I’m a serious writer. I watch, I listen, I write. I take it all seriously because I love it. So sometimes it comes as a surprise to people that I have a sense of humor. It’s not all about marching words to the edge of a cliff. The very first thing I wrote was a humour piece for school. I was extremely shy, 10 years old, and made to read my little story in front of the class. I almost died. But in a trembling little voice, I read it. And almost died again. And then the damnedest thing happened. My classmates stood up and applauded. I wasn’t even sure they knew my name. And at that moment, a writer was born.
I wrote a weekly humor column for the newspaper I worked at before moving here. It ran for 10 years until I ran out of steam. Sometimes people would give me cards and, once, a box of chocolates. It was very cool.
And it got me to thinking about all the serious writers who go unacknowledged for their sense of humor. Some of them might surprise you. For instance, did you know:
Ernest Hemingway: He used to light firecrackers under F. Scott’s bedroom window after a hard night of debauchery. Fitzgerald responded with, “You never know how much space you occupied in other people’s lives.” He wrote it down after Hemingway left, and it was a very good line. Hemingway used the occasion to entitle his next book, “For Whom the Firecrackers Toll”, but his editor made him change it.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: Returned the favor by putting a live Elk in Papa’s dining room. And removed all the ammo from Hemingway’s garage. And he wrote: “No one likes to see people in moods of despair they themselves have survived.” It was another very good line.
John Steinbeck used to buy truck loads of radishes, which he then placed in guests’ undergarments when they spent the night in his guest house. “The Radishes of Wrath” inspired him to write greater things.
William Faulkner used to crash wedding parties, empty all the scotch bottles into his boots, and send anonymous letters to the bride’s mother, apologizing for his intrusiveness during the honeymoon. “The Sound and the Booty” sold poorly, until he decided to revise the title.
Emily and Charlotte Bronte collected Tupperware, filled them with dead beetles soaked in absinth , and gave them as gifts to critics who complained their work was “too dry”. They were also known to throw cats at children who bothered them.
Mary Shelley actually did cut up cadavers and place them on her front porch every Halloween for the children to touch. She was a terrific self-promoter. The term: “Oh my God, Jimmy’s having a stroke,” is said to have originated at one of her famous “Trick or Cut” parties.
Serious folks all, but also a playful side that remains strangely unknown.
Serious writers? Yeah, right.
(These stories may not be entirely authentic. Hours of research and careful reading and… okay, I was distracted by watching reruns of “30 Rock.” Tina Fey should be paid truckloads of money just for being Tina Fey. Just saying.)