David Bruce: Anecdotes About Authors

Some writers are incredibly prolific. At age 73 in 2008, science-fiction writer Robert Silverberg had written approximately 300 novels, 600 short works of fiction, and 100 nonfiction books. Is that all, you ask? No. He has edited approximately 100 anthologies. (Let’s not mention all the Forewords and Introductions and other miscellaneous writings.) He writes so much that he has used more than 50 pseudonyms to keep from overwhelming readers. Of course, once in a while people ask him how he writes that much. He replies, “One word at a time.” As you would expect, he has many anecdotes about his years of writing. For example, when he was still a college student, a professional science-fiction writer named Randall Garrett moved into the apartment next door. Mr. Silverberg had already started writing and publishing science fiction, and Mr. Garrett told him, “I’m a professional writer with a lot of experience. I think we could work together. You are very disciplined; I am not.” Mr. Silverberg says, “It worked out beautifully for two or three years. When he would fall asleep at his typewriter because he’d been up all night drinking, I would pick up the manuscript and continue writing. Eventually I got married, and my wife said, ‘That man is not going to enter this house.’” A good writer nearing the end of his life ought to be able to think up a good epitaph, right? Right. Mr. Silverberg says, “A few years ago, I actually did come up with a mocking sort of epitaph for myself. It’s this: ‘Here lies Robert Silverberg. He spent most of his life in the future. Now he’s in the past.’”

In 1895, African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wanted to publish his first book of poems, but the publishing house of the religious organization United Brethren declined to do that unless he could give them $125 or had “ample security” for the money. Back then, $125 was a lot of money, and Mr. Dunbar had neither that much money nor ample security for that much money. Fortunately, the business manager of the company, William Blacher, saw how dejected Mr. Dunbar looked, and so he gave his personal guarantee to the company that the $125 would be repaid; therefore, Mr. Dunbar’s book of poetry — Oak and Ivy — was printed. Also fortunately, a number of Mr. Dunbar’s friends from high school gave him their support. Mr. Dunbar personally sold copies of his book at work and to friends, and two weeks after receiving the copies of his book, he was able to give the publishing house the $125 he owed it. After all, he had sold all of the copies of his book!

Tamora “Tammy” Pierce’s first novel, The Song of the Lioness, was written for adults, but agent Claire Smith read half of the manuscript and suggested that she rewrite it as a quartet (series of four books) for young adults. Tamora thought that Claire was just being polite and she was surprised later when Claire asked her how the rewrites were coming along. On hearing that Tamora thought that Claire was being nice in giving her a suggestion, Claire looked at her and said, “Tammy, I am never nice.” Tammy did rewrite it for teenagers, and when the first volume, “Alanna: The First Adventure,” was published in September 1983, Tamora looked for it in bookstores. Finding it in a B. Dalton bookstore, she started crying and saying over and over, “It’s real. I can’t believe it’s real.” Another day, Tamora and some of her friends were in a bookstore when a sales clerk came over and started praising Tamora’s book. Tamora’s friends pointed at her and sang out, “She’s the author!”

The best comedians often have many skills — they not only make people laugh, but also master language, criticize what is bad, recognize what is good, give credit where credit is due, and think both well and deeply. For example, George Carlin read and admired the books of Robert S. McElvaine. About Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History, Mr. Carlin wrote, “This impressive book … will provide [an] invaluable source of inspiration … regarding the huge issue of male/female roles and their impact on us. It’s about time someone put men in their proper place: on the bottom.” And Mr. Carlin provided this blurb for Mr. McElvaine’s Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America: “If Robert McElvaine had been Jesus’ lawyer, Pontius Pilate would have released him on his own recognizance.”

To combat boredom in church one Sunday, a young Sam Clemens and a friend brought cards and played a game of euchre in the vestry. Narrowly escaping getting caught, they hid the cards in the sleeves of the preacher’s baptismal robes. Shortly afterward, the preacher performed a baptismal service that involved complete immersion in water, and young Sam was delighted to see three aces floating on the surface of the baptismal water. Later, Sam adopted the name Mark Twain.

In 1837, two law professors at the University of Paris waged a duel over punctuation. The disagreement was over the ending of a passage; one professor thought it should end with a semicolon, while the other professor thought it should end with a colon. According to the “Times” of London, “The one who contended that the passage in question ought to be concluded by a semicolon was wounded in the arm. His adversary maintained that it should be a colon.”

One person who hated the Eiffel Tower even after it was built (many people thought that it would be a monstrosity before it was built) was author Guy de Maupassant. He hated the tower so much that he frequently ate at a restaurant on its second platform so that he would not have to see the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

A friend of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once read out loud a one-paragraph synopsis of Mr. Dick’s novel that was the basis of the movie Blade Runner, and then asked, “That the end of it?” Mr. Dick confirmed that it was, then joked, “Book is longer.”

“Satire is a glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.” — Jonathan Swift.

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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