Tuesday, June 28, 2022

One reason to never write a book

 I had a nightmare last night.

In the dream, someone had brought me a copy of my first book, in pristine collectible condition with plastic protecting the dust jacket. And then they did a horrible thing: They asked me to autograph it.

When your work is published in a collection, and someone is collecting the signatures of everyone in that collection, life is easy . . . you sign your name next to your part. They tell you if they want the index or the actual pieces. But when the book is all yours?

Well, it's hard not to want to inscribe it with something clever, especially if it's a close friend or family member. But you know how you can never seem to say that clever thing at just the right time in conversation? Well, it's pretty much the same with inscribing books.

And therein came my nightmare. In the dream, I kept flubbing up simply signing this person's expensively-bought collectible book. Not only the inscription, but my signature as well, which got three attempts and the final try was a John Hancock-sized monstrosity. It was awful.

Over the years, I've had a lot of people sign books, and the ones that seemed to have it figured out were the ones with a stock line that fit their title. The notorious Jack Tracy would sign his Subcutaneously, My Dear Watson with "In celebration of our singular addiction." Others do well keeping it simple and moment-based, as Liese Sherwood-Fabre did with "Great to see you at 221B Con" in a copy of her The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes.

I suppose the folks who sign the most books have it practiced and down. But when you have a very limited-run Sherlockian tome that pops up for signing on random and unexpected moments -- well, you can get caught with your pen down pretty easily. And "Goddamit it, why did I publish this book?" is hardly an appropriate inscription.

It was weird to have that moment come back as an actual nightmare, following a night where my stress-nightmares involved natural disasters like tornados and flash floods. But there it was, apparently one of my secret terrors.

So if you find that you just can't seem to finish that obscure work on Sherlock Holmes's tea set that you've been working on, enjoy your signing-free life. Every dark cloud has a silver, and sometimes nightmare-free, lining.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The dumps of Sherlock Holmes

 "Let me see -- what are my other shortcomings. I get in the dumps at times, and don't open my mouth for days on end. You much not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I'll soon be right."

-- Sherlock Holmes self-confesses, A Study in Scarlet.

Ah, there are such days. Probably moreso for Sherlock Holmes, given all that perceptive observation of humanity, which . . . well, we are a rather disappointing species a goodly share of the time. It's easy to fall into "the dumps," which sounds a lot like a lighter way of talking about depression. He advises Watson not to take it personally, as "sulky" implies caused a emotional low which a room-mate might feel responsible for. But then comes the "Just let me alone, and I'll soon be right."

How was Holmes planning to get himself out of the dumps? A seven-per-cent solution? A sense of the inevitability of a stimulating case? Just outlasting the feeling?

"There are no crimes and no criminals in these days. What is the use of having brains in our profession," Sherlock Holmes is heard to say not long after, bemoaning how skilled he is in a field that offers no challenge to that skill. He seems to be demonstrating his "dumps" rather quickly.

"Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality. As to my own little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-schools."  Probably six years have passed since his first complaints about his job, and he still seems to be in the dumps about it.

221B Baker Street was a rather confined quarters to leave someone completely alone, so Watson, it seems, got to hear a lot of dumping. Sherlock Holmes didn't have Facebook or Twitter to dump on, either. And Mycroft, the man with the club of silence, wasn't the sort to vent at. Wait a minute . . . the Diogenes Club . . . wasn't the whole point of brother Mycroft's club just to be left alone?

Sherlock and Mycroft lived in the most populated metropolis of their day. And the way Sherlock starts that second bit of complaining, before qualifying it: "Man." He's bored with mankind, and sitting in the middle of five million people.

"Just let me alone," he advises, when it comes to "the dumps," a condition that I suspect is a little different from full-on depression -- an introvert needing to recharge after too much time with people -- something required with the career he chose for himself. And Holmes definitely seemed self-aware enough to understand that when he was working out room-mate plans with Watson.

Or perhaps I'm just theorizing that after a long week of travel for work and constant people, I'm just working out my own "dumps." But the way Sherlock Holmes is easy to identify with is one of the reasons he's been with us so very long, and why he's the tremendous character he is, dumps and all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

"Pure reason and its fruit"

 "He took an orange from the cupboard . . ."

Sherlock Holmes has a cupboard with oranges in it in his sitting room.

"Near the foot of the bed stood a dish of oranges, and a carafe of water."

The "leading man" in the neighborhood of Surrey near Reigate kept oranges in his bedroom. Sherlock Holmes knocked them over at a key moment in that case.

Yet despite them being mentioned so prominently in the title of one of the classic Sherlock Holmes tales, oranges are just not something that we associate with Sherlock Holmes. Apparently he enjoyed them enough to keep an orange or two on hand in a nearby cupboard, though.

Oranges where imported from warmer climes like Spain, unless one were wealthy and fancy enough to have an "orangery" built on one's estate. They were slightly seasonal, easiest to find around Easter, but coming in from October to August, but cheaper after Christmas and going up in price around May. (All this according to Mayhew works, which pre-date Holmes and Watson's era by a couple decades.) Mrs. Hudson probably picked up 221's citrus from "a coster's orange barrow" like Watson used as a metaphor in "Red-Headed League."

These days we associate orange juice with breakfast, and I have to wonder if oranges were something of a morning treat from the two contexts we have in the Canon, old Cunningham keeping them near his bed and Holmes keeping them so handy, something to start the day before proper breakfast, both juicy and vitamin C friendly.

One might think of Sherlock Holmes's relationship with oranges as a negative one, as he tears one up and knocks over that dish of them, but that little detail of the orange in the cupboard -- that little detail so indicative on an ongoing part of everyday life in Baker Street: Oranges, when in season.

I've probably squeezed as much juice out of this topic as I can -- now that I've gotten that bit said -- so the next time you're enjoying an orange, maybe focus on its potential as a part of the tastes of Baker Street instead of just trying to count out five seeds to send to your friends? Maybe.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

That very randy opening to "Five Orange Pips"

You probably remember this moment . . .

 It was late September 1887, and there was a loud, nasty storm pounding London that evening.

The doorbell rang at 221B Baker Street.

Watson: "Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours, perhaps?"

After six years with Sherlock Holmes, Watson somehow seems to have forgotten that Sherlock Holmes has clients coming to the sitting room at Baker Street, until Holmes denies the suggestion.

"Except yourself I have none. I do not encourage visitors."

Is it because it's the evening and clients are only supposed to show up in the daytime? And when Watson finally comes 'round to the possibility it could be a client, Holmes replies, "If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be some crony of the landlady's."

Okay, so according to Sherlock Holmes, it's just too rainy for a man to go see a detective. But Mrs. Hudson's "cronies" are going to come out in the storm to see her.

Ignoring the weather sexism, why are Mrs. Hudson's pals so anxious to see her that they're going to come out in this storm when someone needing a detective's help would not? And the word "crony" is gender neutral isn't it?

So, whatever your take on Mrs. Hudson's preferences, coming to see her in a storm means a motivated visitor, like someone who really loves the lady. Like really loves the lady. Was Mrs. Hudson dating? In a relationship? Was the sort of guest who fought their way through a client-barrier-level storm going to spend the night?

Oh, Mrs. Hudson! We never give you enough credit!

Never mind that Watson is having a sleepover at Baker Street because "My wife was on a visit to her mother's" and we know Mary Morstan was an orphan -- which means she could've been having a sleepover somewhere as well.

In the case that follows all these strange behaviours, Holmes tells the client, "I'll shall call upon you in a day, or in two days," and when the client asks if Holmes is going to come to his house in Horsham, Holmes basically goes, "Nope, staying in London."

Well, of course he is. Watson's wife is away on a sleepover for a couple of days and Holmes isn't encouraging visitors. Mrs. Hudson, of course, is definitely still having someone over.

And the next morning, Watson brings the case to a close by reading the newspaper before the maid can bring his coffee, Holmes feels all guilty and runs around to solve a case that's too late to solve, and comes back starving at ten o'clock because he's had nothing to eat since breakfast. Which is weird.

We then learn they keep oranges in a cupboard in the sitting room at 221B Baker Street. Case closed.

Did a client die just because it was "Baker Street springtime" in late September for all of the residents of number 221 Baker Street?

These stories, I tell you.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Sneakier booms for Sherlock Holmes

 Sometimes it seems like my blogging tendencies dive right toward comparing the past to the present. At a certain age, it's hard not to go that way. The world is different than it was, and we all have to adjust. The easy route is to go "Yeah, things were better in the good old days!" and feast upon nostalgia, but they weren't always better for everybody.

This morning I was thinking about the boom of the 1970s, after 29-year-old, pre-K (K for "Khan") Nicholas Meyer hit the New York Times bestseller list with The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. The evidence of Sherlock Holmes still having some power in the market set publishers on a book-publishing spree of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, some better some worse. Yet here's the thing: That book of the 1970s is a little baby boom compared to the amount of Sherlock Holmes being written and published today.

Is any one piece of Sherlockian fiction sellling as well as The Seven-Per-Cent Solution? Probably not.

Is the entire mass of new published Sherlockiana available to a reader larger than the new available Sherlockian fiction of the late seventies? Without a doubt.

As a new Sherlockian of the 1980s, I was reading every Sherlock Holmes book I could lay hands on. Even just Sherlock-related stuff like Everybody's Favorite Duck by Gahan Wilson. Bought it all, read it all. Because you could do that back then. It was possible. Today? in 2022? I'd like to meet the Sherlockian who reads the most fiction starring Sherlock Holmes and just see what their consumption numbers and titles look like. Have they read all of the Belanger Books collections? The "Warlock Holmes" series? Picked up the AU anthology The Only One in the World?  Barque Lone Star collections? Keeping up with David Marcum, Laurie R. King, Liese Sherwood-Fabre, Bonnie MacBird, Lyndsay Faye, etc., etc. etc.? Graphic novels? 

I'm not even touching fanfic repositories with that above, because I know even the most ardent devotee of reading online has come close to getting through that always-fresh universe of reading. Putting the simple filter of "published on paper" is the humble defense against infinity that I used in the previous paragraph. And even that proves completely inadequate in 2022. In 1982, we knew what it was to be hungry for Sherlock Holmes. Now? Perhaps there are some gourmets among the gourmands who want for something of a particular seasoning or with just the right flavor notes, but if Sherlock Holmes had calories, Doctor Watson would definitely be doing PSAs advising us to cut back.

What a difference forty years can make. Not sure which of us found the genie in the bottle and made the wish for all this, but, hey! Hope you're enjoying the wealth, you spoiled Sherlockian you!

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Sherlockian black market

 "I suppose that you will admit that the action is morally justifiable, though technically criminal," Sherlock Holmes stated amid his efforts to persuade Watson into burglary. The pair were actually venturing out for a jail-able offense in burgling Charles Augustus Milverton's house, crime not being their normal way of doing things. And like our heroes, Sherlockians are not -- in the main -- often criminals in the pursuit of our hobby. And there are, of course, those gray areas.

While we've had more than a few daylight publishing enterprises in the Sherlockian world, there have also been a few that operated in shadow. Before the Mysterious Press or Magico Magazine reprinted the rare classics of our field, parties who might be forgotten in our history were supplying friends and friends of friends with a different sort of reprint . . . the photocopy.

As soon as a Sherlockian with access to a copier and a hard-to-find work paired up, private reader's copies began to appear in the private traffic between members of our little cult. I have a few such pieces in my collection, done on that slick shiny paper that came in rolls like those now long-outdated fax machines would later use. As you can see in the photo above, one such copy was made from a copy of a book a fellow named James Stokely donated to the Michigan State University. And I would wager someone used a school copier to make that copy. I know I took a lot of my favorite books at the ISU library down to the coin-operated copier to save passages or illustrations that meant a lot to me.

These were around thirty year old, or so, books at the time -- not something that yet seemed so rare a collectable that their owners were always worried about damaging the book by repeatedly pressing it against the copy glass. But it was still an effort -- and sometimes a costly effort -- that many a Sherlockian did not seem to mind making for their friends. And that spirit is still with us. Digital imagery can now be sent in an email, or other ways, to provide distant friends with the ability to look at pages from something in our library. And who knows where folks might be quietly passing PDFs of officially created stuff like the The Baker Street Journal archives, originally placed on CD-Rom, between friends. The technology changes, but the impulse remains the same.

I don't know that photostatic copies of books made with machines that don't exist any more will ever become collectable in their own right -- created as they were just to pass information that could no otherwise be had. But I kind of treasure these relics of a bygone era, and the black market of Sherlockian love they represent.

Monday, June 6, 2022

What's the deal with Moran?

Saturday's online Sherlollicon was full of thought-provoking discussion, and I discovered something about being only able to listen and not interact: The thoughts just start to cook when you don't let them out.

The hosts of "Dynamics of a Podcast," Madeline and Dixie were leading a discussion on the relationship between Moriarty and Moran, at one point and discussing a poll they did. The poll looked for votes as to whether the M&M pair were best friends, lovers, boss/minion with some hatred for the boss, or generally apathetic to each other. Putting limited choices on any poll is going to inspire some folks to think further outside the box, and as I considered that relationship with what we know of Moran from "The Adventure of the Empty House," a certain scenario began to play out in my head.

So let's start with three basic facts:

1. Moriarty was Moran's boss/employer.

2. Moriarty and Moran are both quite evil bastards.

3. Moran made no moves against Holmes at Reichenbach, if he was there, until after Moriarty was dead.

Put those together and what do you get?

"Okay, boss, you go talk to the guy, and I'll sit up here with my sniper rifle and kill him when you give the signal." (Signal is given, Moran sits on his hands.)

Moriarty built a great criminal organization. Moran was a self-centered creep who probably thought Moriarty wasn't all that much smarter than Moran. And, hey, anyone can run a criminal empire, right?

So, with Moriarty gone, Moran could return to London and take over. Except he didn't quite realize how much damage Sherlock Holmes had done. We can actually see evidence of Moran trying to hold things together in "The Final Problem."

"What?" you protest, "Moran wasn't in 'Final Problem.'"

Oh, yeah, right. Like Moriarty had a brother named "Colonel James Moriarty" who had exactly the same first name as him. C'mon, "Colonel James Moriarty" was just Moran defending the memory of his "brother," trying to hold together some of the cloak of "nothing to see here" respectability that Moriarty had covered the upper echelons of his organization with. If Moriarty was just a simple educator, Moran was just a former military man, right?

So what does Holmes tell us about Moran? "The trial of the Moriarty gang left two of its most dangerous members, my own most vindictive enemies, at liberty." Moran was dangerous and vindictive. (And as Yoda once famously said, "There is . . . another." Yet, Moran is the only one still in London.) "The second most dangerous man in London." Okay. ". . . sought out by Professor Moriarty, to whom for a time he was chief of staff. Moriarty supplied him liberally with money and used him only in one or two very high-class jobs which no ordinary criminal could have undertaken." That "for a time" makes me wonder if Moran was still chief of staff when "Final Problem" occurred. And "chief of staff" isn't necessarily "vice-mastermind."

The evidence within the Canon is that Moran was a hunter, a dangerous killer whom the law had nothing on. He was sure enough that Holmes knew his secrets to have a burning desire to kill Holmes. How was he so sure? The story "The Mazarin Stone" is plainly from details Watson told his literary agent that the literary agent tried to stretch into a play, then somehow got turned back into a short story from the play, that story written by someone other than Watson. But the probable truth of that over-done play-turned-story is that Holmes did have a chat with Moran at some point, calling out Moran's crimes. "Mrs. Stewart of Lauder, in 1887" became "Miss Minnie Warrender," as silly a made up play-name as you could want. ("War-ender" killed my a military man? C'mon!) The "robbery of the train de-luxe to the Riviera?' Probably that other high-class job Holmes mentioned in "Empty House."

But was there a jewel that Sherlock Holmes snatched out of Moran's hand after pretending to be his own wax figure? If you've ever considered some of the silly choices Hollywood has made turning a book into a movie, then look at the events of "Empty House" getting turned into a cheesey play . . . well, I mean, they gave the jewel the name "the Crown diamond." Sheesh.

No, Moran was no jewel thief with a thuggish sidekick. He was an assassin, and one who might not have tried as hard to kill Sherlock Holmes before May 1891 as he could have, with his own aspirations in mind. Did he respect Moriarty's abilities. Surely. Did he have some emotional bond with Moriarty that was more powerful than Moran's own ego and desires for more money? (One suddenly wonders who put that Greuze on the market after the professor's death.) I have to question that.

Sebastian Moran was not simply the friendly crab to Moriarty's Ariel the mermaid, despite the similarity of name. He was a deeply flawed and dangerous individual who deserves more study.

There are definitely stories left to be told of the man.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The new local, the new national, the new world.

 Yesterday's Sherllolicon listen-in got me to thinking a little more about the changes Zoom has brought to the Sherlockian world. While an annual event, Sherllolicon also had the feel of a Sherlockian society that met once a year, with old friends coming together and some new folks joining the mix. And the "one event a year" society is a Sherlockian tradition that had taken place in more than one city.

Taking away our geographical limitations, Zoom gatherings have given us new borders -- time zones and language. Sherlockians from all over the world show up at any given meeting based on two factors: If they can be awake at the hour the meeting is held and if they understand the language the meeting is being conveyed in. The widest audiences that we in America see currently are those held roughly mid-day in middle America. And with that expanded reach, "local" is a lot larger area than it used to be.

In Zoom world, "local" almost becomes more about interests than city. Sherlollicon, for instance, seemed  localized by its interest-center of BBC Sherlock and particular characters therein. The John H. Watson Society is localized by its monthly Watson topic and the personalities of regular attendees. The Crew of the Barque Lone Star . . . well, that is now what I'd call the equivalent of a "national" society, one whose interest in Sherlock Holmes is basic and broad enough to pull considerably more than fifty attendees each month.

Much of Zoom Sherlockiana is still based around the old local society system, but we're now at a point where you can see where things are headed. The old local Sherlockian group, of folks in the same city getting together for dinner or discussion is still there for the in-person social. But the new "local" of a community based on similar interests in Sherlockiana is on the rise, and not just thanks to Zoom.

The internet's ability to connect people with special interests has been apparent for decades now, we just hadn't fully exploited it the way other groups had. Our numbers are still relatively small compared to other special interest groups. And yet, bit by bit, we're getting there. I mean, Sherlockian chronologists now have a club -- how long is it before Sherlockian locationists (those who identify the sites of the Canon cases) do likewise? The ACD specialists have a group again. One could see a group forming for the fans of the original NYC Baker Street Irregulars and classic Sherlockian writings. Or the Granada series.

Due to the general demographics of our cult in those days pre-BBC Sherlock, we didn't all jump into advances in tech as folks like Scott Monty might have hoped we would. In fact, there was a lot of resistance to the new stuff. ("Yeah, Scott, that RSS feed thing sounds like work . . ." -- we won't get into the Sherlockian whom that particular thought came from.)  We were, perhaps, aged past the point of "early adopters" then. Maybe a lot of us still are. Yet the fandom got an infusion of youth and the younger-minded from the 2010s, and you can start to see things evolving with the tech, especially after that pandemic kick in the pants.

Of course, we're still a pretty small community as hobbies go. Sherlock Holmes is still not BTS, real estate, or Marvel movies. And that is kind of a blessing. You have to have armies to have fandom wars, and while our numbers still hold us back from some innovations, we don't have the daily Twitter shouting matches that make some interests intolerable en masse. Small has its advantages.

The old local will be with us for a long time to come, too, as actually seeing people in person is a true pleasure. But it's not the only game in town now, and new "localities" are probably going to emerge as we move ahead, as they are already. And I don't think we've seen the final form of what an online Sherlockian society can be at its full potential yet.

This period should make for an interesting chapter in the Sherlockian history books one day, for sure. We're all still working it out, one meeting, one event at a time. Who knows what's to come?

The future sure isn't done with Sherlockiana just yet.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

A fly on the Sherlollicon wall

 Sometimes, a person just has to work. Jobs suck a lot sometimes.

But with the advent of work from home, a Saturday "in the office" isn't exactly what it used to be. Like today, where I just logged into the Sherllolicon Zoom and let it run while I spent the day working on decision paths. Well, I say "I logged in," but I forgot that my Zoom was last used for an episode of "Sherlock Holmes is Real," so Talon King, the podcaster that shares my Zoom account, logged in. But, in any case, I got to listen.

Sherlollicon may center on fans of BBC Sherlock and Molly Hooper, but hours on Mycroft, Moriarty and Moran, creative processes, and other not-completely-Sherlolly-ship-focused topics are a large part of the the day.

As with 221B Con panels, I often most enjoy the topics where I have no input and get to listen to points of view that are impossible for my brain to have on its own. There are a lot of things tied to the human reproductive cycle that I either have or don't have that influence one's mind -- you know, kids, for one example. And personally, I'd rather ship Molly Hooper with me rather than Sherlock, but I doubt there are any other "Brolly" shippers out there. (I'm sure the membership of the Shingle of Southsea have fan ships like that, with just one person in them.)

In any case, just being a fly on the Sherlollicon wall made for a very entertaining day, and added much grist to the mental mill. The internal life of Sebastian Moran, for one thing -- going to be pondering that for a while. The proliferation of writers, both pro and non-pro, for another, and who we write for and why we write. Glad to hear the novel The Love Hypothesis discussed without spoilers, as I'm only halfway through, and I still can't imagine how its Star Wars fic origins looked. We need more media Mycrofts, I now know that for sure.

"Ask the Artist/Keeping it Fresh" transitioning into "Pridelolly" was a fascinating slice of fan culture discussion as BBC Sherlock fandom moves into that place where Doyle's tales have had to live for ninety years or so now (and Star Trek has lived for fifty years, to find a TV equivalent). In the decades ahead, the fan experience of the 2010s will have a much stronger influence upon our hobby than those in the old world fan bubble might realize just yet, and leaving the old well-worn paths to just listen for a while is definitely not dull. Not dull at all.

Being forced to work almost a full day this Saturday was made much lighter by the company of a Zoom gathering going on in the computer next door all day, and I was very glad of it, even if I didn't get to interact.

But, y'know, sometimes just shutting up and listening can be just as rewarding as speaking your mind.

The threat of change that's already occurred

The realm of Sherlockiana is a lovely place to escape from the societal turmoil that seems to engulf so many aspects of our lives. When simple matters such as basic health precautions become somehow choosing a political stance, it all gets very confusing. Yet, at the heart of it all, you can see one great motivating factor: Fear of change. Fear that England is not England yet, and the British empire with London as its world capital is gone.

Oh, wait, that already happened.

Ah, but the mystery genre, with Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, even that new guy, Gregory McDonald, with their detective novels by men for men, shall live on just as Sherlock Holmes has, carrying forward . . .

Oh, wait, that era is long past as well. Who was "Ellery Queen" again?

But let us toast "the" woman, Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes's one great love interest!

Nope. More stories about him kissing someone else out there these days.

Surely there's one area left that an aged white male can fence off and create a preserve of the past, using hair samples collected from Vincent Starrett and Christopher Morley to grow new Sherlockians and create a Sherassic Park where they still sing that song about a wealthy aunt who dared to flout traditional morals whilst not allowing anyone of that sort at dinner. 

Ah, but the Sherlockian John Hammonds are almost gone now, their fading energies dependent upon younger aids to humor them whilst they still have some value. The dinosaurs aren't going to overpopulate in this version of the tale.

And as all of Conan Doyle's original sixty Sherlock Holmes stories fall out of copyright, and societal evolution moves just a little faster, empowered by a digital infrastructure (if it holds) . . . what then?

Hmmm.  There's this thing that starts to occur as the decades pass, and you realize the world you knew and gained all of your early points of reference are gone. Changes find a place as norms. Influencers lose their influence. And you just can't help but wonder, wanderingly, about things.

So if this post makes little sense, well . . . yeah.