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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Big Dreams; Little People

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The Munsters: Just your typical American family.

Have you ever sat through one of those Hollywood awards shows in which some aspiring young actress finally receives the recognition she deserves? She excitedly hugs the trophy to her heart, giggles uncontrollably for a few awkward moments, and then recites a long laundry list of the people “who made this all possible”? You know: “I’d like to thank my producer, my agent, my mother, my little brother, the dude who delivered lunch to my dressing room, the…. Blah, blah, blah!” Most of us simply yawn as we lounge in front of our TVs, and perhaps, we even use the time to raid the kitchen for a snack.

We respond this way for a couple of good reasons. Our main excuse is that we don’t personally know any of the people she’s thanking. We’re on the outside, looking in. And we may not be able to to understand the sheer magnitude of her thankfulness, because we never shared in her personal struggles to reach the top. But it’s also possible that we’re missing out on a basic principle of life, which we plan to discuss here.

Ham on Rye.
Ham on Rye.

At the other end of the gratitude spectrum, is the prima donna, who struts to the podium, grabs his award and hoists it skyward in a triumphant gesture that screams “I am the greatest!” He acknowledges no one, and gives no credit where credit is due, because his ego has blinded him to a few vital truths. Sad but true.

Writing this, we’re reminded of an episode of the 1960s TV comedy, The Munsters. During the show, the lead character, Herman — a bumbling but well-meaning parody of Frankenstein’s monster — stumbles into a situation that has the potential to catapult him to “stardom.” In no time at all, Herman has alienated his friends and family, by continuously flaunting his celebrity status. His wife, Lily, starts to worry about what will happen should Herman really make it big in show biz.

“I’d like to thank all the little people…but I can’t.”

In a memorable scene, Lily imagines her husband accepting one of those little gold statuettes at an awards ceremony. He lumbers to the podium, stoops low to speak into the microphone, and says with a smirk on his monstrous mug: “I’d like to thank all the little people who made this award possible. …But I can’t — because I did it all myself!”

No one, since the beginning of time, has ever accomplished anything TOTALLY by themselves. Most of us (whether we realize it or not) benefit from the contributions of countless people: those who came before us, and who accomplished great things; and those who live with us and all around us. The so-called “little people”!

We may not be aware of their contributions to our daily lives, and when we finally fulfill our dreams, achieve a goal or succeed in a venture, we may not realize just how much we owe the world at large for helping us to make it to the top of the heap.

We don’t operate in a vacuum. Sometimes, however, it does seem as though friends and family have abandoned us as we doggedly pursue our dreams; as though time, circumstances, and the whole world is working against us. But there is a grand principle of cause and effect at work on this spinning blue marble of ours; and every person we meet — good, bad, helpful or obstinate — is a piece of this bigger reality. And every one of them, either directly or indirectly, touches the lives of us all. This is how the God of the Universe effects change in our society.

Land of the Giants: an idea that only works in science fiction!

It’s one of the simple truths we need to know in order to maintain a positive, loving and hopeful perspective on life, and in order to get things done. Another, related truth: there are NO “little people” — only oversized egos. Everyone counts. Every effort, every opinion, every link in the chain of life matters. And adopting this attitude can actually help you to succeed. Humility and gratitude are traits that foster cooperation — and as we stated, no one really gets anywhere without a helping hand.

Let us all remember: to respect and appreciate even the smallest contributions from — seemingly — the most insignificant sources; to stay humble with every achievement, understanding that we had countless unseen helping hands; to constantly encourage and facilitate the work of others, knowing that we, too, whether directly or indirectly, are benefitting from the actions of millions of interconnected lives. Help us, Lord, to realize, whether we’ve arrived or we’re still struggling to get there, that no one ever makes it alone.

“…The King will say … ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40 NLT)

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