Aping Edgar (Encouragement for Creators)

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His prose is a bit unpolished, and his seemingly innumerable novels are filled with shady, two-dimensional characters and outlandish plots. And yet, his sensational tales unfold briskly, with a raw narrative energy that swept readers into the heart of the story; a narrative energy which was unmatched by his contemporaries — including Dorothy L. Sayers, who criticized the writer for distracting the average reader from better (more literary) works. However, among working class men throughout the 1920s, along with their long-suffering wives, each of his novels was eagerly anticipated and devoured with great relish. In fact, one of his publishers once stated that one out of every four novels being read in England at any given time, was an Edgar Wallace thriller!

This statistic is no doubt due to the writer’s staggering output: 170 novels, 957 short stories, 18 stage plays, plus historical nonfiction, poetry and screenplays. Wallace, who was born in London in 1875, was so amazingly prolific that by 1929 he was publishing close to three dozen books a year! He could complete a novel in 72 hours — increasingly motivated by the need to pay off the many loan sharks who fed Wallace’s addiction to gambling on the horse races! But how exactly did the man do it? How could he be so productive and still have time to run for Parliament?!? Determination, fortitude, a need for money, and a good working system.

Before discussing his writing methods, we should cover the obstacles he overcame to become a best-selling novelist: Edgar Wallace was born into poverty. He was the illegitimate child of traveling actors, a scandalous and stigmatizing fact in the 1890s. His mother quickly placed him with a family that already had 10 kids; and as a result, he was brought up in a poor and uneducated household. His life in the slums greatly affected his health and stunted his growth; and thus, when he was eventually shipped off to a boarding school, he was constantly bullied and frequently beaten. So Wallace “escaped” from the world of formal education at age 12.

Along his journey to success, he sold newspapers and delivered milk, worked in a rubber factory and served as a ship’s cook. He went to South Africa with a British regiment, finagled a transfer to the Royal Army Medical Corps; and later became a war correspondent, a post from which he was fired. Then he became a publisher, a position from which he went in debt. Through it all, he endured several personal tragedies, including the death of a daughter, the death of a wife (after only 2 years of marriage), the divorce of a second wife, and … Sigh! You get the picture.

Hey, I only smoke because Edgar smokes! He’s da writer, but he’s murdering both of us!

Wallace finally met with some good fortune once he realized his forte: fiction writing. Perhaps he even found a way to escape, at least for brief periods, his many misfortunes. He’d lock himself away for days at a time, dictating his novels onto wax cylinders. During the process he’d drink 30 to 40 cups of tea a day, while smoking 80 to 100 cigarettes! (Please don’t try this at home!) Later, Wallace would have his secretaries transcribe the recordings. There was no editing — Wallace hated editing. His publishers must have hated editing too, because after doing nothing more than a little fact checking here or there, they published every single word the man wrote!

I’m aping Edgar ‘cuz he’s the best!

Wallace’s novels have sold over 50 million copies. His fiction has been adapted for 160 films or television shows. Although he’s mostly forgotten today, he’s considered one of the greatest 20th-century writers of the thriller — and certainly the most prolific. He was the first British crime writer to depict the police heroically solving mysteries, as opposed to the amateur detective so popular in the fiction of his day. He wrote the screenplay for the first sound movie version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and eventually became a script doctor for RKO Studios. But Wallace’s greatest claim to fame will always be “The Eighth Wonder of the World”!

Wallace had a creative hand in the development of one of the most iconic fictional characters ever presented on celluloid: KING KONG! He was called in early in the development of RKO’s classic 1932 “monster” movie, and he’s responsible for taking the giant gorilla all the way to the top … of the Empire State Building!

Stop that buzzing noise! I’m trying to create up here!

So, take inspiration from the writer who never allowed the adversities of life to keep him from creating — who persevered through sweat and tears to leave behind a tremendous body of work. “Ape” his determination and fortitude. Once you do, there’ll be no stopping you. You’ll climb to new heights — like Edgar Wallace and King Kong — of artistic, scientific, or entrepreneurial achievement.

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme … my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” (Psalm 45:1 NIV)

“…I am as full of words as the speediest writer pouring out his story.” (Psalm 45:1 TLB)

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Nothing’s Wasted (Angel in the Kitchen)

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We have a friend who’s a folk artist. A few years back he carved and painted two small refrigerator magnets that have become prized decorations in our kitchen. One is the Planters mascot, Mister Peanut; the other is the Pillsbury Doughboy, Poppin’ Fresh. Both are well made and absolutely nail the characters.

Our friend also likes to cook — Southern-style! Once, he said that whenever he boiled potatoes for mashing, he’d drain off the water and save it. The “broth” contained a lot of the starch from the spuds, as well as the potato flavor that’s currently popular in breads. He’d use this liquid instead of plain water whenever he made biscuits. The biscuits held together better and had a richer flavor!

It’s similar to what we do when boiling chicken for certain dishes: we save the “stock” and use it to flavor soups, casseroles, and our favorite chicken and rice dish. Guests often ask what gives the rice such a savory flavor. We always give the short, direct answer. But the longer, indirect answer is that we don’t waste anything; what many people decant, cut away, and cast out — assuming it to be worthless — is always put to good use in our kitchen. Even fruit and vegetable peelings can be composted.

Another item we save and “repurpose” is stale bread. We use it to make stuffing and bread pudding. Why waste a good thing, even if it appears to be “bad” — just like the cloudy liquid left over from boiled potatoes. In the kitchen, EVERYTHING that’s seemingly of no value, seemingly a “lost cause” or a “complete waste” can serve a good purpose. Savvy cooks never waste. And neither does God.

The savviest “cook” in the kitchen of life is our Heavenly Father, and He never wastes anything. He simply repurposes it for His use. That means the fallout from a failed relationship or business venture will be put to good use in our lives. God may use a painful or embarrassing experience to teach us a truth, help us develop better character, or get us ready for a bigger challenge. Sometimes, He simply wants to get us on the right track again, so that he can fulfill our special destiny.

He uses defeat to make us stronger. He repurposes grief to make us compassionate. He allows closed doors and missed “opportunities” to keep us out of trouble. He doesn’t waste anything.

Whatever we’ve suffered, whatever we’re going through, whatever mistakes we’ve made, God always finds a good use for these “bad” experiences — which seem at the time like “lost causes”; like a “complete waste”! But in God’s kitchen there’s no waste. Every tear you’ve shed, every heartache you’ve endured, every moment of sorrow and suffering, doubt and despair — He’s restructured into something new and more wonderful. We usually don’t know what God is cooking up. Nor can we often see how He’ll repurpose something wrong and destructive into something right and renewed. But His Word explains to us that He continually does so. We can trust Him that our losses, our failures, our sorrows are never wasted. He is truly the God who renews, repurposes, restructures and reuses all we have and have gone through — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“…You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result….” (Genesis 50:20 NASB)

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28 NLT)

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