Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

October 26, 2009

Writing Anecdotes

Filed under: On Writing — Frank Fiore @ 11:02 AM

People like to read about people – and writers are no different. History is strewn with personal anecdotes about those is the writing profession in some way or another – authors, journalists, professionals and others.

Here are some I’ve found

James Bennett, no fan of rival publisher William Randolph Hearst, was one day irked to discover that Hearst was plotting to buy his ailing New York Herald. Sure enough, he soon received correspondence from Hearst asking how much the newspaper would cost, and promptly sent a cable in return. His reply? “Price of Herald three cents daily. Five cents Sunday. Bennett.”

One evening during the Napoleonic wars, the English poet Thomas Campbell caused a stir at a literary dinner by proposing a toast – to Napoleon Bonaparte. Waiting for the din to subside, Campbell raised his voice and said, “Gentlemen, you must not mistake me. I admit that the French emperor is a tyrant. I admit that he is a monster. I admit that he is the sworn foe of our nation, and, if you will, of the whole human race… But, gentlemen, we must be just to our enemy. We must not forget that he once shot a bookseller, Johann Palm of Nuremberg!” The audience, consisting largely of fellow authors, broke into spontaneous applause.

One day while Georges Simenon (a writer famed for his incredible efficiency) was working on his 158th novel, the telephone rang in his home in France and was promptly answered by his wife. It was Alfred Hitchcock calling long-distance from the United States. “I’m sorry,” said Mme Simenon, “but Georges is writing and I would rather not disturb him.” “Let him finish his book,” Hitchcock replied. “I’ll hang on…”

Samuel Goldwyn once enlisted a ghostwriter to write a series of articles on his behalf. Midway through the assignment, however, the writer became ill and a substitute had to be found. One day Goldwyn read an article penned by the stand-in – and was rather disappointed. His complaint? “That’s not at all up to my usual standard!”

To his great embarrassment, Hilaire Belloc was often forced to produce substandard books in order to pay his bills. “During the 1930s in a railway carriage Belloc noticed a man in front of him reading a volume of his History of England. He leaned forward, asked him how much he had paid for it, and – informed of the price – withdrew a corresponding sum from his pocket, gave it to the man, snatched the book from his hand, and tossed it out the window.”

The New Yorker was launched (in 1925) by Harold Ross on a shoestring budget. Indeed, so uncertain were the magazine’s finances that even basic equipment was in short supply. One day, Ross berated Dorothy Parker for her failure to come in to the office to work on a piece which was overdue. Fortunately Parker had a handy excuse: “Someone else,” she said, “was using the pencil.”

Early in his career, mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner earned a living churning out stories for pulp magazines at the incredible rate of 200,000 words per month. As he was paid by the word, the length of a story was of no small importance. Noting that his villains were invariably killed by the last bullet in the chamber, Gardner’s editor once asked why his heroes were so careless with the first five shots. “At three cents a word,” Gardner replied, “every time I say ‘Bang’ in the story I get three cents. If you think I’m going to finish the gun battle while my hero has got fifteen cents’ worth of unexploded ammunition in his gun, you’re nuts!”

Famed British humorist Alan Coren was once advised that anyone seeking to draw the attention of the book-buying public should write about cats, golf or Nazis. Coren promptly published a collection of essays entitled Golfing for Cats. Its cover? A picture of a cat in a Nazi uniform wielding a putter.

Upon first moving to Hollywood, Nunnally Johnson was asked how he expected to find writing for the wide screen. “Very simple,” replied Johnson. “I’ll just put the paper in sideways.”

Comedian Garry Moore was once the recipient of a television award for spontaneity. Moore facetiously paid tribute to “the four guys responsible for my spontaneity: my writers.” When the next award went to Bishop Fulton Sheen, he rose and approached the podium. “I also want to pay tribute to my four writers,” he declared. “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!”

Sinclair Lewis was once booked to give a lecture at Columbia University on the writer’s craft: “How many of you here are really serious about being writers?” Lewis began. A sea of enthusiastic hands were raised. “Well,” said Lewis, “why the hell aren’t you all at home writing?” Then, having completed his ‘lecture’ he promptly sat down.

During a meeting of the Mystery Writers of America one day, Mickey Spillane was asked by a fan to explain the symbolic meaning behind the drinking habits of his famous detective. “Mike Hammer drinks beer, not cognac,” Spillane declared, “because I can’t spell cognac.”

The wife of novelist and critic William Dean Howells once enlisted the aid of a young maid. One day the new assistant – having noticed her husband’s constant presence in the home – asked to speak with Mrs. Howells.”You pay me four dollars a week, madam,” she began. “I’m afraid I really can’t afford to pay you more,” Mrs. Howells interrupted apologetically. “Well, what I was wanting to say, madam,” the girl continued, “is that I would be willing to take three until Mr. Howells lands a job.”

A critic once castigated Winston Churchill for composing a sentence which ended with a preposition. Churchill replied with a mocking note: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

Rehearsals for the American premiere of Shaw’s Saint Joan went swimmingly – until it was found to be some three and a half hours long! Shaw soon received a cable requesting that he cut the play as suburban visitors would otherwise miss the last trains home. Shaw’s solution? “Begin at eight – or run later trains.”

More to follow.



  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by followthenovel: #Books Writing Anecdotes.History is strewn with personal anecdotes about those in the writing profession.

    Trackback by uberVU - social comments — October 26, 2009 @ 12:11 PM | Reply

  2. Love the anecdotes. And I thought your name sounded familiar! I bought some of your books for running a Yahoo business online. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Looking forward to reading your blog.

    Comment by maggieanddella — October 29, 2009 @ 8:56 AM | Reply

    • Hey thx Maggie. I appreciate your support.

      Going from non-fiction to fiction is like going from earth to mars. Quite a difference but I hope to extend my novelist career as time goes on.

      Comment by Frank Fiore — October 29, 2009 @ 10:01 AM | Reply

  3. […] This post was Twitted by PearsonTechComm […]

    Pingback by Twitted by PearsonTechComm — October 29, 2009 @ 8:39 PM | Reply

  4. Thanks so much for the anecdotes – really entertaining! Also, I can relate to your efforts in going from non-fiction writer to novelist – I’m in the same transition. Best to you!!

    Comment by Lee Ann Fleming — November 2, 2009 @ 1:59 PM | Reply

    • Le Ann – so true. The transition is hard but we have to stick with it.

      Comment by Frank Fiore — November 2, 2009 @ 2:33 PM | Reply

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