Reflections on My 2017 A to Z Challenge

As I mentioned in my Theme Reveal, my A to Zs have in the past consumed all of my time and energy for all of April.  In fact, for the past 3 years, I have spent most of May in a sort of creative dead zone, utterly unable to think of interesting things to write about, and nervously wondering if I could have burned through my lifetime supply of creativity in one glorious month.

This year, I was determined not to allow my A to Z Challenge to eat my life.  And– it didn’t!  I spent from 1-6 hours a day on my posts this year, which is pretty good, considering that in former years those numbers have been more like 6-18 hours/day (especially in 2015, the Year of the Complete Murder Mystery Novella, With Photographs).

I was also determined to have fun, and I totally did.  I love The Strand Magazine, and endlessly flipping through issues seeking The Perfect Image was exactly what I wanted to be doing anyway.  I have enjoyed all of my A to Zs, actually, and I fully intend to enjoy my A to Zs in the future, too.

Of course, the structure that I selected for my A to Z this year imposed certain limitations.  I mean, if there wasn’t a suitable illustration for my next plot twist, I had to select a new plot twist.  But limitations can be inspiring as well as frustrating, and it was a fun challenge to work within the limitations imposed by my theme.  Many of the crazier plot twists in my stories this year were inspired by the images available to me.  The potato-continuity in Alfie’s story is a good example of this– and though I didn’t know it was anything more than a sight-gag when I put it in, it turned out to be relevant later on.  Also the whole small-dog plot-line in Annabelle’s narrative was inspired by an illustration I was just dying to use.  In fact, most of the really surprising bits in my stories came from my desire to use a particular image.

I also learned a lot about what sorts of things were and were not illustrated in The Strand.  I could only find one picture of a woman in any sort of violent contact with a man, for example.  I should perhaps have expected this, but I didn’t.  Ladies are always being kidnapped in Sensational Literature, right?  But if there were any images in The Strand of a lady being carried off by a thug, I must have missed them.  Indeed, that sort of image, so characteristic of the pulp magazines of a later era, was possibly considered inappropriate in the more polite 1890s, at least for The Strand.  All that intimate contact between unmarried persons, I mean.  Shocking!

Of course, I wouldn’t put it past Punch to have such illustrations… also, I may really just have missed such images in The Strand… also, I don’t have access to a complete run of The Strand, only the ones available on the Internet Archive… so my results are completely inconclusive, and I shouldn’t make assumptions about propriety in the Victorian era, because I have a suspicion that we rather exaggerate that aspect of Victorian life in the modern day.  It appeals to us to think of Victorians being so stiff with propriety that they could barely move.  It makes us feel all the more free by comparison, and it makes the era seem stranger and more alien than perhaps it was.  The appeal of the notion makes me suspect that it may be partially nonsense.  I also suspect (though it would require more research than I am willing to do to prove this) that we get many of our notions about Victorian Propriety from the literature of the eras immediately following the Victorian Era, and that the writers of these eras would be tempted to exaggerate, in order to differentiate their own time from the immediate past.  It is, after all, fun to think of shocking those stuffy people who came before one.  As Ronald Knox has it in The Body in the Silo (1933):

“I suppose,” he said, “the Victorians would have been rather shocked by all this.”

“Just a little,” admitted Angela.  “But then of course they’re dead.  I sometimes wonder we spend so much time trying to shock people who aren’t there.”

…And I have, it seems, veered wildly off-topic.  But!  I managed to quote Ronald Knox, and his mystery novels (or anyway those involving Miles Bredon, of the Indescribable Insurance Company, and Angela Bredon, Miles’ wife) are really charming, so I think I am not going to go back and delete anything, though my inner editor is even now scowling balefully at the screen, urging me towards destruction.

Right!  Maybe it really wasn’t proper for men to be shown manhandling ladies.  I don’t know.  Anyway, I only found one illustration of a lady being grabbed aggressively by a man, and after I’d used it (Click Here to see the post I mean), I found I had to re-think Annabelle’s story.  I had to make the story less about Annabelle being grabbed by various villains, and more about small dogs.  There are lots of images involving small dogs in The Strand.

Yes.  That seems, on the whole, as good a place to end this post as any.  Look out for Part II of my A to Z Reflections, which will include some of the images from The Strand I didn’t end up using!



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  1. I enjoyed your posts throughout the month. The potato and small dog bits were great and unexpected additions to your story, and strangely memorable. It’s the odd things that stick with us, I guess.

    Congratulations on another successful A to Z!

  2. Fascinating reading about your process during the challenge. I do agree with you that limitations may bring to great creativity… as it was the point of many of my AtoZ posts, now that I think about it 😉

    You might have a point about the Victorians too, they might have not been as rigid as we make them to be. That might be a fabrication of the people who came after.
    I often run into the same attituted about the 1920s, but the other way around: people tend to make flappes a lot more daring then they were. Or a should say, daring in a moder way, which they obviously were not.
    But then, I suppose we always tend to give our own traits to people who weren’t in a position to have them 😉

    Well, I veered out of topic too. Isn’t that particularly approtriate? 😉

    Thanks so much for a great challenge!

    • Hello Sara! And I was thinking of points you raised in your A to Z when I was writing about the advantages of limitations– which could be said to be a cornerstone of Film Noir’s aesthetic. And I imagine people do tend to exaggerate the boldness of the flappers, or translate it into a more modern boldness.
      Thanks for following my stories to the end!

  3. I enjoyed your posts. I agree the AtoZ is time consuming. This was my 4th year and I think I managed my time better. The constraints of A to Z mean I write about some things I would not have written about but I do get a satisfaction about having written on these obscure topics.

    I am a gallery guide here in Ballarat. Our 19th century pictures are really quite risqué by modern standards. The gallery committee, which included both Anglican and Catholic bishops, did not blink an eyelid at paintings of nude young girls or Ajax abducting a naked Cassandra from the temple of Athena. Opening on Sundays though was a source of enormous dissent 🙂

    Happy blogging

    • Hello Anne! I think your example is exactly on point– the Victorians seemed to give art with Classical themes a free pass, obscenity-wise, but opening on Sundays was shocking. So, they were fine with art that even today gives us pause, but something that we barely even think about (at least, I generally assume things will be open on Sundays) really bothered them. Thanks for your excellent example! Also, what is your favorite part of the gallery to show to visitors? Do you have a favorite piece of art, or favorite anecdote, that you look forward to on each tour? Do you ever steer certain groups (ex: hoards of small schoolchildren) away from certain art (ex: those risque pictures you mentioned)?

  4. I adored your posts throughout the month, and I love hearing a bit about the process behind them. And I agree COMPLETELY about limitations – I actually love when someone gives me a theme or a suggestion that I have to build a story around. It drives me creatively, and you have to come up with unexpected ways to push the story along while using the requirements (as you did in spades!).

    Huge kudos once again for one of the most impressive A-to-Z’s I’ve seen this year!

    • Yes! Themes are the best! If you like having an assigned theme for your writing, and if you also like fiction contests, you might want to consider one of the NYC Midnight contests. I usually do the Flash Fiction one, and it is fun. You get put into a group of 20-30 other writers, and each group is assigned a genre, a location, and an object. The story must be in the assigned genre, it must be mainly set in the assigned location, and the assigned object must appear somewhere in the text. After two rounds, the top-scoring group members move on to the next round. Anyway, it is fun, and competitive, and I like it a lot. It is also something you have to pay to participate in, but I think it is worth it? I think? Anyway, I generally do it, and some of the stories I’ve written for it are, I think, pretty awesome. This one is particularly good:
      Also? I’m really glad you liked my A to Z! I liked yours, too!

  5. people these days, they just show their nude bodies without even a slight regret, I guess I’m a prude but I just wonder where the modesty went

    I don’t think I would have been able to write a story using only certain images, you did great though. I think Alfie and the potato is sort of weird but then the story is sort of weird so it works.

    congrats on finishing the challenge. have a lovely day.

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