Sunday, February 26, 2023

Interesting Interview: Andy Solberg

Andy Solberg is one of those guys who makes you feel like you've known him forever.  After about five minutes of conversation, he's treating you like an old friend.  His is a name I've seen on a ton of things over the years, and I finally got to meet him last month in person.  As advertised, I immediately felt like an old friend.  Andy is spoken so highly of by many Sherlockians that I already had a high expectation of him and was even more impressed by how great of a guy he is once we got to talking.

But for those of you who don't know Andy, you may be asking: why him?  This guy's Sherlockian resume is as long as my arm and he's been publishing since before I was even born!  He's currently the Gasogene of the Six Napoleons of Baltimore and a past Gasogene of Watson's Tin Box of Maryland.  He's a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, and any member of those two groups can tell you how great he is to be around.  So let's spend some time with a guy everyone loves, Andy Solberg!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian?”

I define a Sherlockian as anyone who currently genuinely loves reading the Sherlock Holmes stories, even if they are still reading them for the first time. They may lose their Sherlockian status if they don’t stick with them and just enjoyed them while they were reading them.  But every scion society has newer Sherlockians who are joining the Sherlockian community, and I always think that they can add refreshing insights to the discussion.  

Years ago, there was a kerfuffle in the Sherlockian community when someone used the phrase “real Sherlockians” to refer to scholarly Sherlockians.  I think that is a false distinction. I think that he meant that “real Sherlockians” were people like him (a seasoned Sherlockian who writes articles).  Lots of people come to the Sherlockian habit for different reasons, whether they came because of the books, BBC Sherlock, the Rathbone films, or other avenues.  If they continue to read (and reread) the stories, they are Sherlockians.  There may be different levels of immersion and involvement, but they are all Sherlockians.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I remember when I was around ten years old, I found a book of Sherlock Holmes stories on a top shelf in my parent’s back hall (essentially a mudroom).  No one in the family knew how it got there.  I read them and found them boring.  I thought, “I guess these aren’t for me.” I returned the book to that shelf.  It disappeared as magically as it appeared.  No one ever saw it again.

About ten years later, I picked up a random book.  It was the collected works of A. Conan Doyle.  I began reading the Sherlock Holmes stories and have been re-reading them ever since.  Go figure! 

After I graduated from undergraduate school (where I majored in Philosophy), I decided to fill my time by writing a paper for myself on the philosophy of Sherlock Holmes.  I didn’t even know that there was a Sherlockian community, let alone a Baker Street Journal.  I was just writing the paper for myself.  Then, I got ahold of Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes and learned about, well, everything.  

I wrote to Julian Wolff and asked if there was a Sherlockian society in Boston (where I was living).  I was invited to attend the Speckled Band dinner.  There, someone asked if I had written anything.  I mentioned my paper, and he suggested I send it to the BSJ.  It was published in the December 1976 issue.  I have been doing Sherlockian analysis and writing periodic articles ever since. I have often joked that my four years of studying philosophy at Brandeis prepared me for a career of writing on Sherlock Holmes. 

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

I am a strategic planner for hospitals, health departments, and other health providers.  At one time, I ran a health care planning regulatory program for the State of Maryland.  I also taught community health planning at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I’ve joked that it’s allowed me to feed my Sherlockian collection, but it has been more than that, as two books on Sherlock Holmes and medicine for BSI Press demonstrate. Because Conan Doyle and Watson were both physicians, I have always found interest in their points of view and how they reflected public health at the time. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

I have only recently come to realize that the first four chapters of A Study in Scarlet are my favorite part of the Canon.  It is some of the most beautiful prose in the Sherlockian saga - in all of literature, really.  The saga, which is a forty year chronical of Holmes’s life, starts not with Holmes, but with a down and out retired military physician in London.  It is filled with Watson’s typical self-deprecation and incredible humor.  Remember, it may be set in 1881, but it was written in 1886, so Watson had been living with Holmes for at least five years when he wrote his impressions.  He knew he was dead wrong.  

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

That is the toughest question you ask.  There are so many interesting Sherlockians.  I am not sure that I have met one who is actually boring.  (Well, maybe one or two.)  On the whole, I always love the interaction between Sherlockians.  We are generally critical thinkers who, as we contend that Holmes and Watson are real people, are starting with our tongues place firmly in our cheeks.  The wit runs high.  My best Sherlockian friends are my co-editor Bob Katz and Francine Kitts. Both are tremendously interesting people. 

But there are so many with whom I am genuinely friendly and find (or found, if they have passed on) interesting.  This is going to get me in trouble because I will just name a few.  (Forgive me if I forgot to mention you.) Mike Dirda has been called the best-read person in America.  I love his essays, book reviews, and books.  Scott Monty and Burt Wolder have been a blessing to the Sherlockian community with their I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast.  It is an oral history of the Sherlockian world. Evy Herzog is one of the nicest people in the world and is a living piece of American Sherlockian history.  Of course, Peter Blau is always interesting, a great raconteur, a long time friend, and another important historical figure.  Glen Miranker was Chief Technology Officer at Apple and brought out the IMAC and the MacBook. But so many Sherlockians are giants in their fields, Al Rosenblatt, Les Klinger, Nancy Holder, Curtis Armstrong, Maggie Schpak, Nicholas Meyer, Russell Merritt, Rebecca Romney,… So many more.  

I love spending time chatting with them.  I miss Ralph Earle, who was an ambassador and was the Chief Negotiator on the SALT II Treaty. And those of us who are not necessarily “giants in our fields” are still incredibly interesting people, doing remarkable things.  All these people are (or were, in the cases of people who have died) approachable, and we have developed some level of friendship.  That is why I love Sherlockian gatherings.  Getting to know interesting people better is a huge benefit of the Sherlockian community. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I like the 60 stories.  I am not crazy about pastiches or films.  It is the chronicle of Holmes’s and Watson’s lives that interests me.  I like themes and analyses. I don’t take quizzes. I’ve often said that I think that all Sherlockian tests should be essay exams. And the Sherlock Holmes Canon is a bridge to so many interesting related subjects. That is why I love to read the Baker Street Journal. I am always interested in new analyses of the stories or “Sherlock Holmes and ______.”  But they have to be faithful to both the stories and the history of the time.

As someone who has worked on more than a few books in the BSI Manuscript Series, what keeps you coming back to these types of projects?

Bob Katz and I have co-edited four Manuscript Series books and two books on Sherlock Holmes and medicine.  I love doing these projects for several reasons.  First, the Manuscript Series makes Conan Doyle’s hand so accessible.  You can see his thought process.  Also, the related chapters about different facets of the stories are so interesting.  

The same is true of the books on medicine.  Bob and I approach the books starting with questions to which we have always wanted answers.  If we have these questions, others will have them, too.  And the authors who accept the responsibility for answering our questions do such a wonderful job. We require them to keep speculation to a minimum and to document all of their content.  Keep things canonical and real! They always come through for us.  We generally choose authors with related expertise, so they know their fields and can do the research that is required to answer the questions. The books are a lot of work, but we’ve loved doing each one. We learn so much from them.

You served as Chair of the Baker Street Irregulars Trust from 2013 to 2019.  What does the Trust do, and why should Sherlockians pay more attention to its efforts?

The Baker Street Irregulars was the first Sherlock Holmes literary society, founded in 1934 by Christopher Morley.  I’ve read histories of fandom that have said that modern fandom began with Morley and the founding of the BSI. The Trust is not a Sherlock Holmes collection. It is an institutional archive of the history of the BSI.  And, it is an important record of an early literary society that has survived and thrived all these years as the popularity of Holmes has ebbed and flowed. 

Generous BSI have donated thousands of items that document the history of the BSI. As I have said previously, Sherlockians are tremendously interesting people, and the BSI has continuously had well known and interesting members. The Trust runs a BSI Oral History Project that reaches back into members’ memories from many years.  Many of them are reflected in correspondence, photos, and other material in our archive. The archive has been used by fandom researchers, academics, Sherlockians, and non-Sherlockians. It is located at The Lilly Library at Indiana University.  

When I was the Chair, we began to make the Trust’s holdings and BSI history available to people at home by posting them on the Trust’s website.  There you will find a page for every BSI Dinner with photos and, in some cases, recordings.  You’ll find selected Oral History Project interviews and features on items in the collection.  Of course, The Lilly also has a finding aid to assist researchers to locate items in the collection.

Sherlockians (BSI or not) should pay more attention to the Trust because the history of the BSI is the history of the Sherlockian community. It all started with Christopher Morley. There was no organized Sherlockian community before Morley decided to start it, and the BSI has been the central to the Sherlockian movement ever since. And the history continues to unfold.  Today’s BSI are as interesting as yesterday’s, and it is important to document their personalities and the role of the BSI as times evolve. It’s important that BSI members keep sending the Trust their BSI related correspondence, photos, etc.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

While there are lots of books that I could recommend, the one book I would recommend that Sherlockians get is William S. Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes.  I note that it is currently available on Ebay for under $30. Sure, it’s more than 50 years old (my God!), and, yes, many, many more articles have been published in the interim that could or should be among the annotations. But, to me, Baring-Gould best captures the romance of playing the Grand Game (contending that Holmes and Watson are real).  It reads just like it was – a labor of love.  Les Klinger’s much more recent New Annotated Sherlock Holmes is also excellent, but I find that it doesn’t quite have the romantic flavor of Baring-Gould.  If you can’t get Baring-Gould’s version, certainly get Les Kinger’s version.

By the way, I once wrote an article that recommended books for Sherlockians based on whether one wanted a classical collection or just wanted to both enjoy the stories and have some other neat Sherlockian books. I identified a core group of books for the casual Sherlockian, the budding Sherlockian collector, and the researcher. I also identified some books that are just plain fun and some books for those who are interested in the reading more about the Baker Street Irregulars.  You can find that article in the 2019 Baker Street Almanac (as a free PDF) here.

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

I have a non-Sherlockian friend who is amazed at how frequently Sherlockian references come up in popular culture almost every day. I believe that Sherlock Holmes will still be a “thing” in 10 years. I have seen Sherlockian popularity ebb and flow over the last fifty years.  We go through a lull, Sherlockian societies age and attendance declines, and then Baring-Gould’s book hits the market.  Then a lull. Then Nick Meyer’s Seven-Percent Solution is a NYT bestseller for forty weeks and terrific film, bringing younger people into the Sherlockian community.  Then a lull. Then PBS does the Canon with Jeremy Brett, and the community expands.  Then a lull.  Then BBC Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch. I suspect we will have a lull until the next time someone succeeds in making a popular Sherlockian book or movie.  But I see the Sherlockian community surviving for many years.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Take the Plunge [DANC]

As we creep closer and closer to 100 interviews on Interesting Though Elementary, I want to give a chance for YOU to choose one of my upcoming interviewees.  

But how to decide who will choose an interview topic?  I'll turn to The Valley of Fear's McMurdo for that:

"It's for charity and good fellowship."

On March 3, I am participating in Special Olympics' Polar Plunge in honor of my daughter's Special Olympics basketball team.  If you are unfamiliar with this event, participants raise money from friends and on a specified date typically run into a cold body of water.  My event is sponsored by my school and we can't bus all of the students out to a local lake, so kids are going to be able to throw water balloons at myself and other staff members.

How does this tie into an interview subject on this blog?

I'm going to run a raffle.  For every $10 donated on my donation page, you will be entered into a randomized drawing.  I will use Google to choose a random number and if you are the winner, I'll contact you to see who you would like to be interviewed in an upcoming blog post.

So, let's recap.  A donation to Special Olympics via the link below provides the following:

1. Supporting a fantastic organization that allows kids with special needs to participate in sporting events.

2. You have a chance of naming an upcoming interview subject on this blog.

3. You support fifth graders throwing water balloons at their teacher.

While it's not quite the same type of plunge that Sherlock Holmes is famous for, I think it's still worthwhile.  Whatever of the three outcomes above you find to be the most alluring, there's something for everyone.  Please consider donating and helping support Special Olympics.  Thanks so much!

Rob Nunn's Polar Plunge Fundraising Page

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Holmes in the Heartland 2023

It's been too long, so it's time to bring Holmes in the Heartland back!

This July 28-30 you can join The Parallel Case of St. Louis at the second Holmes in the Heartland weekend in St. Louis, Missouri to celebrate this year's theme, Arch Enemies!

What will Holmes in the Heartland include this year?  Well I'm glad you asked!

Friday will start off with an architectural tour of the central branch of the St. Louis Public Library, home to the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection.  After the tour, a viewing of the Research Collection will be held in the Rare Books and Manuscript Room along with some other items of interest from their collections. 

A common thought after Sherlockian gatherings is, "I wish I had more time to socialize with everyone."  Well that is what Friday night is all about!  Our home base for the weekend, The Sheraton Westport Plaza is surrounded by great restaurants and we have left the night open for you and your friends to get some food and spend some time together.  Return back to The Sheraton and spend the evening in the lounge with everyone for a night of laidback interactions.

Saturday will be a full day though, so rest up!

We have a great lineup of speakers on Saturday, expounding on the theme of Arch Enemies.  Ray Betzner, Cindy Brown, Steve Doyle, Beth Gallego, Mike McSwiggin, Kristen Mertz, Monica Schmidt, and The St. Louis Costumers' Guild will all be sure to delight with their presentations.  Enjoy the breaks between presentations to visit the vendors' tables and enjoy a box lunch at midday.

That night, we will host a banquet dinner with live entertainment straight from 1895!  Brad Keefauver and Steve Mason will host The Alpha Inn Goose Club Trivia Night that may see a carbuncle or two awarded to people in attendance.

And what would be an Arch Enemies weekend without the Arch itself?  Sunday includes a trip to the top of the St. Louis Arch in downtown St. Louis and lunch at a local restaurant.  

Two- and three-day registrations are available to accommodate everyone's travel needs.  Registration for the weekend and hotel rooms at a discounted rate can be found at 

We have been notified by the hotel that they expect to be full during the weekend of Holmes in the Heartland.  So if you are interested in joining us this summer, it is better to book sooner rather than later.  

Come at once if convenient!

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Interesting Interview: Jenn Eaker

It's very possible that Sherlockians who aren't from the New York area or who haven't been to a BSI Weekend for a while won't know of Jenn Eaker.  But if do you do know Jenn, when you saw this week's Interesting Interview participant, I hope you thought, "It's about time!"  Spending time with Jenn is always one of the best parts of the BSI Weekend for me.  She manages to be friendly and no-nonsense at the same time, which makes everyone around her want to listen to her thoughts on whatever subject is at-hand.

Jenn Eaker proves that Sherlockiana isn't just a hobby for old, white guys.  This woman can write about almost any topic related to the Canon and proves that in the myriad of publications she's appeared in, rarely covering the same topic twice.  Energetic, knowledgeable, and unbelievably likeable, Jenn is a big part of a new generation of East Coast Sherlockians.  She is one of the unsung Sherlockian heroes that can always be counted on for a toast, a talk, an article, support, or to spearhead a project.  And you know it will always be done well.  So here is one of New York's finest Sherlockians, Jenn Eaker:

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Wow, way to put me on the spot right up front. I would describe the word “Sherlockian” as a person who enjoys the canonical characters and adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. I don’t care how you came to the original stories (BBC Sherlock, the Jeremy Brett series, the Enola Holmes books, the Guy Ritchie films, hell, even the wacky 2010 Sherlock Holmes movie), a Sherlockian has been led to the original stories, embraces them whole heartedly, and loves the main characters. 

A Sherlockian is also someone who is open to other Sherlockians, no matter how they choose to celebrate and honor the canon. You don’t have to agree with how someone views the stories or chooses to embrace them. You are all there enjoy the same characters and stories.  

How did you become a Sherlockian?

My earliest memory of Sherlock Holmes was as a child and hearing an adult say “no shit, Sherlock,” for the first time and me wondering who this “Sherlock” was. 

However, my real Sherlockian journey began when I watched the first series of the BBC’s Sherlock. I was blown away by the story telling and loved the mood of the whole series. Because of that, I found a message board on Ravelry, an online knitting community, and discovered many, many other people who had the same feelings as I did. As we knitters discussed what we liked best about the show, and knit up our own Watson jumpers, it became quite apparent the massive gap I had in my reading; I had never read the original Sherlock Holmes stories. So, one day, I visited a long since closed Borders Bookstore, and bought the two volume Bantam Classics edition of the stories and started reading from the beginning with A Study in Scarlet

At the same time, I met some other young women and helped start a podcast (The Baker Street Babes), met Lyndsay Faye, Susan Rice and Mickey Fromkin, and then was asked to write for the Baker Street Journal by Steve Rothman. I really hit the ground running from there. Even though I became a Sherlockian at a later age than most other Sherlockians, it does feel like I’ve been a part of this community my entire life. 

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

I work in television, in a high pressure environment, and honestly, it helps me enjoy being a Sherlockian more. When I’ve had a tough day at work, or I’m just exhausted from a long week, I can shut the door on all of that and be with my friends and chosen family. I can have fun and remind myself there is more to the world that just work. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

I actually think this is the easiest question you have given me so far, Rob. No contest for me; The Hound of the Baskervilles. I just remember reading through all the stories the first time around and enjoying the vast majority of them (I mean let’s be honest, the Utah section of A Study in Scarlet nearly lost me in the beginning). The Hound of the Baskervilles stuck with me long after I read it. The gothic horror element to it, the family legend and terrifying dog, Watson playing detective, Sherlock Holmes hiding away out on the Tor investigating in the background. I just love coming back to this story.

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

I don’t care where I’m at, if Rebecca Romney is in the room, I always want to say hello and chat about what’s going on with her. I find her job in rare books to be infinitely fascinating. I also enjoy just talking literature with her outside of Sherlockiana, whether it’s about the history of writing, the popularity of romance novels, or a person’s book collection as a biography of themselves. I always leave the conversation with my brain full of new ideas and things I’ve never considered before. 

If you need an opening topic when approaching Rebecca, you should ask her about the collection of books her business recently obtained that belonged to the late British singer/song writer, Amy Winehouse. It blows me away the care and attention she has given to these books that most people would never associate with Ms. Winehouse. It’s incredible.  

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Defending against long held, and in my opinion, incorrect beliefs about characters in the stories. I will be defending Mary Sutherland, my investiture, until my last breath. And then I’ll continue to haunt people from the grave who still believe she is dumb! 

Seriously though, anytime I have a discussion about class, race, and/or sexuality in the canon with Mary Alcaro, I always leave it learning something new or having my thoughts turned in a different direction. I love delving into what was going on in the outside world during the time Arthur Conan Doyle was writing these stories. You can’t escape the influence it had on his work. 

The topics you've written on for Sherlockian publications are wide-ranging.  How do you settle upon a topic to write up?

Often times they are topics I’ve been asked to write about for scion meetings or publications. The two stories I wrote that won The Jan WHIMSEY Award were story summaries I was asked to present at The Priory Scholars of NYC. Bob Katz and Andy Solberg asked me to write two different chapters for the two Nerve and Knowledge books, even though I have no medical background. It was just interesting to research. 

But sometimes, I get so fixated on an idea, I just have to write about it. Like the paper I presented at the Scintillation of Scions about how Mary Sutherland was not dumb, but a young girl in love who was taken advantage of. Or the talk I delivered at the BSI dinner in 2019 about how dogs are the under appreciated characters in the canon (Justice for Carlo! Both of them!). I like being both informative and fun in my writing. If I’m not having fun, then why am I doing it? 

We often hear recaps of the BSI Weekend from out-of-towners.  As a New Yorker yourself, how do locals view the weekend?

I can’t speak for all New York locals, but here’s how I view it: It’s like a great big family reunion descending upon your home. But better, because you don’t have to cook, provide places to sleep for everybody, keep the alcohol flowing, or clean up after everybody has left. You are surrounded by familiar faces, some you only see this one time a year, and you just catch up and have as much fun as you can stand, while trying to pace yourself through 5 days of activities. It’s exhausting and soul-filling at the same time. And when it’s over, you look to the next year when you get to do it all over again. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I’ve got two recommendations. The first one, Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit. It’s a book that explores how people communicate and the importance of voices and listening to them. The second recommendation is The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. It’s about a detective, Thursday Next, and her role in a world that is very literature-obsessed. This book gave me a new way to think about fictional characters and what happens to them after we close the book. 

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

I have a bit of trouble looking that far ahead to what the Sherlockian world will be like. I think group discussions about the stories and local scions will continue, whether in person or online. New adaptations and pastiches will continue to be created and new audiences will be attracted by them. 

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are literary characters who will always be around. I just hope that Sherlockiana can keep attracting a new and more diverse generation of participants. Being a Sherlockian can have financial limitations, especially if you want to participate in the larger activities. I could see that becoming a much bigger hurdle for folks just discovering the Sherlockian world. There are challenges ahead, I think, but I have hope Sherlockiana can continue to evolve with the times.