Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century

On May 26-28, I I was lucky enough to attend Lone Star Holmes in Dallas, Texas, put on by the Crew of the Barque Lone Star.  It was a weekend with Sherlockians put on by a great group, so needless to say it was a wonderful time!

I was asked to speak on the future of Sherlockiana.  Below is the text of my speech with plenty of slides.  Enjoy!

Good morning, everyone!  I’m very excited to be here and talking about Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century.  

But before we get into that, I’m sure everyone is expecting some allusion to a cartoon that the rest of the world has forgotten about.  So here you go:

Now that that’s out of the way, you’re welcome for getting that song stuck in your head this morning.

While we aren’t going quite THAT far into the future, I am going to ask us to move forward from the “Always 1895” mentality today.  Notice, I said “move forward” and not “leave behind.”  

Because once we lose our footing in the Canon, chaos ensues.

Since 2018, I’ve run a series of interviews on my blog, Interesting Though Elementary, titled Interesting Interviews.  So far, I have interviewed 90 fellow Sherlockians.  

Each interview is ten questions long, with a few tailored to the specific interviewee.  But every interview includes questions about how they define the word Sherlockian, how they became Sherlockians, their favorite Sherlock Holmes story, another person in our hobby that they find interesting, and a book they would recommend.

But the purpose of this talk is the future of Sherlockiana, and that is addressed by the last question that has ended each of the 90 interviews: Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?  

As interesting as I have found each and every interview, I won’t read every response to this question to you today.  But I would like to highlight a few here.
Michael Kean, Wiggins of the Baker Street Irregulars, responded, “I believe that the world-wide interest in Sherlock Holmes will continue. It may be cyclical, but it will continue to expand, especially internationally. Critical to its longevity, however, is our ability to interest the younger generation in Holmes and Watson.”

Barbara Rusch said, “The popularity of Sherlock Holmes will never wane, and each succeeding generation has a new take on the quintessential detective.”

Tim Johnson answered, “I would desire a younger and more diverse Sherlockiana. The promise is there. But it will take hard work; meaningful and deep relationships; and open arms to make it a reality.”
Texas’s own Cindy Brown said, “I think we will be finding new ways to share our hobby with others, whether it’s virtual or some other social media, but I think we will continue to meet and share, and collect, and exchange our ideas.”

And some guy named Don Hobbs answered with, “There have historically been up and down periods of Sherlockian enthusiasm however we have been on an extended up period. With the growth of social media, I don't see a lull for the near future. There seems to be new blogs, new books, and new societies every month. I think in 15 years we will look back at the early 21st century as the Goldest of Golden eras.”

To be honest, I really tried to practice saying this in a Don Hobbs voice at home, but my wife said I was scaring the dogs so I had to give it up.

But as you can see, Sherlockians have high hopes for the future.  But how do we help that happen?  

I think there are a few guideposts for us to follow as we look to the future of this hobby, Planting Seeds, Recruitment, Community, and Mentoring.


I find myself constantly thinking about the interactions that Sherlockians have with one another.  And the biggest influence on that train of thought is my profession as a school teacher.  For the past nine years, I’ve taught a two-week language arts unit on Sherlock Holmes to my fifth graders.  

Over these ten days we read abridged versions of "The Blue Carbuncle," "The Red-Headed League," "The Speckled Band," "The Copper Beeches," and "A Scandal in Bohemia."  And from these stories, students learn about story elements such as setting, plot, the role of a narrator, and rising action.  They also create their own mystery stories and put on Sherlock Holmes plays for other classes.  

But these 10 and 11 year olds don’t start out knowing a ton about Sherlock Holmes. Just like many newer Sherlockians don’t know as much about the Canon as the more seasoned folks in this hobby.  Heck, I’ve met some people at meetings who’ve only read their first story!  

Don’t you just get so excited for people at that stage, whether they are a kid or an adult?  They have so much in store!They’ve yet to hear 

“Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” 

or see Holmes’s tour de force of deducing Henry Baker’s character from his hat 

or knowing what happens at Reichenbach Falls.  

Sometimes I’m even a little jealous of people who are coming to this hobby for the first time.  There are so many great stories and experiences ahead of them!  

Now, of course, not everyone we talk to about Sherlock Holmes will become Sherlockians.  I’m sure many of our spouses can prove that point.

And while there are plenty of my students who do the required reading and get through the lessons because they have to, there are always others who show an interest in the Junior Sherlockian Society, or write pieces for the Beacon Society’s Joel Senter essay contest, or pick up pastiches for younger readers in their free time. 

But whether they are penning award winning essays or arguing with other kids about who really won between Holmes and Irene Adler, every kid that gets engaged with Sherlock Holmes is a win for me.  Because every new exposure to Sherlock Holmes is a possible future Sherlockian.  And as much as we would love for everyone exposed to Sherlock Holmes to become a lifelong fan immediately, some may take longer than others.  

That’s why I’m calling this section “planting seeds."  Because you never know when future Sherlockians will sprout from what we do.  Many of my 5th graders are just starting to branch out and cultivate their reading preferences.  And throughout the school year, I have to ease many readers into the amazing titles out there without scaring off the emergent readers.

We’ve got to ease a lot of possible Sherlockians into our hobby as well.  And as hard as it is, we can’t judge people’s interests.  

Any interest that a student or adult that has in Sherlock Holmes is a valid interest.  I don’t know of a single Sherlockian that I agree with 100%.  One of my closest Sherlockian friends thinks this is a great movie!

And even if I can’t see eye-to-eye with him or the 9 other people who actually watched that thing, I know they are still great Sherlockians.  So if I don’t agree with everyone on their Sherlockian interests, how can I expect a new Sherlockian to conform to all of my beliefs and interests?

I can’t.  

And if I dismiss the things they like, they’re probably going to dismiss the things that I like just as quickly.  I know that helping my students to grow works best when I am there to guide, and not lecture them on what they should enjoy.  And any interaction with a future Sherlockian could benefit from the same approach.

New Sherlockians may not be ready to join a scion society or read the whole Canon for many different reasons.  They may be unsure about their interests, have kids and not a lot of free time to themselves, maybe they just enjoy watching the movies here and there, or a million other reasons why now is not the right time for them to jump into this hobby.

But if somewhere down the road they remember Sherlockians as people who embraced their interest and appreciated the commonalities, we may just have someone that will join us when they are ready.

And it’s what we do with those future Sherlockians when they are ready that is really important.


Another important topic to keeping Sherlockiana going is recruitment.  We can all think back to certain Sherlockians who welcomed us to the fold and helped us along our way.  But one Sherlockian in particular went out of their way to help this hobby grow immensely, and purposefully created an atmosphere that was so welcoming you couldn’t help but want to stick around.

I think we can all agree that the Sherlockian world would look very different today without the influence of John Bennet Shaw.  By a show of hands, how many of you in the audience knew John Bennet Shaw?  Imagine what this conference would look like without Shaw’s influence on those people here today.

The John Bennett Shaw conferences were a traveling roadshow meant to bring Sherlockians both new and old together.  While these events were before my time, Ray Betzner has always talked about the importance of a Shaw workshop in his Sherlockian life:

“The best place to meet the broadest range of Sherlockians was at a JBS conference.  So many newbies had their first experience of the Sherlockian community at these events, which welcomed teen-agers and old-agers alike.  And here is what was most remarkable: John would deliberately greet everyone during the course of a few days.  And if he found you sitting by yourself in the back row of a room, he would do something enormously kind, like invite you up to his room after hours.  John’s room was as private as Grand Central, and almost as busy.  EVERYONE filtered through there sooner or later, which meant that you would interact with folks from all over the country.  By the end of the conference, newbies started to feel like they belonged.”

“John would deliberately greet everyone during the course of a few days.”

“Newbies started to feel like they belonged.”

I think there is a direct correlation between those two sentences.  

John Bennett Shaw was out there not only being the Johnny Appleseed of Sherlockiana by educating people about Sherlock Holmes, but he was deliberately making everyone feel welcomed.

Take a second and look around the audience here today.  I hope there are faces you don’t recognize.  And I hope you take Shaw’s example and go meet some new folks today and make them feel like they belong.

Ray told me that “John respected the history and traditions of the BSI.  But he also knew the group needed to start evolving if it was to thrive.”  Ray also said that “John knew the BSI needed to diversify.”

While “evolving” and “diversifying” in Shaw’s time meant nudging the BSI to go co-ed, we Sherlockians can still look to evolve today.  Do we expect Sherlockians to act and behave the same way they did in the 90s?  Or the 60s?  Or the 1930s?

Sherlockiana isn’t some stubborn institution of rigidity.  Personally, I don’t want to be someone who won’t be open to a new experience because it is different from the ways things have always been done before.  Sherlockians of all shapes and sizes should not only be welcomed, but recruited to join activities like what we are doing this weekend.  

It’s one thing for us to say that everyone is welcome and leave it to folks to walk in the door on their own.  But it’s a lot less daunting to come into something where you have been specifically invited and you know a friendly face or two.

Look, I’m a straight, white, middle-aged, Christian male, so I don’t have much experience with feeling like a minority in a group.  But there have been a few times when I wasn’t sure if I fit into a group of people.  

It can be very intimidating to think that everyone else in a group is smarter than you or knows much more of the history of a hobby you’re interested in.  But I don’t want anyone to ever feel that way when it comes to enjoying Sherlock Holmes.

So we shouldn’t just SAY we are welcoming.  We need to get out there and ask people to join us.  Maybe it’s a scion meeting, maybe it’s something as simple as inviting them to sit by us at a dinner, or reaching out to someone on social media.  Things that seem simple and almost inconsequential to us could make the difference in making a new person feel like part of the group.

Another proponent for welcoming recruitment is Steven Rothman, editor emeritus of the Baker Street Journal.

Here are a few quotes from his Editor’s Gas Lamps over the past decade:

From Spring 2015 in reference to Sherlock Holmes being a cultural icon:

“All of this is to the good.  We have had fun with Sherlock Holmes since childhood and are quite pleased to share our delight with others.  It is not necessary to know Christ’s four-letter codes or to memorize the order of the stories.  Sherlockian literacy should be the only shibboleth to joining our never-ending conversations.  And even that should be broadly drawn.  If you know well your cinematic or televisual Holmes, or if you cosplay Holmes or create new adventures, you can find your place among Sherlockians.”

In Spring 2016 Rothman described Sherlockiana as 

“A family reunion with a family that one has sought to join and that has welcomed you into its midst.”

And the Autumn 2021 edition of the Baker Street Journal espoused:

“When a friend asks what it is all about [Sherlockiana], steer them to one of your favorites, invite them to a meeting of your local society, lend them books and copies of the Journal… When you take someone - young or old - by the hand and lead them down Baker Street, you never know when that experience will click, when you will have made not only a deeper friendship, but a brand new Sherlockian.”

Just like The Baker Street Journal has told us time and time again, we have to remember that people come to Sherlockiana for fun and amusement.  We all know that Sherlockians make for great company, but WE have to be the ones who make sure that Sherlockians are also welcoming.


And once new Sherlockians are welcomed, it’s important for us to build community with them.  I started this talk out by citing my blog posts called Interesting Interviews.  I titled it that because I really do think everyone I’ve met in this hobby is interesting.  We’ve all built friendships and communities up from our time here. 

But man, have the times changed since you’d sit down to spend an evening writing letters to like-minded folks across the country.  Did the internet change Sherlockiana?  No.

It was the year 2010 and some guy named Benedict Cumberbatch had just burst onto the Sherlockian scene with “A Study in Pink,” the first episode of BBC’s new show called Sherlock.  That one show, with only 13 episodes, gave a jolt of energy to Sherlockiana not seen since Jeremy Brett, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, or William Gillette.   

And some of us were scared.

What was this new type of Sherlockian, one who didn’t refer to The Grand Game, but instead called it Fandom?  Traditional avenues of publishing were being ignored for posting fan fiction on the internet.  

And they were all so…. Young…

Did these new Sherlockians all flock to scion meetings or the BSI Weekend?  Not necessarily.  Many new folks found a place where they were welcomed with open arms.

221B Con just celebrated their tenth anniversary this year.  While some Sherlockians are quick to dismiss the convention as one that isn’t up to their standards, that’s a tired argument that should be put to rest right now.  So let me share the titles and descriptions of some of the panels from just this year:

Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street Irregulars, and other Sherlockian Societies 
- A look at the world's most famous Sherlock Holmes organizations.

Free At Last: Sherlock Holmes and the Public Domain 
- As of January 1, 2023, all the SH stories are in the public domain. But do you know the story of how they got there? 

Paget, Steele, and Gibson: Illustrators of an Era 
- When the Strand Magazine was founded in 1890, Arthur Conan Doyle immediately saw the promise for a series about Sherlock Holmes, the detective who'd made his first appearance in 1887. The next two decades were the height of the ""Golden Age of Illustration."" 

Sherlock Holmes’s Past 
- Arthur Conan Doyle provided minimal information about Sherlock Holmes's past. What can be gleaned from those few tidbits that can tell us about his upbringing and education? What has been embellished by other writers? What would others like to know?

These panels sound like they would be right at home at this conference, as well as other Sherlockian gatherings around the country.  

Some other topics from 2023 included 

Animals in the Canon, Drug Use in the Victorian Era, Enola Holmes, Research for historical fiction writers, Laurie R. King and Mary Russell, Popularity of the Pastiche, and Sherlock Holmes in Comics 

So now we can all agree that 221B Con is a hotbed of Sherlockian activity, both traditional and new wave.  But the community aspect is what is applicable to us here today.

When Crystal Noll and Heather Holloway signed a contract with the Atlanta Marriott for their first convention, they hoped to have 75-100 attendees that first year.  Over 700 people signed up.  Let that sink in for a minute.

700 people

There is a huge community of new Sherlockians out there.  We’ve talked about the importance of recruiting new Sherlockians to join our activities, but it’s also important to build that community with like-minded folks.  And that community we build should be a motivational and welcoming one. 

If my own students don’t feel welcomed in the environment I’ve created in my classroom, my lessons are doomed.  And if Sherlockians don’t feel welcomed in environments that we want them to join, our future with them is doomed as well.  221B Con is a great example of a welcoming community based in its love of Sherlock Holmes.  

Here’s a story that Heather shared with me that happened in 2016:

“The hotel that we were at that year was also hosting a group of volleyball players from different high schools for a tournament of some kind. I was walking through the lobby when a 14 to 15 year old girl stopped me because she saw my director’s badge.

“She was with her father and she was breathless with excitement. She said that she LOVED Sherlock Holmes. She watched all the BBC shows and then she read all the stories. She even showed me her phone case which had a 221B door on it.

“Her father said that she was so excited when she saw that there was a Sherlock Holmes con in the hotel. She begged him to let her walk around. He said that all she ever talked about anymore was Sherlock Holmes, and that she had never been to a con.

“I took her to our operations room and gave her a few Sherlock Holmes related items like a mug and a couple of extra books we had. I just love the thought that there are so many young people coming to Sherlock Holmes and that, if they find us, we can be a nice supportive community for them.”

This is a great example of the welcoming spirit of Sherlockians!

We want to welcome fellow readers no matter where they are on their Sherlockian journey.  And hopefully, we all have local Sherlockian communities that are just as welcoming.

I’m the Gasogene of my local scion, The Parallel Case of St. Louis, and I love the setup our founder, Joe Eckrich, came up with.  It’s more of a book club format where everyone is encouraged to participate in discussions.  Sure, papers are welcome, but what we really want is conversation.  

We have had so many different areas of expertise shared in these discussions that would have been missed if we hadn’t welcomed and encouraged people to share their thoughts.  This format allows everyone to be engaged and take on roles and responsibilities that they are comfortable with.  

And from that small way of including people, members have helped coordinate conferences, given talks, written blog posts, swapped books, hosted movie nights, and have found all kinds of other ways to strengthen the community feel of our group!

Because Sherlockiana is all about the friendships.  Sure we love a good talk or a quiz, but we keep coming back to events and gatherings for the camaraderie.  

And here we stop for a quick commercial.

If you’d like to see this camaraderie in action, please join us this July in St. Louis for the second Holmes in the Heartland weekend!

Join us for a tour of the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection and architectural tour of the historic St. Louis Central Library!

Enjoy a day of Sherlockian speakers expounding on the topic of Arch Enemies!

Spend way too much money at our packed venue of vendors!

Relish in a dinner surrounded by fellow Sherlockians and be entertained by The Alpha Inn Goose Club Trivia performance!

Take a trip to the top of the St. Louis Gateway Arch and enjoy lunch at a riverfront restaurant!

Information can be found in the flyers you received this morning and on the Holmes in the Heartland website!

Now, where was I?

When the world went all awry in 2020, Sherlockians still found a way to meet.  Because it didn’t take long for us to realize that we love the stories, but we NEEDED other Sherlockians.

I’ve heard it said that this hobby is more about hanging out now than debating important ideas and that we write more about relationships between the characters instead of writing about hard data like it used to be in the good old days.  

While I haven’t done a statistical analysis of Baker Street Journal articles comparing those categories, I will say that in 1944 Christopher Morley edited a book titled “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, A Textbook of Friendship.”  And if friendship and community are good enough for Christopher Morley, it’s good enough for me.

Just like friendship is a theme throughout the Canon, it’s a theme throughout the century of this hobby.  

I know that students learn better when they feel safe and appreciated, and the most active Sherlockians are probably the ones with the strongest social bonds.  It’s important to remember that Sherlockian friendship isn’t something that always happens naturally.  Sometimes it’s something that we need to foster.  The stronger we build our relationship and community, the stronger the future of this hobby will be.

Over the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve found myself in the middle of some great communities by putting out a few books.  Like many Sherlockians, I tried my hand at a pastiche first.  And later, a friend of mine, Peter Eckrich,  pitched the idea of an anthology of Sherlockian collecting.  

We rounded up 27 folks to contribute essays on their interests inside of Sherlockiana.  Whether it was autographs, art, experiences, or greeting cards, I was blown away by the passion that each contributor shared.  

Editing that book, The Finest Assorted Collection, was when I knew I’d found my sweet spot.  Writing on my own was fine.  I still write papers here and there, but collaborating with other Sherlockians is what I really love.  Being able to bring people together around a central theme is a real delight!

Since that first anthology, I’ve been able to work with Brad Keefauver on an off-the-wall collection called The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes and Peter Eckrich and I have another collection coming out next January on Sherlockian books.  

As someone who loves reading and connecting people with books they’d enjoy, getting my own books out in the world is so great, but the real fun in this whole process is the community I’ve been able to be a part of as I’ve collaborated with writers.  Whether it’s bouncing ideas back and forth, or just nit picking the placement of a comma, I can honestly say that every person I have worked with in these books has proven time and time again that Sherlockians are great people.

And no matter what Sherlockian communities we find ourselves in, they will be enhanced by us taking steps to bring people together.  But like I said, these communities won’t always look like what we are used to. I think some folks may look at newer Sherlockians and worry that everything is going to change.  And that is where the fourth guidepost comes in.


This is the fun one.  

Mentoring is where we get to show new folks all of the great aspects of Sherlockiana.  But there’s a reason I’ve put this one last.  Because without planting seeds, recruitment, and community, mentoring just comes across as lecturing.   I’m sure we’ve all had someone show us the slightest interest in Sherlock Holmes before.  

And if you’re anything like me, you immediately want to load them up with ten books, six movies, three television series, and an entire database of the history of this hobby.

If we give into that instinct to bombard the newbie immediately, they’re so overwhelmed that they never want to mention the name Sherlock Holmes around us again!

New Sherlockians aren’t just new recruits for us to preach at.  It’s up to us to get new Sherlockians to be active.  Fostering a good back-and-forth between different knowledge levels can lead to some wonderful discussions.

And, like many things with Sherlockiana, the Baker Street Irregulars have shown leadership in this aspect.  They recognize the importance of mentoring.

In 2022 the BSI unveiled a new award, The Susan Rice Mentorship Award.  The purpose of this is “to recognize the activities of a member of the Sherlock Holmes community who has been a mentor to others, in the spirit of Susan Rice.”  And who better to lead the way into the future of Sherlockiana than Susan herself?  

In the words of her friend and protégé, Curtis Armstrong, Susan was

“A teacher to many, she was also a friend and presiding genius to hundreds of Sherlockians, young and not so young, going back to the late sixties. Susan was the very best sort of gatekeeper: one who was generous with her time and free with the keys. She not only knew how to unlock doors, she could break them down, if need be, and leave them open for everyone who came after her. She had been doing both forever.”

Susan Rice was a welcomer.  And that’s important to remember.  It’s easy for us to say “That's not how I do it” and dismiss folks.  That’s not what mentors do, though.  

Mentors create an atmosphere where people grow into members who want to be active.  Mentors don’t insist that people do things.  Mentors recognize the importance of the ground that has been laid before and help new people and their energy learn from that.  We all stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us and a good mentor gives you a boost up there.  

Curtis also pointed out that Susan Rice was full of intellectual curiosity and progressive thought.  My favorite line from later in this announcement was about “the lifting up of the uncertain and awkward and the inclusion of all in everything we do.”

Everyone has been uncertain and awkward in their lives.  It may be hard to believe, but even Peter Blau was the new kid on the block at one point.  

Susan Rice is a great guidepost for us as we move forward in this hobby.  So be a Susan.  

Be generous with your time and lift people up, no matter how uncertain or different.  There’s a good chance we’ll learn something from them.  But instead of just talking about how people have been great mentors, let’s take a minute to think about how WE can be mentors.

Even though he is not a known Sherlockian, someone I greatly admire is Fred Rogers.  

When giving speeches, Mister Rogers would have his audience take a silent minute to think of people who had helped them become who they are.  I’d like to flip that around and ask you to think of a newer Sherlockian that does things a little differently than you.  Give that person just 30 seconds of your time and thought right now and ask yourself, how can I be a mentor?  I’ll keep the time.

:30 Seconds

Thank you for that.  

As we think of the future it’s important to remember that it all starts from today.  And our actions and beliefs now will influence the future of Sherlockiana.  We can look to the future by learning from the past and the present.

Plant the seeds of Sherlockiana like a teacher does.

Recruit new folks like John Bennett Shaw did.

Build a community like 221B Con and your local scions do.

And welcome new energy while sharing yours like Susan Rice did.

Like the interview answers I shared at the beginning of this talk said, Sherlockiana is always moving forward.  We are a living, breathing, organism that continues to welcome new members year after year.  And if we keep our ears attuned to catch not only the distant, but also the new version of that view halloo, the game will always be afoot.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Interesting Interview: Bonnie MacBird

If we were to judge one another in this hobby on our output, you can bet that Bonnie MacBird would be getting some very high marks.  Since 2016, she has put out five Sherlock Holmes novels, and we aren't talking about short stories here!  You definitely get your money's worth with books from Bonnie MacBird.  But Bonnie's creative output doesn't end with her novels.  She is also an actor, playwright, producer, and screenwriter.  See?  I told you she was prolific!

But Bonnie is also a wonderful person and Sherlockian.  Her energy and love for this hobby is contagious and she is known around the globe.  Originally from California and now residing in London, you never know where she'll show up.  Whether it's an event in London, book signing in New York, or random Zoom meeting, you know right away that you are in the presence of an extremely intelligent woman and passionate Sherlockian!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

It’s all about the internal world we share.  On the silly end, it’s the shared delight with other Sherlockians finding seventeen steps up to something, or a hotel room numbered 221, or a dog named Toby.  And in our strange new world of splintered attention, anti-intellectualism, and triggered everything, it’s finding that  fellow Sherlockian as a welcome port in a storm, that person whose shared passion for Holmes means that they also treasure intelligence, scientific reasoning, friendship, humour and a passion for a tale well told.  Sherlockians find points of connection both trivial and cosmic, silly and profound, and have fun doing so.  And they are all readers. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I read the canon at age ten, began watching the black and white movies on TV and basically inhaled the character and he has never left me.  As for joining in the greater organization, that was all Les Klinger’s doing.  He said I “must come to the BSI weekend” and that I’d make my best friends among Sherlockians.  I hesitated, shy, he insisted; he was right.

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

For the last eleven years I have focused on writing traditional Sherlock Holmes novels in the style of the originals for HarperCollins.  But before that, I spent thirty years in the entertainment business as a studio exec, a  story editor of feature films, a screenwriter (TRON) a producer (three local Emmys) and an actor.   I’m all about story.  I recognize Conan Doyle as a master storyteller, and Holmes and Watson among the best fictional creations ever. During my time as a story editor I locked into good structure and pacing, and a sense of audience. Who is watching?  Who is reading?  How can we give them the very best ride… and while doing so, add something of beauty or value to the world.  As an actor I went further into the heart of character, finding in every exchange of dialogue  the subtext, the turns, the clues to previous life, mood, intent.

What is your favorite canonical story?

Three of them:  "The Second Stain."  "The Naval Treaty."  "Scandal in Bohemia."

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

Peggy MacFarlane.  If Peggy has already been featured, then Peter Cannon, recently retired editor at Publisher’s Weekly.  

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I’m particularly fascinated with the world of the late nineteenth century.  It was, like the late twentieth century, a time when change itself changed.  In medicine, for example, the germ theory finally gained traction, anesthesia was developed, it was the birth of psychiatry.  Technology such as the steam engine, industrialization, trains, telegraphs, and newspapers and later telephones shrank distance between people, and suddenly everyone shared the same news… instantly.  Socially there was unrest, unionization, terrorists, the rise of the women’s movement, the growth of social organisations attempting to help the disadvantaged.  The policing system changed.  In our own time…starting in the 1960’s, the computer revolution, political protests, civil rights, space travel, and advancements in science and medicine marked the late twentieth century as a similar time of rapid and deeply influential change.   Both eras featured a kind of optimism, mixed with a rawness, an electricity, a bloom of invention, technology, imagination and growth – all amidst turmoil.  Two wildly transformational eras and exciting times to be alive.

In "His Final Bow," Holmes foresees a dark time, but with light following. I believe we are facing a similar time right now, just a little over a hundred years later. The bittersweet moments of Holmes’ final case gave into what we now call WWI, followed by a frenetic but brief “roaring” twenties, then the Depression and WWII.  A great many dark years. But that vital human spirit emerged later for another intense phase of invention and growth and art in the fifties, sixties and going forward to the end of the last century. This vibrancy and optimism coupled with turmoil have a lot in common with Holmes’s time. 

I believe we are once again standing on the precipice of a dark time. Like Holmes, I believe our beacon of light must come through education.  Our heroes on the page will provide us comfort, if only in books, for now.  Perhaps they’ll provide lessons that the next generation of heroes can use. Literacy is key.

Your pastiches are tours de force!  What is your writing process?

As Holmes would say, my blushes!   Thank you!   I write every day.  Seven days a week.  The very famous “butt on chair” technique.   My current process is to write to word count, not to time.  Sometimes my wordcount goal takes me an hour, sometimes six.  I’ve just written through three very challenging years, locked down,  6,000 miles from friends and pets, isolated and unable to leave a flat where our neighbors decided to undergo noisy construction for a solid two years of this.  Meanwhile my beloved husband developed stage four cancer.  Using my relentless, butt-on-chair-no-matter-what I finished two novels despite this.  Or maybe they saved me, I don’t know.  I might have gone mad without the work.

About my process, I start with a title, the major crime, villain and the reason they did it.  I then write a theme around this.  I then pick a year and season.  And imagine an action scene that features all of the above. Then I just start writing.  I’m a pantser, after I’ve figured out the above. I don’t know how Holmes is going to figure it out when I start.  But he leads me there.  Research is key to my process and I use libraries, the internet, museums and when there is no pandemic to stop me, I quite literally location scout.  For example, the ice house scene in Unquiet Spirits and the near drowning on the Thames foreshore in The Devil's Due came directly from on-site visits to those very places.  

I put a lot of this research into annotations viewable on my website. www.macbird.com

As a Sherlockian/Holmesian who has had the opportunity to live in both America and England, what are some differences you notice between how we celebrate Holmes?

In both places, people of all walks of life and all professions are Sherlockians, and share intelligence, arcane side interests, an interest in Victorian culture and inventions… and almost always a delightful sense of humour. I suppose in Britain there is a certain sense of ownership, a “Holmes is one of us” and a real pride in the literary tradition that Conan Doyle came from … as well as the writers his work spawned.  Americans are equally literary, but more likely to be collectors of “stuff” than are the Brits. Americans are  less hesitant to show off acquisitions and accomplishments, whereas the Brits are a little more understated and you need to unpeel the reserve a little more slowly.  They surprise you.  Both are accomplished men and women and both share deep enthusiasm and a certain silliness which is a delight. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Well, if you want the definitive copy of the canon, of course Les Klinger’s volumes can’t be beat.  I love the Sherlock Holmes Miscellany by Roger Johnson and Jean Upton.  If you might consider pastiche and haven’t read my series, I would hope you might give them a try. There are five to date and the last was illustrated by Frank Cho.  The Doyle biographies by Daniel Stashower and Alistair Duncan are excellent.   

If you just want a brilliant non-Sherlockian piece of period fiction (set a little later but redolent of Fin de Siècle malaise and wicked humor) then read AGentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  If you want an antidote to depression read Discipline is Destiny by Ryan Holiday which is not a the “fix me” book that it sounds, but a comfort read, particularly in these times.  I have endless more recommendations.  

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

There will likely be some new good film, television and theatre to delight us and incite comparisons, gossip and many panels where earnest Sherlockians will attack and defend the latest portrayals.  I hope to keep writing my pastiches as long as I can and I hope Sherlockians will still seek them out.  Maybe a welcome wash of sanity will blanket the earth, and everyone will become a Sherlockian. Ha!  If only.  But I remain hopeful for a new screen incarnation of Holmes  - thirty-something, brilliant, hawklike, with sad eyes, tousled hair,  and a disarming smile -- and a handsome, brave Watson alongside .That’s how I see them as I write…

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Interesting Interview: Madeline Quinones

This week's Interesting Interview is with one of the young faces of this hobby that is popping up everywhere, Madeline Quinones!  If you've been on Zoom in the past few years, I guarantee you've heard her laugh because she is at so many meetings and is always so happy to be around fellow Sherlockians.  Madeline is also the co-host of the podcast, Dynamics of a Podcast, focusing on Professor Moriarty.  She also hosts her own interview segment on the Watsonian Weekly podcast, Wondering About Watson.

But Madeline probably isn't best known for her Sherlockian output; it's her personality that makes her a favorite to so many people.  I'm going to bet that if you already know her, a smile came to your face when you saw her name because Madeline is genuinely one of the nicest and happiest Sherlockians out there.  Her love for this hobby and everyone in it comes across with every interaction you have with her.  She sometimes feels like she's overflowing with energy and love, which is clear in her answers below.  So settle in and enjoy this Interesting Interview with Madeline Quinones!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I am always so fascinated by how people answer this question. I think that, recently, Ray Wilcockson gave the most beautiful response I’ve ever seen, and my own isn’t half as pretty.

I think that a Sherlockian is someone who loves Sherlock Holmes (which I believe is the same thing as being a “fan” of Sherlock Holmes). I’ve said this before, and I think that it’s been… somewhat misunderstood before, so now I’m going to clarify. When I say “love,” I don’t mean “like.” Love is both emotion and action, and that’s exactly what I mean by loving Sherlock Holmes. Whether it’s feeling compelled to talk about some aspect of the characters or the stories for hours, or needing to write stories or essays, to make art, to collect whatever bits and bobs you can, or even to podcast! Being a fan is inherently affection driving action, and that’s what a Sherlockian is.

(And I’m going to note really quickly that I was blissfully unaware for ten years that this was even a point of contention! I knew the term Sherlockian early on, and always assumed it simply meant “fan of Sherlock Holmes” the way that Trekkie means “fan of Star Trek.” I was absolutely blindsided by how hot this topic could get.)

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Fanfiction, actually! I had a friend whose fics I could never read and understand because they were for fandoms I didn’t know. Then one day, I saw that she’d written some Sherlock Holmes stories, and I thought, “Oh, hey! At least I know who Sherlock Holmes is, and I’ve read a couple of the stories!” I dove in, and they were all 100-word vignettes about the friendship between Holmes and Watson. That sparked my interest in the way that nothing had before: that people could be interested not just in the mysteries but also the friendship.

I was a lonely and freshly twenty-year-old myself, and I needed more! I read one or two more fics from other writers, and then figured that the original stories were probably old enough to be available on Project Gutenberg (little did I know!). I started reading A Study in Scarlet, and it hooked me right away, gave me the emotional way in to these characters that I hadn’t gotten from reading “Red-headed League” and “Norwood Builder” in school. I quickly became obsessed. It wasn’t long until I was writing my own Sherlockian fanfiction, before I’d even gotten all the way through the Canon! (Affection driving action!)

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

I’m a graphic designer, and I currently work for a design agency (this is not necessarily something that a lot of design majors end up doing!). Moving from my last job to this one a couple of years ago was a serious shift in pay for me, enough to allow me to actually do some traveling, that thing I couldn’t afford before, and go to fun events and hang out with amazing people! So, in a practical sense, there’s that.

But also, having a basic design skillset is a great thing to have if you’re involved with fandom, and Sherlockiana is no exception! I really enjoy getting to make things like programs and certificates (the Montague Street Incorrigibles certificate is my type-nerdy handiwork!), and recently I made a bunch of Moriarty-themed bookmarks that have the info for my podcast in the back. They were a hit at 221B Con (and I still have quite a few left, so ask me when you see me if you want one!).

What is your favorite canonical story?

I have a whole list, which is apparently ever evolving (an old list had me wondering about past me’s choices). I’m not gonna give the whole current list. I’m just going to say: A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four. They’re a duology, in the way none of the other stories are except for “Final Problem”/“Empty House.” STUD introduces you to the characters in a way that’s fun and engaging before you hit the part that everybody gripes about, and SIGN not only has Mary (whom I adore), but it’s also the most consistently open and honest Watson is with us. As of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” he starts editing; he really starts spin doctoring. And he’ll have his moments when he lets us get closer again, but it’s never quite like SIGN.

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

I have thought so much about this question! And it’s hard for me to say, because I am super interested in many other Sherlockians, past and present! But you know what? I think that American fans of the Great Detective don’t need a lot of help to be known, and ditto for Canadian and British fans. But you get outside of these particular countries, and even though other countries around the world have plenty of fans (whether they identify as Sherlockian, Holmesian, or something else entirely!), they don’t get known so much, I think.

Claire Daines is a Holmesian in New Zealand, and she’s a terrific writer, both of fiction and non-fiction. She’s also my best friend, but, full disclosure: we got to be friends in the nerdiest way possible, by being fans of each other’s stories! Out of all the many stories she’s written, she hasn’t published many traditionally, but check her out on MX Publishing, and also Belanger Books’ Sherlock Holmes: Further Adventures in the Realms of H.G. Wells Volume One. And she wrote a terrific essay for the Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes, wherein Holmes himself may have become a bit monstrous. Her writing won’t be for everyone — if you prefer stories which are more strictly pastiches of the Canon, the emotional realism in her stories might not be to your taste. But that is her strength: she can weave a tale that’s gut-wrenching and heartbreaking, and also funny and moving. To pair that kind of storytelling with Holmes and Watson? To me, that’s just… *chef’s kiss*.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Okay, this might sound really weird coming from somebody as young as me, both as a person and as a Sherlockian, but I’m really interested, not so much the writings about the writings, but the people who wrote those writings! My favorite episodes of IHOSE are the ones that delve into the history of Sherlockiana, and the personal histories of individual Sherlockians. I’ve listened to all the available recordings in the BSI oral history project. It’s easier for me to listen rather than read, because I can listen to things while I work, so I haven’t read as much as I’d like to. But I follow Ray Betzner’s Studies in Starrett, I treasure my copy of the BSJ Christmas Annual that devoted itself to the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, and one of my more recent acquisitions is the BSI Press’s Aboriginals. (Clearly, in a parallel universe, I’m a historian or an anthropologist.)

All the Sherlockians who have come before us? They’re not just names on a page — they lived. They lived and laughed and loved and mourned. They had lives beyond Baker Street, and yet they also brought a richness from their personal lives to Sherlockiana. I remember the first time I heard a recording of William S. Baring-Gould, captured at a BSI dinner, wherein he was reading all the negative reviews of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, and clearly thoroughly enjoying himself. Suddenly, he wasn’t just a name I’d seen referenced, well, everywhere — he was real, he was human, he had a sense of humor… And I don’t think I’ve been the same since. 

Dynamics of a Podcast shines the light on Professor Moriarty. What makes him such an interesting character to you?

Here’s the funny thing: I barely noticed him at first! I had to start writing him to realize that I needed to do better than a Saturday morning cartoon villain. So I went back to the Canon and started paying attention, and what I found — and what I didn’t find — fascinated me. He’s a prodigy! He may or may not still be teaching — is that something that he cares about? Is his criminal empire really about order, about maths? (Yes, yes, it is.)

I love me a super-intelligent bad guy. (See: Grand Admiral Thrawn.)

Beyond all this, Moriarty is very specifically drawn as a dark mirror to Sherlock Holmes, even down to sharing some basic physical traits. He’s the Hyde to Holmes’s Jekyll (or the Lore to Holmes’s Data? no, don’t give me that look). Doyle clearly figured that he had to send a Sherlock Holmes to kill Sherlock Holmes. At the end of the day, Holmes is still my favorite character; he’s still the one I’m in this for. And his shadow is this maths professor about whom we know just enough to want to know more. As with any other aspect of the Canon, all the blanks that Doyle left for us are part of the fun!

As someone who also interviews fellow Sherlockians on The Watsonian Weekly, what do you think makes Sherlockians so interesting?

I think I kind of already answered this one above by accident! People, to me, are inherently interesting — whether famous and fabulously wealthy or poor and obscure, we all have rich inner lives. Throw a love of Sherlock Holmes into the mix, and you have people from many ethnicities, worldviews, and walks of life who all speak a language each other understands, and how can that be anything other than fascinating?

And what I’ve come to discover, and I’m sure you yourself already know, is that it’s very interesting to see where people’s answers are similar (Mary is a surprisingly popular candidate for “second best friend”), and where they’re different (all the actors and actresses who could play Watson whom I hadn’t even thought of!), and why they give the answers they do!

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

You are probably getting the idea by now that I cannot give succinct, concise answers. Physically impossible!

To be honest, I think the only books that would appeal to all Sherlockians are the reference works like Jack Tracy’s The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana and Les Klinger’s The New Annotated. If you go beyond that, you’re diving into personal interest and taste, which is tricky. I figure there are currently four broad categories of Sherlockian writing: pastiche, the writings about the writings, the writings about the writings about the writings, and reference work. And the longer I hang around the social side of Sherlockian, the more I’m sure that very few people are interested in all four categories.

That being said… Corporals, Colonels and Commissionaires from BSI Press is awesome, because it really dives into all sorts of things pertaining to the British military in the nineteenth century. Super helpful if you’re looking to know more about this particular through-line in the Canon!

Also… the manuscript books. All of them. Even the stories you don’t care for. The scans of the manuscript pages, and all the amazing articles accompanying them, totally make it worth it — and they’re beautiful.

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

That’s… tricky. What I hope is that by the time 2033 rolls around, we’ll have gone into another wave of Sherlockiana. Right now, we’re certainly somewhere in the trough.

I’m worried that we’re going to lose a lot of scion societies over the next ten to twenty years. There aren’t enough young Sherlockians getting involved in what I call the “social side” of the fandom, and I think that’s a multilayered problem. I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s real life getting in the way and making us too busy — as Baron Gruner himself said, if a man has a hobby, he follows it up! I think that probably a big problem is the big problem that’s consistently plagued Millennials and is now hurting Gen Z too: on the whole, we don’t make living wages. As crazy as my personal life has been, I desperately wanted all through my twenties to be able to make it to things like 221B Con and the BSI Weekend, and last year was the first year I could afford to do that!

I think too that another problem is something of an image problem. I think that the idea that “traditional” Sherlockians are stuffy, snobby, and gatekeep-y is… frustratingly persistent. (And it’s not just young Sherlockians who have this idea in their heads — a certain beloved author has admitted that she took a long time to get involved because she was afraid of things like failing knowledge tests!) I know now that while some Sherlockians like that do exist, many, many more really are the loveliest people you’d ever want to meet, and I’m so glad I know them.

But outside the social sphere of Sherlockiana… there’s a fandom full of younger adults and even teens whose fandom experience is solely online. Younger Sherlockians are out there, en masse (just look at 221B Con!), even in this time of the trough of the wave, and they’re as passionate and analytical and creative as anyone could ask for.

The enduring question so far is: are they going to stay there, or will enough of them make the jump from internet to in-person to make a difference? I made that jump — you actually helped, Rob, and I’m very grateful for that! Zoom really helped me in a big way, though, and I do think that continued use of Zoom moving forward will be important. 

Beyond that, I don’t know. Uncertain, the future is! (It’s Star Wars month, I had to!)