One of the most scurrile and weirdly imaginative writers ever was Harry Stephen Keeler,whose books I have devoured for many years.
A defining characteristic of his writing is the so called “webwork plot”. Here is a good definition from Wikipedia:
“Most of Keeler’s novels feature a “webwork plot.” This can be defined as a plot that includes many strands or threads (each thread representing a character or significant object), which intersect in complex causal interactions. A webwork novel typically ends with a surprise revelation that clarifies these interactions retrospectively. According to Keeler’s 1927 series of articles on plot theory, “The Mechanics (and Kinematics) of Web-Work Plot Construction,” a webwork plot is typically built around a sequence in which the main character intersects at least four other strands, one after the other, and each of these encounters causes the next one. Keeler never claimed to have invented the webwork plot, but only to be its theorist and practitioner.
Keeler followed a writing procedure of his own; he’d often write a huge manuscript, perhaps twice the length required. He’d then cut it down to size, removing unnecessary subplots and incidents. The removed material (which he called “the Chunk”) would sit around until Keeler wrote another manuscript to use it – which might result in yet another cutting procedure, and another “Chunk.”
In his book Thieves’ Nights, the hero reads a book which is about two other men telling stories: a framing device within a framing device. In another book, Keeler and his wife turn up as characters in a story.Keeler also kept a large file of newspaper clippings featuring unusual stories and incidents. He is reputed to have pasted these into the rough outlines of his novels, adding notes like “Have this happen to. … ”
Keeler is known for the MacGuffin-esque insertion of skulls into nearly all his stories. While many plots revolved around a skull or the use of one in a crime or ritual, others featured skulls merely as a side diversion, including one case where a human skull was used as a paperweight on the desk of a police detective.Several of Keeler’s novels make reference to a (fictitious) book titled The Way Out, which is apparently a tome of ancient Oriental wisdom. The significance of the nonexistent Way Out in Keeler’s universe is equivalent to the role played by the Necronomicon within H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. ( Source: Wikipedia )
His plots are among the weirdest in literary history, here some fine examples:
A man is found strangled to death in the middle of a lawn, yet there are no footprints other than his own. Police suspect the “Flying Strangler-Baby,” a killer midget who disguises himself as a baby and stalks victims by helicopter. (X. Jones of Scotland Yard, 1936)
Because of a clause in a will, a character has to wear a pair of hideous blue glasses constantly for a whole year. This is so that he will eventually see a secret message that is visible only with the glasses. (The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro, 1929)
A poem leads the protagonist to a cemetery specializing in circus freaks and the grave of “Legga, the Human Spider,” a woman with four legs and six arms. Legga was born in Canton, China, and died in Canton, Ohio. (The Riddle of the Traveling Skull, 1934)
Every resident of “Idiot’s Valley” is mentally retarded and packs a gun.** (Several novels; Idiot’s Valley is Keeler’s Yoknapatawpha County.)
Thankfully enough Ramble House have reprinted all of these crazy works of imagination.
Highly recommended for inspiration and fun.