David Bruce: Authors Anecdotes


All beginning authors have to deal with rejection slips. Young people’s author Bruce Coville calls them “ugly baby letters.” He says, “It’s like getting a letter that says, ‘Dear Mr. Coville, We have carefully examined photographs of your child, and boy, do you have an ugly baby!” Mr. Coville also says that beginning authors have to keep on writing and sending out manuscripts—if they don’t, they will never be published.

Good satire often appears where you don’t expect it, and why not—satirists are highly intelligent people who sense opportunities that ordinary people don’t recognize. For example, many odd items appear for sale at <amazon.com>, including skinned rabbit carcasses. Immediately, satirists started writing customer comments: “Nothing says ‘EAT ME’ like a picture of a skinned rabbit carcass!” and “I bought this thinking it would make a wonderful gift for my neighbor’s young son. Ordering was simple, and delivery was flawless. So you can imagine the shock and awe not only on my face, but also my neighbor’s three-year-old son, when he opened the package to find a DEAD rabbit.” The <amazon.com> page selling uranium ore provoked this comment: “My wife and I purchased this product for the express purpose of breeding an atomic superman. After a daily regimen of ingesting a tablespoon of this powder mixed with green tea along with her prenatal vitamins, my wife developed serious morning sickness and perished during childbirth.”

While author Robert Parsons was on holiday in St. Lucia, he and his family ate dinner at a buffet restaurant. Unfortunately, three English teenagers were seated nearby, and they were using the f-word. Because Mr. Parsons’ daughter was young enough to be reading books such as My Little Pony, he went over to the teenagers and told them to stop using foul language. They stopped. Unfortunately, Mr. Parsons’ wife told him later that the teenagers’ language had been foul, but his language when telling them to shut up had been fouler. Of course, telling three teenagers who could easily beat him up to shut up may be dangerous, but Mr. Parsons says that he has done something even more dangerous: taking drugs with the Clash and the Sex Pistols. By the way, Mr. Parsons is learning Japanese, a language that his wife and his daughter know well. As of early 2008, he had learned enough Japanese that his young daughter no longer laughed at him, and he says that he is able to read Tokyo street signs—“as long as they say ‘sushi.’”

David Grazian wrote a book about Philadelphia’s nightlife titled On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife, partly because as a sociologist, he knew that the cities that have been most studied—New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas—are not like other American cities. Mr. Grazian was able to do research by interviewing people partly because he looks like an everyman and not competition or a wolf. He asks, “Can you think up a worse pickup line than ‘Hey, I’m a sociologist … mind if I study you?’” Mr. Grazian says that only one woman ever fell for that line “and I married her.” One thing that Mr. Grazian discovered in his research was that nightlife provokes anxiety: “Shrinking violets and 40-year-old virgins, sure, they were scared. But also the popular kids and the beautiful people—especially the popular kids and the beautiful people. I sometimes think we’d all just be better off dressing down, and stop trying so hard to be hip. Having fun should be way more fun than this.”

At age 13, Mikita Brittman, author of The Solitary Vice: Against Reading, took part in a school debate in which students portrayed famous people trapped in a hot-air balloon from which gas was leaking. One of the passengers had to be overthrown overboard in order to save the other passengers, and each of the passengers had to make the case that he or she was so important that someone else should be thrown overboard. Mikita, of course, being good with words, was able to convince the other children that her character—Bela Lugosi, star of Dracula—was so important that one of the other characters ought to be thrown overboard instead of Mr. Lugosi. Those other characters included Winston Churchill, King Henry VIII, and Margaret Thatcher.

The Australian novelist Shirley Hazzard is highly rated by critics, yet little known by readers. In addition to writing novels, she also has memorized much, much poetry. In fact, her knowledge of poetry led to her and her husband, Flaubert scholar Francis Steegmuller, meeting the novelist Graham Greene. In a restaurant at Capri, they overheard him trying to remember a line of poetry. Ms. Hazzard knew the line and recited it, and the three became friends. Critics do appreciate her. At the end of an interview with Ms. Hazzard, journalist Bryan Appleyard told her, “Thank you. You have written some beautiful novels.” She replied, “Pardon, what did you say?” Mr. Appleyard repeated his statement, and she admitted, “I heard you. I just wanted to hear you say it again.”

Scott Adams, cartoonist and writer of Dilbert, does fewer continuing stories than other comics creators. He feels that all too often the end of the story isn’t funny and therefore is just a wasted day. In fact, he once created a continuing story in which Dogbert created giant menacing cucumbers while doing genetic research. However, he says, “I realized halfway through the series that there was no way this could end well, so I just did an editor’s note saying I realized it wasn’t funny and so I thought I’d just stop there.” His readers agreed that the giant menacing cucumber story was “going nowhere” and that Mr. Adams was right to end the story.

When young people’s author Beverly Cleary was a child, she entered a contest in which the best essay about an animal would win $2. She won the $2, and she found out that she had been the only person to write and send in an essay. Ms. Cleary says, “This incident was one of the most valuable lessons in writing I ever learned. Try! Others will talk about writing but may never get around to trying.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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