While there's a lot of big news out of Minnesota of late, there is also small news coming from there, as well. I'm only using the word "small" here, as next to world news, Sherlockian news cannot help but be small. Taken from a strictly Sherlockian perspective, however, I don't think I would ever consider much that comes out of the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota small. They're even incorporated, I notice just now, looking at the heading of their newsletter, Explorations.
The Minnesota Sherlock Holmes club's twelve-page summer newsletter arrived this week, with some impressive contents, some of which will definitely get a mention on the Watsonian Weekly, for the usual reasons. But what I had to call out from this issue that especially caught my attention was an article titled, "Self-Publishing Houses, Explorer's Style."
Self-publishing, in the non-Sherlockian world of the past, was viewed by many as a literary sin. "Vanity" presses made their living printing the books of those who couldn't get the editors of any publishing house to buy their books. I had a great-uncle, who after he died, was discovered to have a whole box of vanity press books under the floorboards of his bedroom. He had his book printed by Vantage Press, and never told anyone. Three hundred pages in hardcover, written in his retirement from the field of electrical engineering, the book is a treatise on man, intellect, and cosmic energy. (You'd think if you found your late great-uncle's book on cosmic energy, you'd get super-powers out of the deal, but, alas, no.) It's a pretty radical text, so one could see why he might have had second thoughts about distributing it around a little farming community.
Sherlockians, however, are not so shy about printing their own little works, often as banquet favors or gifts to friends. And the Norwegian Explorers, it turns out, seem to have at least seven personal press imprints among them. "No Litter Press" from Lucy and Bob Brusic, "Duchess Press" from Julie McKuras, "Martin House Press" from Gary Thaden, "221T Press" from Karen Ellery, "High Coffee Press" from Tim Johnson, "King of Scandanavia Press" from John Berquist, and "Picardy Place Press" from Phll Bergem. A collector's mind immediately looks at that list and goes "Gotta catch 'em all!" like they're Pokemon. And I'll bet there definitely was at least one person in Minnesota who did look at this month's issue of Explorations, then go to their collection to start checking them off. (Not sure who, specifically, but Sherlockians do have a type among them.)
Myself, I took one look at that article and went "MY PEOPLE!" and gave them a mental group hug. My own little imprint "Baker Street Digressions," started in 1982, inspired by things I had heard who printed his own little chapbooks from scratch, even making his own paper. (Wish I could remember the name.) While I have indulged myself in a bit of "48 Hour Books" printing once or twice when the budget could afford, I've always got the most pleasure from assembling a little booklet from scratch. (Some folks who attended a certain St. Louis weekend a couple decades ago, saw my shabby attempt to manufacture a clothbound hardcover from scratch.
Self-publishing isn't just about thinking your work is good enough to skip the gatekeepers of the world, which often proves to be an error. Sometimes it's just that your love of the printed word is so great that you can't help but try to produce some of those printed words yourself, by doing whatever it takes. And doing it as a surprise for your Sherlockian friends, with their own love of the printed word, just adds to the fun. And Minnesota, especially if you've ever seen what they've produced at past Sherlockian weekends, has a wonderful way with words on paper, both in the words and the paper.
It's not quite as easy as podcasting, the new form of self-publishing where you don't even need to be literate. (Though I suppose you have to read the software menu bars and such to get it out on the web.) But it's also not that hard if you really, really want to do it. (Hand-writing a single copy for an audience of one works, too. Been there, done that. Blank books just beg for that sort of ridiculous effort.) Something about that ink just gets into your blood. (I could talk about newsprint in your nostrils, but that's a whole 'nother story, and, yeah, gross.)
Anyway, while I always knew that there were a number of Sherlockian self-publishers out there, especially around Sherlock Holmes's birthday at certain dinners, seeing a group of them all at once in Explorations was a real treat. It would be fun to see a world-wide census of such personal publishing efforts, because I'm sure it would be massive.
And just one more way we celebrate Sherlock.