And waiting and waiting…
Okay, so some authors are less prolific than others. James Patterson, for instance, had more than a dozen books released under his name last year. Granted, most were either co-written or were shorter Young Adult novels, but that is still a lot of output. Nelson DeMille, in contrast, releases a new book about once every two years. That may seem to be a long time, but it isn’t really in comparison to others. Jean Auel took 31 years to write the six books in her series. And that still isn’t long enough for this blog.
What we really are talking about here are the authors who were mostly “one and done”. They put out their book and never did much of any writing after that. Well, I suppose many, many authors have that happen. If no one buys your first book there isn’t much chance you’ll get to publish a second one. But some authors did have success and sales and still didn’t ever get around to that sequel. Now I know that this topic has been written about on the Internet many times before. So instead of just giving you a list of these not-writing-much writers I’m going to talk a bit about why they didn’t keep writing, and also pop in some bits about the writers who seem to never stop writing.
Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
I bet you thought I was going to start with something else? I’m sure many people hear this title and think of the movie, but the book is not to be disregarded. It won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. It has 30 million copies in print. The book and movie both continue to engender discussion on race portrayals.
Mitchell wrote it while on break from being a reporter, in part inspired by her husband who was exasperated at having to bring her so many library books and told her to write her own. Which she did, taking three years to do so. But being a novelist wasn’t her real passion. She vowed she would never write a sequel. During World War II she did more writing, this time letters to soldiers. She also served in the American Red Cross, sold war bonds, and sponsored the cruiser USS Atlanta.
On August 11, 1949, she was struck and killed by a speeding car. She was only 48, and I would like to think that eventually she would have written some more. Her estate has in more recent times commissioned sequels to Gone With The Wind.
(Agatha Christie is estimated to have sold over 4 billion books. Yes, that is billion with a b.)
The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
The famously reclusive Salinger wrote plenty of short stories and novellas, but only one full length book. The Catcher in the Rye wasn’t just an immediate success in 1951, but a lasting one as well, remaining a constant on school reading lists and having sold in the neighborhood of 65 million copies. I reread it myself a year or so ago and it does hold up all these years later.
Salinger was never comfortable with fame and the spotlight, and slowly stopped writing. He last published a story in 1959, even though he lived until 2010, reaching a respectable 91 years in age. His reclusiveness became famous enough that author W. P. Kinsella used him as a character in the novel Shoeless Joe. In the movie version, Field of Dreams, the Salinger character was removed due to a threat of legal action. I talked a bit more about that many moons ago in this post.
An earlier brush with fame Salinger had was when he dated the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. She ended up leaving him for her future husband…Charlie Chaplin.
(Have you heard of Eleanor Hibbert? Not surprising since there are no books published under that name. What about Victoria Holt? Philippa Carr? Jean Plaidy? All the same person. Hibbert wrote over 200 novels using eight pseudonyms.)
To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Ah yes, that Mockingbird book. We all know that it is the one and only book Lee ever did…for now. Her attorney recently released a statement that a second Lee book, Go Set A Watchman, is set to be released in June of 2015. This is apparently a recently found lost manuscript, a book she wrote prior to Mockingbird, that features Scout as an adult woman. When she wrote it her editor suggested she write a book focusing on Scout as a younger character, and the rest is history.
That all being said, Lee has a strong connection to another very famous book, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Capote and Lee were lifelong friends, and she traveled with him while he researched the case that inspired his book.
In the decades since she won the Pulitzer, she started several books, including a Mockingbird follow-up, but never completed them. Despite only ever having published the one title she has received numerous distinguished awards, including an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
(Isaac Asimov not only wrote hundreds of books and stories, but wrote a wide range of things. He has books in nine of the 10 major Dewey Decimal System categories.)
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
It sure is hard to keep those Brontë brats sorted out. Charlotte, the eldest, wrote four books (including Jane Eyre) and a number of assorted other works. Anne, the youngest, wrote two novels. And Emily wrote just the one. But it was a good one.
Wuthering Heights was first released in 1847 as the first two parts of a three volume set, with the third part being Anne’s Agnes Grey. Wuthering Heights is still considered to be a literary classic. We don’t know all that much about Emily. She was shy and avoided sociable events. There are hints that she was working on a second book but this is unproven. What we do know is why she didn’t finish it. And that reason is tragedy.
The Brontë family, living in unsanitary times, weren’t long for this world. Emily died in 1848, at the age of 30, from tuberculosis. Anne, 29, died the following year from influenza. Their brother Branwell passed a few months before Emily did, 31 years old and ravaged by alcohol and laudanum addictions. The two eldest sisters had died within a month of each other in 1825. Charlotte made it to 1855, when she died due to pregnancy complications. She was almost 39. All of which is tragic in its own right, but the thought of how many great works these sisters could have written if they weren’t struck down young adds a certain level of poignancy.
(Barbara Cartland wrote over 700 novels, and holds the record for most in a year, with 23 in 1983. She was 82 years old that year.)
Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell
With 50+ million copies sold, Black Beauty is one of the best selling books of all time. And, obviously since it is on this list, Sewell’s only book. She wrote it in her fifties while in failing health, often bedridden and forced to dictate to her mother. She sold it to a local publisher and lived long enough to see it have initial success, dying only five months after publication at the age of 58.
While classified as a children’s book, it also remains a must read for horse lovers of all ages.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
Wilde’s reason for writing only one book are twofold. First, he was primarily a poet and playwright. He wrote many things, including short stories, but only produced one actual novel. Secondly, he died at age 46, his health shattered after a prison sentence for “gross indecency” with other men. His wit survived even unto his death bed.
(Printing Nora Roberts bibliography off of Wikipedia will take 13 pages.)
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
Okay, lets modernize things here a bit. This 2009 novel, which is a very different look at race relations than Gone With The Wind is, has already sold ten million copies and received a feature film treatment.
Stockett worked on the book for five years and received dozens of rejection letters, and I think that kind of effort probably takes a lot out of you. Perhaps that explains how six years later no new book has appeared. She said in several interviews that one was forthcoming, but no sign of it yet. Fans of the book will need to keep their fingers crossed.
(Remember Goosebumps? They remain popular reads, and R. L. Stine never stopped writing, with over 400 titles to his credit so far.)
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
And finally we come to this one. Published in 1980, it wasn’t an instant smash. It did snag the 1981 Pulitzer and has slowly grown from a cult classic to being considered a modern masterpiece. But there will be no sequel. You see, Toole committed suicide in 1969. After his death his mother found a carbon copy of the manuscript and spent a decade working tirelessly to get it published. We are all glad she did.
While vacationing in New Orleans last year (WrestleMania!) one of the things we didn’t get around to was visiting the Ignatius statue. Which means we will have to make a return trip some day.
(Many of us read Sophocles in school, most likely Oedipus the King. I’ve read a couple other of his seven plays. Well, several of his seven extant plays. It is estimated he wrote over 120 in total, most now lost to history.)
You can find all of titles mentioned in this blog here in the library catalog: