Thursday, December 28, 2017

To absent friends . . .

Just before I fell asleep last night, the good Carter was telling me of someone we knew a long time ago giving her a call. As a result, I had a dream of two accomplished Sherlockians showing up in my living room. One of them did a little kvetching in a Christmas card this year about my absence from his domain of late. The other, I think I might have just mixed enough offense and irrelevance to be a bit persona non grata, but one can never be sure of those things.

In any case the thought of absent friends . . . a phrase we usually use for the dead and not the living . . . came on strong this morning. As Carter and I discussed last night, the longer you live, the more friends you can pick up with just a little travel, job-changing, and being out in the world. So many that even seeing them all just once a year becomes impossible for all practical purposes. That's what Christmas cards are for, I think, to give a nod and a wink to those we haven't seen in a while, but the internet has quickly eroded such traditions for many of us.

The Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend in New York owes its success to a similar tradition. My biggest complaint about those years I ventured East for it was the fact that I had so many five-minute-or-less conversations with so many Sherlockians to squeeze in between the dinner-table talks, and I wished they all could have been longer. But at least five minutes is a chance to touch base, acknowledge all is well with that person, and show you're happy for their existence.

New York City itself, however, was never a good friend of mine, which makes that tradition a bit of a problem each year. And maybe another tradition or two, but we shan't belabor that here.

Christmas is all about those Christmas things, but New Year's Eve? The holiday next on our calendar?

Drinking. Resolutions. And that song: Auld Lang Syne. From a Robbie Burns poem meaning "old long since."  A song which famously begins, "Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind . . ."  The whole song is a toast, and a question, "Will we forget our old friends?" . . . as well as the answer, "No, let's raise a glass to them!"

A long Sherlockian life, lived fully, is a life full of friends. More friends than you will ever be able to keep up with. And you will feel like shit about that sometimes. But once a year, you can raise a glass, even of just refreshing spring water, if you're not into the oft-problematic beverages, and remember as many of them as you can . . . and hope that somewhere, they're doing the same.

Here's to ya, you Sherlockian charmers, you.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What do we call the non-believers?

As my household filled with Christmas cheer this Yule, I had the following Facebooked thought:

"Think of the thing you're a biggest fan of for a moment, the thing you really call your fandom, if you have one. Now imagine if there was a time of year when you got to barrage the rest of the world with that thing the way Christmas fanboys and fangirls do. And there were names you got to call people who didn't go along with it, like "Grinch" and "Scrooge." Not complaining here, just imagining . . . "

So then I had to wonder . . . what would Sherlockians call those who wouldn't go along with tradition on such a day? I ran through the names of Scotland Yard in my head first, but we know they weren't always non-believers in Sherlock Holmes. He brought them around on many occasions, one detective at a time, and there was that classic moment when every man at the Yard wanted to shake his hand.

And then it came to me.


The Sherlockian non-believer would be a Grimesby.

"Scoundrel." "Meddler." "Busybody." "Scotland Yard jack-in-office."

Oh, a Grimesby would not believe in Sherlock Holmes at all.

In fact, we could even make "Speckled Band" our Sherlock-tide story of how the Grimesby did not believe, and then during one magical night, had the speckled snake of Sherlockmas Past come and squeeze his head into believing, just before he died, not of venom, but of shame at his disbelief.

And then all the litter Stoners down in Stonerville cheered and got married. (Stoners will really love this tale.)

Sherlock's birthday is coming up soon, you know. Better get your Sherlockian spirits going, fill the sideboard for Sherlocktide feasting, and prepare to sing "Aunt Clara" or the theme to BBC Sherlock (there are words out there somewhere!).

Because we have a word for you now if you don't.

Don't be a Grimesby!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wars of the popular.

"Remember when we didn't get to hear everybody's thoughts on everything?" the old geezer wrote, surely not seeing the irony as he pushed his thoughts out to anyone who would read them.

The geezer in that story is me, of course. One of my good friends and I were discussing the latest Star Wars offering last night, and since observing what happens with a non-Sherlock franchise is a great way to talk about Sherlockian things without offending either side on those, it seemed like a good topic to toss out here.

Once upon a time, if something was popular, it meant simply that more people took it in, not that we had to have a war of ideas on it. My friend expressed a view that he wished Star Trek was as popular as Star Wars, and I told him I was glad that Sherlock Holmes wasn't as popular as something Star Wars or Batman. Because once something crosses a certain level any more, the wars begin.

Not that we don't have some heated disagreements in Sherlock-land. But, while I have had one person who suggested I kill myself over my dislike of a certain Sherlockian thing, I haven't had any actual death threats. (Unless you count suicide suggestions as passive-aggressive death threats, which they kind of are.) But once something enters the mainstream full-on, the crazy truly comes out. So as much as I'd like to see a Sherlock level of rationality pervade the world, I'm also kind of glad he's not doing Batman-level business just yet.

There's a reason "polarizing" suddenly became more commonly used in the last decade -- now that we've all become inter-connected by the internet, we're still having the hardest time dealing with the fact that different people can have different likes and dislikes. Even simply enjoying something without isolating yourself as a hermit means someone will inevitably have to tell you why they didn't enjoy it. And if you're not a hermit, you are usually a little curious why somebody didn't . . . yet still might not want to have your own joy spoiled.

BBC Sherlock took us down that road in a much shorter time than some of the long term franchises like Dr. Who or Star Trek. The flare-up of its final season seems to be getting digested by the Sherlockian communities as a whole, but we're eventually going to have to deal with another Sherlock that suddenly puts us all on opposing teams . . . especially if it's very popular.

Popular means more Sherlock Holmes content, though, so we always with for that. I just hope we're ready for what comes with it.

Monday, December 18, 2017

About reading about being a Sherlockian.

Christopher Redmond seems on a roll with his sixty-essay collections, a concept which could be a nice annual event at this point. About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best has been now followed by About Being A Sherlockian: 60 essays celebrating the Sherlock Holmes community, and word on the street is that another volume is in the works.

The first followed that familiar trail of working one's way through the sixty-part Canon of Sherlock Holmes, in order of publication. The latest, About Sixty, is a different sort of read: Sixty individual accounts of personal experiences with books, movies, television, and people all centering around Holmes. Instead of championing sixty different stories, it's almost like sixty people championing the same story, which is both the book's greatest strength and greatest weakness.

The strength is summed up by the final lines of Heather Holloway's essay, "The Adventure of the Weird Cousins," which reads "Yes! I would love to tell you my story! I would love to hear yours!" The enthusiastic connection that Sherlock Holmes brings us makes for some of the best times in a Sherlockian life, at a dinner, a con, a pub, walking down a city street . . . anywhere two Sherlockians can talk. (Yeah, forget that bottle thing. You need two Sherlockians.)

What I found in reading About Being A Sherlockian was that I was most delighted by those voices I could hear clearly in my head -- the writers I knew and had enjoyed their company. If you've been in the Sherlockian commnity for a good length of time and traveled to some of the larger gatherings, you've probably picked up a few personal stars in your Sherlockian firmament, and those in mine were celebrities, whether they consider themselves that or not, that I got quite a thrill reading about.

Other times, the tales from unfamiliar names began to blur together, probably because I started reading the book just too damn fast driving toward another name I was dying to get to. So many of our stories are not that different when you take them all in in one gluttonous gulp. They are so much better savored, one at a time, as happens when you actually get to spend time one-on-one with a fellow Sherlockian.

So having inhaled the book on first pass, I am now very much determined to place it on my nightstand and read one essay a night, to get a better feel for each individual Sherlockian's perspective. There is a lot to take in here. Sixty autobiographies, the Sherlockian part of sixty different lives captured in one single volume. Down the line it would be fun to see Chris doing a collection of sixty essays of people getting to write about their favorite Sherlockian, so we could get another view of Sherlockian lives from the outside to pair up with this inside view -- although actually there's a whole lot of that in here already. Get the book and see for yourself.

No one lives a great Sherlockian life without other Sherlockians being a part of it.


Afterword, because I have to.

That last line came out with a little bit of a sting as I finished it tonight. Today we learned that Meredith Granger of The Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis had passed away suddenly, far too early. Meredith was a lively Sherlockian, and when he'd stop here for a meal on one of his many trips up to Iowa, Kathy and I always had a great time. We'll miss him greatly, and our hearts go out to all those in Indy, who we know will miss him so much more. Like I said, no one lives a great Sherlockian life without other Sherlockians being a part of it. And, boy, are some of them great people, like Meredith.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sherlock Holmes still stands for something.

As with so many mornings of late, I woke up this morning to headlines of slimey power-plays by the greedy and self-interested. Those whose desire for winning that game whose points are scored with dollars outweighs all else: Truth, empathy, the future . . . why think of any of that when you can put points on the board?

In this world, we can't really afford to happily smile and nod when certain phrases are uttered.

Let's start with this one: "No shit, Sherlock!"

An unpleasant little thing that Watson would never say. Why? Because at it's core it's about disrespecting someone who, for whatever reason, seemed to be smarter than you. One could argue that it was about bringing down someone who was putting on airs, but in the everyday usage I've observed, it's about putting the Sherlock Holmeses of the world in their place . . . and that place would seem to be "You ain't so smart, Mr. Fancy-pants Detective!"

It's not a Watson sort of phrase. It's a Gregson sort of phrase. And not handsome TV Gregson.

Now let's move on the a phrase that might bring a little more disagreement.

"All Sherlock is good Sherlock."

All everything is never all something. And even that sentence is wrong, because throwing around universal constants in fields other than science and math is not usually productive. Even in those fields it can be a little dangerous. Because there is bad Sherlock out there.

Not just Sherlock that a particular person didn't enjoy, but Sherlock that betrays the parts of that character who have kept him alive this long. Or betray those things that make him useful to humanity.

Is "No shit, Sherlock!" -- that three word pastiche -- good Sherlock?

Well, let's think about what makes good Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes is our greatest image of a detective. A man who can find the truth about a situation despite all the charm or horror of the circumstances presented to him. A man who not only cares deeply about finding those truths to make other people's lives better, but who brings with him a best friend upon whom he can always depend. A particular tale can emphasize one part of all that, like his caring for Watson, over another part, but in the end, all of those pieces have to be a part of Sherlock Holmes.

Unless he's evil Sherlock Holmes, and that, by its very definition, is not good Sherlock Holmes.

So what am I saying here? In an age where truth is being perverted and science and learning suppressed, where egos and profits would foster any lie to advance their causes, we need good Sherlock Holmes more than ever. He stands as a torch in the darkness, a reminder that, even though he's fictional, the things he does seem possible. We can find the truth. We can make life better for other people. And we can, like Sherlock Holmes himself did many a time, admit our mistakes and be happy for those truths that do make life better for others even when things don't go the way we thought they should. ("Norwood.")

There are actually some hard lessons in the tales of Sherlock Holmes. But they are good lessons.

There is a core to Sherlock Holmes that should always be good Sherlock for us. Because it's about good things, things that make us better. Not a superficial package of a middle-aged white male with an English accent and a certain coat and hat, which is where bad Sherlock often emanates from. Sherlock Holmes can be a hermaphroditic fish alien that carries his pocket watch Watson AI in his belly-button pouch and still be good Sherlock, if he/she does what Sherlock Holmes does best.

Waking up to the sorts of headlines we wake up to these days, it's good to then reconsider Sherlock Holmes and that he's still there for us, still a reminder for us of things good and true. And that just maybe, when this story is over, the Sherlock Holmes in us will have some solutions.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Great Podast Experiment!

As of this past weekend, season one of Sherlock Holmes Is Real came to a close. I haven't written too much about it here, as it has been a test balloon into the stratosphere of podcasting from the start, and just having some fun with friends while seeing just how the whole medium worked.

Podcasting has been replacing radio, and people have slowly begun replacing "Bob and Tom" with a more specialized "Burt and Scott" -- at least those who listened to radio to start with. Under a particular age, downloaded and streaming audio has been the only way to go for quite a while now. And something that powerful, that widespread, sure seems like it should be pretty hard to do.

But it's not.

That was the message emphasized time and again at last year's 221B Con panel on podcasting, and after following that advice, I discovered that the panelists weren't wrong. What you know if you've listened to podcasts is the steeper grade . . . holding an audience. I know that my own listenership has subscribed and departed from a legion of podcasts at this point. Even ones I liked a lot at first, but eventually just got tired of. It's a rare and special 'cast that can hold an audience for years . . . or even more than one episode, sometimes, and something that only comes from people trying . . . and then some other people trying . . . and some other people trying . . . .

Knowing all that, I actually spent a year with a brand new microphone on my desk before I ever made my first real attempt at a podcast. The whole "let's just chat for an hour and be entertaining" didn't seem like something I was ready to commit to on a regular basis, and those were what I was listening to at the time. Then the non-fiction serial documentaries started trickling into my routine, and then fictional serial documentaries, and then I head the one that just sounded like the kind of fun I wouldn't mind having.

So I committed to six little episodes. Just six. And Sherlock Holmes Is Real was born.

Not saying that was a great moment in the history of the podasting medium, just saying it happened. Because, like every other bit of my Sherlockian life, I did exactly as much work as it was fun to do, and not much beyond that. While there are those great and dedicated souls out there who will drive themselves hard for the world of Sherlockiana, I will definitely admit to not being one of them. And, as a result, sometimes also not one of your higher-quality-output folks.

In the world of the written words, there was just grammar and spelling to worry about, and if you read enough and were lucky enough to have parents who spoke decent English, those sometimes come easy. But in the world of spoken words? Mouth noises. Pause lengths. Volume. Background sounds. Breathing. Things you don't even think about in daily conversation suddenly become points of maniacal fixation. Or not. Or obsessing about one thing and ignoring another thing.

But, despite all that, the basics of podcasting are not too hard to pull off. If you've ever considered it, I would definitely advise as those folks on the 221B Con panel did, that you give it a try. I committed to six episodes just to make sure I gave it a fair shake, and as time and co-conspirators allow, I intend to keep going. So many podcasts I've listened to started from very flawed and amateurish beginnings but got better over time, and hopefully, Sherlock Holmes Is Real will do that, even if it's just going to that audience of a hundred or so Sherlockians that most of my projects have wound up with.

As with all things Sherlock, though, the fun is in the doing.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The criminal mastermind who stayed on Baker Street.

As I've written here before, I don't like to review books in my blog as I have been at this far too long. Forty years as an active Sherlockian will make you a little jaded in some areas. Personally I have long felt, similarly, that movie reviewers lose their skills at some point, because they can never appreciate a given movie like someone who doesn't see a hundred movies a year and wind up reviewing it for other reviewers. You can make good points, but there's a freshness one can't recapture completely.

So it was with much trepidation that I started reading The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street by Rob Nunn. Rob being a friend, I wanted to read the whole work, but if I read an entire book on Sherlock Holmes, it seemed like it really would need to be mentioned here. And, man, I'm old and cranky of late.

Luckily, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street is a very comfortable read, so comfortable that I forgot what the back cover said it was: "The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street explores Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original sixty stories through the lens of Sherlock Holmes the criminal instead of Sherlock Holmes the detective."

I kept finding myself going, "Okay, he's still involved with Henry Baker's goose, when is he going to go off the rails and do more crime?" It was a little like reading that similar volume Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by William S. Baring-Gould and going "Hey, I know how Sherlock Holmes solved all these cases already! Get some new ones!" I enjoyed Baring-Gould's book as a younger Sherlockian, but now I think it would drive me crazy. Fortunately, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street has the untold tales to lean into for Holmes's criminal exploits and they work well as such. There is much crime here. And it does do some twisty things with the stories we know.

As Rob writes in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street started with the thesis for a Sherlockian article, "What if Sherlock Holmes had really been a master criminal?" and expands it from there, taking in the whole Canon. How would Holmes's interactions with all those familiar stories been different had he been a criminal? And how would they have been almost the same? What would such a thought-experiment show us?

It has always been said that Sherlock Holmes was different after the hiatus, and I think that Rob's work demonstrates that -- Sherlock Holmes seems to be a lot more criminal after he faces Moriarty. John Watson, I think, suffers a bit when Sherlock is doing bad, as he can't entirely be that great soul we see in the original Canon as he becomes a lot more active as a partner in crime than he was as a partner in detection. If Robert Mueller was going after Sherlock Holmes in the late 1890s, Watson would be going down first. (Fortunately, Lestrade was no Mueller, and Holmes was no . . . well, you get it.)

So, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street: better for newbies than oldies, perhaps, but a book that'll definitely give you something to think about. It's available on Amazon and priced right for Christmas giving. And as with so many Sherlockian works by new writers of late, twenty years from now, you'll want to have added it to your collection when said writer's later works come out.

And that is the great part about having been a Sherlockian for forty years. You don't have to hunt for these things, because you bought them forty years ago.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The potential of a Ryan Reynolds Sherlock Holmes.

Sometimes a puzzle piece just slides right into place for you.

We've seen lots of cartoon critters don a deerstalker cap over the years, but Great Detective Pikachu -- a video game soon to be a movie -- is now offering us something I hadn't considered before.

Ryan Reynolds as Sherlock Holmes.

Sure, ol' double R being cast as the voice-actor for a deerstalker-wearing Pokemon is a couple of removes from actually playing the great detective, but . . . man!

Ryan Reynolds as Sherlock Holmes? Can he do an English accent? Who cares! Pull a reverse-Elementary and make Watson the British one while Sherlock is American! OH! Idris Elba as Watson! No way Idris Elba is playing a stupid Watson, and boy, can he do ex-military surgeon who's good in a tough spot.

I picture the Ryan Reynolds version of Sherlock Holmes being more like Robert Stephens in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, a more human Sherlock, but still brilliant when it comes down to it.

Now that we've had Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock, Will Farrell and Sherlock Gnomes on tap, it seems like almost anything is possible. Not probable, of course, but possible. And the mere thought of a Ryan Reynolds/Idris Elba Sherlock Holmes movie just makes me smile.

As does the fact that Sherlockians have such an open horizon of possibilities out there now. I think that was the best part of being inspired to think of Ryan Reynolds as Sherlock Holmes after that Detective Pikachu casting news . . . just the way it seemed like something that could just . . . happen.

With every dark twist we see in the world of late the idea that happy possibilities, whatever that means to you, could have potential as well . . . .

All I have to say to that is, "Pika-pika, my dear Watson!"

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Advent(ures) Calendar

December came a little too fast this year. We're already into day five.

But even this far in, it's not too late to start such seasonal treats as an advent calender, that one-surprise-a-day ceremony of marking the days leading up to Christmas. What does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Well, it's like everything else in the world -- if there's not a direct link, Sherlockians will make one. And with that in mind, I propose . . . if someone hasn't come up with this already . . . the "Advent(ures) Calendar."

When the first series of short stories appeared in The Strand Magazine, there were no "Memoirs." Just twenty-four "Adventures," the tragic episode of "The Final Problem" being the last. Their numbering in The Strand conveniently lines up with the twenty-four days of December that falls before Christmas day.

A typical advent calendar has you opening little boxes or doors for all the days leading to Christmas. And while we might consider ourselves familiar with all twenty-four of the stories in what we traditionally see as the first two volumes of Sherlock Holmes short stories (along with the held-back "Cardboard Box"), I am perpetually finding a new surprise in those tales every time I open one of them up.

Now, one might go, "So many tragedies within those stories! Who wants to go through that roller coaster on their way to Christmas?" Well, like I said, this Advent(ures) Calendar can be full of surprises. Take today for example: December 5, the appropriate day for "Five Orange Pips," if ever there was one.

John Openshaw fell in the river and drowned, right? Look at the story again.

A body is pulled from the river with an envelope with his name, "John Openshaw," on it.

Because, of course, the letters in everyone's pocket only ever their own name on them, right?

And . . . gee . . . there might not have been another man in London with an envelope with the name "John Openshaw" on it, would there? Oh, yes, Openshaw or a minion, ready to drop one last message, perhaps?  And whether or not young John Openshaw helped that fellow in the river, discovering in the paper that he is supposed dead might be a chance Openshaw could take advantage of.

So, day five of the Advent(ures) Calendar, you open the door and find . . . a living John Openshaw!

But there is still "The Final Problem" on Christmas Eve. Well, let me allay your fears! What happens after Reichenbach? 1892, 1893, 1894 . . . three years until John Watson sees his friend Sherlock Holmes again. And what comes after Christmas Eve before John sees Sherlock again? Three days. (Well, they might not be three whole days if you want to get picky, but close enough for Christmas!)

So, what do you think? Time to start opening up the Advent(ures) Calendar, even if it is a few days later than it should have started?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Blue Carbuncle Season

"And on the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . THE BLUE CARB-UNCLLLLLE! The Blue Carbuncle, the Blue Carbuncle, the-uh Blue Carbuncle, and the Blu-ue Car-buncle!"

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, "The Five Days of Christmas" done entirely with Blue Carbuncles!

Because that's what Sherlockian Christmas is all about, isn't it? "The Blue Carbuncle."

You can pretty much insert "The Blue Carbuncle" into the lyrics of any Christmas song. Sometimes as all the lyrics. And now, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," BC-style . . .

"Blue Carbuncle, Blue Carbuncle, Blue Carbuncle, Blue Carb!"

Or something a little lighter, like "Jingle Bells."

"Car-buncle, Car-buncle, the Blue Car-buncle! Car-buncle, Car-Buncle, the Blue, Blue Carbuncle!"

I'm dreaming of a Blue Carbuncle? Or did this just become a Blue Carbuncle nightmare?

The point is, as a Sherlockian writer, when do you start to pour on the Carbuncle? When is too early, when is just right, and how much Blue Carbuncle focus is appropriate for the Yuletide season? We don't want it to be seen as a part of the "War on Christmas" and get Fox News coming after Sherlockiana by using it too much, but we do want to keep our little Christmas tradition going.

How many other Sherlock Holmes Christmas time things can one do? A bit from "Speckled Band," a scene from BBC Sherlock, and then back to Blue Carbuncling (Christmas caroling, using only "The Blue Carbuncle" for lyrics.)

'Tis the season. Let's see how it goes  . . . .