Today, we’ll be looking at two authors who found themselves in money trouble: Patricia Cornwell and Neal Gabler.
It is a truism to remember that persons who do one thing very well does not qualify them as experts on everything, especially when it comes to money. Mark Twain’s investments in a typography machine threw him into bankruptcy. Sir Walter Scott wrote himself into four strokes to pay off massive debts from his unwise investments in his publishing house. Even William Shakespeare resorted to moving across London’s Thames to avoid a tax bill of five shillings.
Even contemporary writers have to learn that money can be a stern taskmaster. Mystery novelist Patricia Cornwell had to learn the hard way that earning millions from penning best-sellers about her coroner-sleuth Kay Scarpetta could not protect her from profligate spending.
To Cornwell, who grew up poor and worked at low-paying jobs such as police reporter and clerk, what appeared to be an unlimited bank account was a license to spend. She thought nothing of impulse-buying a $100,000 Mercedes, or $10,000 in jewelry. She built a staff of seven to help her, bought a home and land worth $3 million, and another $2 million on condos in the Cayman Islands and Hilton Head, S.C. If she needed to be in London to research her next Scarpetta, she dropped everything and flew over on the Concorde.
The energy that fueled her free-spending life and the long hours she put into her books also drove her personal and business relationships as well as a drinking habit. The pressure came to a head when, after a day of work accompanied by a pitcher of Bloody Marys and a couple glass of wine at dinner, she slammed her Mercedes into the back of a stalled van on the Pacific Coast Highway. The car flipped several times leaving her trapped in the wreckage.
The accident served as a wake-up call. For several years, Cornwell sought help for her mental problems. She learned that she was bipolar and subject to manic mood swings. She also put her finances in order by hiring money managers to exercise some restraint on her more extravagant purchases.
How did he get into trouble? By making bad decisions. By refusing to save in the good times and using debt to tide his family over in the bad times. By refusing to pay off his credit cards, diverting some of his income into interest payments. By using his 401(k) account to pay for a daughter’s wedding. By buying a house on the eastern end of Long Island, where prices start at a half-million for a 2-bedroom ranch.
Some of his decisions were not his fault. He tried to sell their Brooklyn co-op apartment when he had bought the house, but the co-op board rejected some of his buyers and he had to sell at a steep loss. His large book advance forced him to pay a hefty tax bill (although I wonder if he couldn’t arrange with his publisher to spread his advance over years to reduce his liability).
Although Gabler claimed responsibility for his financial decisions, he also was equally adept at blaming the economy for not growing his income “the way incomes used to grow in America” (for book writers and TV presenters?). He denied living “anywhere near a middle-class life” by the Commerce Department’s standard, which listed homeownership, a car for each adult, health security, a college education for each child, retirement security, and a family vacation each year. Judging by his essay, he might not have checked off the boxes for cars, retirement, and a family vacation, but who needs a car when the LIRR can take you to the city in 2.5 hours (a half-hour longer than by car, which they have), and one daughter went to Stanford / Harvard Med and the other to Emory and Texas (for her master’s) so she can be a licensed social worker? Doesn’t sound like any middle-class life I’ve lived.
The point is not to kick Neal Gabler, although that’s a lot of fun. His attempts to accept and evade responsibility, to be forthright about his flaws (he admits not talking to his wife about any of these issues; bet that was a fun conversation) and at the same time blame a system that was not supposed to be unfair, is awe-inspiring. High schools should use his essay to teach critical reading skills such as bullshit detection.
Instead, Gabler should stand as a model for how not to spend money. How you should get your partner involved in money discussions (assuming that they’re mature enough to handle it). To be aware that marketers are skilled at using weaknesses common to humanity — the desire for status, the need to be flattered, the shading of truth, the way it bends words so that “second mortgage” becomes a benign “line of credit” — to ensnare you in debt, to spend your future income for today’s purchases.
Think of your income this way: You have a limited lifespan. You can earn only so much money during that time, barring surprise successes. Make your purchase decisions knowing that you have to use that treasure to pay for everything. Do that, and you’ll already be smarter than Gabler.
Last week, we looked at some of the NotQuilts I’ve made for my family and friends. This week, we’ll look at more of them, so you can see how I evolved my techniques for designing NotQuilts.
Our bedspread of the Night Sky
This was the first one that I made that had a planned design. Our bedroom is designed for sleeping. It is painted in deep shades of blue with sparkly silver and gold stars. The rug is more deep shades of blue and green, and the drapes are heavy, lined, and backed by room-darkening shades. When I painted this room, long, long ago, Bill worked eves and had to sleep into the morning. The decorating scheme made the room dark, quiet, and relaxing. It reminds me of a night sky, full of stars.
I wanted that theme in the bedspread. I started with a king-size bedspread from the Goodwill bargain bin. The comforter had the drawback of having the center panel separated from the two side panels by heavy lines of piping. I am sure this was both a design element and a way to reinforce the seams required by a massively wide bedspread.
I unpicked the bedspread and ripped out the piping and the outer edge seams. I saved the heavy piping for a future project. The outer edge seams were ironed flat as were the parallel seams that had enclosed the piping. I sewed the side panels back to the center strip, overlapping them by about ½ inch. The raw edges were zigzagged on the front and back to force them flat. I was fairly sure that this bulky layer wouldn’t cause trouble when sewing down the patches and it didn’t. It isn’t noticeable unless you go looking for it.
Because this NotQuilt was so large, I needed to consider the corners. Square corners hang lower than a shaped corner. Dear Daughter’s pink NotQuilt came with rounded bottom edges and I liked that. The bottom corners on this bedspread hung too low, ensuring that I would step on them. I cut them off, making a sharp angle. This allowed the finished NotQuilt to hang very nicely on the bed.
At the same Goodwill I found a new set of crib bumpers, a nice blue with stars and little squiggles. Like the king-sized bedspread, it was a dollar, so this was the only fabric I bought specifically for this NotQuilt. I love Goodwill.
I disassembled fabric from the crib bumpers, ripping every seam, washing the fabric, and ironing it flat. This fabric forms the frame separating the central medallion from the border of rectangles.
The back of this quilt was fabric I had bought 15 years ago when I had the mad idea that I was going to sew a complete matching nursery for Oldest Son when I was home on maternity leave. Naturally, they never got made and the fabric stayed in the stash until now. It took a long time to find a use for it. There’s not much call for a baby blanket motif of cute little sea creatures.
Fortunately, the background color is a nice deep blue and many of the sea creatures are starfish! If you don’t look carefully – and who looks at the backs of quilts? – the design disappears into the overall theme of stars.
After sewing on the backing fabric, I laid down the crib bumper fabric of blue with stars. I made a large rectangle frame that touched the top and bottom of the bedspread, and at the bottom edge, extended to the two sides. The navy blue fabric at the top corners and the bottom angled corners came from a set of sheets I had bought to make pillowcases. It fit the theme very well, I had a lot of it, and I eventually used it to make the binding as well.
I did NOT extend the blue squiggle stars to the sides at the top as I knew it wouldn’t look right when the bed was made. I designed the sides to allow the NotQuilt to cover the pillows and still look correct.
There are four squares of outer space fabric that extend from the center medallion into the blue squiggle stars. These squares were carefully placed so when they line up with the corners of the mattress and the pillows, the NotQuilt hangs evenly and neatly. They were sewed on last, as I had to pin them in place while the NotQuilt was on the bed.
I sewed the medallion, overlapping all the starry fabric from my stash. After the medallion was done, I sewed down the tall, skinny rectangles to make the border. The idea was to give the illusion of skyscrapers against a night sky. Both in the medallion and in the border, I reused the same limited palette of starry fabrics over and over, spacing them out as looked best. The medallion is more regular than it first appears. Match up the fabric pieces and you can see that they are arranged with each other in pairs and sets of four. The border rectangles all have their corresponding partner on the far side, mirroring each other.
The binding was last, a very wide strip of repurposed bed sheet wrapped around the back and the front. I couldn’t manage to miter those damn corners nicely so I squared them off with much swearing and hand-sewing. This was particularly true of the angled corners at the bottom edge. The binding is cut on the grain, not the bias, but I haven’t had any problems with wear and tear. These were good, heavy percale sheets.
I have been very happy with this. Designing NotQuilts is not an exact science. I never quite know what the final result will be until the last patch is sewn down. This worked out beautifully. It cost almost nothing, it fits the theme of my bedroom, and it looks like I planned it all along.
Floral Comforter in shades of green
Designing NotQuilts like this one was a challenge. I had a king-size waterbed comforter that needed to be transformed. That made this NotQuilt far wider than it is tall. The comforter was suffering from all the problems of its dime-store kin: the awful plastic thread was breaking loose, the fabric was tearing in many tiny spots, and the batting was shredding and clumping.
The batting was the main problem, as the patching process would cover the other ones. I opened the edge seams and tried to pull the curled, clumped batting flat so I could sew it down into submission. This didn’t work as well as I hoped. When you look at the pictures, you can see that the NotQuilt isn’t as square on the edges as you would expect. The comforter fought me at every turn.
Looking back, I should have taken the outermost row of stitching as my edges, sewn around them and cut off the excess. Of course, if I had done that, the NotQuilt would be even more oddly sized than it is. Part of the reason the batting misbehaved so much was the plastic thread tearing out. If it had remained in place, holding the batting down, the finished NotQuilt would be smoother all over. The edges were a lost cause long ago as the batting there started clumping the second time it went into the washer.
I wanted green florals for the front as I had plenty of this fabric. The backing and binding also came from the stash as I wasn’t going to spend any money.
I didn’t have enough of anything for the backing. I ended up with the sea shell fabric as the center, the ugly brown sunflowers on three sides, and the rectangle sunflowers as the fourth side of the back, plus the binding. I cut very carefully, with no waste and still ran out of fabric. If you look closely, there is a rectangle of blue dotted cloth that fills in what would otherwise be a bare spot.
On the front of the NotQuilt, I sewed down the dark green floral square to act as a frame for the center medallion and the border. For some reason, the pieces of green were sewn separately rather than as single, long framing strips. I don’t remember why.
I tried to be much more systematic in laying out the green floral pieces. The cabbage cloth shows up very well because of its bright green color. You can see that they are spaced pretty evenly around the edge.
The fabric pieces are paired in sets like the cabbages, whether in the border rectangles or in the medallion center.
The real issue with this comforter was the lumpy the batting. The NotQuilt doesn’t lay as flat as it could and the unevenness made the sewing more of a challenge. When I finally bound off the edges, using the rectangle sunflowers, some of the bound edges are fat with batting and others don’t have any stuffing in them at all. Fortunately, the edges don’t provide warmth, just even, symmetrical sides. Binding can cover many sins and lumpy edges are one of them.
The colors have remained beautiful and bright because this NotQuilt rarely sees the light of day or a washing machine. These are the colors you want to see in a quilt; vivid, clear, and glorious.
Grandma’s NotQuilt, trees, floral, primarily green and blue
This is the first NotQuilt I made as a gift and the first one that went outside of my household.
I made it for my mother. She had wanted a quilt from me for a long time. I wanted to stick with greens and blues in a floral motif as my mother is an avid gardener.
When I made this NotQuilt years and years ago, I was still not controlling the layout other than with the color scheme and themed fabric. I can see now that this is a weakness.
I purchased two pieces of cloth for this NotQuilt. The backing is a grassy meadow covered with tiny wildflowers. I also bought, as a unifying fabric, the trees against blue water. The binding was purchased standard quilt binding in green. I bought far more of the backing and green tree cloth than I needed and both of these fabrics have since shown up, in smaller and smaller pieces, in other NotQuilts.
Using up paid-for scrap fabric saves money. It isn’t nearly as much fun as going to the fabric store and buying something new and delicious but it also prevents one’s dear husband from saying upon seeing yet another bag from Joann’s, “You have twenty five bins of material already. Why do you need more?” This is why you should never let your spouse see the bag. Non-sewing people just don’t understand the allure of possibility in fresh, uncut yard goods.
Anyway, looking at the pictures of the NotQuilt now, I believe I was getting the idea of imposing order via fabric choices. Thus I used the green tree fabric (always right side up) all over the fashion surface of the NotQuilt, trying for an underlying design.
I started with a lightweight summer blanket in white and backed it with the grassy, flowery meadow cloth. I then sewed on the green trees all over the surface of the NotQuilt, including each of the four corners. After that, I filled in with whatever I thought my mother would like from my vast assortment of green floral scraps.
The whiteness of the blanket filler meant that I could use lighter weight, more sheer fabric and still have the colors be true. A blanket filler that has a color will force you to use heavier fabrics to prevent this bleed through and color change.
There is very little plan in this NotQuilt and it shows. If I were to remake this NotQuilt today, I would start with a solid green that coordinated with the binding. I’d lay out a grid. Then I would fill in the blank spaces with the florals.
This looks so random and busy. There are no solids at all. Only the fading brought on by time is controlling the surface.
But my mother likes it, and I was still learning.
NEXT WEEK: The third and final part of the NotQuilt story, featuring the Quilt From Hell!
I had been curious about Medium as a publishing platform, and since I was also thinking about these writers, who are making money with their stories in spite of spelling errors, grammatical problems, and other crimes against the English language, I decided to post it there.
Medium was started by a couple of programmers responsible for Blogger. They were discouraged by Google’s unwillingness to improve the service, so they took their warm stock options and left to form Medium.
As a publishing platform, Medium is ultra friendly to beginners. You sign up with your Google / Facebook / Twitter / email accounts, click on Write a New Story, and you see this:
The key commands are at the bottom, and there are context-sensitive commands available as well.
Adding images are a breeze. Grab one off your desktop, drop it where you want it to go, and it uploads and appears. If you see a green border around the artwork, you can do things to manipulate it (otherwise, you’re in story mode).
No coding required.
There’s even an option where you can create a Publication. This lets you create a website with menus for each subject, and a workflow where people can contribute to it through you so you can edit the posts.
They even have an option to migrate your WordPress site over to it, and for a fee you can use your own URL and other features.
Don’t get me wrong; I like WordPress (coming from Blogger and Expression Engine, how could I not?). But despite its ease of use, it is still complex enough to discourage writers who didn’t grow up programming. To have a nice-looking website, you can use themes, but they still demand some tweaking to make them look a little more personal.
Medium doesn’t have much room for personality except in your writing and in the images you upload. But for ease of use, it’s fantastic.
So long as the site’s in business, that is, and that is it’s weakness. A writer interested in the long haul wants to own the website. If you have your site on Blogger or Blogspot (like Paperback Writer), chances are it’ll stay around as long as Google is up and running.
But if you’re just starting and don’t want to jump into your own website yet, Medium’s worth checking out.
This is the second post reprinting biographical essays about Arthur Conan Doyle and World War I from “Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1915-1919.”
Each year begins with a summary of Arthur Conan Doyle’s life during that year. They’re a little more detailed than a Wikipedia entry, but shorter than a book-length biography. I tried to strike a balance between getting in the highlights, and also the anecdotes that help to shape our understanding of the man.
Last week, we covered the years 1915 and 1916. This week, you’ll get two essays from 1917 and 1918, followed by 1919 and a parody from that year. This will cover his support for the British Army during World War I, the deaths of family members, and his public conversion to Spiritualism that will define the rest of his life.
The war remained very much on Conan Doyle’s mind, as it did for everyone who had sons, husbands, and fathers in the fight. He worked on his history of the war and promoted his ideas for fighting it with anyone in power who would listen. Over breakfast with the newly installed prime minister, Lloyd George, he advocated outfitting soldiers with body armor, reasoning that if Bibles and papers can stop a bullet, why not plate? He was pleased that the new leader was “very keen” on the idea, and thought that the nation had “a vigorous virile hand” at the helm.
Now that he had declared himself a Spiritualist, he was free to campaign on its behalf. He addressed the London Spiritualist Alliance and defended physicist Oliver Lodge’s beliefs in “The Strand.” His support alarmed his sister, Ida, and the two exchanged letters in which he described an afterlife where “we carry on our wisdom, our knowledge, our art, literature, music, architecture, but all with a far wider sweep … What is there so dreadfully depressing in all this?”
By summer, Conan Doyle was exhausted enough to alarm his doctor, who advised that he quit the volunteers. Instead, he cancelled his war lectures, but kept up his Spiritualist speeches.
In September, “The Strand” declared that “Sherlock Holmes outwits a German spy.” Inside its pages was “His Last Bow: The War Service of Sherlock Holmes.” Through Holmes, Conan Doyle reassured Britain that although a bitter wind is blowing through England, “it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.” It was so important to get the message out that “His Last Bow” would come out the next month in a collection with only seven other stories.
On Oct. 25, he gave what he thought was the most important lecture of his life. “The New Revelation” was intended to align Spiritualism with the church. “It is the first attempt to show what the real meaning is of the modern spiritual movement,” he wrote his mother, “and it puts into the hands of the clergy such a weapon against Materialism, which is their real enemy, as they never had.” He was pleased with the response and predicted that “I seem to see a second Reformation coming in this country. The folk await a message, and the message is there.”
The war had been going on for more than three years and there was a desperate need for trained surgeons. As a fourth-year medical student, his son Kingsley qualified to be sent home to finish his studies. Reluctant to leave his comrades at the front line, he nevertheless obeyed orders. As the year ended, Conan Doyle, Kingsley, and Innes, along with the rest of the family gathered to celebrate Christmas. It would be the last one Conan Doyle would spend with his son.
Publications: Holmes in “The Strand”: “His Last Bow” (Sept.). Holmes: “His Last Bow” (Oct.). Other: “The British Campaign in France and Flanders, Vol. 2” (July).
The new year began with Conan Doyle’s family still together from the holidays. Innes was on leave from the front, and Kingsley, detached from the army, was studying medicine in London. Conan Doyle helped celebrate the baptism of Innes’ second son with Kingsley standing as godfather. A few days later, Innes visited Buckingham Palace, where he was invested by the king as a Companion of St. Michael and St. George. At a celebration that evening, Conan Doyle watched as his brother wore for the first time his brigadier’s uniform. The next day, he would return to the front.
In the meantime, Conan Doyle continued work on his war history, finishing the 1917 volume by March. He also found the time to listen to the charming chatter of his young children—Denis was 9, Adrian 8 and Jean 6—to publish as sketches in “The Strand.” In late August, his Spiritualism lecture tour reached Southsea, where he had first set up as a practitioner all those years ago. He rested by swimming every day, including a time spent during a full gale “when I was the only bather, so I feel virtuous.”
There was also time for one last visit to the front. Invited by the Australian government to visit their troops, he spent four days among them and observed preparations for the attack on Germany’s Hindenburg line.
Back home, he received a couple of interesting letters from a stranger in Glasgow. During a séance, he was asked to tell Conan Doyle that “Oscar Honourin”—the ghost of his sister’s son with E.W. Hornung—would help him with his Spiritualism cause. While he wondered why the spirit would mispronounce his own last name, he added, “This is very remarkable, is it not?”
Throughout the war, Kingsley carried on in his father’s spirit. Again and again, his officers described his drive and cheerfulness under the most dangerous conditions. He survived numerous battles, and had returned safely to England. But in London, he and his sister Mary were struck down with the Spanish flu that was sweeping the world. While Conan Doyle prepared to lecture in Nottingham, he received a telegram: Kingsley was dying. He gave his lecture, and soon after heard that his son was dead. He was 25. Conan Doyle carried on with his scheduled talks. “Had I not been a Spiritualist,” he wrote later, “I could not have spoken that night. As it was, I was able to go straight on the platform and tell the meeting that I knew my son had survived the grave, and that there was no need to worry.”
For Mary, who recovered from her illness, losing her sole sibling “was the greatest sorrow of my life, for we were so close.” All she had left of her family was her father, who was occupied with his writing, the war, Spiritualism, his new wife, and growing family. After his son’s burial, he wrote his brother, Innes, that “I have every hope of speedily being in touch again.” Ten days later, on Nov. 11, the war ended. To Conan Doyle, the bitter wind had swept the land, and the victory meant “Britain had not weakened. She was still the Britain of old.” Publications: “The New Revelation” (April); “The British Campaign in France and Flanders, Vol. 3” (April); “Danger! and Other Stories” (Dec.).
When it comes to rain-shortened Arts on Chocolates, we’re two for two.
They came earlier this year. By 1 p.m. the clouds were building up, and a half-hour later the crowds were moving for their cars and high winds were snapping the sides of our canopy like boys’ towels in a high school locker room.
Otherwise, it was a fun event. There were more vendors than last year, with many on the blocked-off part of Cocoa Avenue between the Community Building Lot and Chocolate Town Square. This made it easier for visitors to cross the street.
We were situated near our last spot, on a place overlooking the intersection with Chocolate Avenue. This mean at least half the visitors passed close enough to us to stop, take a cookie and a recipe, listen to our spiel and maybe even buy some books.
This year’s score: 11 books and 2 tote bags sold, and a lot of catalogs and flyers given away.
As I mentioned before, that’s the primary reason for doing these shows. Sure, it would be nice to sell out. We priced the books to sell — believe me, getting a copy of the 500-page “Secret Adversary” packed with goodies is a steal at that price — but we also want to spread the word. That we have a line of ebooks, that we’re local (“the only Hershey product not made of chocolate” became our throwaway joke), that these books make great gifts for fans of Sherlock / Christie / Sayers or (in the case of “Writers Gone Wild”) for lit grads or writers.
This time, we also got some repeat business. One woman showed up, said she hadn’t gotten around to reading the Punch book on her stack, but bought three Sherlock books!
And that’s part of the fun as well is getting to talk to readers about books and writing and listening to their stories. I just wish we had more time to hear them.
At first, the idea of having a file system seems ludicrous, maybe even pretentious. You’re writing short stories, maybe sketches. A couple of printed pages. Maybe keeping a notebook. Not much of a threat to your sanity, right?
A year of steady writing, however, and the situation has changed. You have a file cabinet, notebooks or binders containing your manuscripts. A computer with an external hard drive. A desk with a printer, scanner, Wi-Fi box, monitor, a cup for hot drinks and a cup with pens.
And books. Lots and lots of books.
How do you organize it? What do you keep and what do you throw away?
So let’s back out of dreamland and on to more practical considerations. Organizing your work does not need to cause trauma. Just foresight and a system.
I would recommend “Getting Things Done.” David Allen devised a system that captures all the material, thoughts, notes, and emails, and helps you decide whether they are “actionable” (meaning they require some work on your part) or worth filing for later use. If the latter, you store them in a dedicated place until the end of the week, when you file them all.
If they’re actionable, you decide whether they can be accomplished in five minutes or longer. If the former, you perform the action. If not, then you need to break the item down into “Next Actions,” Allen’s term for a manageable part of the larger task.
With your work broken down like that, your day becomes a series of performing Next Actions so that at the end of the day, you’ll have a lot accomplished, and you’ll know where to pick up your work the next day.
There’s much more to the system, so I would recommend getting the book. I have read my copy several times; it is one of the few books that has several pages of notes in it so I can refresh my memory and get back on track.
1. Writing by File Folder
The backbone of Allen’s “Getting Things Done” system is the A-Z folder system. He recommends using just 26 folders, with the option to break out material if they all belong to a single project. Apart from that, you don’t want to go beyond A-to-Z. If you use lots of subfolders, it becomes easy to lose track of where important material went. Keep it simple as you can.
This also applies to a technique I call “Writing by File Folder.” I have a lot of ideas for stories and books. More than I can use in a single lifetime. They can be great nuisances at times. I can be in the middle of a novel, and realize that a character can be broken off into a series. In my spare time, I may come up with several story ideas about that character, each of them demanding that they be written right now.
Of course, my mind is trying to throw me off track. It wants to distract me from the hard, boring part of writing — getting it down on paper — and dive back into my imagination. Because it’s fun to imagine a story. It’s pure and whole and perfect and you know it would be a best-selling story. More than that lifeless lump on the page right now, the one that needs massaging and rewriting before it can assume a semblance of what it looked like in your mind.
When that happens, capture the idea. Write it down. Then stick it in a folder and forget about it. Once it’s out of your head, you know that you can come back to it later and see if it’s worth pursuing.
That’s one of the benefits of the GTD system. We try to keep track of so many tasks and errands in our head that it becomes difficult to focus on your work. By putting it all down on paper and stored where you can find it again, it becomes easier to work, because your brain knows it no longer has to keep track of all those tasks.
Writing by File Folder also helps you store material for future books, especially non-fiction works. You start with 26 folders, lettered A to Z, and when you come across a newspaper clipping, magazine article, speech transcript, book review, printout from a website — anything that pertains to your book idea — you throw it into the proper folder and forget about it.
That’s how I wrote “Writers Gone Wild.” For years, I can across stories about writers from book reviews and feature articles, and I would print them out, label them on the side with the author’s name (or subject, such as sex, feuds, frauds, reviews, etc.) and file it in the proper folder.
For material on websites, I cut and pasted them into a Word file and saved them in the A-Z folders, plus folders on subjects such as feuds, bad reviews, fraud, and love affairs, in my Writers Gone Wild main folder (I also have a folder reserved for interesting art such as author photos, advertisements, movie clips and the like).
I have a similar system set up for other books in the series, including Hollywood, comic artists and writers, and sex. I still throw material into the WGW folders for a possible sequel.
To handle future book projects, a set of 26 folders has already been set up. By selecting them all and copying them, I can move to a folder with the new book’s title, open that, and select paste. That saves me time setting up a new book idea.
Now, you don’t have to do things this way. You may have a system that works perfectly for you. That’s all right, because it meets the CIA Third Law:
So whenever you come across a story, online or in a book, copy it to your folder. For computer files, consider using a system that renames it to something you can use to find it again. For my Gone Wild books, the files are organized by the last name of the person involved, with a few keywords identifying its contents. For a story about Alfred Hitchcock’s treatment of his actresses, it might be called “HITCHCOCK Blonde Obsession.docx.” If a date is needed, I use a six-number code consisting of the year / month / day (e.g., April 1, 2016 would be 160401).
2. Using Other Systems
Writer have found plenty of ways to keep track of their material. Here are a few of them:
* MS OneNote. OneNote also has optical-character recognition software built in that will scan artwork and translate the results into a Word file. Its accuracy depends upon the quality of the scan. I have found it able to “read” a high-quality file with nearly 100% accuracy. Even if it delivers 75% accuracy, it might still be faster than keying in the document manually.
* Firefox’s Scrapbook plugin. I use this to save entire web pages that I can call back up in my browser.
To better understand the construction and thinking behind NotQuilts, I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks displaying the ones I’ve made for my family and friends and the thinking that went into each design.
I hope that you’ll take away from this that it is easier to make these than quilts, yet still gives you the freedom to express yourself by making beautiful objects that will keep your family warm. They may even treasure these.
Oldest Son’s first NotQuilt, done in shades of blue with a red backing
This is my very first NotQuilt. It started with an old, cheap blanket that was dotted with cigarette burns. The holes needed to be covered so I started sewing on patches. I sewed on great big squares of fabric in various shades of blue, not paying any attention to the layout. The fabric patches were so big, I had to roughly quilt them in place, running lines of stitching through the patches and dividing them into segments.
When I covered the front, I sewed on the backing of red rayon with white rings. I realized that the backing needed to be better secured to the front so I sewed it down with more lines of stitching. Then I added the red, store-bought quilt binding.
This NotQuilt has been repaired with new patches. It doesn’t show that much on the front, but you can see the stitch lines clearly on the relatively plain back. Those small polygons of stitching really show up. Future NotQuilts have much more sewing visible on the back.
Dear Daughter’s shades of pink converted bedspread
Next, I began a NotQuilt for Dear Daughter’s day bed. At the thrift store, I came across a large, off-white bedspread. It had the usual skimpy layer of batting with a backing fabric that was whispy-thin. I liked the curved edges and wanted to keep them.
I ripped out the edges of the bedspread and ironed them flat. That became the new edge. I had learned from the first NotQuilt to attach the backing first so I bought enough cloudy gray flannel to cover the back, going for added warmth. This also added weight.
I covered the front with various shades of pink patches. This one has a bit more planning. I had some black floral fabric and I ripped that into six segments and spaced them evenly down both sides. I did the same with the other pieces, spacing them regularly on the surface. This NotQuilt ended up with larger pieces at the edges and smaller pieces in the center area. You can consider this as an effort to work out a border and a center medallion.
When that was finished, I bound off the raw edges by folding over the backing flannel around to the front. Then I sewed two lines of pink bias tape to cover the flannel’s raw edge and to add a decorative note.
This NotQuilt has been patched, yet the patches disappear into the motley surface. It needs a few more patches as two more of the original fabrics have disintegrated with age.
A Few Words About Fading
When I made this quilt, the fabrics were new and bright. Time, sunlight, and washing have faded most of them to pale visions of themselves. The first six pieces were black with a bright floral design. Now they are a uniform drab, ghostly floral.
So consider this a warning from my experiences: Don’t sew with pre-faded fabrics that pretend to look old. They’ll do that on their own, no matter what you do. Start with bright, rich colors and enjoy them while they last.
Also, do not be deceived by the few bright pieces into thinking that they are the most recent set of patches. Some are, but some are original. Polyester blends kept their colors far better than the 100% cottons. There are some pieces in here that came from a bag of muumuu scraps I bought while stationed in Hawaii. Those scraps are 100% polyester and they have held up great, better than some of those fine quilting cottons.
As long as the weights of the fabrics are similar, I have found that the composition (cotton, polyester, rayon, etc.) doesn’t matter that much. I do make sure to preshrink every piece of fabric before using it in a NotQuilt. I want to be positive that the finished product can be machine-washed in hot water and dried in a dryer.
It’s a terrible thing to put weeks and weeks of woman-hours into a quilt, wash it, and watch it rip.
This NotQuilt has been waiting patiently for its next round of repairs. The patches, as long as I keep them to the same color family of pinks, will blend right in. They only stand out because they aren’t faded, like the original work was.
Dear Daughter’s flannel NotQuilt
This NotQuilt is much smaller than the two previous efforts. I have no idea what is inside of it, a mattress pad maybe. The backing fabric was sewn on first. This NotQuilt became a chance to use my vast collection of flannel bits.
I make flannel baby blankets for baby shower gifts, and I always save my scraps. A 1-yard piece of flannel cuts into a 1-yard square receiving blanket with a strip left over. Then I trim off a triangle at each corner to round the edges nicely.
So when I came to this NotQuilt, I had a large stash of baby fabric flannel, both in strips and squares and a lot of small triangles.
If you look carefully, you will see the triangles sewn back together into a pinwheel block. There are eleven pinwheels in all, and I organized the colors before sewing them together so that they matched up.
This NotQuilt is far more organized than it looks. Every scrap that had a definite up and down orientation is sewn down to match that orientation. Every scrap has its counterpart on the quilt, spaced apart. The Garfield coffee and donuts and the tie-dye pink hearts are the easiest to notice. The pinwheel blocks are spaced sort of evenly across the top.
I am fairly sure that I sewed the center pieces first and then ran a rough border of rectangles all around the edges. There was a nice pink pattern square in each corner. Time and washing have faded those fabrics to bland nothingness, along with many of the other scraps.
I chose a lightweight cotton for the backing as I didn’t want any more weight than the NotQuilt already had with all that pieced flannel. Every stitch line from the front shows on the back and you can see the overlapping lines as one rectangle is sewn over another.
The binding is a standard, purchased quilt binding of pink, and it too has faded.
Because of its surface, this NotQuilt will have to be patched with more flannel. It won’t look right to use regular cloth, no matter what the pattern is.
Younger Son’s heavily mended NotQuilt of jungle animals
Inside this NotQuilt is another cheap discount-store blanket. It is about the same size as the first NotQuilt, the blue with the red backing.
I purchased a backing fabric for this NotQuilt of green foliage with lizards. That got sewed on first.
The front has been repatched multiple times so it is hard to see the underlying pattern. For Younger Son, I wanted jungle animals. At first, I used more babyish patterns as he was very young when I made this NotQuilt. As he got older, I patched using more adult jungle themes.
This NotQuilt had a definite arrangement of fabrics with a border of rectangles on all four sides. The original array of fabrics has been concealed by two or three layers of patching.
Younger Son has the annoying habit of using his bed as a work station for disemboweling small appliances. Sharp pointy tools, screws, and wires did not do the surface of this quilt any favors, nor did his shoes and uncut toenails. His NotQuilt has torn repeatedly in a way that none of the other ones have.
YS’s theory is that his NotQuilt was prominently displayed in full sun for years and that the sun weakened the sturdiness of the fabric. This could be true, although none of the other NotQuilts I have made have shown this much wear.
YS had dust mite allergies; he has since mercifully outgrown them. Therefore, this NotQuilt got washed on a near-weekly basis in hot water with a cold-water rinse. Most of the times, after washing, it went on the clothesline upside down to spare the fashion fabric surface. Sometimes, it went into the dryer. It is very likely that getting washed every week added to the wear and tear.
Washing machines abrade fabric when they rub the clothes up against each other in the hot, sudsy water. Dryer do damage too; all that lint you collect in the lint filter comes from abraded fabric.
This is why many people do not wash their quilts. They may dry-clean them, or hang them out on a regular basis to air them. Those quilts don’t feel the touch of hot water very often.
One of the great things about NotQuilts is that they are made to be patched. This one certainly has. To patch it, I cut off the frayed fabric, iron everything that is left smooth, then cut and sew down a new layer. I generally don’t do a patch job until I have at least five areas to fix.
The repairs don’t show very much on the surface unless you look close. The back is where the multiple stitch lines show up, overlapping each other, running alongside, and criss-crossing endlessly. I have to be careful when sewing on a repair patch as I have to keep the seams from stacking up. I offset each patch so as to minimize bulk where multiple seam lines cross.
Again, the back of the NotQuilt shows this more clearly.
I still like the way this one looks and I really like the fact that I can repair it endlessly.
Subtitle – “The Singular Adventure of the Man with the Golden Pince Nez” is a clear reference to “The Adventure of the Golden Pince Nez” in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
General: Bunter sounds a lot like Brunton, the butler in “The Musgrave Ritual.”
Ch. I, p. 13 – “enter Sherlock Holmes, disguised as a walking gentleman”
Ch. II, pp. 24 & 25 – the references to coffee and brandy are reminiscent of the two favorite beverages in the Canon.
p. 33 – “unless he [Levy] was a most consummate actor” – which Holmes, of course, was, as is stated variously in the Canon.
p. 38 – “Did you realize the importance of that?” LP asks Parker. The whole conversation, including Lord Peter’s put-down of Parker, reads like a bit out of the Canon with Holmes chiding Watson for his lack of deduction from observation.
It should not be surprising that Sayers was a great player of the Game. She wrote essays about “The Red-Headed League,” Watson’s multiple marriages, and Holmes’ birth date. These essays were collected in a small book. In the early 1930s, she became a charter member of the Sherlock Holmes Society, which faded during WWII, but like Holmes was resurrected.
It’s the month of May, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. We’ve enjoyed cool and rainy weather so far, but we’re still coming out Saturday to Hershey’s Chocolatetown Square for Art on Chocolate 2016.
We’ll be there all day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with our full line of books. Over the past year, we’ve published volumes 2, 3, and 5 in the 223B Casebook Series and the final volume in the Rugeley Poisoner series. We’ll also be happy to talk about our future projects such as “Ride of My Life,” “Her Martian Tiger,” the TwainLock stories and more.
Even if you’re not interested in the books, come out anyway. The fair has grown in size as more and more musicians, artisans, craftspeople and other producers of cool stuff discover that Hershey is more than a chocolate-bar wrapper.
We look forward to seeing you on Saturday, May 14th!
We’re going to do something a little different for the next couple of weeks. Instead of running parodies and pastiches, I want to reprint brief essays about Arthur Conan Doyle and World War I from “Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1915-1919.”
As readers of the 223B Casebook Series know, each year begins with a summary of Arthur Conan Doyle’s life during that year. They’re a little more detailed than a Wikipedia entry, but shorter than an actual biography. I tried to strike a balance between getting in the highlights, and also the anecdotes that help to shape our understanding of the man.
This week, you’ll get two essays from 1915 and 1916. Next week, it’ll be 1917 and 1918, followed by 1919 and a parody from that year after that. This will cover his support for the British Army during World War I, the deaths of family members, and his public conversion to Spiritualism that will define his course for the rest of his life.
With his characteristic gusto, Conan Doyle threw himself into supporting Britain in World War I. Rejected from serving as a soldier at age 55, he continued drilling with a volunteer unit, going on route marches and even pulling a shift guarding German prisoners of war. As he did with the Boer War, he began a history of the conflict, soliciting letters from the generals and collecting information from the newspapers. He turned his notes into a lecture, and by March, his “Great Battles of the War” tour was taking him from Scotland to London.
In May, he received a grim confirmation of his prediction that German submarines would attack ships to starve Britain into surrendering. Without warning, the Lusitania was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. Of the 1,962 passengers and crew, 1,191 died, including 128 Americans. Propaganda branded the Germans as barbarians, and the U.S. considered entering the war. Conan Doyle was criticized when reporters inside Germany quoted military sources claiming they got the idea from him. He wrote a letter defending himself, “The Strand” backed him up, and the “stupid business,” as he termed it blew over.
In June, “The Valley of Fear” was published in book form. As in “A Study in Scarlet,” Conan Doyle chose to tell two stories, one a murder solved by Sherlock Holmes, and then the events leading up to it that took place in Pennsylvania decades before. The Valley of Fear disappointed some fans who wanted a novel about Holmes, not half of a two-novella package.
Meanwhile, the war brought more tragedy to the family: in July the only son of sister Mary Doyle and E.W. Hornung was shot in the head and killed. Also killed in battle was Maj. Leslie Oldham, his other sister’s husband, and Alex Forbes, the son of his wife’s sister. Conan Doyle grieved and soldiered on, writing Mary that her son “died a hero’s death” and working Oldham’s name into his history. He could take fearful comfort that his younger brother Innes and his son Kingsley were still alive. As for his mother, the redoubtable Ma’am, the death of her first grandchild was a hard blow to suffer at 78. It would not be the last.
Publications: Holmes in “The Strand”: “The Valley of Fear” (Sept. 1914-May 1915). Holmes: “The Valley of Fear” (June).
This was a momentous year in Conan Doyle’s life, full of hard work, moral campaigns, and the launch of a crusade that would alter his public reputation.
In April, the first installment of “The British Campaign in France and Flanders” was published in “The Strand.” To write his history, he drew on a wealth of documentation, including correspondence with nearly fifty generals. Apart from assimilating all this information quickly, the only problem he had were with the censors, who seemed determined to sabotage him. Their interference had gotten so bad the previous year that he considered abandoning the project. He understood that attention to the war must come first, but it was discouraging, and he was relieved when editor Greenhough Smith told him the opening chapters had been cleared for publication. As for another Holmes story it was impossible, he wrote Smith, “I can’t attune my mind to fiction, I’ve tried but I can’t.”
In the meantime, Italian officials asked Conan Doyle to visit their front. He jumped at the chance to gather first-hand information, expanded their request to include the French lines, and wrestled with the Foreign Office’s request that he appear in uniform. Remembering his appointment as Deputy-Lieutenant of Surrey, he designed a suitable outfit that created “an awe-inspiring effect” when he visited the lines.
In France, he slogged through trenches and ate and drank tea with the troops. He saw that French soldiers were given badges when they were wounded, and passed the idea along to the War Office. Soon, British soldiers began sporting wound stripes. As in the Boer War, he came face to face with the aftermath of battle: mutilated horses, a wounded man with blood spouting from the stump of an arm, and a body “drenched crimson from head to foot, with two great glazed eyes looking upwards through a mask of blood.”
He spent several days with Innes, who introduced him to his fellow officers and took him to see Ypres, the Belgian town where the British Expeditionary Force saw much of the fighting. After leaving Innes, Conan Doyle was given a surprise by Sir Douglas Haig. Arriving by car at a French village, he saw “a tall young officer standing with his back turned. He swung round at the noise of the car, and it was my boy Kingsley with his usual jolly grin upon his weather-stained features. The long arm of GHQ had stretched out and plucked him out of a trench, and there he was.”
The meeting lasted an hour, long enough for Kingsley to describe the next big offensive. He was cheerful and light-hearted as usual. Within weeks after their meeting, Kingsley would spend ten nights preparing for the offensive by sneaking out to the German lines and marking where the barbed wire was uncut. By the beginning of July, Conan Doyle heard that his son had been wounded in the neck by shrapnel. He would spend the next several months recuperating in England.
Meanwhile, he found a new crusade in the treasonous activities of an old acquaintance. In April, a German U-boat landed Sir Roger Casement on the western coast of Ireland. For the last year, he had been in Germany plotting to free India and Ireland from British rule. He tried to raise a battalion from Irish prisoners of war, but they remained disappointingly loyal. His latest scheme involved getting the Germans to supply arms to Irish nationalists planning an uprising over Easter. But as the time approached he realized the support was not enough, and he had returned to urge his revolutionary brethren to cancel the revolt. Shortly after landing, a chance encounter with a policeman resulted in his capture.
His death sentence for treason sparked opposition among those who didn’t want another martyr for the Irish cause. Among them were Conan Doyle, who had worked with him when, as Counsel in the Belgian Congo, Casement tried to open the world’s eyes to the atrocities committed in the name of imperialism. To Conan Doyle, turning away from Britain in its time of national peril meant Casement was insane, and he rallied support on his behalf.
To the government, this was serious. It was one thing for a Socialist crank like George Bernard Shaw to oppose the government; Conan Doyle was loyal to King and country. The government fought back by secretly revealing Casement’s diaries to his supporters in which he recounted his homosexual affairs. His supporters faded, leaving Conan Doyle to stand alone, convinced that his homosexuality was further proof of his friend’s madness.
The campaign failed. Casement marched to his hanging, said one observer, “with the dignity of a prince,” and contemptuous of Conan Doyle’s attempt to cast him as a madman. Ireland had another martyr.
The year was also marked by Conan Doyle’s concern for his family’s well-being. As his mother approached her 80th year, she was happy but growing frail, and he prayed for a “swift and painless” end. As his son recovered from his wounds and prepared to return to the front, he expressed the belief that he was “destined for something if he lives.” But in a rare moment of reflection, he admitted that he knew nothing of his son’s inner life: “He lives behind a very tight mask and all his real interests and thoughts are concealed from me.”
In the meantime, he continued to work on his war history, interrupted only by more lectures. He was asked to consider standing for parliament for Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities. He was willing, despite his distaste for campaigning, but was relieved when circumstances changed and he could decline graciously.
Besides, he had a greater mission in mind, one as noble and true as that which animated “Sir Nigel.” In November, “Light” magazine published “A New Revelation,” in which he proclaimed his conviction, after three decades of study and investigation, that the afterlife existed and its inhabitants are communicating with us. “We should now be at the close of the stage of investigation,” he wrote, “and beginning the period of religious construction.” His future course was set.
Publications: “A Visit to Three Fronts” (Aug.); “The British Campaign in France and Flanders, Vol. 1” (Nov.); “A New Revelation” (Nov.).