Leslie Klinger: Editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes
Interviewed March 2009 by Nashville Scholar Billy Fields ("Horace Harker")
Fields: What are your earliest recollections of Holmes? What was your first encounter...a story, a movie, a radio play?
Klinger: My first recollection of paying attention to the Holmes stories was my encounter with Baring-Gould's "Annotated Sherlock Holmes." I must have read stories earlier (I was a voracious reader of science fiction) but don't recall them. However, in my second year of law school (Fall 1968), my (first) wife gave me a copy of Baring-Gould. I was totally hooked!
Fields: What were the various aspects of the Canon which drew you further into "the Game"?
Klinger: The fascination for me was all those footnotes. I discovered the cult of Sherlock Holmes and the huge volume of amateur scholarship about the Canon. As a law student spending most of my time reading casebooks and other scholarship, and as a former English major, this stuff really appealed to me.
Fields: How did your early interest manifest itself? In other words, did you just rush forward to read and read and read?
Klinger: Beyond reading Baring-Gould, I think that my first step down the road to becoming a Sherlockian was subscribing to the Baker Street Journal. I think that I did this very early, although maybe not until I finished law school and began practising law.
Fields: As your awareness of the Sherlockian world developed, were there individuals who nurtured your interest in Holmes?
Klinger: Sean Wright gets some credit, because he was the prime mover of the "Non-Canonical Calabash," the big Los Angeles scion society of the 1970's. Also around this time, I met Barbara Roisman Cooper, who was as interested in Holmes as I was, and who took me to a Calabash meeting. I became active in the Calabash and began doing some public speaking about collecting Holmes. Also, in 1976, a Bay Area Sherlockian named Don Yost (whom I never met) offered his collection of SH for sale (in the Baker Street Journal). Now, prior to that time, I had collected in a very desultory fashion, picking up random books about Sherlock Holmes here and there. I had about 100 books; Yost's collection was 300. When I looked at the list of his collection, however, I realized what trash I had purchased and knew that here was the core of a true Sherlock Holmes collection. It was $3,500, a lot of money for me in 1976, but my (first) wife encouraged me to buy it, and this became the beginning of my collecting mania. My collection now numbers somewhere north of 4,000 books.
Fields: What prompted you to embark on a new annotation of the Canon?
Klinger: I'd always fantasized that someday I might be the person to update Baring-Gould. In the mid-1990's, my wife Sharon (The Woman) encouraged me to start writing about Sherlock Holmes. I wrote a few articles, which were published, and then began to tinker with updating the annotations made by Baring-Gould to a few stories. I showed these to various folks, and I remember well a devastating letter from Chris Roden, pointing out all of the things I was doing wrong. I took his criticisms to heart and redid some annotations. Jon Lellenberg in particular was very encouraging of my work at that point, and Jon introduced me to Steve Doyle and Mark Gagen, who offered to publish the Sherlock Holmes Reference Library. Those began publication in 1998.
Then in 2002, out of the blue, I got a call from Robert Weil, senior editor at W.W. Norton & Co., with an offer to edit a major new edition of the stories in the manner of the Baring-Gould edition. (Later, I found out that Bob called me after Baker Steet Irregular Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, turned down the job but suggested me, because "I was already writing it.") I jumped at the chance, and the result was The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.
Fields: Were you surprised at the public response to your Sherlockian writings? Did you receive any negative feedback from the Sherlockian world?
Klinger: The only negative feedback I ever received was from a few people who thought that their copy of Baring-Gould was still adequate. I was quick to assure them that I wasn't throwing my copy out either. I've always said that I stood upon his shoulders, but I had three great advantages over Baring-Gould: (1) Computers and the Internet made my research far easier and my organization of the material far easier; (2) I had the use of Ronald DeWaal's magnificent bibliography; and (3) most importantly, I got to start with my copy of Baring-Gould!
I was very surprised at the outpouring of praise. I loved writing the book; I can't recall any more joyous "work" in my entire life. Having it received so well was very, very pleasing. And in a million years, I never imagined that I would win the Edgar© for it!
Fields: Do you have any new thoughts on potential scholarly writing in the future?
Klinger: I plan to continue to write the occasional paper on Sherlock Holmes for the Baker Street Journal and for special events (like the Harvard symposium). My next writing project is very unusual. We're going to produce "The Annotated Sandman," a thoroughly annotated version of the award-winning comic-book series by Neil Gaiman, to be published in 4 volumes by D.C. I don't have a publication date yet, but it certainly won't be any earlier than 2012.
Fields: Do you recall the night you received your shilling as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars?
Klinger: It was January 1999, and this was my fifth Dinner in a row. When Mike Whelan read out the investitures, and he started saying, "Now this next individual is very sophisticated...," I said to myself, "Well, another year of waiting." Then he said my name, and I recall leaving my body and floating about a foot off the ground! I can't explain why investiture meant so much to me, but I really, really wanted to be a BSI. I had known of the BSI since my earliest days of collecting, in the 1970's. I actually came to a meeting in 1978 at the behest of Chris Steinbrunner and met Julian Wolff and others, but I guess that I made no impression, because I wasn't invited back! In 1995, however, my long-time friend Andy Peck suggested an invitation, and Tom Stix took pity! Now it's hard for me to remember a time when I wasn't in the BSI. I find it somewhat staggering to think that I've attended 14 Dinners in a row!
Fields: Are you active in any scion societies?
Klinger: Not really "active." I attend the Curious Collectors of Baker Street meetings very occasionally, as well as the Trained Cormorants of Long Beach, usually when asked to speak. I'm a member of the Goose Club of the Alpha Inn of Santa Monica as well, but don't get to those meetings much either. I lurk on the Hounds of the Internet and the ACD list, and I'm nominally a member of the Norwegian Explorers, the Sound of the Baskervilles, the Sydney Passengers, the Men with the Twisted Konjo, and the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, but this is mainly to read their publications. I receive at least a dozen scion society publications monthly and read them all avidly!
Fields: Can you reflect on the Baker Street Irregular history series? Has it been as much fun to edit the volumes, as it has been to read them?
The fun hasn't really begun yet--it will when I start to see the fruits of the volume-editors labors! I expect that the History Series will be just as interesting as the Manuscript Series was. I loved doing that. Significant credit should go to Peter Blau and Don Pollock, who edited the first two volumes and just needed some word-processing help; subsequent editors were no less creditable but had their sterling models to follow. Of course, none of those books (or the International Series, which I worked on as well) would ever have been done without the constant involvement of Mike Whelan. He lets other people take the public credit, but he's been the linchpin of each and every published volume. I'm so proud to be his friend and associated with the books that the BSI has put out.
Fields: Since you are clearly one of the world's preeminent Sherlockians, I am sure you have encountered some rather strange situations. What are some of the more memorable events related to your Sherlockian adventures?
Klinger: My favorite story from my book tours with the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes is the following: In late 2004, I gave a talk at the Newberry Library in Chicago about SH, ACD, and the Canon. A woman came up to me afterward, telling me how delighted she was to have attended. "I'm a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes," she said, "but I didn't know that there were books!" I nearly fell over, but I managed to contain myself and thanked her for coming.
It was a great thrill recently to have Robert Downey, Jr., come over to my home to spend 3 hours talking about his upcoming role as SH, discussing Holmes's character.
Another highlight of my Sherlockian career was my interview with Hugh Hefner, as reported in the Baker Street Journal.
I must say, however, that the greatest moments occur regularly, when I receive letters or e-mails from people around the world telling me how much they love Holmes and my books and thanking me for writing them. You can't imagine how wonderful that feels!
Fields: Aside from Holmes, what are some of your other interests? I am very intrigued by your Annotated Dracula.
Klinger:I have a number of other interests. The "Dracula" book was tremendous fun, because the material dovetailed so nicely with my interest in the Victorian age. Although I'd read "Dracula" many times, I can't say that it was ever a "passion" on a level anything close to Sherlock Holmes. My wife and I are "winos," with a large collection of California wines; I love to cook and spend time cooking in local restaurants, probably once a month. I love magic but had to give up my membership in The Magic Castle, the world's leading club for magicians, because of the distance from our home. And I love my kids and grandkids--can't see enough of them!
Oh, yes, and I practise law full-time, and I still enjoy that!
Fields: AND, could you take a moment or two to recap your life in terms of where you were born, went to school, and things of that nature...I believe it will be a good addition to our interview. I think it will surprise most folks that you are a lawyer…I believe we usually think of you as a writer!
Klinger: I was born and raised in Chicago, attending a wonderful high school called Rich East in Park Forest, Illinois (long before John Nieminski lived there, though). I left in 1964 to attend Berkeley. I thought at the time that I wanted to be a physicist or chemist or mathematician. At Berkeley, I met my first wife and changed to an English major and then (when she politely suggested that I didn't want to be an English teacher) went to law school (at Berkeley--Boalt Hall). I thrived in law school, enjoying it immensely. My parents had meanwhile moved to Los Angeles, and it was an easy decision choosing L.A. over New York for my first law job. I was very fortunate, landing at the biggest and best firm in L.A. (O'Melveny & Myers). I drifted into a tax practice, to my surprise; I discovered that tax law was incredibly stimulating, the hardest "game" ever invented! After 20 years of big firms, in 1990, I opened my own office. Now it's a partnership with 5 lawyers. We represent wealthy individuals, many in the entertainment industry, and advise regarding tax, estate planning, and business law.
In 1971, my first child was born, my daughter Stacy; in 1976, my son Evan was born. In 1989, I divorced my first wife and married my current wife Sharon, acquiring in the process three wonderful stepchildren, Matt (now age 40), Wendy (38), and Amanda (29). I lived in West L.A. and Beverly Hills from 1970 to 2000, when we moved to Malibu. I had the pleasure of having Evan and Amanda live with us, the older kids already out of the house for college. All of our kids live in Southern California (well, Evan's in Thailand at the moment but he'll be moving back shortly), and so we get to see our four grandchildren frequently!
Books on Holmes | Other books by L. Klinger | Klinger's Website
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories
(New York: W. W. Norton, 2004)
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels
(New York: W. W. Norton, 2005)
The New Annotated Dracula (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008)
Other Writings by L. Klinger (from his website)