Friday, April 30, 2010

Stranger than fiction: Little known facts about great genre authors

So, after my recent rant about the state of fiction, I got to thinking about some of the authors of the great classics, and remembered that a few of them had some strange habits and weird lives of their own... and after a bit of internet research, I found out most of them had eccentricities and bizarre little tidbits in their background.

Starting out with one that most people (well, at least literary fans) already know, I give you a list of odd curiosities and perhaps little known facts about some of the horror genre's greatest writers.
In most cases, I have put their best known works in parenthesis, but many have more than just one entry in the genre.

Mary Shelley (at left) wrote Frankenstein at age 19 after a vivid dream.

Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) was an outstanding artist as well as a writer, but kept his work hidden, not wanting it to perhaps outshine his literary works.

Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray) was a homosexual who was imprisoned two years for "gross indecency" with other men. (hey, it was 1895!)

Robert Bloch (Psycho) married the first time for convenience only, to keep himself out of the army. Coincidentally, his wife's name was Marion.

Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera) inherited millions and lived wildly until he nearly reached bankruptcy.

Ray Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes) was so impressed by a carnival magic virtuoso that if he hadn't discovered writing, his biggest ambition was to become a magician.

Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White) was severely addicted to opium in the form of laudanum, supposedly for his rheumatic arthritis. He was delusional quite often and claimed to have a doppelganger that followed him.

Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights) caught a cold at her father's funeral, refused treatment, and died shortly afterward at the age of 30.

Stephen King (The Shining, Salem's Lot) allegedly witnessed a friend get struck and killed by a train, though he has no memory of the event. He came home one day after playing with the child, apparently in shock and unable to speak. It was only later that the family found out what had happened to the dead boy and realized King no doubt saw what happened.

H.G. Wells (War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man) married his cousin but then left her for one of his students (he was a teacher).

V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic) died in 1986, but her novels were so popular that her estate hired a ghost writer to carry on writing under her name.

Edgar Allan Poe (The Raven) was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, unkempt, dressed in clothes that were not his, and with an apparent vacant look in his eyes. He was never coherent enough to explain how he came to be in that condition, and died four days later.

William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist) was on the game show You Bet Your Life - and he won ten thousand dollars, which allowed him to quit his job and write full time.

H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu Mythos) was a complete and utter racist, and admitted to it openly. He also suffered from night terrors, which no doubt inspired his horrific works of fiction.

Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre) officially died from tuberculosis, but it is believed that the true cause was dehydration and malnutrition due to excessive vomiting from severe morning sickness. Her unborn child died with her.

Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol) was one of the first members of The Ghost Club, a paranormal investigation club founded in London in 1862. The Club is still currently active.

Nathanial Hawthorne (The House of Seven Gables) added a "w" in his last name because he was trying to distance himself from less than reputable relatives, including one who was a judge during the Salem Witch Trials.

Whitley Strieber (Wolfen, The Hunger) claims to have been abducted by "non-human" beings from his cabin in upstate New York. He calls these beings "the visitors" and the experience led to his famous novel Communion.

Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca) was a secret bisexual, wished she had been born a boy, and quite possibly had a less than appropriate relationship with her father.

Bram Stoker's original title for Dracula was 'The Un-Dead" and was changed at the last minute. The original manuscript -thought to be lost- resurfaced in a barn in Pennsylvania in the early 1980's.

Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express), after finding out about an affair her husband was carrying on, disappeared from her home and was missing for eleven days. She was then found registered under another name at a hotel, giving no account for being missing. She was initially thought to have had a nervous breakdown or simply amnesia, but many believed she concocted the scheme to make it seem like her husband had killed her.

Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) was born in Scotland but traveled extensively, eventually dying in Samoa after straining to open a bottle of wine which apparently caused a cerebral hemorrhage.

Peter Straub (Ghost Story) was only seven when he was struck by a car and critically injured, remaining in a hospital for several months. Strangely enough, his long-time friend and frequent collaborator Stephen King was nearly killed in the same manner in 1999.

Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House) had a husband who purported that she delved into witchcraft because he thought it would help sell her books.

Anne Rice (The Vampire Chronicles), an atheist for many years, returned to the Catholic Church in 1998 and currently devotes her writings exclusively to religious themes of Christianity.

Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Hell House) states that the story 'Duel' -later made into a Spielberg film- came from an actual incident in which a large truck dangerously tailgated him and a friend, bizarrely enough on the same day JFK was assassinated.

Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, NY. Seriously.

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Will Errickson said...

Stephen King has also admitted an addiction to drugs and alcohol which got so bad he has no memory of writing books like CUJO and CHRISTINE. Holy shit!

William Malmborg said...

These are pretty cool. I heard another rumor about Stephen King, one which I haven’t been able to find documentation on, one that says he actually ended up buying the vehicle that hit him back in 1999 and destroyed it himself.

C.L. Hadden said...

Will: Yes, I've heard interviews with King where he admitted as much. During The Shining as well. Apparently that was part of King's gripe with Kubrick's version of the film- that they made Jack just down-right looney tunes instead of portraying his descent into madness with a clear alcoholic pattern, as the book suggests.

William: Yep, I've read several places that it is true he bought the van. I heard he smashed the shit out of it with a bat and then had it crushed.

William Malmborg said...

I wish I could have done the same thing to the car that hit me exactly two years ago today, but, alas, the police let the kid drive his car home.

James said...

Fascinating stuff here!

'...found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, unkempt, dressed in clothes that were not his, and with an apparent vacant look in his eyes.'

Well, we've all been there, right?

C.L. Hadden said...

William: Wow, didn't the kid even get into trouble or lose his license? That sucks!

James: Oh yes, we've all been there. Actually, I truly was there - in Baltimore - in quite the same condition. Preakness Stakes Day, May 2000. Whoa.

Can't See Sheep said...

Wow, some wild stuff here. Have you heard the one about Mary Shelley keeping her husband's, Percy Shelley's heart. Yep, hanging on to you're hubby's organs after he's gone. I've read that the heart was taken from Shelley's funereal pyre by Edward Trelawny, another said Byron had it for awhile & I've read it was found in the ashes of the funeral pyre & given to Mary. No matter which one, it always ends up in Mary's possession.

Mary kept the heart her whole life, some say in her desk, some say on her desk & still others say in a shrine especially made for it on her fireplace mantle.

The heart goes from there & is either buried with their son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, or is said to have been buried on its own in a full sized coffin near the grave of John Keats. Definitely an unusual keepsake to remember your husband by.

La Morte Vivante said...

I used to live quite near the Bronte parsonage in West Yorkshire - and I'm not afraid to say I'm a bit of a Brontephile. Emily was a fascinating character - her reputed last words, after refusing all 'poisoning doctors' were, 'If you will send for the doctor, I will see him now'. She died shortly after.

The clothes which Charlotte Bronte made for her unborn child are preserved at the Parsonage. Quite eerie, especially in light of what happened later.

ZedWord said...

A fine assemblage of fantastic facts!