Showing posts with label Sherlock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sherlock. Show all posts

08 December 2017

From the Analytical to the Imaginative


By Art Taylor

This post appears on the last day of the last week of the semester's classes at George Mason University—but while this may seem to mark an ending of sorts, it's also a beginning, because as I'm writing this, I'm thick in the middle of grading those final papers, projects, and revisions that have suddenly appeared.

And then there are exams beginning next week, so the moment we finish up one batch of grading, another batch will arrive.

One of my classes is an upper-level creative nonfiction class, a smaller workshop filled with some fine and even extraordinary writers. So many of their submissions are really a joy to read, and I find myself eager in many cases to see what some of those writers are going to produce next. Grading there is work, no doubt about it, but it's also fun in many ways.

My gen-ed lit class, however, maxed out at 75 students—much larger, many more assignments to manage. And students in this class often face more struggles with writing.

The class itself has been enjoyable—the subject is "Sherlock," so hard not to feel indulgent about the readings and discussion—and I've been fortunate to have a great T.A. for the class to help with grading. But as the final days loomed, both of us got that deer in the headlights look about the onslaught of project and exams ahead. At the beginning of Monday's class, I told her flat-out I was dreading it—and one of the students overheard our conversation and piped up with, "We are too! So why are you assigning all this?"

Clear answers to that one, of course: We need to have ways of measuring learning and performance. But the whole exchange underscored the fact that all of us were feeling overburdened a little and on a sharp turnaround for meeting deadline after deadline.

One thing I've tried to do to boost enthusiasm at end-of-semester in my lit classes: Give students the opportunity to write some fiction themselves. While many students still choose to write a more traditional analytical essay—thesis, textual evidence, etc.—others welcome the chance to, in this case, write their own Sherlock Holmes pastiche or parody. We've read a number of Sherlock stories by writers other than Conan Doyle in The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories, and I've been grateful to have a couple of writers Skype into the class to talk about their own stories reworking the characters and these elements, including Dan Stashower and Dana Cameron. And several of the students have been pursuing terrific ideas: Sherlock and Watson investigating a scandal related to Brexit, Sherlock Holmes on a visit to Mason's campus and investigating shenanigans in the classroom, and then something about Sherlock as a Mason student himself and losing some laundry—building on one of the cases that Watson mentions only briefly in the canon: the bogus laundry affair. (This student did his research, clearly, but ultimately opted instead to write an analytical essay about different kinds of justice in the stories.)

The student who wrote about Brexit had originally proposed having Sherlock investigate the voter fraud claims in the U.S. but then felt like setting the adventure in Britain would be better. Either way, he's been very enthusiastic about the project and mentioned at end of class (if I'm remembering the relationships correctly!) that his girlfriend's father is a big Sherlock Holmes fan and is eager to read what he produces.

I've done this in other classes in the past with fascinating results. One student in a survey course on the mystery short story several years ago relocated a Sherlock-like figure to a U.S. Army base investigating trouble at the perimeter. Though he'd never written fiction before, he'd been in the service himself and he drew on his own past as well as the readings from class to produce what I thought was a first-rate story: engaging, suspenseful, satisfying.

Students appreciate the opportunities here for a number of reasons—maybe first and foremost that it's something different. Some of them think, I'm sure, that it'll be easier than that whole thesis, evidence, analysis thing. And on our side of the table, I'll admit that my TA and I are appreciating it too—something different to read for us as well.

But the trick is that whether they choose the creative or the analytical project, students are still revealing their engagement and understanding (or lack of engagement/understanding) of the course materials. Understanding the characters, navigating the way the stories work, folding in some of the common thematic elements, even mimicking here and there Conan Doyle's singular style.... Well, there's much to be said for application over analysis. And because students opting for the creative project are still required to write a reflective essay, connecting their work to their reading, with in-text citations and a bibliography to boot, ultimately they're entering into some analysis as well.

I'm still early in the grading at this point, plenty ahead. But I'm looking forward to seeing what they've come up with—and to spending a little more time with Sherlock himself, courtesy of the students and their imaginations.

19 July 2017

Five Red Herrings 8


by Robert Lopresti


1. Maybe I've been here before.  Five years ago in this space (wow, we've been doing this a long time, haven't we?) I wrote a piece about incidental music in movies and TV, (and by incidental I mean it wasn't written for  that show and is not being performed by a character).  The inspiration was Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" showing up in yet another TV show.  I wrote: "It was about five years ago that I concluded that the FCC had passed a new rule requiring every TV show to feature 'Hallelujah.'" I now have evidence that I was right (not about the FCC, but about the frequency of that song's appearances.)


I am reading The Holy or the Broken, a book by Alan Light that is entirely about you-know-which song.  It reports that the first appearance on TV was in Scrubs  in 2002.  There were five more visits in 2003 and seven in the year after.  Each performance pays in the $50,000 range, with half going to the author (and his publisher) and half to the performer (and the record company).  Not bad.

By the way, the whole book is fascinating.  If a writer of fiction tried to make up the story of Cohen's "Hallelujah" she would have to sell it as fantasy or magic realism.  It involves two generations of singers dying young, an animated children's film, TV talent contests, the 9/11 attacks...


Meet the new boss
Blonde as  the old boss
2. Blonde on Blonde. Going even further back in my blogging past, in 2008 I commented on my affection for the British TV show New Tricks.  I noted that there seemed to be a rule that all shows about cops working on cold cases (New Tricks, Cold Squad, Cold Case) had to be led by a blonde woman. 

I recently discovered new episodes of New Tricks and all but one of the  characters had been replaced, including the leader.  And yes, the new one is a blonde woman.
from Gratisography


3.  Getcha pretty pictures right here.  Some of us here at SleuthSayers HQ find ourselves from time to time looking for illustrations that we can use without fearing the Long Arm of the Copyright.  The website Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes has a very helpful list of four websites with images free for the using. 


4. Steven on Sherlock.  The latest issue of Strand Magazine (February-May 2017) has a very interesting interview with Steven Moffat, co-producer and co-creator of Sherlock.  Even if you don't watch his show, Moffat's insights into the great original are interesting.  To those who complain about his making the characters young and modern he replies that when Doyle invented Holmes and Watson they were young and used the newest technology available.  They aged into period pieces as Doyle wrote about them for forty years.  He also points out that people don't complain about the James Bond movies yanking the character out of his time period, although Fleming's character was a World War II vet.  Definitely worth a read.


5.  Riding a trend?  But maybe the most interesting thing in the Strand (and my apologies to John Floyd and the other authors of fiction who appear therein) is a full-page ad for Ted Allbeury's novel The Twentieth Day of January.  There are plenty of ads in the magazine for books, but this one is almost forty years old.  So why bring it back now?  Perhaps the plot description holds a clue: 

"Seemingly out of nowhere, wealthy businessman Logan Powell has become President-elect.  But veteran intelligence agent James MacKay uncovers shocking evidence that suggest something might be terribly wrong with the election: is Powell actually a puppet of the Soviet Union?"

Timing is the key to success.







26 December 2015

Blame it on Barbie (in which we cry foul on Hollywood writers for always making the bad girls brunettes)


By Melodie Campbell  (Bad Girl)

It's Christmas week!  Time for a fun post.  How many people will be going to movies over the holidays?  Maybe even something by Disney?  Watch out for those dark haired babes...

Here it is, the fifty-something anniversary of the birth of the Barbie doll, and I’m uncomfortable.  Coincidentally, it is also the fifty-something anniversary of me, and I’ve got to ask: is Barbie having more fun than I am?  Am I missing something by not being blond?

Okay, okay, so this smacks of insecurity.  But who wouldn’t be insecure, being brunette these days?  Did the Prince go looking for a dark-haired Sleeping Beauty?  Did Charming find a gorgeous black-haired scullery maid at the end of the glass slipper?  Face it, scullery types:  if you’re brunette, you’re going to have to find your own prince.

I blame it on Barbie.  Three quatrillion blond Barbies with bunny bodies since 1959, and no brunette bimbo in sight.   It’s enough to make you go for botox.

So what is it about us dark-haired babes?  Why are we constantly being portrayed as witches in Hollywood?  In Westerns, you can tell the bad guys from the good guys by their black hats.  In Disney, you can tell the bad girls by their dark hair.

It’s not only Disney.  The Networks are no better.  Remember Dynasty?  Sweet Linda Evans, with her blond bob.  And then there was scheming Joan Collins…

Witchy women, evil women – all of them brunette, you can bet your peroxide.  It’s a fact; a witchy brunette nearly butchered 101 darling Dalmatians for their spotted fur.  And in The Wizard of OZ, Glinda the good witch was blondie-blond.  The nasty old Witch of the West was as brunette as they come. 

That’s us – nasty.  And no wonder, the way we are always portrayed.

What can you expect, when the best role model we-of-dark-tresses had as young kids was Natasha Fatale (“Whatever you think, Darlink”) of Boris and Natasha fame on Bullwinkle.  Good Ole Bullwinkle.  I used to imagine he had a raging animal crush on the sexy, dark-haired Natasha. And who wouldn’t?  Sexy and savvy.  She was my role model.  It’s taken me years to kick the “Darlink” habit and start pronouncing Gs.

Things got better when Morticia came along.  Now, she was a classy role model.  Granted, my parents got a bit upset when I dyed my confirmation dress black and started writing poetry about graveyards. But more than one male (prince or frog) has mentioned to me that Caroline Jones was the object of many adolescent daydreams.

Well, at least they call us sexy.  In fact, “sultry” was the word Commander Riker used in a Next Generation episode on the holodeck.  “Give me sultry,” he said, and when a blonde vision popped up in the New Orleans jazz bar, “No, she’s got to be brunette.”
Thank you, Commander Riker!

Fast forward to SHERLOCK with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. A man who has no interest in women.  Except for one: THE Woman.  Irene Adler.  In the books by Arthur Conan Doyle, she may have been blond.  In the television show, she is a brunette siren.  And Nemesis for poor Sherlock.

So far we can chalk up nasty, sexy, sultry and bad.  Clever but cruel.  Usually foreign and sneaky.  Throw in green eyes, and you’ve got the classic Hollywood Evil Woman.

Evil, evil, evil.

So be a little careful before you start to criticize this column.  I might put a hex on you. 

Melodie Campbell writes funny books, like the award-winning mob Goddaughter series, starting with The Goddaughter.  She is a natural brunette, so I suggest you buy them.
On sale for $2.25!  Amazon