Peschel Press at Art on Chocolate 2016

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.

art on chocolate 2016
Last year, I seemed to be saying “here we are, what do we do next?”

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.

art on chocolate 2016
More vendors will set up shop along Chocolate Avenue within sight of Hersheypark.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday, May 14th!

Arthur Conan Doyle in World War I

sherlock holmes parodies
Click on the cover to learn more about the book!
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.

Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1914-1919” is available at all fine online book and ebook sellers, plus New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop. Want to read more parodies and pastiches? The complete list can be found here.

1915

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.

conan doyle great war
A newspaper in Ogden, Utah, announced publication of “The Valley of Fear” on its front page. Click to embiggen.
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).

conan doyle valley of fear
First U.S. edition Valley of Fear cover, left, and the Hard Case Crime edition.

1916

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.

Conan Doyle's advocacy of body armor for British troops was considered newsworthy in America. Click to embiggen.
Conan Doyle’s advocacy of body armor for British troops was considered newsworthy in America. Click to embiggen.
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.).

Defining Your Indie Publishing Company

career indie author

career indie author introduction

As you may have guessed, I’m writing “The Career Indie Author” in chunks. I already have a tentative table of contents written, and every time I have a spare moment, I sit down and hand write several pages of content.

Building your indie publishing company takes time, and although the “CIA” covers a lot of ground, there’s no need to do everything. In fact, you may decide that some sections don’t apply to what you write and publish. That’s fine. Not all publishing houses are the same; why should yours?

This section comes from Chapter 4 “Building Your Company.” Part A covers organizing your company into a sole-proprietorship, LLC, or corporation.

The sections below cover other aspects of becoming an indie publisher.

B. Your indie publishing company’s name, logo

Depending on your ambitions, you can use one name for your business and your imprint. Or, create a name for your company and a name for your imprint.

Why use an imprint? Perhaps you plan on having two types of books: a fantasy series and an erotica series. Having two imprint names lets you set up two web pages.

Should you name your company after yourself? It depends on your goals. Some have argued that not naming it after yourself will make it look less like it came from a self-publisher.

By the time I heard that, I had already published several books (by other authors, with my annotations) from Peschel Press. I thought about rebranding them, or changing the name for new books, but I haven’t had a problem so far, and I have plenty of things to do in the meantime.

Fun With Your Logo

A logo is a visual icon that represents your company. The word is an abbreviation of logotype, a word derived from the Greek words logos (for “word”) and typos (“imprint”). It is a unique symbol used to represent your company, much in the same way that a heraldic shield was used to identify a knight on the battlefield.

Just about anything can be used as a logo. It can include a word such as “Facebook” or “Coca-Cola” in a particular type style. It can be a geographical symbol such as the red triangle for Bass Ale (although I personally prefer Javahead Stout). It can be a drawing such as the running borzoi for Knopf books. It can incorporate all three styles. It can be modified from public domain sources; the Great Seal of the United States inspired the Ramones’ logo. It can have a meaning obvious to the customer, or a private joke, such as the half-naked medieval monk climbing a ladder drawn like a strip of film, the logo for director Terry Gilliam’s Poopoo Pictures.

Indie publishing company logos
Clockwise from top left: Bass Ale was the first company to trademark its red triangle logo, in 1875; the logo with its distinctive name; Terry Gilliam’s Poopoo Pictures; the Ramones’ logo was modified from the U.S. seal; Knoph’s Borzoi.

The Peschel Press logo, while not nearly as humorous, is also basic:

peschel press logo

Gold, green, and a silver ring, all representing money, combined with the company’s initials.

A good logo should be distinctive and easily recognizable whether used on a billboard or on the spine of a book. It’s a difficult combination to pull off, but when it works—watch out!

A logo makes a powerful statement. Anyone (and everyone) can have a company name. Attaching a symbol to it makes it eye-catching and memorable, and makes it look like you have a real business, not a vanity press.

It should be used everywhere: your website, books (ebooks too!), printed catalog pages and flyers, press releases, and everywhere else.

C. Mission Statement and Motto

Mission statements have gotten a bad rap. Clear, actionable. Answer the question: why are you doing this. Think of it as a pitch to yourself and your potential readers.

This is something to consider if you’re thinking about advertising and branding. Mission statements have a bad reputation as a form of makework, a home for clichés.

But mission statements can perform a useful function.

1. It can boil into an easy-to-remember way your company’s purpose. It identifies what it is trying to accomplish. It can clarify in your mind what you’re trying to accomplish, and therefore down the road you can look back and see if what your doing matches your intentions.

2. It can be a source from which you can create your marketing and advertising. It can identify the audience you’re trying to reach, and guide your advertising efforts.

D. Domain names

This is probably one of the most important purchases you can make. You want a name that is accurate and also easy to remember.

First, buy the .com extension. Many people automatically assume that you’re going to be at the .com site, so that should be your first priority. If it is not available, consider the .net extension. But don’t be surprised when some of your potential readers find themselves at the .com site instead.

Next, buy the name you write under. I bought planetpeschel.com for my personal site, but I also own billpeschel.com and redirect to it, but I also have peschelpress.com for my publishing company. I admit it’s kind of confusing, but I had my personal site first, and I didn’t want to completely rearrange it so that it became my business. This way, people who are interested solely in my books can go to one site, and in me and my opinions to the other.

Domain names are pretty cheap, so if you feel you need more, don’t be afraid to buy them. If you use penname(s), buy those as well. Domain sellers such as GoDaddy have a redirect option that allows you to send visitors to those sites to your main website. (For those more technically minded who are familiar with cPanel, the control panel software that gives you a “back door” into your website, it has a redirection option as well.)

Do I need the .com, .net, and .org versions of my name? No. The .com version will be enough. Chances are your company will be too small to be concerned that nefarious actors would trouble to buy your name. But you do want to secure your name before your first book is published. “Domain squatters” have been known to capture a name first, then offer to resell it to you at an inflated price. Again, there is a small chance of that happening at first, but if your book hits a best-seller list, the odds will shrink.

Note: When you buy your domain name, don’t be surprised to find yourself flooded with spam for dictionary placement services, logo creator and social media consultants (you can tell because they’ll all refer to your new URL. The only way to avoid these sharks is to delete their emails or pay extra for private registration that hides your connection to the website.

Making NotQuilts (Part 2)

Sewing-Projects-Banner

Sewing-projects-IntroLast week, I described a NotQuilt, a blanket which uses a repurposed blanket as the middle layer between the backing fabric on the bottom and pieces of fabric sewed into the top layer. It is not a quilt, hence the name, but it fulfills the function of a quilt, lets me use bits and pieces of fabric like a quilt, and lets me express my creative side.

You’ll see what I mean over the next two posts, where I’ll talk about the NotQuilts I’ve made for ourselves, and my family and friends.

Now, I want to get into the process by which I make a NotQuilt.

First, it’s important to match the weights of my fabrics. A flannel NotQuilt should not have non-flannel fabrics. A polyester double knit NotQuilt wouldn’t be anything in the fashion top besides polyester double knit. Doing this makes it easier to sew the layers together and it keeps the NotQuilt from having heavy spots that will weigh on the sleeping body unevenly and could tear apart in the wash.

Second, the middle layer does not consist of batting. I recycle blankets, comforters, bedspreads, mattress pads, and anything else I run across. An old acrylic blanket works very well, as it is made to be washed repeatedly. I get old blankets and bedspreads from yard sales, Goodwill, trash heaps, and as pass-alongs.

I’ve also repurposed bedspreads and comforters. We’ll be addressing the challenges using them later when I write about the cat comforter and the sofa bed bedspread conversion.

Another excellent filling is a dead electric blanket. It will need surgery first. Grab some scissors, wire cutters, and pliers (maybe). Spread the blanket on the floor so you can see the wires. With the wire cutters, cut away the electrical parts right up against the fabric of the blanket. Look where the wires run. At the top and the bottom of each wire loop, snip open a small hole. With the pliers, pull enough of the wiring to cut it at the top and the bottom of each wire loop. Then pull, gently, the entire piece of wiring free from the blanket. Look over the blanket closely to be sure you got all the guts. They will break your sewing machine needles, so get them all.

The wiring can be given to your handy son who will strip it for the copper or it can be recycled or thrown out.

Warning

No matter what the source, wash the bedding in hot water before you start. This is your last chance to preshrink it and remove any unwanted dirt or critters.

Next

If there is a large fabric label, get out your seam ripper and remove it. It will get in the way of the sewing.

Many blankets come with bindings. These are made of the cheapest acetate, and they often collapse long before the blanket does. I remove them, although you don’t have to.

So long as you’re on the clean floor, check to see if the blanket is square. It’s not necessary, but I like to neaten it up. Get your yardstick and chalk. Spread it out nice and even, mark the straight edges with the chalk and trim.

Once the blanket is ready, it’s time to consider how you want the top to look. Do you want it to look totally random, or have a theme?

Backing Up Your NotQuilt

It’s time to sew the backing onto the blanket. Lay it on the floor and pin a big piece of fabric to it. Don’t worry if the piece of fabric isn’t big enough to cover the entire back. I prefer to add strips around the edge as I’ll explain below.

I also don’t worry if the fabric hangs in the middle. So what? I’m not competing for a prize at the county fair.

Try to keep both layers smooth and even as you pin it with a million pins, and then sew together the layers.

I then go back upstairs to my clean carpet, lay out the blanket and pin the second piece of fabric on. It should overlap the first piece and if you’re not using the selvedge as an edge, iron the raw edge under before pinning. Don’t leave any raw edges exposed, other than those at the edges; they’ll be enclosed when the binding is installed. It may take several pieces of fabric to cover the entire back of the blanket.

making notquilts
Click to embiggen.

Once the backing is in place, I trot back upstairs with my blanket. If I want a geometric design of strips to enclose the fabric patches, I snap chalk lines onto the surface. Then I cut or rip long strips of fabric, pin them then sew them down. While pinning, take care to keep all the layers smooth and use a lot of pins.

When a set of framing strips are sewn down, pin on the next set. These strips will have raw edges that will be covered up later.

Once the framework is in place, sort through your scraps and begin sewing pieces down. If the edges show, turn them under and iron down the raw edges. I prefer doing this in sets of five to ten patches until all of the pieces are sewn on.

I try hard to minimize the wrinkles and tucks, but there will be some. I’ve found that it’s best to not make the patches too large, not much bigger than say 12 inches by 12 inches. Patches that are too small become difficult to sew.

The hardest part of making the NotQuilt is maneuvering the big heap of fabric through the sewing machine. This is why I generally don’t sew more than ten patches down at a time. The pins get in the way and since you overlap and overlap, you have to do the bottom pieces first.

This method does lead to a certain random craziness in the design. You don’t know exactly what the finished product will look like.

When the blanket’s surface is covered with patches, it’s time to add the binding. This is done like any other quilt, wrapping the edges in fabric. I don’t miter my corners as I can never get them to lay flat so I square them off instead.

Repairing NotQuilts

NotQuilts are very easy to repair. If a hole or worn spot appears, sew the patch right on top! It will blend right in. You can patch the back, too, and all you see on the front is more stitch lines.

In addition to using up scrap fabric, old sheets, and salvaged blankets, I use up all those partial bobbins and half-empty thread spools. I try to keep to a color family, so that if I’m making a NotQuilt with mostly blue fabrics, I’ll empty out all my partial bobbins of blue and won’t use the red ones.

Planning Your NotQuilt

My first few NotQuilts had some pretty crazy designs. I just sewed on patches, discovered I needed a backing fabric, sewed that on, and then bound the edges.

Now, I plan my NotQuilts. I decide what colors I want. Mostly blue? Autumn colors? Do I want to use up all the flannel scrap? What do I have hanging around that I have a lot of? What needs to be used up? Is this going to go to a specific person?

My nephew Robert’s NotQuilt was made as a gift. Being as he is a happening kind of guy, I knew that he wouldn’t want a quilt that looked like something his grandmother would have made or his mother would have bought. It couldn’t be old-fashioned, old-timey, nostalgic, country or twee, or in any way look like the traditional idea of a quilt. He mentioned he was okay with purple and black. He likes tech.

So I looked over my scrap collection, consisting of many, many Rubbermaid bins sorted by color, and I had mucho scraps with skulls on them, many of them with black backgrounds. I can work with this. I go to Jo-Anns and there on the remnant counter was two pieces of abstract material, a few yards of one and a bit more of the other. The background was white; one piece with triangles of yellow, gray, and black, and one piece with triangles of purple, gray, and black. It was perfect.

So I laid it out, sewed it up, and here is the finished item.

making notquilts skulls tech
Detail from quilt. Click on it to embiggen

There is nothing that says ‘I’ve seen this before’ with this quilt and if you didn’t look close, you would never know it was a NotQuilt instead of a traditional quilt.

I did something similar for my brothers-in-law, Stan and Michael. They got autumn colors as that is what they requested.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

But back to my point, this is how non-quilters can turn out something that looks like a quilt, acts like a quilt, uses all scrap and leftover fabric, and can be washed and repaired. You don’t need a quilting frame, a specialized machine or the space they require.

You do need a sewing machine, an iron and an ironing board, and plenty of pins. A walking foot for your machine will be very, very helpful in controlling wrinkles and creeping fabric. It isn’t necessary — I made the first few NotQuilts without one — but it makes your life easier. Use more pins if you don’t use a walking foot.

I’ve made a bunch of NotQuilts, and while they won’t win any prizes at the county fair, they do what quilts are supposed to do. They keep us warm, they wash well, and they didn’t cost me much other than my time. Win!

Cherchez la Femme (Carolyn Wells Sherlock Parody)

sherlock holmes parodies
Click on the cover to learn more about the book!
Wells wrote a number of stories featuring her Society of Infallible Detectives, two of which appear in “Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1914-1919“. This appeared in the February 1917 issue of The Green Book magazine, with art by Rea Irvin (1881-1972), a graphic artist best known for establishing the art direction of The New Yorker, including drawing its mascot, Eustace Tilley.

Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1914-1919” is available at all fine online book and ebook sellers, plus New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop. Want to read more parodies and pastiches? The complete list can be found here.

Cherchez la Femme

Carolyn Wells

Illustrated by Rea Irvin

The Society of Infallible Detectives was waiting for something to fall for. They hadn’t had a case they could really celebrate for a long time, and their intellects were rusting with disuse.

carolyn wells
Carolyn Wells
“Do look out of the window, Holmes,” Watson said petulantly, to the saturnine resident of the Society. “When you look out, you ’most always see somebody approaching who turns out to be a case.”

Throwing aside his hypodermic needle, with a slight shrug Holmes strode to the window and gazed moodily and tensely down into the street.

“There is some one turning in,” he said slowly, “who may turn out to be a case. If I mistake not, I hear his footprint on the stair.”

Even as he spoke, there was a tap at the door, and a florid-faced young man of twenty-six summers and a half the following fall plumped himself into the room and fell dejectedly into the very chair that Holmes waved him toward.

“As you got on the Ninth Avenue Elevated at Ninety-third Street and got off at Twenty-eighth and Sixth Avenue, you couldn’t very well leave it to be fixed, could you?” observed Holmes sympathetically.

“No,” returned the young man dejectedly. “And the confounded thing—”

“Yes, I know, those cylinder-watches don’t. But what’s the trouble that brings you here?”

The young man stared with the dawning air of amazement that always sooner or later came to Holmes’ clients. “I say,” he began, “how did you know where I got on and off? How did you know my watch had gone back on me? How—”

“I know more than that, Mr. Elmer Ensign. But why do you look for her in people’s kitchens?”

The visitor’s jaw dropped. It was a square, young, well-shaven jaw, but it dropped, while intense surprise was registered by its owner.

“Elementary, my dear sir, elementary. But time is flying. Hadn’t you better state your case? Here we have gathered the whole of our little band of Infallible Detectives, and we can solve your mystery if anybody can.”

“Well, then, gentlemen, it’s a case of kidnaping.”

Quite a number of ah’s escaped from the sphinx-like countenances of the detectives. Dupin and Lupin rubbed their hands in true French fashion, and Lecoq and Vidocq shrugged their shoulders also after the manner of their home town.

The Thinking Machine blinked his old, pale-blue eyes, and Mr. Gryce concentrated his gaze on a conch-shell on the whatnot.

“Yes,” went on Mr. Ensign, “my aunt—”

“Gracie Golightly,” observed Holmes in his swift, suave way.

“Yes,” said Ensign shortly. “If you know this story so well, why don’t you tell it yourself?”

“Go on,” said the Thinking Machine irritably. “Two and two make four, not now, but all the time. Go on, do!”

“Well, you see, gentlemen, it’s this way: Though she’s my aunt, I haven’t seen her for years until last evening. She came to the house at nine o’clock, and said she’d determined to change her will. She had willed her fortune, you know, to—”

“Is she Golightly the dancer?” asked Lupin with fresh interest.

“She was. She’s left the stage; she’s—ah, you see, she’s—”

“Younger than she once was,” said Holmes saturninely.

“Exactly, yes. That’s a good way to put it.” And Mr. Ensign laughed nervously. “Well, she has a pet philanthropy, and she had willed all her money to that, and then she changes her mind and comes to tell us about it. We sit talking things over. Bedtime—all retire. This morning, Aunt out for early walk—roses of youth back to cheeks—brisk trot in the sunshine—all that sort of thing. But no returns. Hustle search—hunt all day till noon. Get mysterious message—typewritten—see!”

The paper he exhibited read:

We have gracy Golitely. Will hold her for ransome however she acts. Send fifty thousand dollers as we dirrect, or nevver look uppon your Aunt again!!!

KID KNAPP.

“What was her pet philanthropy?” asked Craig Kennedy, his brows meeting above his nose as he scowled out the words.

“Oh, it was a worthy cause enough,” said young Ensign. “It was providing butlers for butlerless butler’s pantries. You know how every little one-horse house has its butler’s pantry. And they never even dream of getting a butler to put in it. Well, Aunt Gracie thought it a shame for good pantries to go to waste, and so she devoted her life to installing butlers in ’em, and willed her fortune to the cause. But all of a sudden she soured on it, and decided to leave her kale to me and Minna. Minna’s my wife. So Auntie came last night to settle up matters, and now she—she’s kidnaped. Of course, the Butlers’ Association is behind it. They employed Kid Knapp to do the deed, but they’re financing the scheme. Will you find her?”

“Will we!” chorused the English-speaking detectives. But the French ones piped up: “Cherchez la femme!”

“All right, chasses and cherchez,” said Holmes, which is harder to say than it looks.

“Aren’t there any clues?” asked Rouletabille, shaking his round head around in a circle.

“Here’s Aunt’s picture.” And Mr. Ensign drew a photograph from his pocket.

It looked—well, you know what a photograph of a professional dancer looks like. It was a study in emotional motion. They all studied it for a long moment.

“Your Aunt?” said Holmes doubtingly.

“Well, my great-aunt,” corrected young Ensign. “She—”

But nobody heeded him. They were photographing the finger-prints on the cardboard. Then Craig Kennedy said, abstractedly: “I suppose you haven’t a drop of her blood with you—no?—too bad. I’d like to try my seismospygamajig on it. That would—”

Some pearls!” commented Arsene Lupin, nodding at the jewelry-counter effect of Grace Golightly’s swan-like throat.

“They were,” sighed the nephew, “but she sold them for the benefit of those boob butlers! I’d like to recover her before she sloughs off the rest of her dinky doodaddles. You know what theatrical people are!”

“Any further clues?” saturnined Holmes.

“Yes, here’s the broken cuff-link and the shreds of dark woolen material, picked up where the body wasn’t found. Oh, sirs, do you think you can restore to me my darling aunt?”

The young man’s grief was pitiable, and Holmes said instantly: “Yes, of course. Those clues clear up the situation amazingly! I now see the abductor is a man of five-feet-nine, wears ten-and-a-half socks, parts his hair on one side, and had the measles when a child. Your aunt’s dress is a bit old-fashioned,” he observed coldly to his client.

“Yes,” agreed Ensign, “but it’s better than nothing.”

“Perhaps so,” said Lecoq. “Do we start now, Chief?”

“Yes,” said Holmes with a slight shade of saturninity. “Go ahead, and cherchez that femme.”

“Has the light snow fallen?” Dupin looked anxious.

“Yes, of course; the footprints wait without. Go!”

They went.

Holmes trailed his white finger-tips from his left temple to his right one, and reaching for his violin, began to play “When We Were Twenty-one.”

“Gracie Golightly!” he said reminiscently. “Was it in ‘The Black Crook,’ or—”

“I say,” broke in Ensign, who hadn’t quite gone, “how did you know my watch had stopped?”

“When you came in, you looked at your wristwatch and then at my clock. As your timepiece was ten hours behind, I deduced it had stopped; those cylinder toys don’t—”

“Yes, I know. Now, about the getting on at Ninety-third Street and off at Twenty-eighth—”

“Elementary—positively primary. They have just painted a fire-hydrant red at Ninety-third, and a mail-box green at Twenty-eighth. You absorbed a daub of each on your coat as you hustled by.”

“Bah! You take all the fun out of it! Now, how did you know I had been hunting for my Aunt Gracie in kitchens?”

“It’s Monday morning, and I smelled suds on you. I suppose you were hunting in still-butlerless pantries, and the ladies were doing their own washing.”

“Exactly! Now I must get to the office. When can you present Aunt Gracie?”

“Soon. I think. Don’t worry. I’ll telephone you when we catch Kid Knapp with the goods on. Au revoir, sir, and tell your wife not to wear her shoes too small for her.”

“Bless my soul! How do you know she does that?”

“Women always do. Good-day.”

Ensign departed, and the young man who was understudying Watson said, “Marvelous, Holmes, marvelous,” but he did it so unenthusiastically that he had to practice it over two or three times.

Skip we now over to where the detectives came home from their quest.

One and all, they announced utter failure.

Sherlock Holmes was disgusted. “You’re a nice lot of Infallible Detectives,” he saturnined at them. “I’ve a mind to resign as president of this society.”

The others looked hopeful, but Holmes was a man of many minds, and they didn’t bank on his suggestion.

“I went and camped out in a butler’s pantry in a small flat,” said Vidocq. “I thought, of course, she’d turn up there sooner or later.”

“She can’t if she’s kidnaped,” protested Dupin. “Now, I went straight to the Butlers’ Association to ask ’em how about it, but they were that haughty and stuck-up, I couldn’t get an audience with them.”

“Oh, I don’t care to hear your excuses,” President Holmes looked distrait and distraught. “If I’d thought you’d muff such a simple case, I’d have gone myself.”

“I found a woman who was probably Miss Golightly,” said Dupin. “She said she wasn’t, but you know women can’t tell the truth if they try, so I dare say she was.”

“Why didn’t you bring her?”

“She wouldn’t come. You know what women are; if you want ’em to do anything, you just can’t make ’em do it.”

“You can’t catch a woman,” declared Arsene Lupin positively. “You simply can’t do it.”

“Then what becomes of the Detective’s motto, Cherchez la Femme, I’d like to know?” fairly screamed Lecoq. “I’ve worked along those lines for years—”

“Never mind, Daddy Lecoq,” said Rouletabille, who was the youngest member of the Society. “Those lines are worn out. I say, ‘Set a femme to catch a femme.’ How’s that?”

“Not bad,” said Vidocq. “But who? Kitty Ketcham?”

“No! She’s no good at cherching. But I know a girl”—and Rouletabille looked wise—“who can turn this little trick for us. Her name is Fluffy Raffles.”

“Name’s enough,” said Holmes shortly. “Telephone for her—now.”

Rouletabille did so, and in the shortest possible time a vision beamed in the doorway.

She was pretty, oh, Fluffy Raffles was pretty! Eyes the color of light blue merino, cheeks like pink satin pincushions, and hair a gold brick. Now you know just what she looked like.

She was dressed in a filmy shimmering sheen of shuffy fliffon, and wore a garden hat, two sizes too big for her, with oodles of tiny pink rosebuds clinging clusteringly around it. This was her business suit. You ought to have seen her when she was dressed up!

She took one of the seventeen chairs the men offered her—some were so distracted, they offered two at a time—and crossing her little white shoes (and even at that, they were big enough for her!), she said demurely (her little emery-cushion of a mouth was the kind that always spoke demurely): “Well?”

carolyn wells sherlock parody
She was dressed in a filmy shimmering sheen of shuffy fliffon, and wore a garden hat, two sizes too big for her, with oodles of tiny pink rosebuds clinging clusteringly around it. This was her business suit. You ought to have seen her when she was dressed up!

As fast as they could get themselves undazed from the effects of her strawberry-sundae voice, they laid the case before her.

“Lemme see the photograph,” she said sweetly.

They all flew for it, and she put the pieces together quickly, like a picture-puzzle.

“Is that Gracie Golightly?” she exclaimed. “Why, I saw her once, when I was a kiddy in a middy—but she looked nicer’n that.”

“She has gone off a little,” said Holmes, studying the portrait.

“She’s gone off like hot cakes,” said Fluffy Raffles decidedly. “No matter. What do you want me to do?”

carolyn wells sherlock parody
“Is that Gracie Golightly?” she exclaimed. “Why, I saw her once, when I was a kiddy in a middy—but she looked nicer’n that.”

“Cherchez la femme,” exclaimed Lecoq, glad to get back to his old formula.

“All right!” And Fluffy flashed a smileful of pearls. “Lemme see—it’s—” She crooked her dimpled elbow and craned her pretty neck and twisted her mobile face and performed all the maneuvers necessary to see her wristwatch right side up, and then announced in triumph the time, twenty-seven minutes slow. But nobody corrected her; instead, each surreptitiously moved his watch-hands twenty-seven minutes backward.

“Can you find her?” The Thinking Machine twined his fidgety digits in and out of each other.

“Corsican,” said Fluffy, who talked in run-on lines, “but I don’t hafto go out by the day to do it. I’ll take it in.”

Throwing off her ring-around-a-rosy hat, she settled herself comfortably at the telephone and asked to have tea sent in.

While all the detectives flew to chercher the tea, Fluffy took the big, clumsy, heavy, telephone-book and called up number after number, as fast as she could keep the girl going. And they were all numbers of clockmakers or watch-menders or just plain jewelers.

She stopped for tea between L and M, and asked for a glass of water between V and W, but after a while or so, she had called all there were.

“Fiddle-de-fudge!” she exclaimed in a cunning little tantrum, “if I’d only begun the book at thuther end!” For it was at Zykowski that she struck the place she was after!

Still, she had struck it, and with a demure smile she glanced up at Holmes and said: “Your Gracie girl is at Number 487 North Thirty-fourth Street.”

“The eternal feminine,” said Holmes sententiously, “is simply an infinite capacity for finding things out.”

“Marvelous, Holmes, marvelous!” exclaimed Watson’s understudy—with such unction that he had a raise at the end of the week.

Holmes detailed all of the other detectives to go and secure the now-cherchered femme, but they wouldn’t budge.

“Get her by telephone,” “Advise her nephew, and let him get her,” “Send an A.D.T.” “Go yourself,” and similar unsatisfactory returns came to Holmes’ mandate.

Fluffy Raffles laughed and said:

“Wellile go.” And then they all said they’d go too.

So they went and got Gracie Golightly, and restored her to her watchfully waiting relatives, and then they all went to supper in a hall of dazzling light.

“Tell us how you did it,” said Holmes, saturbenignly.

“Well,” — and Fluffy added a half inch of scarlet to her smile — “you see, I noticed Gracie’s lack of really fatal beauty. That’s all right, uno—for her feet are her fortune, not her face. But while she’s terribly good to her mother, anner relatives anner butlers, she’s homely enough to stop a clock. So I just telephoned to see who had sent a hurry call to a clock-person to come and fix a lot of stopped clocks. And I found that Zykowski had been sent for for that very purpose. So I asked him who turned in the call—and there you are!”

“Marvelous, Holmes, marvelous!” exclaimed Watson, who was back in his role.

“And that’s what stopped young Ensign’s watch,” mused Rouletabille. “He saw his aunt for the first time in years, the night before, and his watch stopped then and there.”

“Yes,” — Fluffy dimpled in her left cheek, — “and just the photograph of Gracie put my wrist-watch back twenty-seven minutes. I wish I’d worn my ankle-watch!”

Footnotes

[Return] Cylinder-watches: A mechanism in a watch called an escapement that regulates the back-and-forth movement of the escape wheel that creates its characteristic ticking. There are many ways for a watch to count out the seconds; this design uses a thin cylinder that has been cut away, resulting in a thinner watch. However, because the escape wheel’s teeth knocks against the cylinder, the friction creates more wear requiring frequent cleanings.

[Return] Our little band: The members consist of Holmes and Watson, plus these detectives:

* Dupin: C. Auguste Dupin was the hero of three classic short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Dupin shares many characteristics with Holmes, such as his deductive skills and his sidekick-narrator. Despite Holmes’ sneer at Dupin in A Study in Scarlet, Conan Doyle admitted freely borrowing from Poe.

* Lupin: Arsene Lupin is the master thief created by Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941). Leblanc wrote several stories pitting Lupin against Holmes; one excerpt, “Holmlock Shears Opens Hostilities,” appears in the 1905-1909 edition.

* Lecoq: Émile Gaboriau (1832-1873) created amateur detective Monsieur Lecoq, a character based on the thief-turned-detective Eugène Francois Vidocq (1775-1857). Conan Doyle admitted using bits of Lecoq in creating Holmes.

* The Thinking Machine: Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, a.k.a. “The Thinking Machine” was an attempt to create an American Holmes by newspaper reporter Jacques Futrelle (1875-1912). A Futrelle-penned pastiche appears in the 1905-1909 edition.

* Mr. Gryce: Detective Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force was the hero in several novels by Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935). Her best-selling The Leavenworth Case (1878) was admired by Wilkie Collins and was a particular influence on Agatha Christie.

* Craig Kennedy: The scientist-detective created by Arthur B. Reeve (1880-1936). “Holmes” reviews a Craig Kennedy book in “Sherlock Holmes Solves a Problem in Publishing” in the 1915 chapter.

[Return] Whatnot: A piece of furniture seen in a drawing room, consisting of a series of shelves supported by pillars or uprights, and used for displaying knick-knacks or “what nots.”

[Return] Cherchez la femme: “Look for the woman,” meaning that when a man acts out of character or in an unusual fashion, a woman is the cause. First published in The Mohicans of Paris, by the elder Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) .

[Return] When We Were Twenty-One: A song by Frank Leo written in 1901.

[Return] The Black Crook: A musical from 1866 that is considered to be the first in which the songs and dance help advance the story.

[Return] I smelled suds on you: Monday was traditionally laundry day.

[Return] A.D.T.: American District Telegraph.

College Admissions-Go-Round

Sometimes, despite all my fretting and worrying about the future, it will still smack me on the back of the head and scream, “Gotcha!”

As late as six months ago, if someone had said, “Dude, you’re going to be far more concerned about where your son’s going to college than you were about your own,” I would have looked puzzled and replied, “My son’s going to college?”

Note: My son is a high school junior.

Yes, I am that obtuse.

Sometime last year, the Bun had taken the PSATs, which I guess was a practice SAT test. I knew he took it because a couple months ago he started getting mail.

Normally, he’d get letters from the grandparents. This time, he was getting big envelopes and booklets from universities. Big-name universities. Universities I’ve heard of whose sports teams make the police blotters as often as ESPN. Universities with reputations that made me stop and look at the address label, because there was no way in hell they meant to send it to our house. Tech schools that used to be featured in ’80s comedies starring Val Kilmer and the cast of “Revenge of the Nerds.”

college admissions yale harvard letters
“Son, have you been studying again?”

I knew the Bun was smart. His grades are great, he’s hard-working, and he’ll ask me questions as if he thought I was intelligent (all right, maybe not that smart). His last question about the origins of “quad,” as in the field between buildings on campus, led to a discussion of quadrangles, and how they’re different from rectangles. Before that, it was about ways to create a parabolic mirror.

“Is this for school?”

“No, I just wanna make one.”

[Pause] “Oh.”

The notion that he could go to a school that did not have as part of its name the words “community college” in it was the father’s first sign that he should look into what it will take to get him there.

Which was why we spent last week touring two universities: Middle of the State University (MSU) and Eastern part of the State University (ESU). The names have been changed because, despite his dad’s inbred cynicism, the Bun wants to apply there.

Here’s what I learned:

college admissions rick springfield
#1: That Rick Springfield seems deeply unhappy with his career trajectory. Also, “formal or semi-formal wear required” to a rock concert?

You Could Play Admissions Bingo During Your Visit

After just two schools, I already have a good idea of what to expect on future visits, so I started filling in the cells on the board:

* PARTICIPATION: As in “we emphasize participation among our students.” They have 250 clubs and 30 club sports teams, and 3 orchestras. This can cause cognitive dissonance. We’re urged not to get our children involved in activities for the sake of building up his application, but those activities are exactly what they’re using to judge our children.

* EGO BOOSTS: Any statements that make it appear the child is more important than the university. MSU was blissfully free of this, but ESU gave us a big blast of it in the face. The students were reassured, in long, rolling cadences that would have had Martin Luther King taking notes, that “today is a celebration of you and your lives,” and that seeking admission into college was “not a process with a logical end, but a journey full of self-celebration and full of introspection.”

If I wanted to celebrate my child and give him introspection, I would give him a bill for 17 years of upkeep and an easy repayment plan.

* SKY’S THE LIMIT: One admissions counselor reassured the students that “your potential is limitless.” When we’ve heard that before, we would add, “I want to be a 6-foot-9 NBA player.”

* TUITION JOKE: “Under some of your chairs, you’ll find a coupon for a free year’s tuition!” Manners prevents me from repeating my response.

* CHILD’S BEST COMEBACK: So your children can play. The winner was Bun’s response to a long monologue about how to make the college search easier on the parents. When the admissions official concluded with “If I can tell you one thing to make it stress-free,” my son said softly, “You’re not getting into ESU.” The pupil is learning from the master.

* HOLISTIC: For the free space in the center, as in, “we take a holistic approach to denying your child admission.”

I’m sure I’ll find more as the summer wears on.

Sewing NotQuilts: The Origin Story

Sewing-Projects-Banner

Sewing-projects-IntroI got into sewing NotQuilts because I hate the cold about as much as I hate spending money I don’t need to.

One of the things we are concerned about at Chez Peschel is temperature control, but doing so without spending money or fossil fuels. Many, many problems can be solved by throwing money at them, this being one of them. How’s your heating and air-conditioning bills? Happy with them? I’m not.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart as I suffer badly from temperature swings. I’m always too hot or too cold. I’m always putting on layers and taking off layers.

Winter is far easier to deal with than the summer. Cooling off in the summer involves removing layers, but you can’t go past your skin. You can only drink so many glasses of iced tea. You do the Window Dance, opening and closing windows, raising and lowering shades. You plant large, deciduous trees in places that will cool your house, and 25 years later they will start to do their job. You reroof your house with white shingles, add ridge vents, and line the attic with reflective foil. These methods work, especially in concert, but it’s still damn hot in July and August. You just have to live with it.

But winter now, winter is easier. Insulate, insulate, insulate, block those drafts, put bread in the oven, and put on a hat, sweater, fingerless gloves, add a lap quilt and, why, it’s suddenly toasty warm.

Everything seems capable of generating or storing heat. We can take advantage of this fact and make our lives more comfortable.

One way I do this is by making quilts, although true quilters would not call them that.

Quilts are wonderful. Thick, soft, warm, they can be made of scraps so they demand only your time and not much money, and they let you set the thermostat lower on winter nights.

Quilts have a few problems, however.

They can be time-consuming to make.

Blazing Star Quilt
Blazing Star Quilt

They take time and some skill to cut out and sew together, such as the 10,000 little diamonds so your Blazing Star quilt lays flat. When you have recovered from sewing together all the little pieces of cloth back into a great big piece of cloth, you then have to sew the cloth to the fluffy quilt batting (which has to be purchased) to the backing cloth (which you probably also had to buy to get a big enough piece).

Sewing Quilts vs. Sewing NotQuilts

Quilts are named not for the piecing technique but for the quilting technique. That is, you quilt the three layers together with thousands of close-together hand stitches that keep the batting from coming apart. Many quilts are machine-quilted today, but you need a very expensive specialty machine to quilt designs that approximate traditional ones sewn by hand.

Quilts can be expensive.

Many years ago, I joined a quilting group in Norfolk, Va. The ladies were very nice and very skillful but they were, as a group, adamant that quilts had to be made of 100% cotton, with purchased batting and a 100% cotton backing. These ladies would not even think of reusing polyester/cotton scraps left over from dressmaking. Oh no! Poly/cotton blends were forbidden because our pioneer ancestors did not use these fabrics. They claimed that these fabrics did not work well.

These ladies did not recycle old sheets as the backing fabric. They bought new 100% cotton and sewed the fabric together to make a single sheet, with the seam running down the center of the quilt. The edges were then trimmed of a foot or more to keep the seam centered, leading to a lot of wasted fabric. They purchased the batting, 100% cotton of course, although polyester batting was acceptable. They used quilting thread, rather than all-purpose cotton/poly blends. Buying this stuff can run to some money.

Many of these quilts were stunningly beautiful, but they had two problems. First, they were also not very washable. Batting, if it isn’t carefully sewed down, has a nasty tendency to shred and 100% cotton batting can be especially challenging. The batting comes as a flat sheet but that cotton wants to go back into bolls, and if you wash it, it will. Modern batting is resin finished and needle punched so it is more amiable, but it still doesn’t like repeated runs through the washer. Instead, you get to have the quilt dry cleaned and that means still more money spent on basic maintenance.

Second, they were not very repairable, especially if they have a specific pattern, such as Blazing Star or Double Wedding Ring. You can’t just sew a patch on over the worn spot. It looks wrong. Quilts need repair more often when they are used by cats as scratching posts. Quilts need repair much more often when they are used as workshop surfaces by younger son, spreading out his tools on the surface along with the radio he is disemboweling.

sewing notquilts
Double Wedding Ring Quilt

My opinions about quilts come from my father’s relatives. They live up in North Dakota, and my elderly aunts made quilts. These women were poor, and they used what they had. They did not make art quilts. They made utility quilts. They wanted those quilts to work hard, be warm, and still be as pretty as possible. My Aunt Gloria told me that she made polyester pantsuits for herself and other women, saved the scraps from the dressmaking, and made quilts out of that polyester double knit. A traditional quilter today would have the vapors at the concept of using polyester double knit, yet what is more traditional, more authentic, than using up the scrap fabric that you have laying around?

As a side note, a part-time missionary once told me that polyester was the best fabric ever as you could wash it on rocks in the stream and it still looked great! Polyester double knit wears like iron, the colors never, ever fade, and it’s also very warm.

fleece robe
We make other items out of scrap fabric, including Younger Son’s bathrobe
The washability of quilts is an important point for me. My kids are older now. They no longer throw up or release any other body fluids onto the bedding. Younger son was allergic to dust mites. Every bit of his bedding had to be washed weekly in hot water so he didn’t cough all night long. I have high standards for bedding as a result, and I don’t like anything that won’t put up with a weekly run through the washer in scalding water. Many quilts won’t tolerate this. They wear out and they fade like crazy and all those little seams with tiny seam margins let go, shredding at the edges.

So how can this problem be solved? Remember that our solution must be cheap, stylish, doable with on-hand materials, cheap, reasonably quick, and not overly complex to construct.

Birth of the NotQuilt

So I came up with NotQuilts. This was a long, slow learning curve and I think I invented the process as I went along. Certainly, no-one I’ve talked to in my admittedly tiny circle has ever made a quilt this way.

sewing notquilts
The First NotQuilt. The dog was quilted separately.

I call them NotQuilts because, although they look and function like quilts and use up scraps like quilts, they are not sewn together like a quilt.

Technically, a quilt consists of three layers that have been assembled separately. The top or fashion side may or may not be pieced of tiny bits of fabric. Then comes the layer of batting which provides warmth without too much weight. The bottom layer is usually plain white muslin and it, like the top layer is used to enclose the batting. The three layers are stacked and then sewn together with about a million little stitches. The finished fabric sandwich then has the raw edges enclosed by a fabric binding.

A NotQuilt is also made of three separate layers. However, they are sewn together very differently.

As I said, I taught myself to do this. I started with a pair of old blankets that were given to me by my mother-in-law, Evelyn. We miss Evelyn every day, Bill and I. The blankets were the standard, cheap kind that you buy at Wal-de-mort. They had cigarette holes burned in them (which mortified Evelyn when I told her about them) and I had to do something about it.

So I sewed a piece of fabric over the hole, on both sides of the blanket. It looked funny, so I started sewing scrap fabric over all of the holes and thin spots. Over the years, I developed the technique of first covering the back of the blanket (an arbitrary decision at first, but now I don’t do it any other way) with whatever large pieces of fabric I had laying around, and sewing them into place around the edges. Then I covered the front with more pieces of fabric until the original blanket disappeared under the new scraps. Then I bound off the edges with still more scrap fabric.

The first few NotQuilts turned out pretty random in appearance. I didn’t pay much attention to the fabric colors or patterns that I used. I now lay out a framework of fabric and then sew all the pieces on inside the framing cloth.

A NotQuilt, then, is made of three layers of fabric, but the top layer is assembled and sewn into place as it is sewn to the batting and the backing. It is not assembled separately and then quilted down. Think of a NotQuilt as a patched blanket. That’s really all it is.

Tracking Your Work: Calendars, Notebooks and Lists

career indie author

career indie author introductionTracking your work with the help of calendars, notebooks and lists is probably one of the most neglected aspects of being an author, and yet I don’t think we can live without them. We certainly can’t write effectively without them.

(I can hear the criticism in my head by now. Malcolm Lowry, for example, wrote “Under the Volcano,” one of the great novels of the 20th century, without the help of a year-at-a-glance calendar. Do I think William S. Burroughs carried a notebook with him and wrote down everything he ate and thought? Actually, yes he did. And so did Lowry.

In short, writers use whatever tools are available to them to preserve their ideas, keep track of their work, and get their books written.

tracking your work wall calendar

1. Calendars

When you’re in the middle of a big project, you may be thinking about weeks or months. It’s easy to lose track of the days. You may not have a problem with missing deadlines, losing track of your business, and solving a crisis at the last minute. But if a little foresight a planning can help avoid those traps, that leaves you enough energy to direct toward finishing your books. And isn’t that why were here?

That’s where calendars come in handy. They range from wall-sized models that display a year to individual pages that you can create with Microsoft Publisher in MS Office. I use the latter option when I want to print out only one or two months as part of a special project.

Calendars can be used to keep track of any important task, including public appearances, book deadlines, monthly writer’s club meetings, tasks that have to be performed at a certain time, such as entering contests, and tax deadlines. A 12-month wall calendar can let you plot your publishing schedule, starting with the manuscript deadline and including dates to have the manuscript edited, cover art created, and marketing efforts in place. You can even add tasks that you want to perform at the beginning of the month that are not tied to a particular date, such as checking your book inventory well ahead of public events so you can order new copies in plenty of time.

Plotting your activities on a 12-month calendar lets coordinate your activities so there are no conflicts. It lets you determine your productivity and estimate how much money you could earn. You can adjust your deadlines well ahead of time so you can stay on top of your work.

tracking your work
A multi-year calendar can remind you of your publishing successes.

Outside the Box: Consider adding a multi-year calendar to your arsenal. Create a timeline, consisting of a single line, marked off by years and subdivided into months. Use it to keep track of notable events: book publications, public appearances, and any major signposts that you want to recall.

The one we use at Peschel Press covers the years 2010, when my first book “Writers Gone Wild” was published, and stretches to 2018. I have consulted it while writing promotional material and to remind me how far I’ve come in a few years, and what I needed to do to get better.

tracking your work notebooks
I thought about donating my archives, but this would drive researchers insane.

2. Notebooks

Hi, I’m Bill Peschel, and I carry a notebook.

Hi Bill.

Hello. Thanks for helping me get this off my chest. I’ve been carrying a notebook for about ten years. I started small, a little 10-pager from a supply my dad saved from his job at the steel mill. That wasn’t enough, so I moved up to a 25-page spiral-bound job you can fit in a shirt pocket. But my need grew. I’m up to a 200-page spiral-bound with plasticized covers that could fit in a pants pocket if they’re big enough.

Oh, I resisted. Dorothy Parker sneered at a certain type of writer who carried a notebook around. It seemed so pretentious. Can’t you just write? It’s like Olivier telling Dustin Hoffman, who was immersed in the Method technique, “why don’t you try acting, dear boy?”

Now, I can’t live without my notebook. It’s attached to my hand like an appendage. I like notebooks, and I think you should use one as well. I’m a notebook pusher.

Here’s why.

1. Portable. You can carry one everywhere. If the spiral holding the pages together is big enough, you can clip a pen to it so you’re never without one.

2. Requires no power, no software, no learning. Just grab and go.

3. Flexible. Start on page one (I start on page two, in case the first page gets damaged) and go straight through. Or keep a daily task list in the front section and use the back for recording speech, images, and ideas.

4. You can tear out notes for other purposes.

5. You can record anything and everything: to-do lists, story ideas, article drafts, bon mots and quotations from books and magazines. It’s a commonplace book, diary, self-help assistant, partner, and friend.

6. Nearly unlimited storage.

7. If you lose it, well, you lost a notebook. It’s not like you lost your smartphone.

Many authors use their notebooks to record their impressions during the day. Some of them, such as Mark Twain’s, have been published, so you can look over their shoulder and see their working habits. Other notebook-using authors include Agatha Christie (where she worked out her plots); Alexis de Tocqueville (he recorded by subject information used in “Democracy in America”; talk about writing by file folder!); Charles Darwin (scientific observations mixed with conversations and lists of books to read); Ernest Hemingway (experiences he would use in his stories, plus expenses, gifts and — for his first wife — her menstrual cycles); Jane Austen (dramatic sketches, verse, and moral observations); and Katherine Mansfield (everything, from shopping lists to story drafts).

3. Lists: I Hate Them / I Love Them

I love lists like I love diets. I’ve been on hundreds of weight-loss plans, and I’ve written out hundreds of to-do lists, yet I never seem to reach my goals with either of them.

That used to bum me out. I’d feel terrible when I go to the trouble to write down everything I have to do, only to get bored and irritated seeing that hectoring, nagging list, and I’d end up throwing it away. A few weeks later, there I am at the computer writing up another one.

I’m avoiding two lists right now. There’s a printed sheet of paper on my desk with these items:

* Seven ideas for posts

* Next actions for two books (one of them crossed off as finished)

* Six items for Peschel Press business (the January newsletter was done in February, the January report finished a week late, and I’ve added the rest of the year’s books to my spreadsheet but I haven’t crossed that off yet.

* Two handwritten tasks, unfinished.

* Two major projects born of recent ideas, also unfinished.

Does that make me a hate-lister? Probably. I’m not the very model of a Type A author. I’m as disciplined as Beetle Bailey, I am the despair of the writer I want to be.

Then I realized something: I was more productive with a list than without one. True, I never finished a single list I wrote out, but I still got things done. I didn’t lose track of my tasks, and some of the things on there it turned out I didn’t need to do now.

Writers get better by keeping their eyes, ears, and mind open to the truth: about life, about love, about people, and about themselves. Because we’re tool-users, we can learn how to get better.

In the case of calendars, notebooks, and lists, there’s a fourth element that we can use to make efficient use of them, and that is accountability.

Outside the Box: I found a powerful tool that helps me keep track of my work.

Here it is:

It’s a checkbox. Simple. Elegant. Begging to be filled in.

I use it in my notebook to identify tasks that I need to accomplish. It could be a question that needs answering, a book that needs ordering, or a plot idea that needs to be filed away. When I review the previous week’s work, I can spot instantly those tasks that I can check off.

I use checkboxes elsewhere. When I’m proofing a manuscript on paper, I place a check at the top of pages that don’t need fixing, and a checkbox on those that do. So when I’m flipping through the pages later, I can stop where I need to rather than scan each page for red marks. In a 500-page manuscript (double-spaced), those seconds saved can add up!

tracking your work business meeting
Best part about owning your business? Drinking during work hours!

4. Private Accountant

What is accountability? It means having some way of evaluating what we’re doing, and holding ourselves responsible for what we do and don’t do.

This is a fuzzy concept, but what it boils down to is having someone looking over your shoulder who, at regular intervals, meets with you to see what’s going on, what needs to be done, and what you’re going to do next.

It could be your spouse. It could be a friend. It could be the Internet. It could be yourself.

Here’s how we do it at Peschel Press: Every Sunday night, my wife and I grab our favorite beverage and meet in the office. We go over the to-do list on the whiteboard. We cross off the finished tasks and go over what needs to be done. Do they still need to be there? Does it need to be modified? Then we add new tasks to the list, focusing on what the next action should be, that specific task that could be done in a day that would push that project forward. The list is prioritized so that the most important items are at the top.

Then we check the 12-month calendar, see what’s coming, and decide if there’s anything that needs to be done.

That’s it. There’s no recriminations over the tasks left undone. Even a Type A author would have a problem finishing the dozen items we usually have on the board.

Sunday is also the day I look through the previous week’s entries in my notebook and make sure nothing was missed.

That’s it. The Sunday business meeting is also a time for us to consider new ideas, reconsider the value of old ones, and make mid-course corrections.

Stephen Leacock’s Sherlock Parody

Perhaps the funniest example of following a thread of logic to its inescapable conclusion was supplied by one of Canada’s most popular humorists. Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) was imported into Canada from Hampshire at the age of six, and there built a career as a political scientist, teacher, and humorist. From 1910 to 1925, he was considered the most widely-read author in the world, and an influence on Robert Benchley, Jack Benny, and even Groucho Marx. Although little read today, his name lives on in an annual award for the best humorous book by a Canadian writer.

Stephen Leacock sherlock parody stampToday’s story came from “Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1914-1919“, available at all fine online book and ebook sellers, plus New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop.Want to read more parodies and pastiches? The complete list can be found here.

An Irreducible Detective Story

Hanged by a Hair,
or a Murder Mystery Minimized

Stephen Leacock

The mystery had now reached its climax. First the man had been undoubtedly murdered. Secondly, it was as absolutely certain that no conceivable person had done it.

It was therefore time to call in the great detective.

He gave one searching glance at the corpse. In a moment he whipped out a microscope.

“Ha! Ha!” he said, as he picked a hair off the lapel of the dead man’s coat. “The mystery is solved.”

He held up the hair.

“Listen,” he said, “we have only to find the man who lost the hair and the criminal is in our hands.”

The inexorable chain of logic was complete.

The detective set himself to search.

For four days and nights he moved, unobserved, through the streets of New York scanning closely every face he passed, looking for a man who had lost a hair.

On the fifth day he discovered a man, disguised as a tourist, his head enveloped in a steamer cap that reached below his ears. The man was about to go on board the Gloritania.

The detective followed him on board.

“Arrest him!” he said, and then drawing himself to his full height, he brandished aloft the hair.

“This is his,” said the great detective. “It proves his guilt.”

“Remove his hat,” said the ship’s captain sternly.

They did so.

The man was entirely bald.

“Ha!” said the great detective without a moment of hesitation. “He has committed not one murder but about a million.”

Winning the Omelas Bargain (part 2)

Suburban Stockade Banner self-sufficiency

new-suburban-stockade-introLast week, we talked about the Omelas bargain, how we’re surrounded by the fruits of other people’s labor made under dreadful conditions but since they take place far, far away, we don’t see them. Faced with the knowledge that many of our possessions are made under sweatshop conditions or worse in Asia and Africa, should we embrace the bargain, or leave?

I think there’s a third way: to use less. Less energy, less stuff, and less stimulation.

The third way is to question why I should be mindlessly buying. The third way is to stop wasting the resources I do use. The third way is to give of my time and my resources so others can share in the wealth of the good old US of A. The third way is to garden extensively so that I provide a habitat for as many of my fellow critters as I can, on my one-quarter acre city lot. The third way is to shop locally, so my money stays in my community. The third way is to try and buy locally produced items, so those jobs stay in my community.

Does it mean I buy less? Yes, it does. Do I avoid many of the aspects of our consumer culture? Yep, do that too. It helps not having a television hooked up to the outside world.

In my household, we get as much use out of our things as we can.

Does this contribute to our goal of financial independence? It surely does, as spending less of our income means more money can be earmarked to other, more important things.

Does using less make the environment around me just a touch better? I think it does. If my one car is sitting in my driveway rather than being used for random errands, I’m not polluting the air with its emissions, I’m not clogging the roads, and I’m not burning precious fossil fuels.

Does this help? I’d like to think so. It’s like that story about throwing starfish back into the ocean after the storm. You can’t save them all, but you can save the ones within reach. Certainly, I’ve provided habitat for the critters in my area, habitat that otherwise wouldn’t exist in the sea of mown grass around my property.

Does this moral stance make things worse for sweatshop workers in the third world? I don’t know. I know that huge demand for disposable fashion doesn’t translate into money for the seamstresses. I know it wastes huge amounts of resources. I’m sure it’s better to be chained to a sewing machine than to be chained to a bed in the sex trade.

omelas bargainWhenever you hold something in your hand that was made outside of the first world, you can bet the conditions under which it was made were horrendous. They are conditions no American citizens would tolerate.

Which is not to say we don’t have Third World conditions in the USA. They’re out in the fields, picking those strawberries, picking those tomatoes, harvesting that fresh spring mix. Agricultural work is hard, repetitive and doesn’t pay well. To get those amazingly cheap prices you see down at the Giant for fresh produce, you have to use plantation labor. If you’re old enough, you may remember Cesar Chavez and his grape boycotts. I don’t believe he would be impressed by the improvements in working conditions.

Your local farmer’s market is less likely to have those issues than the giant mega-farms that supply supermarkets. At least you can ask about it and when you buy from the farmer, you put more money in his pocket so he can pay his pickers a bit more.

That unending race to the bottom, to pay the least possible amount, drives wages down. Unending population growth drives wages down as more people compete for fewer jobs. Automation drives wages down as more people compete for still-fewer jobs. Off-shoring factories drive wages down as the jobs get still fewer for the people left behind who want and need them.

It’s not a good idea for a country to have a growing population at the same time that jobs get fewer and fewer. This fact is why I refuse to use self-checkouts. I go into the bank and use a teller. I use the call lines rather than the internet when I have a question or a problem with a company.

Every time you use a self-serve line, you are sending a message to corporate headquarters to get rid of another job.

I understand that things cost a lot. I understand, boy do I!, about pinching every penny. But if I need less, then I can spend that much more to buy my paint at the local paint store instead of at the big-box hardware store.

The Omelas bargain never ends. How much of your life has to be supported on the misery of unseen others? There is no good answer.

I suppose this is where we, as a culture, decide that we want what we use to be long-lasting and repairable. The problem with that decision is that less money changes hands. If I buy one toaster that lasts me for twenty years, then I’m not buying another and another and another.

But if everything is made to be long-lasting and repairable, even if it costs more up front, it saves money and resources downstream. If we choose to use less, to not replace our dishes on a regular basis, then we need to spend less money over the long haul.

If we rework our tax law to reward businesses for hiring people and punish them for automating jobs out of existence, then we would have more jobs. That would certainly be a good thing as people need to work and have a purpose in life.

Sitting on your ass on the dole doesn’t turn many of its recipients into musicians, artists, and poets. Some people do use it that way, but not many. Think about trust fund babies. You sure read about a lot of dissipation, drug use, and therapy among those heirs who never have to work a day in their lives. The scions of the rich don’t seem to turn out very many musicians, artists, and poets and these people get better educations and better opportunities.

Would all of us spending much less money on products because they last a long time and can be repaired change the economy? Oh, boy, would it.

As I mentioned earlier, our economy is built on dissatisfaction. Why else would you replace your dishes? A set of china should last barring breakage until the next ice age! Dishes don’t go bad. They don’t wear out. You make enough new sets of china to accommodate population growth. After that, why do you replace your dishes? Because you’re tired of your old ones.

I did replace my dishes many years ago, and I wrote about it in a section of Fortress Peschel about organization. I replaced my old miss-matched dishes with a single set. I took advantage of the fact that my dear husband had a set that his mother had given him. Do I like the pattern on these dishes? I do not. But we had them and so I got plenty more secondhand ones from Replacements Limited. They’re the biggest china match service in the world, or so they advertise, and having visited them once in Greensboro, N.C., I can believe it.

omelas bargain dishes

Notice that I did not go out and buy new dishes. I bought old ones. The pattern had stopped production in about 1969 or so. Secondhand was the only way to go, and so that’s what I did.

I do have a second set of china, that I bought when Bill and I got married. We use it on special occasions. I wouldn’t do this again. They just take up space.

I think that a sustainable economy would be very, very different. I think that we should employ people and not machines. Automation should be used just enough to make the job safer and less back-breaking, but after that, why are we using robots when people need jobs? Robots don’t need jobs. They don’t have to be built in the first place.

Robots and automation are a choice our corporate masters make so they don’t have to accommodate the needs of actual human beings.

And maybe, if we all did this, there would be more jobs for people to have, the things that got made would last longer, the wages would rise a bit higher, and those seamstresses in China getting 39 cents an hour would get 49 cents an hour, a 25 percent increase in pay. They might even be given cleaner factories and get a sick day now and then.

I can’t save the world, but I can make my little part of it better and greener, and I can try hard to use my share more sensibly without making it worse for someone else.

What I can’t do is pretend that my choices are consequence-free and cause no damage to someone else. I can’t pretend that my green life is green, when the pollution that is generated at the long-lasting battery factory is out of sight half a world away in China. That pollution is still there, and it will be there for a long, long time. The people who live and work there get to suffer for me, so I can have a nicer life.

All I can do is to use less and to use what I have more responsibly.

Author, Editor, Anthologist, and Owner of Peschel Press, the Publisher of Histories Behind the Mysteries