Not At This Time: Rejection Letters to Famous Writers

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Why is dad so sad?  Probably because he just checked his mail and found his self-addressed stamped envelope in his box, his manuscript inside, and the dreaded form letter saying, “We are sorry, but your manuscript does not currently meet our specific needs.”  The first dozen or so times, Dad wanted to believe the closing line promising to review his work in the future but…

Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel) knew the feeling.  His now-classic children’s book  And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected a whopping twenty-seven times before it was finally accepted by Vanguard Press.  This may be your fate as well.

Putting your work out in the world is scary. Rejection sucks. It can make you afraid to do it again.  But you have to try.  Because the twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth time might just be the one.

Novelist Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Treesoffers this advice to writers feeling wounded:  “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”

To give you hope, here are ten rejections of famous writers as well as a some of their reactions and advice about coping with rejection:

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For Memorial Day: Ten Authors Who Have Served

Writers, perhaps unsurprisingly, are among the harshest critics of the word “patriotism” and especially of decisions to go to war. Many express sentiments similar to James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain) who said, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Despite their often vocal criticism, many authors have served in our armed forces. Here are ten of those who risked their lives and reflected on the experiences of war. 

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1.  E.E. Cummings – Volunteer Ambulance Driver, France, World War I

“America makes prodigious mistakes, America has colossal faults, but one thing cannot be denied: America is always on the move. She may be going to Hell, of course, but at least she isn’t standing still.”

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2.  Ernest Hemingway, Volunteer Ambulance Driver, Italy, World War I

“Once we have a war, there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than can ever happen in war.

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3.  Isaac Asimov,  Philadelphia Navy Yard Naval Air Experimentation Station, United States Army, World War II

“No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

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Eek, it’s Frankensteinbeck! And Other Literary Puns

I came across this fantastic gallery in the Rumpus today and had to share. The artist Timothy Lee Taranto illustrates literature’s most serious authors in a less than serious light. Check out our favorite, the “Vonnugget,” below, and many more. Happy Friday!


Top Ten Self-Deprecating Quotes from Authors

The literary world is a pretentious place, right? You wouldn’t think so judging by these ten quotes from authors playfully poking fun at their success. Who knew the Paris Review was such a popular venue in which to be self-deprecating?

Know of any others? Tell us in a comment below.

1. Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name.” — in The Paris Review, 1967

2. Mark Twain

“I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.” – The Innocents Abroad

3. Ray Bradbury

“A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame.” — in The Paris Review, 2010

4. Kurt Vonnegut

Slapstick may be a very bad book. I am perfectly willing to believe that. Everybody else writes lousy books, so why shouldn’t I? What was unusual about the reviews was that they wanted people to admit now that I had never been any good. The reviewer for the Sunday Times actually asked critics who had praised me in the past to now admit in public how wrong they’d been. My publisher, Sam Lawrence, tried to comfort me by saying that authors were invariably attacked when they became fabulously well-to-do… I had suffered, all right — but as a badly educated person in vulgar company and in a vulgar trade. It was dishonorable enough that I perverted art for money. I then topped that felony by becoming, as I say, fabulously well-to-do. Well, that’s just too damn bad for me and for everybody. I’m completely in print, so we’re all stuck with me and stuck with my books.” — in The Paris Review, 1977

5. Stephen King

“I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries.”

6. David Sedaris

“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.” — Me Talk Pretty One Day

7. Jonathan Lethem

“Listen, you can’t imagine what a freak I was. I worked in used bookstores as a teenager. I grew up with hippie parents. I lived in a ten-year cultural lag. At all times. I had not the faintest idea what was contemporary. When I got to Bennington, and I found that Richard Brautigan and Thomas Berger and Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme were not ‘the contemporary,’ but were in fact awkward and embarrassing and had been overthrown by something else, I was as disconcerted as a time traveler. The world I’d dwelled in was now apocryphal. No one read Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, the Beats were regarded with embarrassment. When all that was swept away, I stopped knowing what contemporary literature was. I didn’t replace it; I just stopped knowing.” — in The Paris Review, 2003

8. John Grisham

“I can’t change overnight into a serious literary author. You can’t compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not.”

9. Dorothy Parker

“I fell into writing, I suppose, being one of those awful children who wrote verses. I went to a convent in New York—the Blessed Sacrament… I was fired from there, finally, for a lot of things, among them my insistence that the Immaculate Conception was spontaneous combustion.” — in The Paris Review, 1956

10. And the self-deprecating author who took it to the highest extreme? That’d have to be Gary Shteyngart, who created a five minute parody of himself to promote his book Super Sad True Love Story:

“He really wants to cash in on this whole Hollywood vampire thing, but with werewolves… But they’re not wolves, they’re bears. Werebears.”

Images and quotes courtesy of Flavorwire.


A Writer’s Best Friend: Ten Authors and Their Pets

For many of us, pets offer companionship, love, and a patient ear to listen to the wild thoughts we cannot share with fellow members of our species. It’s no wonder, then, that so many artists crave the company of furry (or feathered) friends, so often held in high regard as either the inspiration behind or the initiator of the creative process. Just take a look at the special relationships between the following writers and their pets for example. Either as a retreat from humankind, a reminder to take a pensive walk outside, or the means by which scraps of paper find their way into the bin, these pets are so essential to their writers, it’s hard to imagine that they did not choose their artistic owners themselves.

Read on to see for yourself, then tell us what role you feel pets can play in stirring creativity in a comment below.

Ernest Hemingway

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Hemingway had multiple cats, for which he held massive respect, remarking, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”

Virginia Woolf

with her dog Pinka.

“This you’ll call sentimental — perhaps — but then a dog somehow represents — no I can’t think of the word — the private side of life — the play side.”

Woolf’s dog biography, inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog Flush, is surprisingly her bestselling work to date.

Kurt Vonnegut

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The larger than life author with his tiny friend, Pumpkin.

Tennessee Williams

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Williams named his black cat Sabbath. He also named his best-known play after a feline in a precarious position:

“What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? — I wish I knew… Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can…”

Edith Wharton

Throughout her life, Wharton was often photographed with her dogs, of which she had many. She so loved canines, she actually helped to found the SPCA in the United States. Wharton even included her pups in her writing process, working in bed alongside them–what a picture! She also wrote a beautiful little poem in dedication to them:

My little old dog:
A heart-beat
At my feet.

Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor’s stories are full of surprises, as was her taste in pets. This writer had quite the collection of peacocks.

“When the peacock has presented his back, the spectator will usually begin to walk around him to get a front view; but the peacock will continue to turn so that no front view is possible. The thing to do then is to stand still and wait until it pleases him to turn. When it suits him, the peacock will face you. Then you will see in a green-bronze arch around him a galaxy of gazing haloed suns. This is the moment when most people are silent.”

Robert Penn Warren

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Warren’s love for his cocker spaniel Frodo (named after Tolkien’s character) was commemorated in his poem “Rumor Verified”:

English cocker: old and blind
But if your hand
Merely touches his head,
Old faithe comes flooding back—and …
The paw descends, His trust is infinite
In you …

John Steinbeck

…and his French poodle Charley, with whom he traveled the country, detailed in his book Travels with Charley.

“I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.”

William S. Burroughs

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Burroughs remarked of his beloved cat Ginger, “Like all pure creatures, cats are practical.”

Maurice Sendak

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And lastly, the lovable curmudgeon and creator of Where the Wild Things Are succinctly summarizes his love for his companion Herman (after Melville) with a simple phrase:

“I hate people.”

Images courtesy of Flavorwire and New York Social Diary.


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