Getting to know you…

Irving Wallace was an incredibly prolific writer. Think Tom
Clancy or Robert Ludlum and you get the idea. As I’ve continued processing the
collection, I’ve learned some interesting things about Wallace’s writing style,
his techniques, and his process. I’ve also gained a pet peeve or two about his idiosyncrasies.

A few things I’ve learned in the last few weeks – Irving
Wallace was either VERY interested in the topic of sex or he was VERY interested
in making money with his work and knew that sex sells. Okay, it’s probably a
combination of those things, but it seems
like he’s always using sex as a major theme of his work. Last week I wrote
about Victoria Woodhull, an exceptional woman who pushed back at the roles available
to women during her era and even ran for president. But because she was
outspoken about her positive opinions of sex, Wallace labeled her the
prostitute who ran for president. There was a lot more about the other women in
the collection Nymphos and Other Maniacs
as well. Promiscuous women make for good stories seemingly. As another example,
in The Celestial Bed, Wallace’s story
revolves around a man and woman who have sex with their clients to teach them
intimacy and help them resolve their issues. I haven’t actually read the book,
but that’s the gist I sussed from working with it. Wallace hit on a theme that
worked and kept with it I think.

Another thing I learned about Wallace, like the theme of
sex, he never seemed to mind reusing techniques that got a publishing contract.
After placing numerous revisions of the manuscript for The Celestial Bed into new acid-free folders, I have now read
pretty much the first paragraph of every chapter of the book. They all use the
same formula. When (person’s full name) did (this thing: woke up, got to work,
whatever), s/he had no idea that (this thing) would happen. It seems a bit cliché,
but it works! Over and over I found myself wondering who was this cat Wallace
was talking about and why didn’t he or she know that was going to happen. As a
matter of fact, how did that happen in the first place? See what he did there?
It’s called hooking the reader. Wallace did it well even if formulaically.

A last thing I’ve come to appreciate about Wallace in the
last few weeks is just how well he understood his audience. As I’ve insinuated
above, he knew his reader, but he even understood his other audiences. On each
and every copy of his manuscripts I’ve worked with, Wallace has a little note
attached explaining to the archivist and the researcher what this particular
draft is about. He usually states how many revisions there were before the
first draft that went to the agent or publisher to see if they wanted to buy
it. Or how many more revisions were involved after he got that contract. One manuscript I processed today was a
draft copy for his wife to review. I cannot fathom it, but apparently she
reviewed and edited every single manuscript he wrote. He always took her
suggestions into account when revising. It astounds me that one or two years
later, sometimes more, Wallace can still remember what every draft was about.
Sometimes he cranked out entire books in a mere three months’ time all while
working on other projects along the way. All of these things I appreciate, but
even Irving Wallace can’t escape pet peeves.

My pet peeve with Wallace? Paper clips. Lots and
lots and lots of paper clips. Mind you by now they’ve been replaced by
archive-friendly plastic clips, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason for
them. Why Irving?! Why did you bundle this set of pages together? And why didn’t
you leave any inscriptions about them like you do about the drafts? Sometimes
pages are bundled across chapters, sometimes within chapters. Sometimes he
bundled huge swaths of papers (30-50 sheets at a time), while others he might
choose to clip a mere three pages together. Was this where he stopped reading
that day doing revisions? Was this where he stopped writing that day? Maybe,
but who knows. It’s a little thing, but then pet peeves mostly are, right?

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