Before There Was You-

June 17, 2014

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Writing can be awfully solitary, but, in fact, there are hundreds of thousands of us. Maybe even millions! Have you ever wondered about their lives? What drove F. Scott Fitzgerald to drink? Why did Hemingway say “Adios” before his time? Did you even know Casanova was a writer?zeldaandfscott

The web site is for the curious. If you’d like some interesting reading and one more way of distracting you from doing your work- then this is for you!

Enjoy!

PS. Did you know Oscar Wilde was arrested and imprisoned for being gay? Just learned that fun fact while reading through his bio this morning.OscarWIlde

 

http://www.biography.com/people/groups/writers

 


One Of The First Self Published Authors- Can You Guess Who?

February 7, 2013

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” – Beatrix Potter

Would you consider yourself a successful author if you had currently sold over 100 million copies of your books? How about if, after 112 years you are still considered one of the best loved and bestselling authors? Would it help if you learned that you also had your work translated in more than 35 languages?

If you screamed “YES!” to any of these questions, then there is absolutely no debate that Beatrix Potter was an extraordinary author and is still having a fabulous career! Interesting to note is that she only wrote 28 books and they’re typically around 4 inches high.

Let’s start at the beginning. Helen Beatrix Potter was born in 1866 in Kensington. Her parents, living off inheritance, pursued an active social life with artists, writers and politicians. Her father spent much of his time immersed in his love of art and photography. Even her extended family included many artists and her grandfather co-founded the Manchester School of Design. However, Helen spent little time with her parents and had a typically restricted childhood of Victorian England.th_BeatrixPotte2

She was educated in the home by a governess, but her family was quick to notice her artistic abilities and ordered private art lessons for her. By the age of eight, she filled numerous sketchbooks with her drawings. Her book learning was supplemented by many outings to galleries and museums, other than that, she was left to her own devices.

The family, which now included her brother, Bertram, spent a lot of time in the countryside. She and Bertram had a menagerie of small animals that they took care of and lived in their schoolroom. Unfortunately, Bertram was sent away to school so she spent much of her adolescence in solitude which allowed her to hone her studies of the natural world around her. Formal education was largely ignored and as many wealthy young ladies, she was appointed the role of “household supervisor”.

In her 20s Beatrix became a talented naturalist and made in depth studies of fungi.  Her uncle presented a paper for her to the Linnean Society as females weren’t allowed to do so. Her efforts weren’t taken seriously so she focused more on her paintings and drawings. She earned income from a greetings card company which led to many other illustration jobs. She also began writing letters to the children of her former governess, Annie Moore. These letters birthed the well loved creatures such as Peter Rabbit.th_peterrabbit

Seven years later, she asked to borrow the letters back and she shopped around the idea of Peter Rabbit. Six publishers turned her down so in 1901, she published 250 copies on her own. (One of these is for sale and you can own it for $1,121,126… and you still have to pay $21.93 for shipping!)

The Warne’s picked it up and had to do six editions in a year to keep up with the demand. This business deal also brought love. Norman Warne proposed in 1905, her parents opposed the marriage since he was “in trade” and beneath her station. She defied then, got engaged and tragically he died a month later from pernicious anemia (some say a virulent form of leukemia). Heartbroken she continued with their plans to buy Hill Top Farm in the Lake District but wasn’t able to live there full time as she was expected to take care of her parents in London. Beatrix Potter continued to write one or two “little books” a year and bought another farm near Hill Top.th_beatrix-potter

She met a local solicitor who befriended her and offered her marriage. William Heelis became her husband after stringent objections by her parents because he was nothing but a “country solicitor”. This finally freed her to live in the country full time and have the life that she yearned for. She and William continued to buy land in the Lake District and she became known as an astute sheep breeder. This business acumen also led her to creating merchandising items that accompanied her books. Stuffed animals, plates etc. increased her sizable fortune many times over.

Towards the end of her life, she was passionate about the conservation of her beloved countryside and willed over 4000 acres to a trust which keeps the Lake District preserved today. Her keen eye and talent for observation has made her one of the most cherished children’s author of all time. We are a much richer people for reading the tales of silly rabbits and clueless ducks named Jemima.th_Jemima_Puddleduck

 

 


The Biography Series- F. Scott Fitzgerald

January 24, 2013

Either you think, or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you. F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m waiting impatiently for The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Tobey Maguire to come out on May 10th. You don’t get incredible movies without an incredible book behind it. This story has the distinction of being heralded as the greatest American novel ever written. It has endured with time and still sells consistently as it is required reading for many high schools. Who wrote this iconic book? F. Scott Fitzgerald, of course.

Who was this man? Was he a failure or an underappreciated genius of his time? Perhaps we should start at the end with him dying at the young age of 44, living with a girlfriend, almost broke and a raging alchoholic.

“Mr. Fitzgerald in his life and writings epitomized “all the sad young men” of the post-war generation. With the skill of a reporter and ability of an artist he captured the essence of a period when flappers and gin and “the beautiful and the damned” were the symbols of the carefree madness of an age.

Roughly, his own career began and ended with the Nineteen Twenties. “This Side of Paradise,” his first book, was published in the first year of that decade of skyscrapers and short skirts. Only six others came between it and his last, which, not without irony, he called “Taps at Reveille.” That was published in 1935. Since then a few short stories, the script of a moving picture or two, were all that came from his typewriter. The promise of his brilliant career was never fulfilled.” (Taken from his obituary at The New York Times)th_FScott

This “sad young man” was born September 24, 1896 was named after distant cousin, Francis Scott Key. He grew up in a comfortable home and attended private schools throughout his education. His parents had a rather unconventional idea of learning and got the schools to agree to him only attending a half a day and he got to choose which half he wished to go.

He began writing at an early age and published a mystery in his high school newspaper. Princeton was his next stop and he dove into the many literary organizations there. He even submitted a manuscript to Charles Scribner’s Sons, but was rejected. His immersion into this world of literacy took a toll on his grades and he withdrew, failing, in his junior year. Mr. Fitzgerald joined the army and was afraid that he might not make it back from war so he wrote another novel called The Romantic Egotist which he again submitted to Scribner’s and was also rejected. They did, however, praise him for its originality and encouraged him to send in other work.

While in training, he also met the love of his life. Zelda Zayre was the belle of the ball and the daughter of a district judge. She chafed at the constrictions of proper society and saw a way out through this unknown writer. Zelda wasn’t a fool and told him to make his fortune before she would marry him. He tried to make a career in advertising and writing short stories but she got cold feet and called off the engagement. Nursing a broken heart, he returned to his parents’ house and revised The Romantic Egotist. Charles Scribner’s Sons accepted the manuscript and sold 50,000 copies which was an enormous amount of books at that time. While it became the most popular book of the year, he married Zelda in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.th_Fitzgeralds

They lived a lavish lifestyle around the world and even lived in Paris for a time as he tried to re-capture his writing muse. It was there that The Great Gatsby was published and received good reviews. Even so, it did not earn enough money to keep them in the lifestyle they had become accustomed. While he wrote, Zelda decided to become a ballerina and trained exceptionally hard for 3 years with a ballet master. This led to a nervous breakdown and a journey into schizophrenia that plagued her for the rest of her life. ( She died during a fire at a sanitarium.)

While in Paris, F. Scott Fitzgerald spent his time making friends with other writers, namely Ernest Hemingway, and writing articles for countless magazines to earn a paycheck. He hated this part of his career but knew he had to “hack” out articles and movie scripts to keep up with the enormous debts he and Zelda accrued. They returned to the States and he headed for California to be closer to the movie studios. Even though he found the work degrading, he wrote some of the un-filmed parts of Gone With The Wind. During this time Zelda had an affair and they became even more estranged. She checked into another institution and he began an affair with Sheila Graham, a Hollywood columnist.

He created a character in a series of short stories that mocked himself as nothing but a Hollywood hack that sold at a brisk pace. He wrote more novels but couldn’t seem to capture the acclaim his first two provided. He was a notorious drunk and began to suffer poor health because of it. It is said that he also suffered with tuberculosis. Becoming increasingly frail after a heart attack, he moved in with Sheila because she lived on the ground floor and he could no longer climb stairs to his apartment. His final heart attack on December 21, 1940 took his life. The poet and satirist, Dorothy Parker, was heard while standing at his open coffin to mutter, “the poor son-of-a-bitch” which was a line of dialogue at Jay Gatsby’s funeral.th_Great_gatsby


The Biography Series- Bram Stoker

January 17, 2013

“Listen to them – children of the night. What music they make.”  Bram Stoker

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Welcome to the new biography series at Muse Tracks.

Writers have created fascinating stories throughout the centuries for our enjoyment and education. I thought it would be interesting to turn the tables and look into the private lives of those who spent their days on earth creating unforgettable characters. I have found that they themselves are some of the most unforgettable characters I’ve run across.

On November 8, 1847, a red haired Irish boy was born named Bram Stoker. His birth was unremarkable as he was sandwiched in between 6 other brothers and sisters. His childhood, however, was cloaked in a mystery that remains unexplained. Bram was paralyzed until he was seven years old and it was time for school. He remained mostly in his bed and never walked. Some have theorized that it was a type of hysterical paralysis perhaps due to some form of abuse that happened in his young life. What we do know is that his mother spent countless hours telling him stories of strange creatures doing even stranger and horrifying things.th_stoker

Once school began, he excelled. Health issues never plagued him again and by the time he reached Trinity University in Dublin he was named University Athlete. He graduated with honors in Mathematics and went on to become a civil servant. While he worked hard at his day job, it was his writing that gave him great joy. He also loved the theatre and worked as a critic writing reviews (for free, I might add) about current plays and the actors who performed on stage. He published a book on being a civil servant and a few short stories, but it was a review about a famous actor that changed the direction of his life.

Sir Henry Irving was a rock star of the stage and Bram idolized the actor’s performance in his critique. Irving, who loved being loved, invited Bram to dinner and the two spent the evening drinking and forging a friendship that would last for the rest of their lives. Soon after, Bram quit his job and joined Sir Irving as the manager of the famous Lyceum theatre in London and as his personal assistant. This decision allowed him to travel around the world as the company toured their theatrical productions. He met presidents, royalty, other famous artists and led a life most would envy. Unfortunately, this life came with a price and some say caused his death in the end.th_T68IrvingHenry

During the early years, Bram met a beautiful young woman named Florence Balcombe. This 6’2″ strapping Irishman began to court her immediately and wasn’t slowed down by the fact that she was already engaged to another young writer named Oscar Wilde (who was his friend as well). Mr. Wilde lost his love and Bram and Florence were married in 1878. While Wilde was upset with Bram for a time, the two resumed their friendship and even met on various continents for dinners.

While we all know he was married to Florence, many say he was truly married to Henry Irving. Even the couple’s only child was born Irving Noel Stoker. (When he came of age, he only went by Noel Stoker.) Bram was at Irving’s constant call. He travelled with him, would go to dinner with him after the shows, not returning home until early morning, and then take care of the business matters of the theatre during the day. It’s reported that if he did have deeper feelings for the actor, it didn’t seem that they were returned. Their relationship had a desperate obsessive quality to it that was fueled by the creative emotions of the actor. Irving was a volatile diva taken to fits of rage when things didn’t go his way yet would lavish praise and affection on those who pleased him.

Given his demanding lifestyle, it’s a wonder Bram Stoker wrote anything at all. It took him over seven years to complete his most famous work Dracula. His manuscript slowly took shape on bits of paper snatched from wherever he happened to be when an idea hit. He meticulously researched every detail placed between those pages right down to the actual train schedule that existed during Van Helsing’s trip back to London. His characters were reflections of himself as the professor and Irving as Dracula. Some say he even wrote this story for it to be the greatest part Sir Irving would ever play on stage.Dracula

Once it was published and had fair success, he brought it to the man he worshipped and had actors do a reading for him in the theatre. It’s said Irving twitched in his seat for 20 minutes before hurling the manuscript in the air, leaving a shattered Bram in his wake.

Despite his beloved novel being rejected in this manner, Bram remained by Irving’s side until the day he died. He continued to write and published several other short stories, poems, children’s tales, and novels. Much as his life began with a mystery, his death is also a source of question. While some say he died of a stroke and sheer exhaustion, other claim that he died of tertiary syphilis contracted by visiting prostitutes which was common in Victorian England.

Such was the bittersweet life of Bram Stoker.