Web Exclusives:Features
a PAW web exclusive column

December 20, 2000:
Juicy bits and literary lights
Little known facts about your favorite authors

Alfred '72 and Emily Glossbrenner, who have been married for 26 years, frequently feel the same way after they've read a particular book. "We often want to know a heck of a lot more about a book's creator than the few skimpy paragraphs that appear in the endpapers," Alfred says. "So we set about using our research and Web skills to find out more."

The result is their book About the Author: The Passionate Reader's Guide to the AuthorsYou Love, Including Things You Never Knew, Juicy Bits You'll Want to Know, and Hundreds of Ideas for What To Read Next, published this fall by Harcourt. ($16). Included in the book are short profiles of 125 authors and what the Glossbrenners found most interesting about them.

Below are some of the Glossbrenners' favorite "juicy bits," which they agreed to share with readers of PAW Online.

Jeffrey Archer. Owns the Playhouse, a theater in London's West End. He's also an avid art collector. In 1998 he bought Andy Warhol's 1982 portrait of Princess Diana, who had been a personal friend. Valued at more than $8.5 million, the portrait depicts the Princess with green and black hair. "Earl Spencer saw it at a private showing," Archer says, "and he was delighted."

Margaret Atwood. On gardening: "I'm not a very good gardener, for the same reason I wouldn't make a very good poisoner: Both activities benefit from advance planning. I get seduced by catalogues, with their glossy photos and adjectives, and by pictures of rose-covered trellises and beds of mature perennials; but somehow you can't just throw all that into the ground on the first Sunday in May. Then there's the upkeep. Over the years, my various gardens have shared a certain improvised look, which on closer inspection may turn out to be weeds. I have taken to calling these "native wildflowers."

Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility was first published in 1811. The title page read simply "By a Lady," and the book was advertised as an "Interesting Novel" - meaning that it was a love story. Austen promised to cover her publisher's losses if necessary, but she made a profit of £140. Not bad when you consider that her father's annual salary as rector was £600.

Saul Bellow. Author/Journalist James Atlas worked on Bellow: A Biography that by the time it was published late in 2000 to generally good reviews it had become had become something of a smirk in New York literary circles. But Atlas's is not the only biographical treatment of the great author. In 1997 Fromm International published Handsome Is: Adventures with Saul Bellow by Harriet Wasserman. Wasserman was Bellow's one-time lover (literally one time) and long-time literary agent (30 years). Their business relationship ended in 1995 when Bellow signed with Andrew Wylie, the "Dark Prince" (black tie, black shirt, black coat) super-agent of New York. Wasserman used to type Bellow's novels and note his editorial changes in seven-hour phone calls, so she was less than pleased when he decided to jump ship.

Truman Capote. One of his childhood friends in Alabama was a young tomboy named Harper Lee, who later wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Capote appears in the novel as Dill Harris, the pale, blond child who had an imagination as big as the universe.

Agatha Christie. By far the most intriguing episode of Agatha Christie's life is her still largely unexplained disappearance for 11 days in 1926. Rumored to have faked her own death to implicate her cheating husband, Christie eventually reappeared, claiming amnesia, after an extensive manhunt. The events of those 11 days were made into the fictionalized 1979 film Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave. More recently, they were the subject of a 1997 BBC documentary and a book, Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days, by Jared Cade, one of the research consultants for the documentary.

Tom Clancy. Lives in a large, gated estate on the Chesapeake Bay in Huntingtown, Maryland, with a pool, football field, tennis court, indoor pistol range, and a World War II-vintage tank that serves as a lawn ornament. Clancy writes at a computer in the library of his home, surrounded by over 3,000 books - and 200 military hats. He begins each morning at 8:00 A.M. by editing his previous day's output. Then he writes until lunchtime. He averages 10 manuscript pages a day and does not work from an outline!

Patricia Cornwell. Whether it means going on night patrol with the police in the subway tunnels of New York - the crack vials crunching under foot and the rats skittering over her boots - or placing her gloved hand in the chest cavity of a corpse and being startled to find that the blood is cold, Cornwell tries to experience first-hand what she later has her characters experience. Nervous about security (she knew one of the female serial murder victims in the real-life case that inspired Postmortem), she often travels with bodyguards. And she carries one or more pistols at all times: a .357 Colt Python, a .380 Walther semiautomatic, and a .38 Smith & Wesson. Her main character, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, in contrast, carries a Glock 9-millimeter, a favorite of law-enforcement officials.

Don DeLillo. Left Ogilvy & Mather at age 28 and set about completing Americana, his first novel. "I quit my job just to quit. I didn't quit my job to write fiction. I just didn't want to work anymore." He wanted to call his eighth novel "Panasonic," meaning "sound everywhere," but attorneys from a certain Japanese electronics firm objected. Underworld, his 11th novel, was bought by Scribner's for a purported $1.3 million. The next day, DeLillo's agent sold the screen rights to Paramount for close to $1 million. DeLillo insists on using a manual typewriter. "The physical sensation of hitting keys and watching hammers strike the page is such an integral part of the way I think and even the way I see words on the page that I'd be reluctant to give it up. That is, there's a sculptural quality to me, of letter-by-letter, word-by-word, linear progress across a piece of paper as I type. It's actually sensuous."

Charles Dickens. In one of his residences, Tavistock House, Dickens installed a hidden door in the study, made to look like part of an unbroken wall of books, complete with dummy shelves and fictitious titles. Some of the more creative titles displayed included Five Minutes in China (three volumes), Noah's Arkitecture, and The Virtues of Our Ancestors, which was so thin, the title had to be printed sideways. There are numerous chapters of the Dickens Fellowship in the U.S. and England. Membership is typically $15 a year and includes a newsletter subscription. For more information, go to www.quinnquinn.com and click on "The Friends of Dickens Book Discussion Group."

William Faulkner. Too short to be a pilot for the U.S. Army during World War I, Faulkner affected a British accent and applied to the Royal Air Force in Canada. But the war ended before he graduated from flight school. He wore his R.A.F. uniform home - sporting pilot's wings he had picked up in New York City and walking with a cane and a fake limp. On at least one occasion he even claimed that he had a silver plate in his head, the result of a fractured skull he had suffered, presumably, in a dogfight in the skies of France.

F. Scott Fitzgerald. At the peak of his fame in 1929, the Saturday Evening Post paid Fitzgerald $4,000 for a story, the equivalent of about $40,000 in 1990s money. But he was not among the highest paid writers of the day. Indeed, during the 1920s his income from all sources rarely topped $25,000 a year - a nice living back then, but certainly not a fortune.

Richard Ford. After years of perceived misreadings, gratuitous categorizations, and outright vicious pans (one critic said that his novel The Ultimate Good Luck "calls to mind a cheap action picture in which hastily collaborating hacks didn't quite manage to put a story together"), Richard Ford has a notorious dislike for reviews. When asked about the rumor that he had shot a critic's recently published novel with a gun, he denied it. It was actually his wife, Kristina, who carried the book into their backyard and used it for target practice. The book's author had written unfavorably about Ford in the New York Times, and they sent the bullet-riddled tome to his editor.

C.S. Forester. Real name: Cecil Louis Troughton Smith. Author of The African Queen and Sink the Bismarck! in addition to all the Hornblower novels. From Winston Churchill's The Grand Alliance: "For the first time for many months I could read a book for pleasure. Oliver Lyttelton, Minister of State in Cairo, had given me Captain Hornblower, R.N., which I found vastly entertaining. When a chance came, I sent him the message, 'I find Hornblower admirable.' This caused perturbation in the Middle East Headquarters, where it was imagined that 'Hornblower' was the code-word for some special operation of which they had not been told."

Gabriel Garcìa Marquez. Best Book to Read First: One Hundred Years of Solitude. Part fantasy, part family chronicle set in the village of Macondo, a place that a reviewer for Time called "a kind of tropical Yoknapatawpha County," the novel contains a microcosm of Latin America itself. The idea came to him during a creative drought during a drive from Mexico City to Acapulco. Over the next year and a half he worked for eight to 10 hours a day, isolating himself from his family. When he was finally done, his wife asked him, "Did you really finish it? We owe twelve thousand dollars."

In a 1981 article for the New York Times, Garcìa Marquez recounts his only exchange with Hemingway. He spotted him on the Boulevard St. Michele in Paris one rainy spring day in 1957 and was torn between asking the author for an interview or expressing his unqualified admiration. What he ended up doing was calling out to Hemingway from across the street, "Maaaeeestro!" Hemingway turned, raised his hand and shouted to Garcìa Marquez in Castillian in a very childlike voice "Adiooos, amigo!" It was the only time he ever saw Papa.

Sue Grafton. Where did Sue Grafton get the idea for her "alphabet mystery" series? According to Ms. Grafton, the concept came from a delightfully wicked book of cartoons by Edward Gorey called The Gashlycrumb Tinies, in which little Victorian children are "done in" by various means: "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil assaulted by Bears, C is for Clara who wasted away."

Robert Jordan. Author of the phenomenally successful "Wheel of Time" fantasy novels, James Oliver Ringed, Jr. (his real name) graduated from The Citadel with a BS in physics in 1974. He served two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star. Ringed has also written historical novels under the name Reagan O'Neal (The Fallon Blood, The Fallon Pride, and The Fallon Legacy) and westerns under the name Jackson O'Reilly (Cheyenne Riders), and he has contributed articles to periodicals such as Library Journal, Fantasy Review, and Science Fiction Review under the name Chang Lung. He is also the author of seven novels in the popular "Conan the Barbarian" series.

Barbara Kingsolver. Quick Take: Barbara Kingsolver is a human rights activist whose work mixes literature, politics, social injustice, and advocacy. She writes about nontraditional families - strangers who seem to have nothing in common - banding together as a community for moral and physical survival. Russell Banks, in the New York Times, writes "[Kingsolver's] most memorable characters are women or girls becoming women, single mothers mostly, living in the mall world in trailer parks and townhouses, just getting by economically and trying, against all odds, to make moral sense of their lives. This is what ennobles them, makes them more than mere case histories." A one-hour PBS documentary about Kingsolver is available for $39.95. Contact: Annenberg/CPB Multimedia Collection, P.O. Box 2345 South Burlington, Vermont, 05403-2345, or call 800-532-7637.

Wally Lamb. In 1991, high-school-teacher Wally Lamb was on his hands and knees scraping a wad of chewing gum from the classroom floor when publisher Judith Regan called. (The same Judith Regan whose talk show airs each weekend on the Fox Network.) She'd just finished reading the manuscript for She's Come Undone and offered to buy it for an advance of $150,000 - a phenomenal sum for a first novel. Lamb used part of the money to purchase a new Honda, his family's first air-conditioned car.

Larry McMurtry is one of the country's leading antiquarian book dealers. In fact, his dream is to create, in his hometown of Archer City, Texas, an American version of Hay-on-Wye, the legendary British village that attracts dealers and book lovers from around the world. He's well on his way, with over 30,000 volumes in four huge buildings.

Richard Wright. Author of Native Son (1940), Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth, (1945), Richard Wright was among the first African-American writers to achieve literary fame and fortune and today is generally considered one of the most influential writers of this century. After finishing formal schooling at age 15, he began to read widely, starting with H.L. Mencken, whose books he borrowed from the Memphis "whites only" public library by forging a note from a white patron: "Dear Madam: Will you please let this nigger boy have some books by H.L. Mencken?"