Monday, July 31, 2023

Holmes in the Heartland -- The Morning After

 A lot of times I "live blog" a Sherlock Holmes weekend. 

I type up little notes of what's going on as I sit in the talks, post as quickly as I can, and generally keep friends unable to attend in the know. For Holmes in the Heartland in St. Louis this weekend, I definitely failed in that, and not for any reasons that were actually bad. 

So here we are, coming down on a Monday morning after another weekend of Sherlockian camaraderie as one does. The first two paragraphs of this blog post started on Sunday morning, but as happened so often, when I'd sit in the hotel lobby to catch a better wifi signal than my room would allow, I would just wind up talking to people. Now, I've just got nothing to distract me but the dread of a Monday return to work.

Holmes in the Heartland can, I am very certain, be judged as a success on many levels. Eighty-six or so people attended, and as one person happily told me yesterday "I stayed awake through the entire thing!" That might seem like the bare minimum for praise, but let me tell you, I have sat next to dozing Sherlockians at such weekends. A lot of us are older, and sleep comes very easy to us. And even when I was younger, I'd often skip many a mid-afternoon speaker to take a nice break in my hotel room. Couldn't do that this time -- the speakers were all engaging and on their "A" game. 

I want to especially credit Ray Betzner and Mike McSwiggin for their work in the lead-off morning slot and the first-talk-after-lunch spot. Those places on the roster are key, and both performed perfectly, setting a fun tone and stimulating Sherlockian brains. And while I'm calling those two out specifically, every speaker was worthwhile and did well at the podium: Kristen Mertz, Cindy Brown, Steve Doyle, Beth Gallego, Monica Schmidt, and the Joe Eckrich/Rich Krisciunas/Michael Waxenberg final act. It was a nicely put together mix of folks, over which Rob Nunn served as master of ceremonies.

But, as many of us said, time and again, the speakers weren't even the high point. The high point was just the people, from every corner of America, gathering to just hang out with their fellow Sherlockians. From the Friday night "Just Desserts for the Professor" to the Sunday closing lunch at the Spaghetti Factory for those last hangers-on. We just had a good time being together, talking Sherlockian life, and getting to enjoy the kind of conversations you don't get on Zoom.

Zoom is now with us ongoing, and a great place to encounter folks for the first time, but I think it has actually increased our enjoyment of the live get-togethers. We can get the initial social stuff out of the way there, and the live encounters just get to be next level because of that. And not just Zoom -- the Sherlockian Chronologist Guild has been interacting only by PDF newsletter for two and a half years now, and the prospect of Mike McSwiggin doing a chronology talk (among other things) brought about eight of us together in one place -- an unheard of occurrence!

I could go on and on about Holmes in the Heartland here, but the workday awaits. Sigh.

More notes spawned by this weekend to come.

Friday, July 28, 2023

The St. Louis Preamble

 Technically, St. Louis's Holmes in the Heartland symposium starts this afternoon. On Friday.

But back when planning for this, I accidentally asked for Thursday off, so with a lot of prep to do for weekend, I added an extra day to my hotel stay and just went early. A little extra vacation isn't usually a hard choice. What came as a bit of a surprise was the number of Sherlockians who did likewise.

After settling in at the hotel Thursday afternoon, I went down to simply get my bearings, and immediately saw two Sherlockians in the hotel bar. By the time I took my first sip of a ginger ale and Malibu rum, five more wandered in. Several brave souls were headed out to a Cubs-Cardinals game on a hundred degree evening, but I happily stayed in the nice cool hotel.

Heather Hinson and Olivia Kirkendall were sticking around as well, and since the Westport Plaza Sheraton is a part of a complex of restaurants and shops, we only had to walk outside for about half a block to get to the Trainwreck Salloon, where a bison burger and sweet potato fries awaited. After dinner, I used the ruse of "Anybody want to do crafts?" to get my dinner companions to work in my programs and name badges sweat shop, and by 9:30 we had everything sorted. Time to call it a night, right?

We all thought so, and they went on their way, I turned on the TV and settled in, getting sleepier and ready to change into my bedclothes. But I did not consider the Monica factor.

Doing one last check of Facebook, I saw a message from Monica Schmidt about a cocktail outing earlier in the evening, to which I replied that I was sorry I missed it. Only Monica and Bill had moved their party to their hotel room. You won't see Sherlockian hotel room parties written up in histories of our hobby, but they are a tradition in this hobby. If there are Sherlockians gathering for an event and spending the night in a hotel, there's usually a few cooking somewhere. I've heard the goal of staying up until the Canonical 2:21 AM (2:21 BM is a different thing.) is sometimes a goal, but since I got talked into heading up for drinks at chat around 10, I just made it to 12:30 AM, when a certain pair of gentlemen bid their adieus.

Someone is going to have to remind me of the name of the scion society I now belong to who held a meeting at 7 AM the next morning. Steve Mason will remind me, of course, being the leader of the society for Sherlockians who break their fasts with other Sherlockians at Waffle House. I have only dined at Waffle House with Sherlockians, and you know that in addition to Steve, Rich Krisciunas was at the Waffle House as well, being one of the currently reigning Omnipresent Sherlockians.

After Waffle House, it was back to the hotel lobby where more Sherlockians were showing up, and it's been a consistent meet and greet since then -- I'm almost been unable to finish this! So I will drop it for now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

We Need More Sherlock Holmes Blogs!

 Our greatest Sherlockian news source of the last four decades, Peter Blau, passed along a little tidbit this week with his congratulations. A site that promotes blogs for a fee that some of us are much too non-profit to check into had generated a list ranking Sherlock Holmes blogs.

Now, at first glance, it was quite a pleasant thing to see one's blog on such a list. On second glance, my competitive nature from growing up with siblings had its moment and went "Huzzah! I'm Number Two!" On third glance, I celebrated that my friend's blog made the list. And then, at last, I went, "Wait a minute ... is this all there is?"

So I started digging through Sherlockian blogs. Rob Nunn's "Interesting Though Elementary" is out there, probably needing "Sherlock Holmes" spelled out in its banner to attract the ranking site's attention or something. I knew Ross Foad did a video blog called "No Place Like Holmes." And David Marcum had a blog called "A Seventeen Step Program," which hadn't had new posts in a bit. And I went to to see what they had on their "Sharing" page.

Two societies, the Parallel Case of St. Louis and the Sherlock Holmes Society of France, had blogs listed. But that was it. Two societies out of how many? Of course, the Crew of the Barque Lone Star just puts their digital newsletter on their website, so that probably counts. I'm sure some others do as well. And I'm not going to get into Tumblr, which I guess is designed to blog upon? But I never quite got Tumblr, being rather older and a bit limited in my ways, so who knows?

What else were they missing? Give us a link in the comments if you know, to be sure. Rob Nunn already pointed out Shingle of Southsea and 221B Cooee were definitely missing.

I know regular blogging takes a certain purpose, mindset, or just enjoying writing random essays and tossing them into the ether. But one thing seems clear: Sherlockiana needs more blogs! Reading my own blog is not something I really want to do for enjoyment, and Dan Andriacco's new role as editor of The Baker Street Journal is probably going to decrease his postings. But even just one blog post a month can be a wonderful thing. Vincent Wright's Historical Sherlock brings a big smile to my face when that time of the month rolls around, and look! He made number six in the ranking! 

We need more Sherlockian blogs. Everybody is writing essays or stories for collections these days, and do you know what you can do with a blog? Collect them into a book that doesn't have anyone's essays but yours in it! (I would promote The 221B Con Decade: Notes From A 221B Con Fan here, but since it was a con exclusive, that would just be mean.) It's a great time to be a Sherlockian essayist, like that Sherlockian founding father, Christopher Morley.

And it's a great writing exercise to get in before breakfast, like I'm doing this morning.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

What makes a hardcore Sherlockian

 What does it take to become a hardcore fan of Sherlock Holmes?

I don't just mean an "I like it when Sherlock Holmes falls my way at the bookstore, on TV, or in a theater." I mean the level of "If no Sherlock Holmes exists in my life at a give idle moment, I'm gonna put him there." Sherlock Holmes as your primary interest. Sherlock Holmes being such a focus that you'll deep dive into some other subject like Victorian history, Conan Doyle, or forensic science just to keep in the general area of Holmes.

Sure, it's all very interesting. The world is full of very interesting things, 99.999999999 percent of which do not involve Sherlock Holmes.

I recently googled "What is it that we love about Sherlock Holmes?" looking for a particular essay and a horde of headlines popped up. "Why I love Sherlock Holmes." "Why is Sherlock Holmes still so popular?" "What is it that we love in Sherlock Holmes?" "Why Are We So Obsessed With Sherlock Holmes." "Ten Reasons Americans Love Sherlock Holmes." The parade of "why" articles seems endless. But they all focus on Sherlock Holmes himself.

Like an ancient god (or modern one, really), Sherlock Holmes embodies some attributes or gathering of ideas that fill a need in us. He's not a rain god we pray to. But . . . and I hate to say this . . . he's not a person. He's a wish. He's a feeling. He's an idea.

And apparently an idea we need in our lives.

Personally, I can look at the time I attached first attached myself to Sherlock Holmes, puberty hitting hard at the same time I lost a father. And then the time when I doubled down on Holmes, that point in later college years when the great unknowns of adulthood lay in front of me and I was about to step into the abyss. Both were times when one's mind is desperately search for solid ground.

And there was Sherlock Holmes. The idea of solid ground. The idea that there were answers to all of life's mysteries if one was clever enough. And, having had a little evidence that I could be clever at times, he gave me hope. He's a fiction, a dream of what a person could be, but a dream that Conan Doyle shared with us, and we share with each other.

It makes me a little sad that Sherlock Holmes's creator tried to run away from Holmes as his writing career went on. Doyle himself created Holmes at a point in his life where he was uncertain where his profession would take him, and once he became successful, Doyle felt Holmes had no purpose in his life and wanted to leave Holmes behind. He wasn't really thinking about what other people got from Holmes, because I think if he truly understood it, he wouldn't have cared about spiritualism or fairies or any of those other causes he felt were so much more important than the best thing he ever did for humanity.

Some of us never give up on those things Holmes represents. Our better selves. A world where things make sense. The phrase "true believers" has always been an apt description of hardcore fans, because that's the level we must be at to devote as much time, energy, and money toward this idea called Sherlock Holmes. Because we believe he has something we need in life, something worth holding on to, because we came to him at some point in our lives and he delivered.

In a way, the hardcore fan of Sherlock Holmes is a bit like one of his clients -- we came to 221B Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes provided an answer for us. And even though he retired in the early 1900s, he is still working for us today.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

What We Know About Conan Doyle's Next Sherlock Holmes Story

 Ummm . . . nothing. Conan Doyle is deceased and not writing any more stories.

And yet, "What We Know About Conan Doyle's Next Sherlock Holmes Story" is pretty much on par for internet headlines, preying on fan hopes for a new season of BBC Sherlock, that third Robert Downey Jr. Holmes film, anything that will draw a decent number of fingers to mouse-click on the link to their post of "No news here!" of just a quote from someone being asked an obvious question.

"Hey, Michael Keen, head of the Baker Street Irregulars -- Is Conan Doyle going to write a new Sherlock Holmes story?"

"I don't think so. He's dead."

And then the exciting headline follows: "Leading American Sherlockian Reveals Possibility for New Canonical Tale!"

Yes, no possibility is still a statement of possibility.

It's a crime so small that it will probably never have a law against it, a fraud so minor that we don't rank it worthy of shutting down, but stealing moments from people's lives just to get click numbers on your ad-laden web post just by luring them with false hope is kinda evil when you think about it. I have to wonder how much revenue it actually generates for advertisers when people associate their product or service with the disappointment of a nothing story topped with a hoped-for headline. Not something I would want as an advertiser, for sure.

I remember when vacuum-cleaner Sherlockian collectors would clip and paste any mention of Sherlock Holmes in print media in scrapbooks, because everything Sherlock was collectable. But I can't imagine anyone is collecting click-bait stories, unless they're doing a study of the form.

Here's the thing though: "All The Details About The Next Jeremy Brett Sherlock Show," while pure clickbait at the moment, could be an actual thing in the future. The technology exists to map the late Jeremy Brett over Basil Rathbone in Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman to create a "new" Jeremy Brett film. The fraud has the potential of going next level and one day giving us something we hope for, but not in the way we truly hoped for it. The problem is that people are getting more and more used to technology being a magic wish-fulfilling genie (Trust me, I work in IT. They really are.) and the stupidest idea you can think of is going to come up on someone's wish list.

But you don't want to read that AI generated Conan Doyle tale, even if it does have a definite site for Watson's wound and a clear date for the story. We've set a million monkeys to that task already and not gotten Shakespeare out of their keyboard poundings. (Oh, hey, pastiche-writing friends -- you weren't the one I was calling a monkey. That was you-know-who. You're doing great.) And yet, it will be tried.

Hope springs eternal. And therein lies marketing's hopes to take advantage of our hopes as well.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

The rest of the world catches up . . .

 So an add came across my feed on Facebook, as ads do, for a prop can of shaving cream crafted like the one in Jurassic Park, used in the movie to smuggle dinosaur DNA. And, I thought, "Oh, cool, something for the Jurassic Park fan who wants to connect in reality with their favorite fiction." And then I thought, "Wait, Sherlockians have been doing this forever."

Only our favorite fiction isn't movies. And our reality items aren't usually props.

Sherlock Holmes was so well wrapped in the Victorian era by his creator that we've always been able to touch Holmes's reality by collecting regular antiques. Nobody had to carefully hand craft a new gasogene or an antimacassar like Star Trek phasers were made in the 1960s and 1970s. And if you wanted to recreate Sherlock Holmes's sitting room? Just get some furniture and stuff, shop the antique stores, arrange it just so. And even hansom cabs exist, if you want to get crazy.

As the years passed, however, those antiques have gotten a little harder to find. Reproductions have become available of some things. It's been one hundred and twenty-two years since the end of the Victorian era -- time is taking its toll. And we have entered Hollywood prop re-creation world now as well, since Sherlock Holmes now has a 221B Baker Street home set in the 2010s. A very rich or very dedicated Sherlockian could actually recreate two 221Bs in their home and time travel over a century just by going down the hall.

We're lucky, I guess, that a single sitting room will do it for us. Recreating Isla Nubar, or even just the main tourist center or InGen lab from Jurassic Park would take some actual construction. We don't have to hope for a Sherlockian John Hammond or Walt Disney to recreate Baker Street and populate it with clones or animatronics. 

But one can always dream, even when we've had so much of Sherlock Holmes's reality available to us for as long as we've had Sherlock Holmes. Bringing dreams into reality is just a part of who we are, both as fans and creatives.

DISCLAIMER: Do not invent time travel just to surround yourself with the world of Sherlock Holmes. You might not be ready for the lodgings, food, restrooms, or general smell.

Friday, July 14, 2023

From Diamonds in the Garbage to a World Where It Is Always 1999

 Wayyyyy back in 1975, I read a comic book where the hero was on a world where clowns were digging through rubbish and occasionally finding diamonds. The writer Jim Starlin was, I seem to remember, doing a parody of the comics industry, but today that story (from Strange Tales #181) came to mind as I scrolled through Twitter and saw all the nice Sherlockian bits in stark contrast to the general garbage that flows more freely there these days. It made me a little sad that my friends had to rely on what has so quickly become the lesser choice among social media channels.

Sherlockians have always made the best of whatever channels were available to us, be it mimeograph machines or Prodigy message boards. The amount of Sherlockiana that has come out of "publish on demand" technology is a flood that I don't think we fully see the depth of yet . . . or the effect it is having upon the hobby as a whole. Sherlockians may not always leap to the forefront of new technologies, but once we understand it's out there, Sherlock Holmes is going to be all over that medium.

So, while we're not quite there with Threads, the newest spin on mass communication, we'll get there. (Never fully leaving the other thing behind for quite a while, if ever. Welcome Holmes may have finally vacated Yahoo!, but the Hounds-L listserver still runs.

Virtual environments have always been a tougher terrain for Sherlockians to invade, with our numbers not quite legion enough, nor abilities appropriate enough. We tend to be people of words, and sometimes art, but virtual reality communities . . . well, maybe one day when the AIs provide such things for us. (Was there a corner of the Matrix re-creating Sherlock Holmes's London to keep the human batteries in the pods with fans happy? Or did they just have to live as Sherlockians in that constant 1999 world that the Matrix used as its optimum human environment?

Think about that constant 1999 Sherlockian world for a moment: Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century is constantly on TV in the Matrix. Les Klinger would forever be one of the last new members of the Baker Street Irregulars. Angelica Pickles in a deerstalker would be a mainstay at your local Toys R Us. Laurie King's fifth Mary Russell novel, O Jerusalem, would be in hardcover on the shelves at Walden Books. There's no BSI Manuscript series, but at least there's the published manuscripts of "Dying Detective" and "Lion's Mane" from Calabash Press. You could go to St. Louis for "Holmes Under the Arch: Weekend at Baskerville Hall" in September, even if Holmes was never actually under the St. Louis Arch. And Michael Caine would be the last big screen Sherlock Holmes you remembered seeing in a theater over ten years before.

I don't think we want the machines taking over just yet, if they think that 1999 was the optimum environment for human satisfaction. Still, they might do better than tech billionaires at such things.

Sherlockians will adapt, though. We always do.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

A Visit to the Parallel Case

 With Holmes in the Heartland coming up later this month, and a rough work week behind me, I decided to spend the day rolling down the road and then visiting St. Louis's most active Sherlockian society (not to insult any Harpooners with that claim, but they are, technically, a St. Charles scion). Between the meeting proper at the Ethical Society, the after-meeting hang at Spine Books, or the after-after-meeting hang in Rob Nunn's library, I got a full fix of relaxing discussion of Sherlock and Sherlockians.

I always enjoy meeting my fellow Illinois-sider, Rob, and riding into the city with him as warm-up to these gatherings, and was able to entertain him with a little Sherlockian history I'd recently learned, gathering up his insights along the way. We arrived right on time for the meeting to start, and after a few giveaways were set out, the meeting began with news of a brand new book, Emissions of a Brain on Sherlock Holmes by Mary Towell Schroeder, with cartoons by Art Schroeder, available now at all sorts of places online. (Thrift Books might sell it the cheapest.) Mary, a familiar St. Louis Sherlockian going way back, had collected up past writings for a tidy little volume, and the one author collections are definitely my favorite these days. (I still get a good multi-author collection, don't get me wrong. Both have their place.)

Some other announcements were made, and we were soon off to discuss what many considered the worst story in the Canon: "The Adventure of the Three Gables." (We did debate it's badness against that of "Mazarin Stone.") It always takes a while to get over the overt racism that begins the tale, to get to the other bad parts of the story, but we made that journey, and many present were definitely of the opinion that the story sure seemed like someone other than Conan Doyle may have written it. A fascinating comparison to "A Scandal in Bohemia" was made, which I shall remember, even if I don't remember who said it. (I bet Rob does a meeting recap over at . . . where did I ever see a Parallel Case recap? I thought . . . hmmm.)

It's interesting when a story discussion goes back and forth between "What was Conan Doyle thinking?" and "What was Watson thinking?" because it gets to the full range of Sherlockian thought, on both sides of our reality. And the "Three Gables" discussion definitely did.

I'll leave off the Isadora Klein/Isadora Persano rabbit hole that we went down at one point, which I contend did not kill the conversation on the story, as someone who announced we had exhausted the tale might have claimed. As "bad" Sherlock Holmes stories go, "Three Gables" is rich in weirdness for discussion, to be sure.

But I was left with one big question, that I didn't voice until the ride home: What dollar figure would need to be offered to you to leave your home and all your possessions behind, as was made to Mary Maberly? It's a bit like a non-sexual version of the old movie Indecent Proposal, where a couple was offered a million dollars for an infidelity, another very wealthy person coming into the life of an ordinary person and buying something that no one would think of selling. 

Sherlockians have collections very dear to them, it is true, but the chance to start fresh, with enough money to travel, and see and shop the entire Sherlockian world anew? That might not be such a bad deal, and definitely has a dollar figure I, for one, would think would work for me.

Because then I'd get to go to all the Parallel Case meetings. And the Nashville Scholars meetings. And the Illustrious Clients meetings. And the Minneapolis Explorer meetings. And the Sound of the Baskervilles meetings. And the Barque Lone Star non-Zoom meetings. Annnddd I might even get to Chicago and the East Coast society meetings too at some point.

Collecting books is nice, but collecting memories is a pretty cool thing too. Despite the regrettable beginning of "Three Gables," that round-the-world trip that Holmes got for Mary Maberley as payback probably raised her to the Big Winner of all Holmes's clients.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Yeah, I miss print media . . .

 As what seems like a real challenger for Twitter popped up this week with "Threads" spinning off Instagram, which is a part of the Facebook conglomerate, which is . . . heck, I don't want to take the time to try to run all this down . . . oh, and the Discord invitations . . . wait, this sentence is going all over the place, just like . . . 

Welcome to social media in the summer of 2023.

Being an online Sherlock Holmes fan is an interesting space, because our core old school fans don't move very quickly. We have our explorers, our champions of online existence, but we also had a head of America's major Sherlockian organization who was practically Amish until a few years ago. We trend older. Facebook is a major thing in Sherlockian spaces. And keeping one's Twitter properly trimmed up worked for a while for keeping the app usable for the most part, if one avoiding the "Trending" column.

One hates to be an "old," but at the same time, if you live long enough, you're going to be nostalgic for something that doesn't exist any more. 

It's a little crazy to think of how U.S. Mail was once our only social media, where your followers were folks who read the local Sherlock Holmes society newsletter that you produced and sent out to a hundred or so folks. And the way we connected to those newsletters was by going down the "Sherlockian Periodicals Received" list in The Baker Street Journal every three months to see which ones we didn't get. But it sure was easy to keep track of.

And you didn't hop from USPS to Fedex and hope people signed up for Fedex so they'd get the random letters you send out.

The thing is, you can love the current tech and convenience and our new levels of connectivity and still wish things were like they were back in the day, imagining a sort of steampunk mash-up of both worlds into some happy middle ground. We're probably not going to ever see that. The Baker Street Journal probably isn't going to recommend who to follow on Facebook or Twitter (or Threads) for a while. But who knows?

Generational change is a thing, and Sherlockiana will evolve as all things do. Or fade, as all things eventually do as well. For the very confusing moment, however, we just have a little bit more to figure out.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Declaring independence can be tough

 It's Independence Day here in the United States, a time when we celebrate our nation breaking off from its mother country, the land of Sherlock Holmes. As Sherlockians, we find ourselves very dependent upon Victorian England for our pleasures, for the most part: Its history, both that documented by Watson and more reliable historians, its literary legacy, and its ties that that modern island nation where magical creatures like Paul Thomas Miller reside. But there are often parts of our own Sherlockian culture that we still need to declare our independence from.

One of the most common ones can be the depth of our nostalgia for those Sherlockian things that tripped our  triggers early on. That one book, movie, or TV series that we want to go to our graves declaring "This was the One. All must enjoy this as I have to truly be called 'Sherlockian.'" It comes naturally with the enthusiasm, and can be forgiven if one doesn't start denying everyone else's favorites in one's zeal to trumpet one's own. Every generation gets its own Sherlockian treasures, and further than that, every individual gets their own Sherlockian treasures. 

But declaring one's independence from being an asshole about what's good can be learned. The world rewards you for getting along with folks.

What's harder sometimes is getting over the shitty things that happened in your past. Even in the bright and happy land we call Sherlockiana there are dark moments, as in any human endeavor, and they can leave us with unresolved grievances, lingering regrets, and even a few emotional scars. Time doesn't heal all wounds, especially if they altered your entire journey through the hobby you love. But what time does do is give you some distance, a longer view, and removes reminders as the years pass.

The subject of oral histories came up a while back, and the fact that some stories will probably never make it into those records. We want to remember the good times. We want to let the bad times fade. "Those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it" sounds good, but in truth, we're humans, just as those who came before. We tend to make the same mistakes for the same reasons. We can be helpful guides for those coming after, but maybe we don't need to keep reliving our own bad times just to be the town crier for the new members of the community.

I was handed some pieces of information recently that I put off exploring until today, mainly due to my own issues with all parties involved. Somewhat interesting, but just adding the details to something one could pretty much figure out just knowing said parties. But, like the age of dinosaurs, that time is past.

There is so much of Sherlockiana that is all about the past, but there are times when we need to declare our independence from some parts of it for our own good. There's a whole word out there here and now that awaits, and there's a reason windshields are bigger than rearview mirrors.

Happy Independence Day, my friends.