Sunday, June 9, 2024

Interesting Interview: Liese Sherwood-Fabre

Liese Sherwood-Fabre was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars this year, and when her name was announced, the thought "of course, that makes sense" popped into my head.  Whenever Liese is around, it just feels like a good fit for her to be a part of any group.  She just has a cool demeanor that her make you feel like her writings and knowledge should always be a part of a conversation.

Liese describes her writing style as "good old-fashioned, gimmick-free storytelling" and that comes across on the page, at meetings, or just in general conversation with her.  She's been a mainstay at the New York Birthday Weekend and 221B Con for years now and has friends all across this hobby of ours.  Her writings are as varied as you can imagine.  When I saw her in Atlanta earlier this year, she was telling me about a new children's book about a teenage witch.  Quite a change from her popular Sherlockian writing!  But speaking of writing, let's see what Liese Sherwood-Fabre wrote for her answers to this week's Interesting Interview!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian?”

At its base, of course, is an interest in Sherlock Holmes, but it must be more than a casual interest. There’s often an aspect of fandom involved as well—a desire to learn more, read more, and discuss your interests with others. Meeting other Sherlockians is one of the most enjoyable aspects of discovering and joining a scion. Despite a diversity of professions, they all have a common interest in reading and discussing the cases to learn more about Sherlock Holmes. At the same time, this interest takes different avenues. Some have focused on Sherlock Holmes as portrayed in film; others, games related to Sherlock Holmes and mystery solving; others, collecting autographs of actors who portrayed the detective; and so many other different ways to collect or study his impact on popular culture.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I cannot identify when I first read a case from the Canon, but I do recall being very aware of mass media characters (including those in cartoons) who put on a deerstalker hat and carried a magnifying glass as imitating the detective who appeared in the old black and white Basil Rathbone movies.

When Robert Downey, Jr. re-ignited a popular interest in Sherlock Holmes, I considered writing a novel about the man. I had already penned several other stories and novels (some of which had won awards), and I thought about a new spin on him, focusing on his origins. That has become my Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes series.

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

I hold a PhD in Sociology from Indiana University. I have to say that I’m fascinated by how the Victorian period affected the characters in the cases. In particular, I discovered how this period opened new arenas for women through my research. The typewriter and the bicycle offered new careers and mobility that women in prior periods did not have. The Canon documents these changes in some of the cases.

What is your favorite canonical story?

“The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.” At its heart, it’s a psychological thriller. How Sarah Cushing manipulated Jim Browner to murder his wife and her lover was absolutely diabolical. Moriarty may have been the spider at the center of his web of crime, but she was just as cunning—only on a micro-scale. 

I also like this story because she becomes afflicted with “brain fever,” which I find a most fascinating condition. Today, we might call it a nervous breakdown. Others did experience a bout of it in a few other cases. A major treatment was shaving the afflicted’s head to cool off the brain. 

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

Oh, do I have to name just one? There are so many. Like I said above, everyone has such interesting professions and backgrounds. There are doctors, writers, lawyers, artists of all kinds, actors, and so many others. I particularly admire Steve Mason. He has taken on several leadership roles, not just in the Dallas scion, but also in The Beacon Society where he is very concerned about teaching the next generation about Sherlock Holmes. One way he reaches out to young people on a very individual basis is giving away copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles. He carries a few copies with him when he’s out and about, and when he sees a young person, will offer a copy to him/her because that is how he learned about Holmes, and he wants to share it with others. I think that is so powerful.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I’m probably more into the stories (whether in writing, film, or plays) involving Sherlock Holmes. I know some are purists and prefer only the original stories, but I like the adaptations—be it Monk, Enola Holmes, or Elementary. Each brings a unique perspective to the character.

I am a big fan of your The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes series of essay collections.  What was the impetus for writing these books?

When I started my Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes series, I had to do a lot of research to get the historical period right. One of the first things, for example was that he said his ancestors were country squires. I had to find out what a country squire was and how this might have shaped Sherlock Holmes. As I compiled all this knowledge, I thought it a pity to keep it all to myself and decided to write short essays on various subjects to share with Sherlockian scions for their newsletters. One that I contacted was the Dallas scion (The Crew of the Barque Lone Star), and its leader Steve Mason invited me to a meeting. It might not be apparent, but almost everything in my novels provided the basis for one of my essays.

How do you decide the topics for your quarterly articles in Sherlock's Spotlight Gazette?

I basically go through the essays that I have already written and look for topics that I think are appropriate and of interest to young people. For example, what was school like? Or secret writing as in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men.” After I select the essay, I shorten it because there is a length requirement, then I pass it to you for a readability review. I like the idea that these essays have more than one life, and maybe the young people who read them find them fun and interesting as much as the adults.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Can I mention my own? Just kidding [not].

There are so many good Sherlockian books and series out now. Of course, there’s the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King. The first is now celebrating its thirtieth birthday (Can you believe it?). I also enjoy Bonnie MacBird’s series which is more Canonical with Holmes and Watson solving cases. One that took a different perspective is Robert Ryan’s Dr. John Watson series. In these books, Watson is serving in WWII and solving mysteries without his companion. He often will consider what Holmes would have said/done in a particular situation as he tries to solve the mystery confronting him.

I really can’t pick one but would suggest to others they check them all out. The nice thing is, there is something out there for every reader’s taste.

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

During the pandemic, the Dallas scion went virtual. Before, we would meet once a month at a restaurant with about 20 attending. Once we could meet in person again, the scion continued to meet virtually because it had increased in number and reach. There are regular attendees from many parts of the world. We also have had several young people attend. Two incredible girls from Canada recently did a presentation that blew everyone away. I think the use of virtual meetings with its wider reach can be a great tool to keep Sherlock’s memory and influence alive and further expanding his audience. 

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