Thursday, November 25, 2010

Guest Post: Bill Peschel

Bill Peschel, author of Writers Gone Wild, had been so gracious as to write a guest post for my blog. I have posted a feature of this book and details for more information in the previous post for today so I hope you will check it all out and go get this book.

The germ of “Writers Gone Wild” was planted in 1994. I was reading Michael Holroyd’s biography of George Bernard Shaw when I came across the story of how he lost his virginity to Jenny Patterson, an older woman who was his mother’s friend. Shaw was not the great playwright then. He was 26, scraping by on music journalism in London, and he had a diary in which he recorded his purchases. On that particular day, he bought his first condom, noted the price ─ 5 shillings ─ and that after he had examined them, was “extraordinarily revolted,” an odd reaction to a packet of rubbers.

Fascinated, I followed the affair that played out like a Victorian “Fatal Attraction.” Although he celebrated his 27th birthday by taking Mrs. Patterson to his bed, Shaw was deeply conflicted. He enjoyed the sex, but was ashamed of his desires.

Their relationship rocked between recriminations and reconciliations. Shaw would push her away, only to drive himself back into her arms. When he rejected her, she refused to go. Shaw took to avoiding her, sometimes in farcical ways. When he nearly ran into Jenny at his mother’s house, he hid in another room until she left. When he took up with other women, Jenny stalked him, invaded his rooms and stole his letters. When she verbally assaulted actress Florence Farr, he finally broke it off.

More than a juicy bit of literary gossip, Shaw’s story gave me insight into the iconoclast who loved political systems more than people. So I started looking for similar stories. Instead of reading Hemingway’s “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” I researched his fight with Wallace Stevens on a Key West pier that contributed a key line to the short story. I found that one of Katherine Anne Porter greatest stories was inspired by a near-fatal trip on marijuana and hallucinogens. And who could resist reading about Virginia Woolf posing as an Abyssinian prince, running around the Royal Navy flagship in blackface and shouting “Bunga Bunga”?

It took 16 years for “Writers Gone Wild” to reach the bookstores, enough time for technological changes to help in the research. The Internet opened up the British newspapers, which cover the literary scene past and present. Google found obscure web sites, such as the one that published a thesis about Thoreau torching Walden woods. Google Books led me to contemporary works about John Milton’s exhumation. A freelance job writing essays for Oxford’s American National Biography was rewarded with access to their database, so I grabbed a ton of writer biographies (sorry about crashing the servers, guys, I hope you didn’t lose too much data).

It was slow, irregular work. I’d write a few essays, then go off and write a novel, or change jobs or get married and have a couple kids. At one point, I wrote a proposal and sent it out to four agents. All four rejected it, so back it went in the drawer. It was a true quarter-assed effort, and I was sure “Writers Gone Wild” would become another idea that went nowhere.

Jump to about two years ago, and I was looking for material to put on the web site. By this time, I had at least 2,000 computer files, two file cabinet drawers stuffed with photocopies and printouts and a bookcase packed with biographies. I decided to write a couple essays a week and put it on the website. I wasn’t trying to sell a book; I just wanted to make use of the research that had taken years to compile.

Six months later, I realized I had a book going anyway.

Now that the book is out, I’m shifting into marketing mode, writing pieces such as this one and thinking about future projects. One thing I’m trying to do is stick to my goal of writing 300 words a day on the next project. It’s not easy, and sometimes I’ll have to put that aside if an opportunity arises to promote myself.

As for reading, it’s pretty catch-all. I’ll read anything if it’s good, no matter what genre. You don’t build up a 5,000-book library without taking one from column A, two from column B, and the rest from C through Z.

In fact, here is what’s on my stack right now:

* “Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul” by Barbara Reynolds. For an annotation project of her first novel I’m self-publishing in a few months.

* “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman. I bought this recently and intend to start reading it, someday.

* “Schmucks With Underwoods” by Max Wilk. About screenwriters in Hollywood, for a possible “Hollywood Gone Wild” sequel.

* “My Wicked, Wicked Ways” by Errol Flynn. His scandalous memoir. I had read it years ago, but my wife saw this unexpurgated version at the library and picked it up.

* “A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846” by Alethea Hayter. Exactly what it says it is. A day-by-day account of what literary people were doing, saying, thinking about and writing. Addictive.

* “Demosclerosis” by Jonathan Rauch: About the rising, destructive influence of interest groups in Washington.

* “The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World One Correction at a Time” by Jeff Deck. Just what it says. Haven’t started this one yet.

* “Djibouti” by Elmore Leonard. And if I’m a good boy and finish these pieces on time, a bite of dessert.

So that’s what my life is like since "Writers Gone Wild" came out: chaotic, uncertain, tiresome but nearly always interesting. It’s not the life I expected, but it’s the life I want, and that makes it all worthwhile.

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