David Bruce: The Coolest People in Books — Work

Work

• When young-people’s author Richard Peck was drafted to serve as a soldier during the Korean War (although he actually served in what was then West Germany), he soon discovered the value of literacy. He had a college degree, and he knew how to write and how to type, so he got a relatively cushy job. He says, “If you can type, spell, and improvise mid-sentence, you can work in a clean dry office near a warm stove.” This is, of course, better than being “in a moist foxhole staring through barbed wire at an East German soldier who’s staring back at you.” He got another cushy job by writing sermons. He slipped the first sermon unnoticed under the chaplain’s door. That Sabbath, the chaplain delivered the sermon. The next time Mr. Peck slipped a sermon under the chaplain’s door, he made sure he was caught. The chaplain immediately made him his assistant.

• Authors have many ways to come up with ideas to write about. John Cheever once complained that the tables in a certain restaurant were too far apart. Why was that a problem? He explained, “Now I can’t eavesdrop on any of the conversations.” By the way, being a writer may have saved his life. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1942, the same year that he published The Way Some People Live, his first collection of short stories. A major who was also an MGM executive had Mr. Cheever transferred to another unit where he worked as a writer. The unit that Mr. Cheever transferred out of suffered many, many casualties while fighting in Europe at the end of the war.

• For children’s author Jane Yolen, writing and books can be magical. She was writing one book when a group of elves appeared in her mind. She told them, “No elves in this book. Go away.” They replied, “We’re here.” She says, “I was blocked for three weeks until I figured out why they were there.” A nurse once sent her a letter to say that she had read one of Ms. Yolen’s stories to a young, dying girl. She wrote that “the story had eased the little girl through her final pain.” Ms. Yolen says, “The story did that — not me. But if I can continue to write with as much honesty and love as I can muster, I will truly have touched magic — and passed it on.”

• Like many authors, Dennis Lehane, who wrote Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, both of which became movies, has had many jobs. He has been a counselor for abused children, driven limos, loaded tractor-trailers, parked cars, and — of course — waited tables. He says about his jobs, “Everything was based on the idea of taking the best possible job for me to be a writer with.” For example, “Limos were phenomenal. You drive people somewhere and you wait for them for four hours.” And, of course, while you wait, you write.

• Mario Puzo wrote for men’s adventure magazines before becoming a famous novelist. Once, because he was short of money, he asked Marvel Comics maven Stan Lee if he could write a comic-book story for him. Unfortunately, he came back to Mr. Lee without a story because writing it was too hard. He said, “I could write a novel in the time it would take me to figure this damn thing out.” As if to prove his point, he sat down and wrote The Godfather.

• The home office of children’s author Walter Dean Myers has wallpaper that a child would enjoy — it is decorated with airplanes. In fact, the room used to be the nursery for his son Christopher, but when Christopher became too old for it, Mr. Myers moved out the nursery furniture, moved in the office furniture, hung up a picture of blues singer Billie Holiday, and went to work. The airplane-decorated wallpaper does not bother Mr. Myers.

• Robert Bloch, the author of such books of horror as Psycho, on which the Alfred Hitchcock film is based, actually had a wonderful sense of humor. Early in his career, he published a story in Weird Tales, which paid a penny a word. In his autobiography, Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography, he writes that he thought “if I could step up my output, perhaps in five or six years I’d make enough money to starve to death.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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