Most writers work so hard to be famous. We study the craft, we self promote, we tweet. But sometimes Fame happens despite our best efforts to avoid it.
Franz K was an insurance clerk who wrote short stories in his spare time and constantly complained that his day job left him too little time for his ‘calling.’ Only a few of his works were published in his lifetime – perhaps because they were surrealistic and deeply disturbing. One was about a scientist who wakes up one morning and discovers he has turned into a cockroach.
Franz thought his stuff was so bad he asked his best friend and the executor of his estate, Max Brod, to destroy all his manuscripts upon his death. Max promised him faithfully – then reneged, and published posthumously everything Kafka asked him not even to read.
Franz Kafka is now considered one of the most influential authors of the 20th century, his work is said to have influenced Camus, Sartre, Nabokov, J.D. Salinger, García-Márquez and Bukowski.
Because sometimes those closest to us are right when we’re wrong. Stephen King might never have become Stephen King if it weren’t for Tabitha, his wife. He had three unpublished novels in his bottom drawer when he wrote the first three pages of “Carrie,” intending it as a short story for ‘Cavalier’ magazine.
At the time he was living in a trailer in Maine and writing on a portable typewriter – even that belonged to Tabitha.
King tossed ‘Carrie’ in the garbage but Tabitha fished the pages out, read them and told him to finish it, then advised him to turn it into a novel. “I persisted because I was dry and had no better ideas… my considered opinion was that I had written the world’s all-time loser.”
Moral: always listen to your wife.
Spouses certainly have a big part to play in the success of many famous writers.
When Margaret Mitchell badly injured her ankle in an automobile accident (this was in the twenties before automobiles became cars) she decided to pass her convalescence lying on the couch reading. Her husband, John, got tired of lugging home armfuls of library books and said: “For God’s sake, Peggy, can’t you write a book instead of reading thousands of them?”
He even gave her a Remington Portable typewriter.
So for three years Mitchell worked on a Civil War novel about a woman named Pansy O’Hara. The whole world gave a damn.
She just wrote for her own amusement, not to be famous and write a book everyone recognizes and talks about eighty years later.
In a similar vein, Charles Lutwidge Dodson made up a story to keep his niece amused. Well, sort of.
She wasn’t really his niece.
If you don’t know I hate to tell you, but it’s best you heard this first from a friend. The Victorians weren’t as Victorian as we are led to believe; Arthur liked to take pictures of naked underage girls. Contemporary society saw nothing wrong in this. One of these girls was ten year old Alice Liddell, and one day he made up a story for her, and she made him promise to write it down and so he did.
He was encouraged to take it to a publisher (you could do that in those days.)
When it was published, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll propelled Arthur to superstardom. Queen Victoria herself even asked him if he would dedicate his next book to her.
So one of our best loved children’s stories was written by a … by a … mathematician. Anything else he might have been – (and this is another of his photographs) well, it’s not proven, any more than they proved anything about Michael Jackson’s sleepovers. Let the dead rest. I’m not going any further down that rabbit hole.
If you want the truth, go ask Alice.
One of the most famous writers of the sixties and seventies did everything he could to burn his reputation and get fired – and only succeeded in making himself a household name. So I guess by that standard he was a failure.
Commissioned by Rolling Stone magazine to write an expose about how the LAPD had shot and killed a TV journalist during a war rally in Las Vegas in 1970, he also took a job writing a 250 word pictorial caption piece about the ‘Mint 400′ desert bike race for Sports Illustrated while he was there.
Only what he did was use his $300 advance from Sports Illustrated to buy a boot full of recreational drugs, including LSD, ether, mescaline, amyl nitrate and tequila. Pressed on his deadline he ripped some pages out of his diary and sent his editors those.
The journal described some of the experiences he had had taking the drugs instead of taking photographs of the bike race. Sports Illustrated rejected them; Rolling Stone magazine published them.
It was the genesis of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” which Tom Wolfe described as as a “scorching epochal sensation”. Instead of becoming unemployable, Hunter S Thompson became the voice of a generation.
But I don’t recommend you try this at home, folks. Hunter had a hell of a constitution.
So Facebook, write your own Amazon reviews, send out spam, run naked through the Washington Monument (now that might work!) but in the end I suspect that if fame wants to find us, it knows right where we live, and deadbolts aren’t going to keep it out.
In the meantime, (sigh), it’s back to Twitter.
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