About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mass Production Writing (Part II)

Barbara Cartland dictating a book
In my last post I discussed some writers who had a prodigious literary output. Balzac, Dumas, John D. Macdonald and Rex Stout were my examples. Dumas topped the group having written 650 books. This post will discuss Barbara Cartland, Mary Balogh and Andrew Jefferson Offutt V, the author who inspired my posts on mass production writing. As well I will add some personal experiences on volume writing.

Romance writer, Barbara Cartland, wrote 723 books and became a world record holder when she wrote 23 books in 1983. In her obituary in the New York Times Richard Sevro wrote:

She was frequently able to dictate 7,000 words in an afternoon session, which usually lasted a few hours. She held forth from a sofa, a hot water bottle at her feet, her dog cuddled next to her, asleep. Her secretaries were not permitted to sneeze or cough while she dictated.

Perhaps in part because of her approach to dictating, her prose offers a prodigious number of one-sentence paragraphs, closer in its look to wire-service journalism than to the pages of Faulkner or Fitzgerald.

Multiple secretaries were needed to keep up with her dictation.
Mary Balogh
Mary Balogh was born in Wales and came to rural Saskatchewan almost 50 years ago to teach school. She settled in Kipling and married and started writing in 1983. In the ensuing 32 years she has written 60 books and 30 novellas with historical romance themes.
On her website she says the following about how she started writing:
My first five books were written longhand and typed into an ancient typewriter. The First Snowdrop was the first book to be written into a computer--an all-in-one dinosaur of a machine that had me in transports of delight. I could actually go back and correct typing errors! I could make wholesale changes without having to rewrite the whole thing. Best of all--and I still have not quite recovered from the novelty of this--when I was finished, I could press a key (no mouse in those days!) and the printer would do the typing for me while I put my feet up and relaxed--or washed another load of dishes, or marked another set of essays...

Currently she says:

I am very organized and very disciplined. I write every day when I am working on a book, and I write a set number of words a day, except when I am revising – 2,000 words.

The origins of my posts on mass production writing came from an article in last week’s New York Times titled My Dad the Pornographer by Chris Offutt. He describes how his father, Andrew Jefferson Offutt V, writing in rural Kentucky, wrote over 400 books, mainly pornography using 17 pseudonyms. While I do not admire his genre I acknowledge being interested in his approach to writing.

His basic method was not complicated:

Dad’s writing process was simple — he’d get an idea, brainstorm a few notes, then write the first chapter. Next he’d develop an outline from one to 10 pages. He followed the outline carefully, relying on it to dictate the narrative. He composed his first drafts longhand, wearing rubber thimbles on finger and thumb. Writing with a felt-tip pen, he produced 20 to 40 pages in a sitting. Upon completion of a full draft, he transcribed the material to his typewriter, revising as he went.

What enabled to go into mass production, often a book per month was:
   He created batches in advance — phrases, sentences,
   descriptions and entire scenes on hundreds of pages organized in
   three-ring binders. Tabbed index dividers separated the sections
   into topics.
Eighty percent of the notebooks described sexual aspects of women. The longest section focused on their bosoms. Another binder listed descriptions of individual actions, separated by labeling tabs that included: Mouth. Tongue. Face. Legs. Kiss. The heading of Orgasm had subdivisions of Before, During and After. The thickest notebook was designed strictly for B.D.S.M. novels with a list of 150 synonyms for “pain.” Sections included Spanking, Whipping, Degradation, Predegradation, Distress, Screams, Restraints and Tortures. These were further subdivided into specific categories followed by brief descriptions of each. 
Chris likens his father to a titan of the assembly line:
Dad was like Henry Ford applying principles of assembly-line production with pre-made parts. The methodical technique proved highly efficient. Surrounded by his tabulated notebooks, he could quickly find the appropriate section and transcribe lines directly into his manuscript. Afterward, he blacked them out to prevent plagiarizing himself. Ford hired a team of workers to manufacture a Model-T in hours. Working alone, Dad could write a book in three days.
At university four decades ago I was not well organized. When short essays piled up on me I developed a method of writing an essay quickly that let me write a 3-5 page essay in a day. I would try to discuss my intended theme with a professor to get a sense if the topic accorded with the assignment.  I would research an essay during the day. That night I would make an outline of the essay I had researched. I would then turn to the research for essay of the previous day. I would write and re-write the opening and closing for that essay. I would then write the body of the essay from the outline. I found waiting a day after research to write the essay let mind work on the subject and wrote a better essay.

As a lawyer I frequently draw upon what I have previously written. If I can copy for a brief from an earlier brief I will cut and paste. It is more efficient than re-writing the same argument. Clients are more interested in submissions being economical than original.

My greatest output came when a series of submissions for 3 separate hearings was needed almost 10 years ago. While working full time on my usual mix of files I wrote submissions totaling 900 pages for the hearings. The writing took place from May through August. I worked with the aid of a researcher. There was some repetition between the submissions but most of what was written was different for each submission. I have no desire to repeat that summer.


  1. That pornography-mass-production is hilarious, but doesn't tempt me to read any of it!

  2. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I found it sad that he was talented at writing science fiction but the money was in porn. Apparently some of his books combined science fiction and porn.

  3. That was a very interesting post. I like your methods for speeding up the essay writing process. Do you enjoy writing, since you do so much of it?

  4. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I like putting words together. I am best at narrative and analysis. Have you always been a writer?

  5. Bill, I have always enjoyed writing. In college the job I had was a research assistant and I liked writing the results up. In my technical job at a publisher, I only wrote up documentation for processes and specs for typesetting, back when serial publications were actually in print. I loved all of that, even though it was a minor part of my job. And I think I started blogging to be able to continue to be able to write without a lot of pressure.

  6. TracyK: Thanks for answering my question. I thought you gained pleasure from writing. The desire to write is a powerful force. I am glad you have taken up blogging both for yourself and for readers like myself. Best wishes for good writing ahead.