Friday, December 7, 2012

Author Biographies

by Scott Rhoades

Every once in a while, I like to read a biography of an author I enjoy reading. Some, like Shakespeare biographies, are largely for the sake of historical information and better understanding of the writer's work. Others, like various editions of Twain's attempts at an autobiography, are entertaining and provide more info about his colorful life. My favorites, though, show me that writers who are much better than I'll ever be suffered as much or more than I do when playing the writing game. I love reading about writers at work, living the not-always-glamorous life of an author.

One of my favorites, Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, shows John Steinbeck struggling with this great work, expressing doubts about the book being any good. He contemplated giving up a few times when it seemed to difficult a work to finish.

In Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams, I learned that, no matter how much fun it seems Adams is having in his books, writing was pure torture for him. He procrastinated so much that his publishers had to put him up in a hotel room and force him to write.

This year, I read Max Perkins: Editor of Genius. Perkins was the editor at Charles Scribner & Sons who had the fortune or misfortune of editing people like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Rawlings, and others. The book follows him and his writers through their struggles to write cohesive books, and to make their deadlines. Often, Perkins was as much babysitter as editor. I learned more about his writers, especially his big three, from this book than I ever did in school.

Many writers have been the subject of biographers, and many others have written autobiographies or kept journals. Reading about your favorite authors can inspire and educate, bring new understanding of their works and their personalities, and help you to explore your own life as a writer.

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