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Surprise Discoveries

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?


  1. Let's see, one of my favorite authors is Jill Barnett - and I found out she's a lovely person in real life. (and gives great cover quotes! LOL)

    Not a big Gatsby fan, though I could watch Robert Redford back then all day!

  2. 20,000 copies, huh? Must be nice....

    What I get from Fitzgerald's life is that the life of a writer is rarely charmed...unless you're J K Rowling... Now, there's a writer's life to aspire to!

  3. I asked a couple of authors I'd admired if they would read my book and offer an endorsement. Two were NYT Best Selling authors (dummy me didn't realize) and were the nicest authors, both of whom gladly gave me endorsements, and a USA Today Best Selling author, who only recieved word after she said she'd give me an endorsement. I would never have asked if I had realized how far up the totem pole they were!!! It goes to show that some authors are really great not only in their writing, but in their real lives too. :)

  4. The RWR interviews with authors often reveal surprises (to me, at least) about authors. A recent one with Jayne Ann Krentz was interesting--I had no idea she'd wrestled with pseudonyms and genres as much as she did.

  5. Hi Libby,

    Speaking of Wharton, I learned fairly recently that she often helped Henry James financially, despite the fact that he envied her success and publicly dismissed her as a writer of popular fiction. (The more things change, eh?)

    And re: yesterday's comment--of course I was thinking of Frankie! I'm so jazzed that you named her character after her.

  6. I didn't know that about Wharton, Rosemary.

    Re: Frankie on Another World -- check this out:

  7. When I first began researching how to go about getting published I bought a book written by an agent on how to get an agent. The best part of that book - since the main point of how to get an agent never worked for me! - was when he listed all the famous, award winning authors who were rejected, numerous times, before they "made it." Jack London, Ton Clancy, JK Rowling, and loads more. Quite enlightening.

  8. One of the most surprising things I learned about an author was JRR Tolkien's experiences in WWI and his sons' experiences in WWII and the influence those lasting bonds had over him. Reading book two in LOTR (The Two Towers) took on a whole new meaning (especially the battle rallying scenes).

    Isn't everything about F.Scott and Zelda fascinating? I read Tender is the Night after I learned about their history and even though he's very truthful about the way things were (and even a bit harsh), there was still so much passion in their relationship. I've heard rumors of a biopic... but it seems nothing has come to fruition just yet.

  9. That was fascinating. I like the Great Gatsby much better than This Side of Paradise. Sounds like I need to read a lot more though.


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