David Bruce: Books Anecdotes

When Stephenie Meyer was searching for a location in which to set Twilight, a novel about a teenaged girl named Bella Swan who falls in love with a vampire named Edward Cullen who has been 17 years old for over a century, she researched the rainiest spot in the United States and discovered the Olympic Peninsula, and a little place called Forks, in the state of Washington. This became the setting for her novel, the first in a very popular series of novels, and a place that many tourists go to. The residents of Forks mainly enjoy the attention. When Forks Chamber of Commerce Director Marcia Bingham asked a couple of educators, David and Kim McIrvin, to allow their home to be designated as the Swans’ home, they agreed. (Bella’s home has two stories, and the McIrvins’ home is the only house with two stories on their block.) A sign that says, “Home of the Swans,” is out front. Carlisle Cullen is the fictional vampire who brought the family of vampires together. He is a doctor, and if you go to the Forks hospital, a parking spot has a sign that says, “Dr. Cullen: Reserved Parking Only.”

David Jenkins has twice been used as a character in a book, including a character who is balding, portly, and American in The Paradise Trail by his friend Duncan Campbell, although Mr. Jenkins had a full head of flowing locks, a flat stomach, and a Welsh heritage—a heritage he still has. Therefore, Mr. Jenkins asks, “But however grand a role you play in however important a book, does it encapsulate the real person?” For example, Hubert Duggan is a real person who appears (under names other than his own) in two important novels: A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell, and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. In A Dance to the Music of Time, he is “dashing but doomed.” And Mr. Waugh helped Mr. Duggan return to the Catholic faith when Mr. Duggan was on his deathbed, a scene that appears in Brideshead Revisited. It seems that Mr. Duggan must be inspiring, as he inspired two novelists to write about him. So what was he like in real life? The late 6th Marquess of Bath, who knew Mr. Duggan well, says, “He was the most boring man I met in my entire life.”

Brian Garfield is the author of Death Wish, a novel about a man who becomes a vigilante after hoodlums rape his daughter and murder his wife. It became a very popular film starring Charles Bronson, who also starred in four sequels. Mr. Garfield got the idea for the novel after discovering that someone had used a knife to slash the canvas top of his convertible. The night was cold, he had a two- or three-hour drive home, and as he drove, he was thinking, “I’ll kill the son of a b*tch.” Mr. Garfield says, “Of course by the time I got home and thawed out, I realized the vandal must have had a strong sharp knife (convertible-top canvas is a very tough fabric to cut) and in reality I didn’t want to be anywhere near him. But then came the thought: What if a person had that kind of experience and got mad and never came out of it?” Writing the novel came easy to him—it took two weeks. Mr. Garfield jokes, “Several alleged friends asked, ‘What took so long?’”

In 2007, Fantagraphics published an 878-page book titled Laura Warholic: or The Sexual Intellectual, which is the first novel written by Alexander Theroux in 20 years. Of course, Fantagraphics usually publishes comic books and graphic novels, not envelope-pushing novels, but Mr. Theroux had published two monographs with Fantagraphics: “The Enigma of Al Capp” and “The Strange Case of Edward Gorey.” Because Fantagraphics was the only publisher willing to publish such a long novel without excessive editorial meddling, Mr. Theroux was happy to have Fantagraphics as the novel’s publisher. However, he does acknowledge that his pay for writing the novel is not much. According to Mr. Theroux, “For this novel I earned less than a Burger King tweenie in a paper hat. But nowhere should you compromise. You have to find plenitude in your work and redemption in your dreams.”

In 2008, Paul Constant, book critic for the Seattle newspaper The Stranger, attended BookExpo America (BEA), the annual book-industry convention. One thing he noticed was what he called “unscrupulous booksellers” who grabbed as many free advance reader’s copies as possible so that they could later sell them online—illegally. Of course, the publishers are aware that unscrupulous booksellers do this, and so they have a rule against bringing rolling luggage carts to the convention because the carts can be filled with many, many free advance reader’s copies. However, Mr. Constant writes that “some demented booksellers find ways around that: One woman wheels into the hall in a wheelchair and then stands up and wheels the empty chair around to stack books in the seat like a wheelbarrow.”

Mem Fox, the Australian young people’s author of Possum Magic, grew up in Southern Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) in Africa, along with her sisters, who were born after her. One sister, Jan, was always tired, and their mother worried that she was suffering from an African disease named bilharzias, a main symptom of which was drowsiness. (Her mother even got Jan a doctor.) However, the real reason that Jan was always tired was that she stayed up late at night reading books under her bed covers. (When Jan was 13 years old, her family visited their native Australia. Jan read War and Peace during the long plane trip from Africa to Australia—something that enraged Mem, who knew that Jan was clever but thought that she was being a showoff about it. )

As a kid, Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight understood the value of reading. In his hometown of Orrville, Ohio, the library posted a list of the 10 kids in town who had read the most books that week. Each week, young Bobby’s name was on that list — along with the names of nine girls.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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