For years, Newbery Medal-winning children’s book author Lois Lowry carried these two fortune-cookie fortunes in her wallet: YOU WILL BE FAMOUS IN A FAR-OUT PROFESSION and YOU WILL ATTEND A PARTY WHERE STRANGE CUSTOMS PREVAIL. She kept these fortunes because she wished for them to become true. (Actually, she edited one fortune. The original fortune said, YOU WILL BE RICH AND FAMOUS IN A FAR-OUT PROFESSION, but she edited out “RICH AND” because she wasn’t comfortable with an emphasis on money.) By the way, authors are often asked who has most influenced their career. For Newbery Medal-winning children’s book author Lois Lowry, that person was a Czechoslovakian woman named Maria who took care of the children while Ms. Lowry wrote. (Before she hired a housekeeper, a well-traveled path existed between Ms. Lowry’s washing machine and her typewriter.)
William Peter Blatty used to write comedies such as Blake Edwards’ A Shot in the Dark for Hollywood in the 1960s, but the market for these movies dried up, so he wrote the horror novel The Exorcist, then turned it into a screenplay. Of course, The Exorcist became a great horror movie and made him famous. Later, when Mr. Blatty was mentioned as a possible author for a comedy screenplay, a movie studio head was astounded: “William Peter Blatty! The guy who The Exorcist? You want me to hire him for a comedy?”
Children’s book author/illustrator David McPhail believes in taking advantage of inspiration when it strikes. He was awaiting some friends whom he had invited to his house when he was struck by inspiration and began writing Henry Bear’s Park. In the middle of writing the story, he heard a knock at the door. He threw it open, saw his friends, and told them, “I’m in the middle of writing something. Go to the beach and come back in an hour!” An hour later, when they came back, he had finished the story.
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, has been married more than once. An in-joke in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban occurs when Professor Trelawny is not looking forward to something that will occur on Friday, October 16—the date when Ms. Rowling married her first husband in 1992. (By the way, as I write this, the end of the seventh and final Harry Potter book has already been written by J.K. Rowling. It is being kept safe and secret in a bank vault somewhere in the United Kingdom.)
Lois Ehlert did not plan to be a writer/illustrator of children’s books, but after taking a class on making homemade books, she needed something to fill the pages of the book she had created. Because she had a vegetable garden, she wrote and illustrated a story that she titled Growing Vegetable Soup. The book was published and suddenly Ms. Ehlert was a writer/illustrator of books for children.
In 1877, Oscar Wilde filled out an American Confession Album, in which he recorded his answers to the many questions asked in the album. When asked, “What is your idea of misery?,” Mr. Wilde wrote, “Living a poor and respectable life in an obscure village.” When asked, “What is your idea of happiness?,” Mr. Wilde wrote, “Absolute power over men’s minds, even if accompanied by chronic toothache.”
As the author of such children’s books as The Two Giants, Eve Bunting finds that she can write anywhere. Because she didn’t have her notebook with her, she once wrote a children’s story on the back of a program in the dark while a play was being performed. On another occasion, she felt inspired while traveling but again didn’t have her notebook with her, so she wrote the story on a “barf” bag.
Even after publishing her children’s book Busybody Nora, Johanna Hurwitz wondered if she had really arrived. However, when she brought her second book, Nora and Mrs. Mind-Your-Own-Business, to her publishing house, her editor told her, “You’re one of us now.” Ms. Hurwitz says, “That’s when I really knew that being a writer was not a fantasy anymore.”
British writer J.G. Ballard, the author of Empire of the Sun, also wrote Crash, which became a movie directed by David Cronenberg. In the novel and movie, characters are sexually turned on by car and truck crashes. The person assigned to first read the novel at a British publishing house wrote on the manuscript, “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do Not Publish!”
Gary Paulsen’s novel Hatchet, about a 14-year-old boy named Brian surviving in the Northern wilderness with the aid of only a hatchet, was so well and realistically written that after it was published, people from the National Geographic Society called Mr. Paulsen to see if they could arrange to interview Brian. By the way, when Gary Paulsen, the popular children’s author of Hatchet, speaks before groups of young readers, he often wears a cap that bears the message, “Read Like a Wolf Eats.”
Adman Jerry Della Femina once wrote a best-seller titled From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor. As a young man, he had proposed that title as the slogan for a new Japanese product, but it was promptly shot down by older people who were more experienced in advertising.Richard Peck, author of such children’s books as Secrets of the Shopping Mall, had an excellent experience with the manuscript of his first novel. He took it himself to an editor, and the very next morning the editor called to tell him, “Start your second novel.”
Alexander the Great was once asked whether he would prefer to be Homer, the author of the Iliad, or Achilles, the hero of the Iliad. He replied, “What do you think? Would you rather win first prize at the Olympic Games or be the man who announces the winners?”
Barbara Taylor Bradford has written a number of popular books, including A Woman of Substance. Asked if she minded being a “popular novelist,” she replied, “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be an unpopular novelist.”
Pauses are important in plays by Harold Pinter, who sometimes complains if actors pause for two dots instead of the three he has written.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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