This summer I have pledged to really, really get going on getting my manuscripts out and into the hands of editors, agents, and/or publishers. It’s time for a published book. After years of published articles and magazine stories I should be content, but I’m not. One of my B.I.G. (Before I Get–too old, too tired, too complacent, etc) goals is to be able to walk into a bookstore or a library and find my book on the shelf. Or better yet, watch someone reading my book while I am on a plane, train, or passing through the library. I’m not looking for fame or even fortune–truly. I’m merely looking for shelf status.
Then I start to wonder the “what if”? What if I do get a manuscript published and a novel is born? And what if it is the only book that bears my name? That can be a disconcerting “what if.” Who would want to be a one shot author? on the other hand, I would be in good company. I found this post in a surfing session and it’s so well done I’m reprinting it. Giving credit where credit is due, click on the title to thorughly check it out.
1. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird: This notoriously reclusive author was terrified of the criticism she felt she would receive for this classic American novel. Of course, the novel didn’t tank and was an immediate bestseller, winning great critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. While Lee spent several years working on a novel called The Long Goodbye, she eventually abandoned it and has yet to publish anything other than a few essays since her early success and none since 1965.
2. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man: Invisible Man is Ellison’s best known work, most likely because it was the only novel he ever published during his lifetime and because it won him the National Book Award in 1953. Ellison worked hard to match his earlier success but felt himself stagnating on his next novel that eventually came to encompass well over 2000 pages. It was not until Ellison’s death that this novel was condensed, edited and published under the title Juneteenth.
3. Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago: Pasternak’s inclusion here by no means limits him as a one hit wonder, as he was and is known as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. But when it came to writing novels, Pasternak was to only create one work, the epic Dr. Zhivago. It was a miracle that even this novel was published, as the manuscript had to be smuggled out of Russia and published abroad. Even when it won Pasternak the Nobel Prize in 1958, he was forced to decline due to pressure from Soviet authorities, lest he be exiled or imprisoned. Pasternak died two years later of lung cancer, never completing another novel.
4. Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind: Margaret Mitchell never wanted to seek out literary success and wrote this expansive work in secret, only sending it to publishers after she was mocked by a colleague who didn’t believe she was capable of writing a novel. She turned out to be more than capable; however, and the book won a Pulitzer and was adapted into one of the best known and loved films of all time. Mitchell would not get a chance to write another novel, as she was struck and killed by a car on her way to the cinema at only 49 years of age.
5. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights: As part of a family of women who enjoyed writing, Emily did work on a collection of poetry during her life, though the vast majority of her work was published under a more androgynous pen name at first. While Wuthering Heights received criticism at first for it’s innovative style, it has since become a classic and was edited and republished in 1850 by her sister under her real name. It is entirely possible that Emily may have gone on to create other novels, but her poor health and the harsh climate she lived in shortened her life, and she died at 30 of tuberculosis.
6. Anna Sewell, Black Beauty: Sewell didn’t start off her life intending to be a novelist. Indeed, she didn’t begin writing Black Beauty until she was 51 years old, motivated by the need to create a work that encouraged people to treat horses (and humans) humanely, and it took her six years to complete it. Upon publication it was an immediate bestseller, rocketing Sewell into success. Unfortunately, she would not live to enjoy but a little of it as she died from hepatitis five months after her book was released.
These represent novels of authors whose work we tend not to associate beyond their books. There are other writers, like Oscar Wilde and Sylvia Plath, whom we recognize for their other writings, such as poetry, which were spotlighted in the post. I thought how sad it must have been for Margaret Mitchell and Anna Sewell to have only produced one book. Then again, what about Nelle? I wouldn’t mind becoming a one shot author if my one lone book would have as much impact as Harper Lee’s has over time.