Friend of the Retort, Chris Rettstatt, found this gem on the Internet the other day:
It’s the work of a Malaysian cake artist for a client whose child, reportedly, holds “Edgar & Ellen: High Wire” as his favorite book. (Previous link is a Flickr stream; here’s the corporate link for all my vast Malaysian readership.)
This cake is such a great monument to one of my favorites of the Edgar & Ellen series. The book has everything: a macabre circus, a shifty set of villains, a quest, a faked death, a poisonous bite from a carnivorous plant, and dancing peacocks. I’ve posted snippets of “High Wire” in the Excerpts section, and I’m proud of my work on the book.
It bears noting that, at the time, three different writers were sharing the load under the nom de plume Charles Ogden — not just the plotting and outlining (a very laborious and detailed process the way we did it), but the writing and editing, too. And though we split the duties evenly, I’ve always regarded this book as Billy Carton’s. As a fellow Ogden, Will identified some significant plot problems late in the game and offered the solution — he put the book on his back for a short time, restructuring the ending, throwing whole sections into different locations to help us untie a knot we had wound around ourselves.
In the end, Will knew instinctively that (mild spoiler here, if you care) the villain had to disappear, presumed dead, early in the third act and not be heard from until the bitter end. Because if the villain was going to hang around, we had to give him stuff to do and say and … poof. As soon as he was gone, our heroes could get on with resolving their journey, saving us time and torquing up tension to a new high.
It was a masterful feat, and it taught me a lot about the courage to “murder your darlings” as the old writer’s adage goes. That is, a writer may fall in love with a passage or a chapter or a whole sinewy thread of an idea holding together his plot, but when the story demands it, he must be able to kill off those beloved ideas in order to solve bigger problems. Sometimes the story just demands these favorite passages be axed, and a writer can’t let his ego (or his exasperation) keep him from going back to square one. Hint for writers: Just because something is funny, well-written, or masterfully clever, doesn’t mean your story needs it to fulfill your characters or deliver them to their destination.
However, some darlings get to live on. Here’s another of my favorite passages that survived the executioner’s axe on the way to the finale. It stars Ringmaster Benedict who, we have seen, has a whalebone peg leg that can be adorned with inventive costumes:
In the far corner Mayor Knightleigh sat uncomfortably in a carved chair with feet that were zebra hooves at the back and lion paws in front.
Benedict stood by the window that looked out upon a cranking collection of gears, cogs, and pulleys. The mechanisms whirled in a precise ballet and filled the room with a rhythmic hum. Here in the bowels of the funhouse, the man had a superior view of the machinery that ran it all.
Ellen noticed that Benedict’s right leg was no longer a unicycle; now it was covered in white feathers and ended in a scaly chicken foot with four fierce talons.
“Peculiar,” she murmured.
Benedict crossed to his desk and propped his chicken foot upon it.
“Oh! An itch. Just now. I can’t quite reach it,” he said. “I hate to impose, Mr. Mayor, but would you scratch it for me?”
The mayor curled his lip in disgust. “If … you insist.”
He reached out and tentatively placed a fingertip on the underside of the foot, then began to scratch. Suddenly, the chicken leg shot from Benedict’s body and smacked the mayor’s chest, knocking him back into the animal chair, which squawked like a kookaburra.
“Spring-loaded chicken leg,” chuckled Benedict. “My most recent invention.”