Time for a little gossip

Paula’s Post #5 — This member of the 5writers has just hit the magical number: post #5!

Ha! I bet you thought I was about to reveal something more earthshaking. Perhaps my page count to date, or the number of acts in my novel (which would be an erroneous guess, as, if you’ve read my previous posts, you would know that I’m trying to follow the traditional ‘Three Act Structure’, Not ‘Five Acts’ – at least I hope not).

But while thinking about the fact that this is now my 5th post, and trying to decide on a subject matter for this latest post, I had an epiphany!

Dear faithful readers, I fear we may be boring you to death!

While we, the 5writers,  may enjoy debating the merits of StoryMill vs Scrivener as the best writing software, or whether outlining or not outlining is the best way to go. You may be tired of these rather arcane, academic debates. After all, one cannot watch only the news, read only documentaries, or remained transfixed by C-SPAN.

Sometimes we just need to be entertained.

And while many of our posts may have been somewhat entertaining, by and large, the subject matter which I would loosely characterize as ‘the process’ of writing, may, by now,  be wearing a bit thin, even for our most loyal followers.

So, thanks to facebook, which I’m ashamed to say is responsible for more than a few of my latest ‘inspirations’ I have picked up a few ‘tidbits’ of gossip.

Gossip about writers.

Suddenly I knew what this blog post should be about. Suddenly I knew how to entertain you. All I need to do is provide you with a few fleeting glimpses into the personal lives of some of the your favourite authors.

This isn’t just base gossip mongering. I started down this road of inquiry with laudable intentions: I wanted to find out how the very successful writers I so admired somehow managed to balance their busy lives with the challenge of getting words down on paper. (If you believe most of them, almost every single day).

So, since the focus on the process of writing may have become unbearable, here, in no particular order and with no particular theme, are the gossipy tidbits I’ve learned about some of our favourite novelists.

1. John GrishamThe Firm is not, as most believe, Grisham’s first novel. His first novel, A Time to Kill was rejected by dozens of agents and publishers before it was finally published by a small regional press, with a printing run of just 5,000 copies. Only after the success of The Firm was A Time To Kill resurrected, acquired by Doubleday and turned into a bestseller and blockbuster feature film starring Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey.

2. George Orwell: The British author’s work Animal Farm was apparently originally rejected by Knopf on the basis that ‘it is impossible to sell animal stories in the US’.

3. Truman Capote: The eccentric author iis quoted as saying: “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping.”

(Now, I can relate to Mr. Capote as, I too, am guilty of writing lying down – though with my laptop, not pen and paper, and God knows I get nowhere without my typical eight shots of caffeine before noon).

4. John Cheever: this author favoured writing in his underwear, reputedly explaining this practice by commenting “why rumple and wrinkle when you can do the same thing in your skivvies?”

5. Ernest Hemingway: One of the most famous of all authors, with a colourful reputation for drinking and carousing, reputedly attempted to write 500 words a day, always in the morning, before the heat made it unbearable. He is, however, reputed to have stated, in a letter to fellow author F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

6. Isaac Asimov: The prolific science fiction author of approximately 400 fiction and non-fiction books reputedly never drank alcohol and wrote with his desk facing a blank wall.

7. William Faulkner:  On the other hand, Mr. Faulkner reportedly worked for a bootlegger in his early days and drank copious quantities of whiskey.

8. Dean Koontz: who prolifically pens supernatural thrillers, has written more than 50 novels, 45 of which have been on The New York Times’ best-seller list. Although his books are often ‘dark’, he has been quoted as saying: “My villains are pathetic. I never glorify a villain. I couldn’t write something like Hannibal because there’s something there that makes the villain the most glamorous person in the piece. I can’t write that. I don’t find evil glamorous. You’ll never find it that way in my books.”

9. Elizabeth George: Author of the excellent Write Away, where she recounts her approach to fiction and ‘the writing life’ is a ‘California Girl’ now transplanted to the Pacific Northwest. Her Scotland Yard detective series, featuring Inspector Lynley and his side-kick Havers, is so authentic that British readers have difficulty believing she is American. She is, and not only that, is also a relatively close neighbour to the 5writers, having taken up residence on Whidbey Island, just across the border from us in Washington State. Rumour has it that she has a passion for Dachshunds.

10. Agatha Christie: the Grand Dame of detective fiction and creator of both the iconic Poirot and Miss Marple characters, loved to surf.

So, as you may have guessed, wannabe surfer Paula has saved, what she considers ‘the best for last’. Who amongst you would have pictured Agatha on a surf board? But I promise it is true. Her real life surfing adventures are being published by Harper Collins: The Grand Tour, with diaries and photographs from author’s round-the-world adventure.  

So that is my list! And I have to admit I hate to quit now, so much more to tell. If you have any tidbits of gossip or arcane kernels of wit or wisdom regarding the lives of famous authors, please don’t hesitate to share them with us here.

I’ll be especially grateful for those that provide inspiration!

Now, time to get back to outlining (and no, I haven’t started writing yet … just in case you were curious).

Paula’s Disclaimer: the above is a result of what I call ‘surfing research’, in other words, visits to multiple, diverse web pages containing gossip, trivia and other unsubstantiated information and quotations. Please treat the above as such. I have included links for each author mentioned, but like all my surfing, there is no one source, no style manual I followed, no rhyme nor reason to the links I chose (other than, in the case of writers with their own official web pages, I have tried to provide a ‘click through’ to their own sites).

3 thoughts on “Time for a little gossip

  1. I took heart in learning the early tribulations of Grisham and Orwell. The tidbit about Faulkner explains a lot, don’t you think?

  2. Hemmingway wrote longhand, standing up. He claimed to have an aversion to talking or writing about writing, but apparantly didn’t walk the talk – since an editor named Larry W. Phillips managed to collect a lot of what he wrote about writing into a book called “Ernest Hemingway on Writing. Good book. I love the gossip.

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