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. 

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