by Libby Malin
I find it hard to read while I'm writing. I'm too afraid what I read will influence what I write. Because I'm writing a lot, this is a problem! I just finished edits on my next Sourcebooks release (My Own Personal Soap Opera), and am continuing to work on another humorous women's fiction proposal. So, for reading pleasure, I often turn to novels outside the genres in which I write. Luckily, I'm a pretty eclectic reader, so this means I have lots to choose from.
Lately, I've been exploring authors I loved as a girl. So when I was given a book gift card in August, one of my selections was F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Crack Up, a collection of essays, notes, and letters about Fitzgerald's life, particularly after he rocketed to fame and fortune as an author and careened down the corresponding slope when alcoholism gripped him and madness ensnared his wife Zelda. It's about the only bit of his writing I'd never read.
In The Crack-Up I learned something I didn't know (I didn't study literature in college!) -- Fitzgerald's most famous book, The Great Gatsby, didn't do well. On bookstore shelves, that is. Fitzgerald's first book, This Side of Paradise, was a smashing success. In fact, he recounts how he naively asked his publisher if they'd be printing 20,000 copies of it, a very large print run for a debut author back then (hmm.....and even today, probably!). As it turns out, they easily sold 20,000 copies in the first weeks the book was out.
But then he wrote The Beautiful and Damned and seemed to be hit with what some call the "sophomore curse." His second book didn't fare so well. Gatsby came after that.
In addition to this bit of "news," I also was surprised to read several letters from other famous authors congratulating Fitzgerald on The Great Gatsby after he'd sent them an inscribed copy. One of those letters was from author Edith Wharton who, although she liked the book, couldn't resist lamenting Fitzgerald's lack of more backstory for Jay Gatsby. (She didn't put it that way, but that was the gist.)
This brought a smile to my face. Even a great author like Fitzgerald received helpful "suggestions" from other famous authors!
It might seem odd commenting on an author like Fitzgerald on a blog devoted to romance authors. But Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is drenched in romance, albeit of the ill-fated variety. Who can read of Jay Gatsby longingly looking at the green light at the end of Daisy's pier night after night and not sigh?
Fitzgerald himself, despite his flaws, didn't abandon his own Daisy, supporting his wife Zelda and seeing to her care until he died.
Like everyone, he suffered sorrows and joys. Like all writers, he suffered poor sales and well-meaning advice from fellow authors.
We're all avid readers. We all have our favorite authors -- in romance, general fiction, literary fiction. What surprising facts about your favorite authors have you come across over the years?