Greetings from the High Overlord of Planet Peschel!
This is being written on July 1, so I am counting it as meeting my deadline for the newsletter. Two for two, which is good progress. I have a hard time sticking to projects, which is one reason why writing “Writers Gone Wild” took about 15 years.
In the last few years, I’ve been working on building good habits. It’s one of those things you do when you lose your job; you have much more time to spare. The secret to it starts with learning that One Size Does Not Fit All. What works for you does not necessarily work for me.
For example, one strategy I’ve been told for building a habit has been to reward yourself for an accomplishment. This never works. If there’s a reward, say, chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream in the freezer, there’s no way in heck I’m going to do something for it, other than to climb the stairs from my office and tuck in. It simply doesn’t work.
What does work for me is to take up the task in as small as chunk as I’m able. Like this newsletter. Rather than come up with an elaborate, graphic-heavy, feature-rich work of art, I’m starting small. A few paragraphs, no graphics, get it done and out.
You know what also helps in building a good habit? No cats.
COMING IN JULY
“Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches I: 1900-1904” will be coming out this month in trade paperback. I know I said June, but laying out the book took longer than expected. As of today, I laid in all of the illustrations, and I’m looking for a couple more to fill in some holes.
After the trade paperback is published, I’ll be revising the manuscript for ebook production. Fortunately, this will go much faster, and I expect to have the Kindle and other versions available before the end of July.
I like these books to be packed with art, but sometimes the writers didn’t cooperate by getting their picture taken and put on the Internet where I can find them. It’s a treasure hunt, and sometimes, after an hour of looking, I come up with nothing.
It’s when I find illustrations like this that make it worthwhile. This is a newspaper illustration of Jean Leckie, Conan Doyle’s companion during his wife’s decline and his second wife:
THE TWAINLOCK STORIES (Part 2)
Since this newsletter’s getting long, I’ve place a marker here and go in-depth next month.
But I will mention that the next step in writing a Twain/Sherlock pastiche, after collecting story ideas, was to write the blasted things. There’s been two ways to do it:
* Write it beginning to end (“Whyos”).
* Build it up piece by piece, connect the dots, then smooth out the bumps in rewriting (“Jersey Girl,” in the upcoming 1900-1904 edition.
After reading a lot of writing how-tos, I’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t learn how to write a story, just how to write “that” story.
“Whyos” started with a simple fact: that during the Victorian era, wealthy American fathers sold their daughters to impoverished English aristocrats. The English got the money, the Americans got the titles. The most notorious was Consuelo Vanderbilt, who was sold to the 9th Duke of Marlborough. She refused to marry the duke until her mother faked being at death’s door, after which she made a miraculous recovery.
Creating a domestic mystery around it and involving Holmes and Twain was easy, and “Whyos” flowed from first draft to final without much in the way of changes.
“Jersey Girl,” however, was much more troublesome. No Holmes this time, but Irene Adler, a 20-year-old opera singer and bad girl in training. I had decided to set it in Heidelberg, where Twain and family spent three months as he worked on “A Tramp Abroad.” Another reason I wanted to set it in Heidelberg was because of its dueling fraternities. I had visited the city as part of a tour years ago, and wanted to combine my memories of the town with the story.
The problem was: what kind of trouble should Adler/Twain get into? I had pieces to play with: German princes, duels, sexual double-dealing, perhaps an attempted seduction, maybe a scam with the unwitting involvement of Twain? Twain wrote of a trip down the Neckar by raft; could that be used? Nope, he journey from Heilbron to Heidelberg, not the other way around.
Figuring out what story to tell and how to tell it took much of my time and resulted in several false starts. This resulted in a mish-mash of a manuscript, in which sentences and images would be duplicated, motivations were uncertain, and some clearly un-Twain-like sentences were created. At one point, I had stopped working on it. It was a frustrating time, until I realized that one reason for the block was that I was deeply unhappy with it. I had subconsciously rebelled against putting out a substandard story. Once I got out of my own way, I could see the story’s flaws and fix them. I’m very happy with the result, and I hope you will as well.
(Updated to reflect the inexorable passage of time) On July 18, I signing books with thriller writer Don Helin at Cupboard Maker Books in Enola, Pa. I’ll also be appearing at the Murder As You Like It conference at Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop on Sept. 26, and the York Book Expo in York, Pa., on Oct. 17.
I’m a Monty Python fan, but it wasn’t until I was reading Michael Palin’s Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980–1988 just how much of one I was.See, I tend to flit in and out of the culture. I have very little loyalty to an artist, preferring to absorb the best of their work, then look in from time to time to see if they’ve done anything interesting. I like Elton John’s early work, then get disappointed with “Peachtree Road”. Love Amanda Palmer’s “Who Killed” album, but not so much her other work. Terry Pratchett might be one exception, since I’ve read all of his Discworld books and the recent slew of posthumous collections “A Blink of the Screen” and “A Slip of the Keyboard.”
So dipping into Palin’s diaries reminded me of how many works by the Pythoners I’ve absorbed over the decades. Palin’s “The Missionary,” Cleese’s “Clockwise,” Chapman’s “Yellowbeard.” Palin’s travel books (I still recommend “Around the World in 80 Days”, the others are good, but more like other travel docs. “Around the World” gives you the feeling of what it must be like to circumnavigate the globe.)
Like any good diary, Palin’s gives us insight into his day-to-day life, reminding us that it can be fuller than we think. It’s even got me working on a diary (again).