Writing Wins and Woes: Recluse Series; Thomas Pynchon

I’m getting down to the backstretch of my recluse series with about two more recluses to go. Really, I could do this series for a year with how notorious writers are for being reclusive, but I’ve been sticking to the more famous recluses. As is true for all recluses, Thomas Pynchon was not a recluse when he was with those he felt comfortable. Part of the reason he was considered reclusive was his insecurity in his own skin. He hated having his picture taken due to his buck teeth. He also stuttered; which made him uneasy around people. Despite these problems, Pynchon was known to be friendly and charming and before his marriage in 1990 he almost never went without a girlfriend.

Pynchon loved to travel so it was said that where Salinger hid, Pynchon ran. Traveling can be a form of escape; another way of being reclusive while being social, which is an enigma. Pynchon is most famous for his book, Gravity’s Rainbow, which again I have never read but I understand it is very hard reading. In fact, when I read the synopsis of the book, I didn’t understand it. However, it won the 1974 National Book Award.

The name Pynchon is one of immense history. You’ll find the name, spelled differently, in Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables. Pynchon’s father went to church with Teddy Roosevelt. His great-great uncle was president of Trinity College. Thomas was born into all that aristocracy in 1937 in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Besides his stuttering, he was never good at athletics and his family was very dysfunctional. But he was smart, skipping two grades even before high school. He wrote fictitious columns in high school under many pseudonyms  turning teachers into villainous and violent druggees.

He went to Cornell studying to be an engineer for a couple of years but dropped out; not due to lack of ability; he had good grades, he just wanted more experiences which he got in the Navy. After which he was back in Cornell, this time an English major. He was considered an introvert. Most people thought he was weird. He graduated near the top of his class. He didn’t like the establishment or big business. After he was nominated for the National Book Award he was hounded by the press. Gravity’s Rainbow almost won the Pulitzer but couldn’t get past the committee.

He usually wrote all night and slept all day when he was writing. During that time he would often live on junk food and pot, cover the windows with black sheets and never open his door to  anyone. Pynchon was an odd ball. He carried a pig figurine around with him in his pocket and was often seen conversing with it.

In the summer of 1988, he won the $310,000 McArthur “Genius” grant. What came out of that, Vinland, was disappointing to his readers. His next book, Mason and Dixon, was better. He appeared on the Simpsons because his son liked the show but wouldn’t do photo ops, instead appearing twice wearing a paper bag.

Writer’s Journal: This week was a wash out as far as writing goes. My time spent researching this blog was about all I did. Hopefully, I will get to some writing today before I drag myself into my half day of work. I say drag literally as I am slowly, very slowly, recuperating from a knee injury and any lengthy walking is a hardship. Next week I will continue on into March, yay, spring month, with another reclusive writer, William Faulkner. He is another writer I have never been able to read, although I’ve tried hard.1594

Writing Wins and Woes: Recluse series; Harper Lee

No recluse series would be complete without Harper Lee. I know. I know. You are saying “Where is JD Salinger?” and he is coming, oh yes, he is coming. In fact, I plan to conclude my series with this recluse of all recluses. For now, though, I love Harper Lee. I love the mystique of her, the Southern Mistress aspect of her, her book and the lengendary movie made about her book. I love how she could write one book and be forever cemented in history. Wait, what? She’s written two books and possibly another in hiding? Who could have imagined that from an almost ghost-like writer?

I  discovered something new about Harper Lee, well, a lot of new things to be honest, that I didn’t know when I began my research. Although I knew that Lee helped Truman Capote with his book, In Cold Blood, I didn’t know that they were childhood friends and lived right next door to each other. In fact, the only thing separating the two was a stone wall that Lee hurtled over whenever she wanted to hang out with her friend. Lee was a tomboy and let’s say, Capote was not. He was picked on for his odd way of dressing and his delicate manners and Lee often came to his defense.Truman was somewhat of an outcast, having been abandoned by his parents and living with relatives.

Lee was born in 1926, Nelle Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama. She kept her ties to her childhood home and lived there for quite a while, even though she later split her time with New York City. Lee went to an all girls school in 1944 and was nothing there like the recluse she was known as later in life. She was in glee club, Honor Society and was even the editor of a humor magazine, Rammer Jammer.  She decided she wanted to be a lawyer but soon found out that her true calling was writing and dropped out of law school following a summer as an exchange student.

In 1949 when she was 23, she moved to New York as a writer. Of course, she couldn’t just be a writer. That didn’t pay the bills at that time. She became a ticket agent for a few airlines. Then she formed a friendship with the Browns. They were  husband and wife, involved in Broadway composing, who were asked by Capote to “keep an eye out” for Nelle Lee. They did far more than that. They gave her a gift of a year’s support while she wrote and helped her find an agent. That was how, To Kill a Mockingbird, came to be. It’s almost a fairy tale.

What’s even more magical is Part Two of this saga where a writer who many wonder “Is she still even alive?” suddenly comes up with an encore to one of the greatest books ever written. How does it happen that there is a sequel to Mockingbird just sitting around waiting to be discovered. “Oh, I thought I threw that away,” she said. That couldn’t be planned better by Hollywood producers. I’m sure if Go Set a Watchman, had directly followed Mockingbird, there would have been outrage and disappointment from the fans but because it came along so much later, far past the point of hope for another book from Harper Lee, it is greeted with wonder and incredulity and yes, a teensy bit of scandal as it knocked the character of Atticus Finch from his pedestal.

Wait? There’s a Part Three? We don’t know yet. Apparently there is some 176 pages of another novel of hers gathering dust, too. In my research I found that she had been working on a book about an Alabama serial killer, shades of Truman Capote!, loosely titled The Reverand. I hope this is the one spoken in whispers of, because I’d be far more interested to read this book than Go Set a Watchman.

Writer’s Journal: I am a third through the book of letters written by Barbara Newhall Follett a young woman I blogged about last year. She was the person who wrote a novel when she was 9, published it at 13, followed it with another at 14 and then in her 20’s married and disappeared off the face of the earth after a quarrel with her husband. Does the Robert Durst story come to mind here? Nobody knows what happened to her. Well, her first novel was destroyed in a house fire and she had to completely rewrite it. Yes, at the age of 9, which she did and to her opinion, better than before. So, why can’t I do that? I had some 5 chapters of my novel erased by my Open Office program and I am floundering with rewriting it. I was almost finished and then Wham! It’s gone. I keep telling myself, “You’re not as talented as a nine year old.” I worked some on this mess this week and find the story is basically weak, so in order to continue, it is going to need a massive redo. 1593

Writing Wins and Woes: Recluse series; Cormac McCarthy

I really haven’t decided whether my recluse bloggee of the month is a true recluse. I’d say he’s more of a sometimes recluse, sometimes eccentric person. Yet, he is such an interesting individual, I thought I’d go ahead, add him to the list and talk about him anyway.

Cormac McCarthy was born on July 20, 1933. He is listed as an American novelist, playwright and screenwriter. He wrote ten novels and is currently writing his eleventh, The Passenger, which is about science and madness. He has been writing this novel for quite a while but reportedly it may be forthcoming this year.

Although McCarthy has been writing for about 50 years it wasn’t until his novel, All the Pretty Horses, was published in 1992 that he achieved wide spread fame. Following that he outdid himself, which believe me as a writer is hard to do, by writing a Pulitzer prize winning book, titled The Road.

This is strange because I am writing about him, but I’ve never read a McCarthy book. I have, however, seen the movie, All the Pretty Horses, which turned out to be disappointing. I’m told the movie was cut from a three hour to a two hour. Thus, explaining it’s failure to impress most everybody who has seen it.

He published his first novel in 1965 with Random House, The Orchard Keeper. He says that he sent it to Random House because it was the only publishing house he knew of. I wish I had a story like that to tell as a writer. It always irks me when a writer is so good that he just wings his work to the first publishing house he knows of and is immediately accepted.

Known for his infrequent use of punctuation, whatever that may mean, McCarthy says he never uses semicolons or quotation marks for dialogue. He guards his privacy, although I find it interesting that after 40 years of hardly ever giving an interview, he appeared on Oprah’s show because she picked his book for her book club. He told her he didn’t have any writer friends and he preferred scientists.

For a time, McCarthy lived with his then current wife in a shack with no running water and no heat in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. They had a child together; then she left him because he insisted she get a job so he could write novels. In the 60’s he moved to El Paso, Texas and lived there for 20 years. He now lives in New Mexico. He once said he didn’t believe in being chatty about his books because it got in the way of his writing.

Writer’s Journal: I’m including a new edition to my blog called Writer’s Journal. Each week, I’ll say a paragraph or two about where I am in my writing. I may also chat about a book I’m reading or something I’ve viewed in movies or tv that I especially liked. I wrote a story this week for Timeless Tales. It is for the Psyche and Cupid issue. If you’d like to write a fairy tale, you have until Feb. 25th to submit there. Also, I failed to relate that I wrote an article for Guardian Angel Kids in the February issue about pigs. If you want to discover some things you might never have known about pigs, be sure to read it. I am currently watching a great series on Amazon Prime, if you have that, called Paradise Lost. There are three parts to it. If you liked the NetFlix series  Making a Murderer, as I did, you will love Paradise Lost about the slaying of three second grade boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, and the witch hunt involved in the arrests of the three teenagers originally indicted for their murders. Both series are documentaries.

Well, I’ve blabbed quite enough. This is a long blog for me. Join me next week for another writing recluse. This series will most likely extend into March.1268



Writing Wins and Woes: Writing Recluse stories

When I started thinking about this series for February, I thought how ironic it was that I chose February, Valentine’s Day month, for stories about writers that were alone, mostly unloved and to some degree, liked it that way. It is also ironic that I find myself a bit of a recluse as well, and more so at this time because last night I had an accident, tripping over an extension cord and spraining my knee. Nothing like an injury to make a homebody out of anyone.

Today’s recluse is a famous one: Emily Dickinson. Emily was born on December 10th, 1830 in Amhearst, Massachusetts. She had the advantage of being raised in a relatively wealthy home, where she was never forced to work or marry, because her father was a very well respected political figure and her brother was a lawyer. She also had a sister, who was also a solitary figure. Part of the reason for Emily’s self imposed seclusion stemmed from the fact that for some thirty years she was the primary caretaker for her invalid mother.

Her grandfather founded Amhearst College where she attended school but at the time it was Amhearst Academy. She was a good student but suffered from frequent anxiety and depression. She went on to a year of college but dropped out due to mental instability. There is much controversy as to Emily’s love life; some say she had unrequited love for Otis Plord, who served on the Supreme Court or Samuel Bowles, who was an Editor, but it is just as likely that there was never any special person in her life, only imaginary lovers.

She read voraciously and wrote letters to people, but most who were the lucky recipients of these letters found them hard to understand or to reply to. She spent almost all of her time with her family, rushing upstairs whenever company called.

She wrote 40 hand bound volumes of poetry–1800 poems in all. She folded and sewed the volumes together herself, writing on stationary. She died way too young at 56 from kidney disease. Her one adventure in life was to go to Boston for a few months to treat an eye ailment she had.

Her poems are beautiful, lyrical and unrivaled today. They are full of pauses and dashes that confounded those that read them in her day. This is one of the reasons she was so undervalued in her day. Her poems were unlike the poetry of the day because they were wild and free, not full of corny mush. She spoke through closed doors and baskets descending from her window, not even visible for her father’s funeral, instead hearing it from her open bedroom door. Yet, her poems speak louder than she ever could. They reach out and touch every heart and mind that reads them. In this way, we know Emily Dickinson far more than anyone ever did while she sojourned on this planet. 1089