Trivia About Far-From-Trivial Authors

When I researched and wrote my 2017-published book on literary trivia, I decided to focus on interesting facts about deceased novelists. Figured I needed to narrow down my subject area somewhat. πŸ™‚ But there are of course many interesting facts about living authors, and this post will focus on some of them — in alphabetical order by last name.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author of novels such as Americanah) did a widely viewed TED talk called “We Should All Be Feminists” that was sampled in Beyonce’s 2013 song “Flawless.”

Isabel Allende always starts writing a new book on January 8 — the date she sent a letter to her dying 99-year-old grandfather that she expanded to create her widely read debut novel, The House of the Spirits.

Margaret Atwood, while primarily known for The Handmaid’s Tale and other novels, has written just as many books of poetry.

Lee Child (born James Grant) chose the Child pen name so his Jack Reacher novels would appear on bookstore and library shelves between the works of crime-fiction greats Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie.

Suzanne Collins was a writer for a number of relatively upbeat children’s TV shows before writing the much darker, widely popular The Hunger Games trilogy.

Louise Erdrich is not only an author but the owner of an independent Minneapolis bookstore called Birchbark that focuses on Native-American literature.

Jeffrey Eugenides, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex, took time off from college to volunteer with Mother Teresa.

Diana Gabaldon of Outlander series fame holds three science degrees — in Zoology, Marine Biology, and Quantitative Behavioral Ecology — and was a university professor before starting to write fiction.

Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist, self-published Still Alice before Simon & Schuster acquired the debut novel about a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. It became a bestseller and film that won an Oscar for Julianne Moore in the title role.

John Grisham was not only a lawyer but served as a Democratic member of the Mississippi House of Representatives (from 1984 to 1990) before becoming a renowned novelist.

Stephen King, while a student at the University of Maine, wrote a column for the campus newspaper called…”Steve King’s Garbage Truck”!

Cormac McCarthy, whose work has been compared to William Faulkner’s, sent the manuscript of his first novel to Random House having no idea the man who had been Faulkner’s editor still worked there and would become Cormac’s editor.

Liane Moriarty is the first Australian author to have a novel (Big Little Lies) debut at number one on The New York Times bestseller list.

Arundhati Roy wrote her second novel a whopping 20 years after her Man Booker Prize-winning first novel The God of Small Things. She devoted much of those two decades to political activism in India.

Anne Tyler (The Accidental Tourist, etc.) didn’t attend public school or use a telephone until she was 11 years old, because her family lived in a Quaker commune.

Alice Walker, another activist author who’s best known for her Pulitzer-winning novel The Color Purple, was in a romantic relationship with Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman in the 1990s.

Any trivia about living novelists you’d like to mention?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started, award-winning β€œMontclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest piece — which envisions new construction sinking my town’s downtown — is here.

74 thoughts on “Trivia About Far-From-Trivial Authors

  1. Here’s some trivia on Charles Bukowski. He used to survive on one candy bar a day. He despised Mickey Mouse – not even good or creative. He was almost a journalist – they chose not to hire them. He was glad that they didn’t. He said Hollywood was dumb and cruel and more stupider than all the books he has read. That’s something you can nimble on. I’ve got a large library of the man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Don, for all that excellent trivia about Charles Bukowski! I’ve read his semi-autobiographical novel “Hollywood,” and he indeed did not think highly of “Tinseltown” and the way it did business.

      One more piece of Bukowski-related trivia that I’m sure you know, quoting an Internet item about U2’s “Dirty Day” song: “At the end, when Bono repeats, ‘The days, days, days run away like horses over the hill,’ that’s a reference to Bukowski’s 1969 collection of poetry, ‘The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills.'”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for telling me about Bono. So, I listened to the song and good it is. I had forgotten about him. Bukowski was also inspired by John Fante. Fante best known for Ask The Dust, of which was turned into a screenplay that featured Donald Sullivan and Colin Farrell. So, that is another small bit of trivia on Fante.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Like Louise Erdrich, Ann Patchett, author of “Bel Canto” and other novels, owns a bookstore, Parnassus, in Nashville TN, wherein I once nosed around for Lee Child books, finding none.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s right, jhNY! Ann Patchett is indeed a bookstore owner, too.

      Given the lack of Lee Child novels in Parnassus, I imagine Jack Reacher will retaliate by…not reading Patchett’s “Bel Canto.” So there! πŸ™‚


    • Thank you, Michelle! Glad you liked the post! πŸ™‚

      Like Sir Walter Scott, Margaret Atwood started out as a published poet and gravitated to novel writing. But a number of her poetry collections appeared after she began writing novels.


  3. Can’t believe that you didn’t mention Fannie Flagg, Dave! She worked in local theater in Birmingham before becoming nationally-known. She had to come up with a stage name because her real name is Patricia Neal and there was already one of those who was a well-known actress. She was a co-host of a local Morning Show in Birmingham in addition to acting in Town & Gown theater.

    The other bit of trivia I know about her is that she is horribly dyslexic and finds writing to be great torture! The end result is always amazing though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, lulabelle! That’s a LOT of terrific trivia about one author. I indeed should have included Fannie Flagg in my post, but I’m glad you mentioned her here. I love her novels, and am grateful you suggested I read them!


      • Also: Fannie Flagg was a regular on Allen Funt’s “Candid Camera” teevee program in the 1960’s. It’s where I saw her first.

        Even more trivial trivia: I went to college with his daughter.

        Liked by 2 people

        • “Candid Camera” was a memorable show, jhNY. Also memorable (for you) was having Allen Funt’s daughter as a college classmate! Reminds me that my older daughter had as a college classmate the daughter of U2 frontman Bono. πŸ™‚


    • Fannie Flagg, with her witty responses, was a favorite player on Mark Goodson’s (Goodson-Todman) game shows, particularly Match Game.You mention “local theater in Birmingham,” giving Fannie something in common with Goodson, who was then married to a former Miss Alabama.

      Liked by 1 person

        • No, alas, I didn’t work that show, but I certainly remember who Mark Goodson’s favorite players of all his shows were. He said viewers didn’t know how difficult it was to find celebrities who could actually think on their feet and play well. Aside from Fannie Flagg, his favorites were Lucille Ball (who brought her Backgammon board with her to play between shows (five for the week were all taped on the same day), Betty White (introduced to future husband Allen Ludden by Goodson on set of Password), Brad Garrett (even harder to find great players who were men, said Goodson), Vicky Lawrence, too, was on his list.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Such interesting trivia facts! I have one about a connection between living and non-living authors. Adriana Trigiani (Big Stone Gaps series, in addition to others) and John Fox, Jr. (Trail of the Lonesome Pine, which was one of the best-selling novels in 1908-1909) were both from Wise County, VA. Trigiani works this into the plot of her first Big Stone Gap book.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What fun tidbits about some of these authors. That’s especially interesting about Suzanne Collins haha! Never would have guessed that! I wish I knew more fun facts about authors than I do. I think I remember reading somewhere that Steinbeck said his dog ate his first draft for “Of Mice and Men.” Which would be a total bummer if true. I suppose the modern equivalent would be when the computer crashes and work is lost! 😦 I think I also read that Stephen King once said he got enough rejection letters to wallpaper his office. Which I can totally believe!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.!

      Yes, re Suzanne Collins, some authors can be quite varied in their career choices and writing approaches at different times of their lives.

      Wow — didn’t know about that (possible) occurrence of Steinbeck’s dog eating the first draft of “Of Mice and Men.” Devastating if true.

      I’ve heard about Stephen King’s many early rejections. Shows that publishing houses sometimes don’t have a clue.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Early on in his emigre period in Europe, Hemingway left a suitcase containing all his manuscripts on a train. The suitcase was never recovered.

        While writing “This Side of Paradise”, F. Scott Fitzgerald had 122 rejection letters pinned above his desk.

        Several times in school my dog ate my homework, which would have been devastating, if true.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. A delicious post that brings so much to the art of reading. I love knowing the background of a writer as it adds so much to my reading experience. I am fascinated by Cormac McCarthy – haven’t read his books so now I have another to add to my growing stack. I understand that he wrote with the same typewriter for more than 50 years. When it broke, he auctioned it off in 2009 to raise proceeds for the Sante Fe institute. I’m certain the Santa Fe institute was very pleased to receive a donation of over $250,000. I just finished Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (thank you, Liz Humphreys for the recommendation). When I looked up information on Emily, I found that her dog, Keeper, actually followed her coffin to her gravesite when she passed in 1848. I understand Keeper whimpered by her room for weeks after her burial. Dave – you have a wonderful way of enticing me to add to my overflowing stack of books. I am looking forward to those wonderful winter evenings….

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I really enjoyed this post, Dave. The only thing I can think to contribute is much lamer than Liz G’s contribution (who knew there would be a comment competition for the worst additional fact lol!). Anyway, J K Rowling chose her pen name at the insistence of her publisher, who thought boys would be dissuaded by picking up a book by a female author. The “J” stands for her real first name, “Joanne.” But she doesn’t have a middle name, so she picked up “Kathleen,” for her paternal grandmother. πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ˜€

    Liked by 3 people

  8. As a proud “bird nerd,” I’ve learned,in 1890,Europe introduced birds to America as part of Shakespeare’s plays, birds in these plays like the European Starlings. Central Park was where introduced, of course, NYC will always be center of world.

    However, these birds are invasive, number on 200+ million, take over nesting cavity bird’s dogs like woodpeckers. They also steal grains from cattle, destroy crops and eat insects in abundance.

    Kind of humanizes them to me, but they,like all birds, are a happy distraction to the reality we are all in all over the world.

    Counting a good, honest man to live in White House. πŸ™

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Michele! Fascinating information about birds, with that Shakespearean connection. Wow!

      The animal realm is quite complex. Those animals that do “bad things” do them out of instinct, while some humans do bad things out of intent. One example of the latter being the current White House denizen who, as you note, will hopefully be voted out next month.


    • It was not Europe, but one benighted man: Eugene Schieffelin. In 1890, he loosed 60 starlings on Central Park. Today, according to wikipedia, there are approximately 60 million here in the US.

      My maternal grandmother, reading it somewhere, liked the sound of the word ‘etourneau’ or ‘sansonnet’, I forget which, as it’s been 60 years. She knew it was the name of a bird, but was sorely disappointed to learn it was French for ‘starling’, a bird she had long detested.

      In 1891, Schieffelin introduced 40 more birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays in to that park. Thirty years earlier, he introduced the now-ubiquitous house sparrow to New York, from whence it conquered the country.

      Shieffelin was a member of one of the oldest families in NY society, and died in Newport RI on 1906.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I mistyped the number of starlings now in America– it’s 200 million. Thought, when I saw your reply, that the figures were too conveniently comparable, so I looked it up again. Laid end-to-end, they’d go a long way, which is where I think most would wish they’d get off to.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ha, jhNY! (Your last line.)

            Two-hundred million? What a huge number. So, 100 million in/over the west side of Central Park and 100 million in/over the east side… πŸ™‚ (Just kidding.)


  9. As I mostly read dead people, I’m probably not going to be much of a contributor this week, but as to Lee Child, and according to him,he named his character Reacher because when he told his wife he might soon be out of a job (or possibly was already without), she suggested, at 6′ 4″, he might hire himself out in a grocery as a ‘reacher” who could fetch down things from top shelves for shorter customers.

    Thought of something pertinent to topic(!)re two contemporary and very able American writers:

    Donna Leone, who sets her detective novels in Venice Italy, is a native of Montclair NJ. Tana French, who sets her detective novels in Dublin Ireland is a native of Burlington VT. Leone lived in Venice for thirty years. French is a longtime resident of Dublin.

    Strangely, or not, the television dramatization of Leone’s Detective Brunetti series was made by Germans in their native language.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, jhNY! Nothing wrong with mostly reading deceased authors. πŸ™‚

      I’ve heard that about the origins of Jack Reacher’s name. Great anecdote, and great name!

      Ah, Donna Leone is from my town! And it does seem like some U.S.-born authors set a lot of their fiction elsewhere. If I’m remembering right, Diana Gabaldon is from Arizona, and set much of her earlier “Outlander” novels in Scotland before mostly moving things to 1700s America.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great trivia, Dave!! Last year I learned that C.S. Lewis, John F. Kennedy, and Aldous Huxley all died on the exact day (November 22, 1963) within minutes and hours of each other. All tremendously influential men, all of them authors.

    Liked by 3 people

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