I was listening to an interview with Neil Gaiman this past week. As an encouragement to writers, he discussed a mostly forgotten 20th century American writer named Harry Stephen Keeler. Keeler wrote over a hundred pulp novels (mostly detective stories) from the 1920s to the 1950s and is remembered for being a terrible writer with convoluted plots and crazy dialogue. He is an inspiration because if he can succeed as a writer, getting published and making a living, and be so bizarrely bad, then whatever your creative endeavor, you can succeed too.
To give you an idea of just how crazy his writing is, here are the first two sentences from The Riddle of the Traveling Skull (1934):
He irritated me strangely and in the hope of getting a line on the source of his abnormal interest in me, I began to review the events, such as they were, which followed my exit from the big new Union Passenger Station at Randolph Street and Michigan Ave. For it must be remembered that at the time I knew quite nothing, naturally, concerning Milo Payne, the mysterious Cockney-talking Englishman with the checkered long-beaked Sherlockholmsian cap; nor of the latter’s “Barr-Bag” which was as like my own bag as one Milwaukee wienerwurst is like another; nor of Legga, the Human Spider, with her four legs and her six arms; nor of Ichabod Chang, ex-convict, and son of Dong Chang; nor of the elusive poetess, Abigail Sprigge; nor of the Great Simon, with his 2163 pearl buttons; nor of–in short, I then knew quite nothing about anything or anybody involved in the affair of which I had now become a part, unless perchance it were my Nemesis, Sophie Kratzenschneiderwümpel–or Suing Sophie!
Keeler loved storytelling so much that he created his own structure that he called a webwork plot. A webwork plot is built around a sequence in which the main character intersects at least four other strands of story, one after the other, and each of these encounters causes the next one.
We are drawn to the unescapable conclusion that Mr. Keeler writes his peculiar novels merely to satisfy his own undisciplined urge for creative joy.The New York Times, 1942
What are the takeaways from Harry Stephen Keeler?
· If he can do it, you can do it.
· Enjoy creating.
· Every kind of story has an audience, you just have to find it.
· Old stories can be rediscovered by new generations of readers and writers.
· Even bad writing can be inspirational, popular, & profitable.
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