Author Facts: A Series


Sometimes authors may have a past or a history that surprises you. Read on, dear reader.


8 Surprising Author Pasts That Will Astonish You

Anne Perry was convicted of murdering her best friend's mother when she was 15 years old. It was a secret for three decades until a reporter discovered her tragic past.

One of the world's greatest mystery authors had a mystery of her own. In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days. Found in a hotel, Christie had no recollection of what happened to her.

During WWII, Ernest Hemingway patrolled the waters off Cuba looking for German submarines. Known as the "Hooligan Navy," civilian volunteers patrolled the coast in their private yachts. Only Hemingway was armed with sub-machine guns and grenades.

When Roald Dahl was grounded from his fighter pilot duties due to injuries sustained during a plane crash in 1940, he became a spy. Who did he spy on? The U.S.

In a very tragic event, William S. Burroughs accidentally killed his wife in a game of "William Tell" in 1951. One biographer said Burroughs was haunted by her death the rest of his life.

In 1977, Stieg Larsson trained female guerrillas, members of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, in Ethopia. Larsson died not long after Eritrea gained its independence.

Jeffrey Archer, real life lord and millionaire, was jailed for perjury and for perverting the course of justice in 2001. He has several other scandals to his name that forced him to leave politics three times.

In a memorable 2006 episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," James Frey came under fire when his best-selling memoir about addiction was revealed to be embellished and partially fabricated.

BONUS FACT: The murderer in "The Pale Horse" uses thallium sulfate to poison his victims. In real life, Christie's descriptions of thallium poisoning saved lives on three occasions in the 1970s.

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6 More Author Facts to Surprise You

Before writing "Slaughter-House Five," Kurt Vonnegut managed the U.S.'s first Saab dealership in Cape Cod. It failed. Lucky for us because Vonnegut's writing career took off and lasted for over 50 years.

Emile Zola, who penned the novel this film is based on, was a "second" in an 1870 sword duel between French painter Edouard Manet and his friend Edmond Duranty. After the duel, Manet and Duranty patched up their friendship.

Ray Bradbury is descended from Mary Bradbury, a woman who was sentenced to hang as a witch in Salem, MA. Several stories abound as to how Mary avoided her sentence including paying off the jailer or escaping. She died in 1700 of natural causes at the age of 85.

When Alexander Pushkin's wife was romantically pursued by George d'Anthes, Pushkin challenged him to a duel. d'Anthes, who was married to Pushkin's sister-in-law, escaped with a gash on his arm but Pushkin was shot in the stomach and died two days later at only age 37.

Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" is one of literature's most enduring love stories, but Austen herself never married. She was, however, engaged for one night in 1802 before realizing her mistake and breaking it off.

In 1940, Virginia Woolf and several of her friends dressed in blackface and outrageous costumes to board the HMS Dreadnought. Their plan? To convince the British Royal Navy that they were the Emperor of Abyssinia and his entourage of princes. Too crazy to believe? There's a photograph.

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5 Neat Author Facts

Virginia Woolf is related to "Vanity Fair" author William Makepeace Thackery on her father's side.

Tennessee Williams chocked to death at the age of 71 on a plastic bottle cap.

Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe were neighbors in Hartford, CT.

Beatrix Potter told a young Roald Dahl to "buzz off" when he met her.

Jack Kerouac typed "On the Road" on one 120-foot-long roll of paper.

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8 Cool Author Facts

Agatha Christie liked to eat apples in the bath while dreaming up her novels.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was related to Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a pencil-sharpener salesman.

Cormac McCarthy wrote his novels on an old Olivetti typewriter, which sold for over $250,000 at auction in 2009.

John Steinbeck's dog ate the manuscript of "Of Mice and Men."

Vladimir Nabokov loved butterflies and you can see part of his collection at Harvard.

James Joyce learned Norwegian so he could write to the famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

Pablo Neruda always wrote in green ink.

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7 Sensational Author Facts

Stephen King was in a band with fellow authors Amy Tan, Dave Barry, and Barbara Kingsolver called the Rock Bottom Remainders. Rock on, Stephen King.

At his birth, Thomas Hardy was presumed stillborn until the midwife noticed he was alive.

Isaac Asimov was part of a literary dining club called the Trap Door Spiders where, after dinner, they debated their own existence.

Victor Hugo wrote an 823-word sentence for "Les Miserables." Will you read the entire novel to find it?

Nathaniel Hawthorne's great-grandfather never repented his involvement in the Salem witch trials. Hawthrone added a "W" to "Hathorne" to further distance himself from his family's disgraceful past as he himself was a resident of Salem.

John Grisham dreamed of being a baseball player as a child.

Upton Sinclair was part of a secret society called the Dill Pickle Club. Its purpose? Not sampling pickles unfortunately. It was a kind of literary salon.

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5 Author Facts You Might Not Know

Did you know the film spectacular spectacular "Moulin Rogue" was loosely based on a real-life courtesan? The son of Alexandre Dumas (of "The Three Musketeers" fame) fell hard for Marie Duplessis before she died of tuberculosis at age 23.

"The Pickwick Papers" was first published in serial form in 1836. Printed on cheap paper, these serial installments sold for a shilling, the equivalent of over $5 today.

Did you know Jonathan Swift invented the name "Vanessa"?

Did you know Lord Byron challenged Mary Shelley to write a gothic ghost story one rainy afternoon? The result? "Frankenstein", an enduring tale of science, madness, and what it means to be human.

J.M. Barrie founded an amateur cricket team in 1890. His teammates included A.A. Milne ("Winnie the Pooh"), Arthur Conan Doyle ("Sherlock Holmes"), Rudyard Kipling ("The Jungle Book"), and H. G. Wells ("The War of the Worlds").

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7 New Author Facts

Ever heard of the "Semi-Colon Club"? Probably not, right? It was a literary club that Harriet Beecher Stowe was part of, and Charles Dickens once popped by to see them. And its unique name origin? It's from Christopher Columbus, Spanish name Cristobal Colon, to mean that people who discover new things could be called Semi-Colons.

Charley, a poodle, was John Steinbeck's travel companion on his 1960 journey across America. Steinbeck called his camper van Rocinante, after aging Spanish hero Don Quixote's horse.

The first novel written on a typewriter is this American classic by Mark Twain. Can't you imagine white-mustached Twain clacking away on the keys?

In honor of the new film "My Cousin Rachel," a Daphne Du Maurier fact. Daphne's future husband Frederick was such a fan of her first novel, "The Loving Spirit," that he sailed his boat to the harbor nearest her home, determined that someone--anyone!--would deliver a note on his behalf asking her to sail with him. It worked: they met in April, were engaged in June and married in July.

Dante Alighieri was banished from his beloved city of Florence in 1302 partly for banishing several rivals. Dante was forced to wander Italy but was inspired to write his famous work "The Divine Comedy" of which "The Inferno" is part one of three. You're probably familiar with the opening line often translated as "Midway upon the journey of our life / I found myself within a forest dark, / For the straightforward pathway had been lost."

Jack London was the first author to become a millionaire from his writing. He also once lingered around Niagara Falls too late one evening and was thrown in jail for a month; this was when he was a vagrant in 1894

Owen Wister wrote what's considered to be the first "Western" novel. After several visits out west, Wister wrote "The Virginian" in the Philadelphia Club, one of the oldest city clubs in the U.S. His novel was published in 1902.

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Authors Behind Bars

Anne Perry was convicted of murder when she was 15.

Gregory David Roberts was caught smuggling heroin in Frankfurt, was extradited to Australia and escaped prison in 1980. Two drafts of this novel were destroyed by prison wardens.

Before he was a U.S. Representative, John Lewis was arrested at least 45 times, beginning in 1961 during the Civil Rights Movement and as recently in 2013 when he protested against immigration reform.

Jack London spent a month in jail for vagrancy in 1893 when he was a teenager.

In 1717, Voltaire spent time in the Bastille because an aristocrat was insulted by his satire.

Chester Himes spent time in the Ohio State Penitentiary for armed robbery.

Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail in 1846 after he refused to pay his poll tax.

Daniel Defoe was repeatedly sent to prison for his political writings and satires in 1713.

Miguel de Cervantes spent five years in prison after being captured by the Turks in 1575.

Oscar Wilde was sent to prison for indecency in 1895 as homosexuality was a criminal offense in England at the time.

In 1849, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was sentenced to death via firing squa after being arrested for subversive activities. After a last-minute reprieve, he spent four years in a Siberian labor camp.

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) spent five years in prison for embezzlement (and he was the prison's pharmacist!).

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