Sunday, August 27, 2023

Interesting Interview: Rich Krisciunas

If you've been anywhere around Sherlockiana over the past few years, you've seen the name Rich Krisciunas.  He started popping up in a bunch of Zoom meetings during Covid and seemed like a nice guy.  Turns out, that's not an act.  Rich has been to plenty of Sherlockian gatherings once the world opened back up and everyone who's met him, myself included, agree that he is a joy to spend time with.

And Rich's work pops up all over the place!  He's active in his local scion, is resurrecting another, and was just published in a recent issue of The Baker Street Journal.  He runs the John H. Watson Society's annual treasure hunt.  He gives a monthly presentation on law at the Crew of the Barque Lone Star Zoom meetings.  He is one of the founding members of The Legion of Zoom.  He presented at Holmes in the Heartland.  And if a scion society is hosting a meeting online, you can count on him being there and contributing to the discussion.  Did I forget something?  Probably.  There's no keeping up with this guy.  But you can get to know him a little better in this week's interview!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I’m a simple guy. I look at a “Sherlockian” as anyone who enjoys any facet of Sherlock Holmes from the Canon, pastiches, movies, to any TV series and who is part of our community. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes in the early 60’s when a local TV station showed the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movies. I loved his deductions. I don’t recall reading the stories because I mostly read stuff about baseball. 

In the 1970’s, my wife bought me the Annotated Sherlock Holmes for Christmas and she gave me a different Sherlock Holmes book every year that I read during the Christmas break. One year it was Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Percent-Solution, another year Loren D. Estleman’s Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula or The Adventures of the Sanguinary Count

I had a framed Hound of the Baskervilles movie poster that I hung in my office and another lawyer saw it and invited me to a meeting of The Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit. I attended several meetings and enjoyed the camaraderie playing The Game but had to drop out after I was promoted to a special unit where I tried only First Degree Murder cases and didn’t have time for recreational reading. 

After I retired from the active practice of law, I discovered that the Mendicants were still meeting and there were three other societies in Michigan. I began attending their meetings and rekindled my love for the Canon. I hate to admit it but because of the Covid pandemic, I was able to attend numerous virtual meetings each week and made Sherlockian friends I never would have met.

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

I am a lawyer and have been involved in criminal law for 48 years. I joined the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in Detroit after graduation in 1975. After retiring as the Chief of the Trial Division in 2004, I was hired, full-time, by my alma mater, the University of Detroit, where I have taught Trial Practice as an adjunct professor since 1983. I began defending court-appointed clients so I could take my students to court with me. I did that for 12 years and handled a couple thousand cases. Currently, I work as a city attorney at a local district court, six minutes from my house, one morning a week. 

I’ve found a niche doing Sherlockian Law 101 for the Crew of the Barque Lone Star every month. When I read the canon, I always think about how I would prosecute or defend the people Holmes suspected of crimes. Which witnesses could testify? What evidence would be admissible? What would I argue to a jury? I have enjoyed writing articles and making presentations about prosecuting Sherlock Holmes and defending people like Beppo, Adelbert Gruner and Captain James Clayton.

What is your favorite canonical story?

Charles Augustus Milverton. “The worst man in London.” Blackmail. Holmes disguised as a plumber. Engaged! Poor Agatha. Holmes deciding to commit a burglary. Loyal Watson refusing to let Holmes do it alone. Milverton isn’t asleep and both are trapped. The surprise shooting of Milverton. Holmes’ refusal to help Lestrade. “My sympathies are with the criminals.” Holmes playing with Lestrade, “My, it might be a description of Watson.” The most fun for me was writing a paper proving that a “regal and stately lady” didn’t kill Milverton but the real shooter was, actually, Sherlock Holmes.

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

I can’t limit it to one. Without a doubt, it’s Bob Katz, Paul Thomas Miller and Mike McSwiggin. They all influenced and inspired me and made me laugh whenever they did a presentation. They all came up with clever and unique perspectives that no one had thought of before. 

For years, I read writings about the writings that were serious and then I heard their presentations. They were thoroughly researched, plausible and funny, and it hit me to think about what hasn’t been done before. Katz’s paper on Dr. Watson being at Gettysburg when he was a youth inspired me to look at everything in the Canon differently. Miller’s blog, The Shingle of Southsea is brilliant. They inspired me to write things like the disgusting and despicable Baren Adelbert Gruner was, simply, “The Most Misunderstood Man in the Canon.” 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I love the legal aspects in the stories. I like to read the writings about the writings and I love the BSI Professional Series like Canon Law and Nerve and Knowledge. Whenever I read a canonical story, I enjoy going down rabbit holes after finding something that intrigues me or I don’t understand. I love finding the back stories in every adventure. Thank goodness for the Internet. For instance, when I read about doctors Palmer and Pritchard, the “first of criminals,” in "Speckled Band," I researched who they were and who they poisoned so I could do a presentation at my local scions or on Zoom for other groups. 

Your monthly presentations on Sherlockian Law 101 are always fun and informative.  How do you juggle the differences in British vs. American law?

Thank you and thanks to Steve Mason and the Crew of the Barque Lone Star for inviting me to present. American law is based largely on the Common Law of England so there are not a lot of differences. Thanks to the Internet and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law library, I have access to law books and legal search engines that enable me to read old law review articles, statutes and court cases from the nineteenth century. 

I’ve enjoyed doing legal research since I attended law school in the 70’s so it’s all fun and not work at all. Being retired, if I’m not golfing or watching hockey, I’m doing legal research for Sherlockian Law 101 or some future Sherlockian presentation on Zoom or for my local scions, like the Ribston-Pippins.

How do you go about preparing the John H. Watson Society's treasure hunt?  That seems like a HUGE undertaking!

OMG How did I ever think volunteering to do the treasure hunt was a good idea? It’s like running a marathon. I start at the beginning of each new year. I try to come up with a topic and do the research for that set of questions. I complete one set every month. One funny thing is that no matter how thorough I think my preparation has been, I am always surprised when someone comes up with an answer I didn’t anticipate and I have to give credit for the answer.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I really like two volume set The Grand Game for the historical perspective on the stories and Mattias Bostrom’s “From Holmes to Sherlock” so you can see what was going on in Conan Doyle’s life during the time he was writing certain stories.

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

I hope I’m still around to see it. We need to figure out a way to attract more people, especially younger readers, to attend society meetings in person or virtually on Zoom, and to subscribe to publications like The Baker Street Journal, Sherlock Holmes Review, Canadian Holmes and Sherlock’s Spotlight

I’m worried about the future as most of us are getting older. There’s a scion in Michigan that’s been around since 1946 that stopped meeting in person after the pandemic began. I contacted its 45 members and am trying to resuscitate the group but only a dozen have agreed to attend a future meeting. I see a lot of the same faces at various conferences and virtual meetings on Zoom. Will we be able to attract new people and younger readers into our community? 

I would anticipate more movies and TV programs because the character, Sherlock Holmes, has so much appeal. He is unique and clever and sees things that others can’t. I anticipate more pastiches because there are more people writing stories but are they being read? Everyone is being pulled in different directions. We need to make it convenient to attend meetings virtually. As a member of the Legion of Zoom, I have attended over 600 meetings of over 30 different societies and met people from around the world. Hopefully, the future will include larger virtual groups. 

I know people like to meet in-person and socialize, but it is sad that a great presentation at an in-person meeting of the Parallel Case of St. Louis or Speckled Band of Boston is seen only by that group’s members and then is lost and never seen again by other Sherlockians around the world. We need to find a way to capture the presentations and make them available online to other Sherlockians who can watch it at their convenience. How many people are out there who don’t live near a scion and can’t attend an in-person meeting but would love to see these presentations? 

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Interesting Interview: Mark Alberstat

This week's Interesting Interview is with the man, the myth, the legend: Mark Alberstat.  Mark and his wife JoAnn have been editing Canadian Holmes, the Journal of The Bootmakers of Toronto, for well over a decade.  I love this journal and you can tell that the Alberstats focus on putting out a good quality product every three months.  Mark will look familiar to most of us who were active during the Zoom boom of Sherlockiana, as he was a much sought after speaker for his many different talks on Arthur Conan Doyle and sports.  

Canadians are known for their friendliness, and let me tell you, Mark fits that mold!  He's published a few of my pieces in Canadian Holmes, and my interactions with him are always lovely.  He's also a contributor to an upcoming anthology I'm co-editing and the emails between us have been just as great when our roles have been reversed.  In fact, he's even nicer in those!  Mark is a guy who loves to promote others, but doesn't promote himselfe enough as far as I'm concerned.  So please take a few minutes today to appreciate a really great guy, Mark Alberstat!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I have a very loose definition of Sherlockian. For me it is anyone who enjoys the Sherlock Holmes stories. If that is in their original Strand form, great! If it is through BBC’s Sherlock, wonderful! If it is enjoying Brett’s interpretation on the character, superb! If it is spending six months researching and writing a scholarly article for Canadian Holmes or some other journal, more power to you! In our local club we have people who have 100s of books and we have some with fewer than a dozen. For me, they are all Sherlockians and friends.  The more the merrier, the wider the better.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I first came across the stories in my childhood by flipping the super thin pages of my Dad’s Doubleday 2-volume edition. I have a clear memory of being in grade school and bringing in the first volume for the teacher to read from to the class. I have a vague recollection that it was “A Scandal in Bohemia,” but a stronger memory of the teacher holding my Dad’s volume and reading about this detective with an odd name.

I read the stories, from those two volumes in my early teens, but when I was 15 or so I was in a used bookstore and stumbled across DeWaal’s World Bibliography. I was fascinated and surprised at all the entries and pleased to find that Doubleday edition. In the back there was a listing of Sherlockian societies. In those pre-internet days, I sat down and wrote to each one, in alphabetical order, and introduced myself and asked them what a Sherlockian society does. It was just my good fortune that one of the first societies to respond was The Brothers Three Moriarty run by John Bennett Shaw. That first letter from John sparked an almost monthly correspondence that lasted a decade or more. About five or six times a year John would also send me a manila envelope crammed full of Sherlockian clippings, journals, and almost anything else he could put inside. Thanks to these magical packages I soon realized what a wide world the Sherlockian one was. John also encouraged me to form a local club and, knowing I was a sports fan, to pursue that avenue as my specialty in the Sherlockian world.

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

I recently retired after 30 years in IT, most recently writing and maintaining provincial government websites. I am not sure the profession gave me any extra enjoyment as a Sherlockian but when I had to write some programs and create unique variable names, I did, on occasion, use Sherlockian references. There may still be small web-based programs running on the provincial website using variable names of Holmes, Watson and BakerStreet.

What is your favorite canonical story?

For this answer I have to cheat a little and name two, but let me explain why.  My all time favourite to read and re-read is “The Man with the Twisted Lip.”  Twisted Lip and twist at the end surprised me so much when I first read it the shock has stayed with me. Also, the thought of a journalist making more begging for pennies then on his set salary interested me enough, and who knows, may have helped me along to getting my degree in journalism and meeting JoAnn along the way.

The other story that I always have a fondness for is “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.” Picture yourself as a young teen, in a small Canadian city on the east coast of Canada, a few stones throw from the Atlantic ocean. You are reading the tales of the world’s most famous detective. He dashes around London, beating the criminals and sees through the Victorian fog. You begin to read Copper Beeches for the first time and in the opening few paragraphs you come across the name of the city where you are sitting. A thunderclap couldn’t have been louder in my mind. When I read: “I have been a governess for five years,” said she, “in the family of Colonel Spence Munro, but two months ago the Colonel received an appointment at Halifax, in Nova Scotia, and took his children over to America with him..” I was amazed. Sherlock Holmes knows of Halifax? How could I not have this story as a favourite. There are also century-old copper beech trees in our neighbourhood.

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

This is a difficult question to answer since editing a journal all these years we have come across so many interesting Sherlockians, some well known, some not so. However, I am going to suggest Mark Jones. Not only does he have a great first name, he is personable and writes a regular column on Conan Doyle’s non-Sherlockian works in The Strand for Canadian Holmes. Many Sherlockians will know Mark from the podcast he co-hosts with Paul M. Chapman, another name I could have easily featured in this answer, and cleverly just did! Mark’s knowledge of Conan Doyle’s works, influences and legacy makes his Doings of Doyle podcast a joy to listen to and an education at the same time.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

This is a tough question to answer as I have been a Sherlockian for so long my interests have changed. During my early days as a Sherlockian, and being a friend of John Bennett Shaw, collecting anything and everything related to Holmes was my focus. Any book, magazine, game, t-shirt or item that had a Sherlockian connection was brought into my collection. Because of those years my collection isn’t a large one on the international stage, but still dominates one room in our house. Many years later, after meeting more and more Sherlockians I realized my collection would never be a really large or important one and my interest shifted to writing and editing. Today I have a focus on Conan Doyle’s life with a particular interest on sports. Editing Canadian Holmes, however, can sometimes shift your interest for a while as you delve deeper into a topic on which an article has been proposed or submitted. The Sherlockian mine is a deep one and on any day I might follow a new vein.

What are some fond memories you have from your years of editing Canadian Holmes?

My wife JoAnn and I have been editing this quarterly journal for over 55 issues, that’s a lot of years and a lot of articles. Some years ago we started putting artwork from amateur artists on the cover. This has brought a bit more prominence to these artists. I take a lot of pleasure when I hear back from an artist about the positive responses they have had over their work being on our cover.

Working with prominent Canadian Sherlockians is always fun for a journal based in Canada but also making the journal an international one has also been rewarding. When you know your work is being read and enjoyed around the globe the hours and hours of work which goes into each 40-page issue seems to fall away.

You are known for your interest linking Arthur Conan Doyle to sports.  What does research for combining those two topics look like?

A lot of the time, it looks like me at the computer searching and searching and searching newspaper archives, memoirs and sport histories. I believe that if we really want to know about the life of Conan Doyle we have to consider more than just his literary influences but also what he did and enjoyed day to day and without a doubt that is sport.

In 1999 I wrote to Dame Jean Conan Doyle and asked for some time to interview her about her father. From the reply I could tell she wasn’t that keen on it. When I mentioned that I wasn’t interested in talking about Sherlock Holmes but wanted to discuss her father and his love of sport, she agreed.  What followed was a delightful conversation of her fond memories of an active and loving father. Of the long skis in the hallway and playing cricket on the lawn of their home. It was her interest in me wanting to tell that side of her father which assured me that I not only had the right topic for years of writing and research, but one that needed telling in a careful and detailed way.

When I am writing about ACD and baseball, cricket, cycling or any of the other topics I have written and researched about what I am really doing is contributing to our overall understanding of our favourite author.  What made him place our dynamic duo on Baker Street? Certainly, it is in central London but it is also a short stone’s throw to Lord’s Cricket Ground. When he made Holmes a boxer, was he considering some of his own traits? This is a man who had a boxing ring built in his garage after all.

To know Conan Doyle, we have to understand his love and obsession with sport. It is a small niche but one I have found fun to dig into. After all, I also have a background as a sports reporter.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

With shelves and shelves of books it is difficult to lay my hand on just one to recommend, but if I had to, it would be Mattias Boström’s From Holmes to Sherlock. For me this book takes a unique view at a world that had been examined many times before. It is also a book which, I feel, exists because of the many books, articles and essays that went before it.

Mattias found a voice and an angle into our Sherlockian world which would interest even the most casual of Sherlockians, and could, with any luck, turn them into rabid, blog reading, podcast listening, meeting attending, researching Sherlockians who will then add to our world in their own way. I should also note that Mattias and I work together on the Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle in the Newspapers series of books published by Gasogene.

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

I think our hobby is now on a curve of change, along with society. No longer do we have to attend far off conferences to hear this person or that person speak. We can stay home, turn on a Zoom meeting and meet Sherlockians from all over the world, hear their voices, see their faces and listen to their views on a wide variety of topics.

You no longer need deep pockets to fly here and there for a weekend of Sherlockian talks and fun. You can stay home and be just as well informed. You can reach out via email or social media and correspond with your favourite pastiche article, editor or writer.

I think in 5 or 10 years, many local clubs will have folded or morphed into occasional meetings of like-minded friends, and Sherlockians will find more and more ways to meet across the digital landscape.