|Steven Doyle, BSI|
Publisher, author, conference organizer, and more -- that's Steven Doyle, BSI. We recently asked this prominent Sherlockian a few questions about his relationship with the Great Detective and with other Sherlockians. I was interested, and I knew that you would be, too.
Let’s start at ground zero: When and how did you become a Sherlockian?
I was 14 years old, and for Christmas I got a set of Sherlock Holmes books…trade paperback first edition facsimiles of Adventures and Memoirs. I don't know what it was, but I was hooked. This was December 1974. The enormous Sherlockian boom of the 1970s had just recently been ignited with Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Percent-Solution, and so I had become aware of this person Sherlock Holmes. When I finished Memoirs, and "The Final Problem," I immediately picked up Meyer's pastiche. So, I immediately got an immersion not only in the Canon, but a peek into this larger world of non-Canonical writing as well.
When I was a younger, I knew very few Sherlockians. What has it meant to you to be part of a Sherlockian community?
It meant everything. When I first became a Sherlockian as a kid, I also didn't know any Sherlockians. But I quickly discovered they exist. I read some magazine article which referred to the Baker Street Irregulars, and never, ever imagined I'd be a member. I mean, come on, they had people like Isaac Asimov and Poul Anderson. I learned there was a local Sherlock Holmes society in my home town of South Bend, Indiana, which is the home of the University of Notre Dame. Some professors from the university and others had formed a scion society, and there was an article in the local newspaper about them, along with contact information. I was a bit precocious, and so wrote asking to join. I was only 14 or 15 years old. Now, they could have turned me down, and that probably would have been that as far as Sherlock Holmes and I went. But they didn't, and that act of generosity put me on a path that has informed and enhanced my entire life.
When did you become a member of the Baker Street Irregulars?
I became a member of the BSI in 1996. My first dinner was in 1994.
What’s your take on the fandom surrounding all the new incarnations of Sherlock Holmes?
I'm not a big on the word "fan," not out of any overly-seriousness about the hobby, but because I don't think it reflects the depth of sincerity and devotion of many of this new generation of Sherlockians. One advantage of being active a long time in this hobby is you are able to see that everything is cyclical. As Sherlock Holmes himself says, "there's nothing new under the sun." We've been having periodic waves of new Sherlockians repeatedly over the decades. This is just the latest. Prior to now we had a legion of new Sherlockians who found Holmes through the Jeremy Brett series…many of them young females who were quite naturally attracted to the lead actor. There's very little difference in kind here. In scale? Yes, in that the sheer number of new people discovering Sherlock Holmes is much higher, thanks to the films and television series. I think, if precedent is any indication, in ten years many of them will have moved on, but the 10% of those who stay with Sherlock will make up the backbone of our hobby for the future.
Our paths first crossed when you published my Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden,” almost a quarter of a century ago in the late lamented Sherlock Holmes Review. Tell us a bit about your history as a publisher. Specifically, how did you become publisher of The Baker Street Journal?
I became a publisher in 1987 when, at the age of 26 I decided, despite having zero knowledge or experience in publishing anything, to create a Sherlockian periodical entitled The Sherlock Holmes Review. I had the great good luck to work with someone who did know something about the nuts and bolts of actually physically laying out pages, and with his help I did it. It succeeded way beyond my expectations. SHR ran for ten years. We had to pull the plug on it because it had become too big for us to actually sustain. It was then that my friend Mark Gagen, who had come on board SHR during its third year, decided to get out of periodical publishing and start doing books. That's when we founded Wessex Press. This was in 1992.
During that time I learned everything about publishing. There's no better education in a topic than actually just doing it. After we founded Wessex Press, we had the opportunity to buy Gasogene Press, which was going to close down otherwise. We made Gasogene the Sherlockian imprint of Wessex. As for The Baker Street Journal, Wessex had been volunteering graphic design for the BSI (Mark and I are both BSI, after all, and at some point Mike Whelan, who is the head of the BSI, came to me and asked if I could take on the role of BSJ publisher. Mike knew that I had experience that could bring the BSJ into a new era. It's kind of mind-blowing when I think about how that 14-year-old would have reacted had he learned he'd some day be publishing The Baker Street Journal.
What book are you most proud to have brought to the public as a publisher?
It's very hard to choose. We never publish a book we don't believe in. Never. I think what makes Wessex Press the premier Sherlockian publisher in the world (and I think the longest-lasting) is an ability to know (a) if the book should be published, and (b) if it should be published by us. There have been many titles that we have passed on not because they lacked merit, but because we knew it wasn't right for us. So, picking just one is difficult. I suppose I would have to say I'm proud of our first title, The Annotated Lost World, which exploded Wessex Press onto the scene in a big way. I'd also point to the 75th Anniversary Edition of Starrett's Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which was published as a facsimile of the 1933 first edition, along with new editorial material by Ray Betzner. It is the single greatest book ever written about Sherlock Holmes, and it had been a dream of mine for well over a decade to bring that book out. It came out exactly as I imagined it.
You also wrote Sherlock Holmes for Dummies. I think it’s a great book because it can edify newcomers to the field without boring those who have been reading Holmes for 50 years. How hard was that to accomplish?
The most difficult thing about it was the schedule that the publisher had put me on to write it. Very accelerated. It took me a bit to adapt to the Dummies format. I think a few others considered it before they signed me, and they opted out. But once I began writing, it all just poured out. I've been living with Mr. Holmes since I was a boy. It's all up there.
You have a day job at Purdue University and you also play in a band called the AgTones. How in the world do you find time for all of your Sherlockian activities?
Well, I wonder that myself sometimes! You just do it! I love life, and friendships, and things that grab me intellectually and creatively. To quote Baron Gruner from "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client," "If a man has a hobby, he follows it up no matter what his pursuits may be."
What event(s) are you most looking forward to on the Sherlockian calendar this year?
That Sherlockian calendar is mighty full now…not like the old days. I am looking forward to The Scintillation of Scions conference in Maryland, the annual meeting of The 140 Varieties of Tobacco Ash, a return visit to The Sons of the Copper Beeches in Philadelphia, and most of all, our own huge Sherlockian film conference, From Gillette to Brett IV in September. That is going to be big.
What genres and particular writers do you like to read outside the Holmes universe?
Outside of Sherlock Holmes, my favorites have been Dorothy Sayers (both Wimsey and her apologetics), Hornung's Raffles (masterpieces in their own right), and Tolkien. I love science fiction, and I read a lot of history and theology. There are others, all waxing and waning given the season.
What question have I not asked you that you would like to answer?
Well, I would have recommended you ask me "what is the best part of being a Sherlockian?" My answer would be that being a Sherlockian gives you a key to a community of simply the best people I've been privileged to know. Literate, loyal, amazingly generous, absolutely delighting in the intellectual game of Sherlock Holmes. There's absolutely nothing like it.