My writing year started off with a real bang. I received a tremendous honor, and was made a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. The oldest Sherlockian literary society in the world, the BSI takes its name from the gang of street children hired by Sherlock Holmes to "go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone." He paid them a shilling a day (a guinea, for finding a truly important clue); on January 15, I "received my Irregular shilling."
First of all: It's a real shilling. From 1895. That's cool stuff!
With the certificate and shilling comes an “investiture,” that is, a name taken from one of the people, places, or things from the Sherlockian canon (the 56 stories and 4 novels written by Arthur Conan Doyle). They can even be names of the stories themselves. Mine is “The Giant Rat of Sumatra,” which is an unpublished case Holmes refers to in “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire.” Part of the reason I love this investiture so much is because the reference appears in a discussion Holmes has about Grimms' fairy tales, vampires, and logic (and and storytelling; the tale of the Giant Rat is “story for which the world is not ready”). Another reason is that it is a recognizable reference, and it's curious and funny—people ask about it right away, if they don't already know about it!
Another reason is that there have been two Irregulars called “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” before me. And that's really at the heart of why the BSI means so much to me: on receiving my shilling, people told me of their fond memories of he who was the “Rat” before me. Not only have I been admitted to a group of smart, funny people with a wide range of skills and knowledge, but I'm part of a tradition going back decades. It's a connection with the past (and you know how much that means to me) that reinforces ties in the present.
Receiving my shilling on this particular evening was even more special because it was the 25th anniversary of the BSI allowing women to become members. Many of the first women to be invested have befriended me since I began going to BSI Weekend and other Sherlockian events; it meant a lot that I could tell them thanks for paving the way for the rest of us. There's a terrific podcast of an interview about those members of ASH and BSI here: If you're not misty-eyed on hearing the emotion during that first investiture...best not to tell me.
After BSI weekend was officially over, I had one more event. I was thrilled to be invited by Todd Robinson to a Noir at the Bar event in New York. This makes my third--the first two were in Boston (and next week, at Boskone, I'll be participating in a special edition of N@B). You can read about the history of this event, which has gone nationwide and global, here. Basically, a bunch of writers read, about five minutes each, in a bar. You'll hear some amazing work, without fail. It's fun, it's raucous, it makes you jealous you didn't write what you just heard. If someone asks if you want to go first or second, go first. More than likely, you'll be glad you didn't have to follow up whatever awesomeness preceded you.
The two events appear on the surface to be very different. One is steeped in history and tradition and the other has a modern, opportunistic, pop-up ethic. The stories are, understandably, much grittier at N@B (though Sherlockian pastiche can go there), and the audiences are much more raucous (though Sherlockians are are just as opinionated and expressive). But at their hearts, I found both events share an identical dedication to fine writing and scholarship, humor, and community spirit.
It was a superb weekend filled with good company and good stories. An excellent start to my writing year.