a guest of honor at the Stepping Stones School for their Grand Opening celebration at Undershaw. And I hope to get back again when the world settles down a bit more.

Just this year we passed the $100,000 amount raised for the school, which I’m still getting used to. When I edit the books – receiving and editing stories, communicating with authors, etc. – it’s all a very solitary thing. By the time the latest set of the books is published, I’m already deeply into the next volumes and the others are way back in my rear-view mirror, so I only have a vague sense that they’re now out there in the real world, and that other people are finally reading them. So when I looked up and we were at $100,000, and I contemplated just how many people had actually bought and read and supported these books, which all started as individual stories arriving in my inbox, I was stunned.

How did you become a pastiche collector? 

That goes back to when I first discovered Holmes at age ten in 1975. I had an abridged copy of The Adventures, and next I found a paperback of The Return. (Thus, I read “The Empty House” before “The Final Problem”, and learned how Holmes had survived Reichenbach before I ever knew that he’d supposedly died there!) Not long after, I found Nick Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and then his follow-up The West End Horror (still one of my favorite pastiches of all time) – both before I’d finished reading The Canon. Not long after, I received and read Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street – so the idea of pastiches intertwining with The Canon was fixed early on, and it made perfect sense to me. Good pastiches support and augment The Canon. I’ve repeatedly called the entire Canon and pastiche construct The Great Holmes Tapestry, with The Canon serving as the main threads, and pastiches making up all the fibers in between that give added color and nuance and depth.

In those early days, pastiches were extremely difficult to find, but even as a kid I haunted used bookstores. As I grew, I had more opportunities to acquire Holmes books and stories that I hadn’t known about. When I went back to college for a second degree, my rooting around for pastiches went to a much greater depth, and I dug up literally thousands of them – both online stories that I printed and saved, and physical books. Since that time, it’s only grown exponentially and, except for a few oddities and rarities, I believe that I’ve collected just about every traditional and Canonical pastiches that’s ever been written. (Perhaps this is a good time to mention that my wife of thirty-four years is a most incredible and supportive person!)

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

This is maybe the toughest question, because there are so many I want to mention. I’m going to cheat and recommend several. The first is Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, because it threw open the door that there is more to Holmes and Watson’s lives than the infinitely small amounts recorded in The Canon. Then there’s Nick Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. I don’t think it’s his best pastiche, but it was the first little grain of sand that became the still-growing avalanche of modern Sherlockiana. Additionally, it let people understand that Holmes adventures can be good – or great – without having crossed the First Literary Agent’s desk. Finally, there’s the 3-volume set of The Canon edited by Edgar W. Smith (the Heritage Press edition, with the raised silhouette of Holmes as by F.D. Steele on the covers). This version doesn’t have all the extras of the four Annotated Canons (Baring-Gould, both Klingers, and the Oxford), but it’s an edition of the Holmes stories prepared by a Master Sherlockian – a true labor of love – and it’s what I use when re-reading The Canon.

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

Well, Sherlockiana certainly won’t diminish in any way. Interest in Holmes – or other Holmes-like characters – is always there. Sometimes – like when I read a Solar Pons tale two years before discovering Holmes, or when someone enjoys House and doesn’t realize that he’s very Holmes-like – people are getting exposed to the Holmes Pattern and they don’t even realize it, so when they do encounter the legitimate Holmes, they’re already primed to enjoy him.

New Holmes projects will always be in the works. I believe that my own area of interest – more and more stories in the Canonical mode – are well-assured of continuation. I sometimes write that I’m a Missionary of The Church of the Canonical Holmes – and it’s good to feel confident that Holmes will stay around. With the new publishing paradigm opening the door to so many authors who previously had no good outlets, and the availability of new adventures in all sorts of formats for the ever-growing group of readers who want them, the Holmes genie is truly, finally, and wonderfully out of the bottle.

Thanks again including me in this project!