|Leah Cummins Guinn with husband Brett|
This is the 350th post on this blog, which I started two years ago next month. This week I’ve decided to do something different by interviewing three of my favorite Sherlockian bloggers. First up is Leah Cummins Guinn, who presides at The Well-Read Sherlockian. (Full disclosure, Leah has been very positive in her reviews of my books. But I was a fan of hers before she was a fan of mine.)
When did you launch The Well-Read Sherlockian?
On January 6th, 2012, but I wrote the initial posts and the guidelines in October 2011 and just didn’t publish them right away. I wanted to force myself to make a commitment. I was very nervous about the whole thing.
Why the name?
I was trying to think up something that sounded literary and cultured – as if I knew what I was talking about. I was surprised no one had used it already.
What were your inspirations?
First and foremost, Jaime Mahoney. When I became desperate for all things Sherlock Holmes, “Better Holmes and Gardens” was the first blog I found online. Her posts are so perceptive and erudite – I was just amazed that anyone could do that with Sherlock Holmes! The second was the website “Unclubables: A Thoroughgoing List of Sherlockian Novels,” which provides a long list of pastiches with color-coded ratings.
Sherlock Holmes blogs come in all types. How would you describe the mission of yours?
I started out with the goal of reviewing every pastiche/Sherlockian novel out there. The good, the bad, and the execrable. This has evolved a bit, though. Right now, my goal is to help readers find books they like, and also to share with them books that can deepen their understanding of Sherlock Holmes’s world. So in one month, for example, we can look at a Watson-voiced traditional, a supernatural anthology, and an in-depth look at poisons in the 19th century.
Your reviews are longer and more analytical than most. What has been the reaction to that approach?
People really seem to like it. At least, no one’s complained about it to me!
You sometimes review books that are far from new. Do you make a special effort to review good books from earlier years that Sherlockians may not have encountered?
Yes, I really do. I think it’s important for people to get an idea of the whole Sherlockian tradition, to connect with, learn from, and appreciate the people who came before us. Plus, there’s some really good stuff out there!
I can tell from your personal Facebook page that you have a full-time job running an active household. Where do you find the time to do all the reading and writing required for your blog?
I don’t do housework. That much. This blog would not have been possible before my youngest entered school full-time last year, giving me long swathes of time to read and think about stuff. My (incredibly supportive) husband has very lenient housekeeping standards, and the kids are at an age where they need to learn to pitch in, so it all works out. Also, I realized last year that I would have to treat writing as a job. That meant keeping regular hours as much as possible, putting all errands into one day, and dumping volunteer commitments that were not related to church work. So I work during the day, and do the mom and wife stuff after three.
What is your favorite canonical Sherlock Holmes story and why?
“The Illustrious Client.” When I first read it, I was shocked. It’s such an adult story, very dark. I was amazed that Conan Doyle could get all of that across so subtly. Plus, von Gruner is so slimy. I may hate him more than I do Moriarty. Too bad he lived.
What has it meant to you to be a Sherlockian?
You know, I think that my experience was a common one. It’s easy for a stay-at-home mom to start to feel lost, or unchallenged intellectually. It’s also not unusual for women who were geeky and creative when they were young to feel that they have to put all of that aside because they’re “grown-ups.” Still, I needed something in my life that didn’t tattle or need cleaning. When I discovered Sherlock Holmes, in a roundabout way, through pastiche and then the canon, and saw how people played “The Game,” I was so excited! It gave me a chance to use my brain, to combine my love of history and literature, and it helped me accept my tendency towards...obsession...as legitimate. I am so lucky to live near a fantastic, active scion society, The Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. Through the Clients, and through the internet, I’ve met some fascinating people and made some wonderful friends.
What genres and particular writers do you like to read outside the Holmes universe?
I really love reading history and biography, particularly of literary figures. I’m reading a great biography of Wilkie Collins right now. Of course I love mysteries – the darker the better – and thrillers. For those, my favorite authors are Jonathan Kellerman, Preseton & Child, and Michael Connelly. I read a lot about crime in history. Ghost stories. I may be addicted to Sherlockian fanfiction. And I try to read as much 19th century fiction as I can. Also – it’s a bit long, but I would recommend Dan Simmon’s Drood to anyone who loves any of the above. I was just amazed at his ability to combine fact and fiction, and the last quarter of the book is gut-wrenching.
What question have I not asked you that you would like to answer?
Hmmm.... Let’s see. If you were to ask me how I feel about writing a negative review, I would answer “extremely conflicted.” On the one hand, I feel an obligation to tell readers when a book they might be considering is, well, not that good. There’s also a challenge to writing a bad review. You can’t just pan a book; you have to really figure out what’s gone wrong. I get the impression quite a few aspiring writers read the blog, and this can hopefully be instructive for them. But no matter how nice you are in a less-than-stellar review, you know it’s going to hurt the writer, at least initially, and I don’t like doing that. If it helps, though, negative reviews seem to really intrigue some people, who tell me they now want to read that book. And I never mean a lower-rated review personally. If I did, I wouldn’t publish it. I always hope those writers just shrug me off and keep writing.