Literary Stories for Dec. 30-Jan. 1

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Here are your Literary Stories from Bidwell Hollow for Dec. 30, 2019-Jan. 1, 2020.


Twice-weekly articles like this one will be available only to paying subscribers starting Feb. 10. You can subscribe below for either $5/month or $50/year. That’s $50 a year for 104 stories about notable literary events and writer birthdays year. (Your credit card won’t be charged until Feb. 10.)

Free editions of Literary Stories left: 11

Dec. 30

Rudyard Kipling

On Sep. 27, 1915, the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards marched forward under heavy smoke. It was the second day of the Battle of Loos, the first large-scale British offensive in the Great War. Their aim is Chalk Pit Wood, a spot in the German front lines.

German machine gun and artillery fire are heavy. The 2nd Battalion doesn’t make it to Chalk Pit Wood. Neither does one of its members, 2nd Lt. John Kipling. In the haze of battle, no one knows what happened to Kipling.

Back in England, Rudyard Kipling receives word that his son is missing in action. The writer believes John is alive and in German custody. The prospect worries him.

Rudyard’s been vocal about his opposition to Germany. He’s the first person to refer to Germans as Huns. He’s also called them “Evil Incarnate” and “wild beasts.” John may suffer for his father’s opinions, Rudyard worries, if the Germans know they’ve captured his son.

World War I wasn’t the first time Rudyard Kipling voiced racist opinions. Twenty years earlier, he’d written a poem urging the U.S. to colonize the Philippine Islands. Titled, “The White Man’s Burden,” the piece begins with the lines:
“Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—”

Kipling also supported British Imperialism. He wrote poetry championing Britain’s cause during the Second Boer War. And he befriended Cape Colony Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes described Kipling as having “done more than any other since Disraeli to show the world that the British race is sound at core and that rust and dry rot are strangers to it.”

Kipling’s colonialist past troubles many readers today. Dr. Christopher Benfey, the author of the Kipling biography If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years, said colleagues told him writing a book about Kipling was career suicide. But many in his time regarded Kipling as the greatest short story writer in English. The author gave us books such as Kim and The Jungle Book. In 1907, he became Britain’s first Nobel Prize in Literature winner.

And during World War I, with his son missing, Kipling hoped his influence and connections could save John. He asked the Crown Prince of neutral Sweden to contact the Germans about his son’s whereabouts. The American ambassador in London and the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, tried to help as well. But no one knew for sure what happened to John until 1992. That year the Commonwealth War Graves Commission declared that John Kipling died the day he disappeared, on Sep. 27, 1915.

Rudyard Kipling accepted by 1919 that his son hadn’t survived the war. But the writer died in 1936, never knowing for sure what happened to John.

Dec. 31

Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks was eating lunch with a group of doctors when he got a phone call. It was 1995, and Sparks, a married father, was a drug company salesman. But his literary agent called to tell Sparks that Time Warner Book Group had purchased his novel for $1 million.

That manuscript came out as The Notebook in 1996. The book debuted at tenth on The New York Times best sellers list its first week, then reaching number one. It stayed atop the list for more than a year.

But Sparks kept working as a pharmaceutical rep until Feb. 1997. That’s when he sold the film rights to his second novel, Message in a Bottle, before the book came out. And it proved to Sparks that he could make a living as a novelist.

Sparks is now the author of 20 novels. Eleven of his books have become movies, including the 2004 film The Notebook. It stars Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. The movie grossed $115.5 million at the box office.

When starting a new book, Sparks spends two or three months thinking about the story he wants to tell. It then takes him four to five months to write it. He likes to write with a movie or show playing in the background. “I never want to watch anything new, because otherwise, I want to watch it. I use it as a sort of background noise,” he said.

And he does as many as 200 rewrites before he considers a novel ready for his publisher. For example, The Notebook’s first draft contained about 80,000 words. He kept tweaking until the manuscript was around 47,000 words. Sparks said he cut the length because he “wanted a story where the pages turned quickly.”

Readers are on Sparks’ mind any time he conceives of a new story. And it’s the advice he gives to other writers. “Write what readers want to read, which isn’t necessarily what you want to write,” he said.

Sparks was born on Dec. 31, 1965, in Omaha, Neb. His family moved a lot when he was a kid, finally settling in Fair Oaks, Calif. There he graduated valedictorian of his high school class before attending the University of Notre Dame. Sparks graduated from Notre Dame in 1988.

Jan. 1

J.D. Salinger

On June 6, 1944, Pfc. Jerome David Salinger waded onto the shores of Utah Beach in Normandy, France. It was the Allied landing now known as D-Day, the start of liberating Europe from the Nazis. Salinger was part of the second wave of troops arriving that day on the beach.

Planes buzzed overhead. Artillery exploded, and guns popped. Many of Salinger’s fellow soldiers charged up the beach. But as a member of the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, Salinger wasn’t expected to clean out the German defenses. Instead, his unit’s mission was to perform tasks such as screening civilians and identifying German army unit locations.

Salinger came ashore and proceeded forward further onto land with his unit. Along with his weapon, Salinger carried with him six stories he’d written about a character named Holden Caulfield. Caulfield was a jaded New York prep school kid Salinger started writing about a few years earlier.

He’d sold one of his Caulfield stories to The New Yorker in November 1941. The magazine scheduled that piece, “Slight Rebellion off Madison,” for publishing in December of that year. But then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered World War II. The magazine’s editors didn’t think it was appropriate to publish a short story about a cynical rich kid. So they postponed Salinger’s piece. The delay perturbed Salinger, who in 1942 wrote to a friend, “I resent The New Yorker’s never having published the piece they bought from me last year.”

But Salinger didn’t give up on Caulfield. For 11 months, he served in Europe. Salinger was at the Battle of Hürtgen Forest and took part in the discovery of the concentration camp Dachau. Along the way, the writer kept writing, using a typewriter he stored in his jeep.

The Nazis surrendered in May 1945, and a week later, Salinger suffered a mental breakdown. He spent two months in an Army hospital and was then stationed at Gunzenhausen, Germany. It’s during this time that Salinger changed the point-of-view of his Caulfield stories. He initially told the tales from the third-person perspective. But after getting out of the hospital, Salinger started narrating with Caulfield’s voice. Collier’s magazine published the first Holden Caulfield story, “I’m Crazy,” on Dec. 22, 1945.

Also, while in Gunzenhausen, Salinger met a German woman named Sylvia Welter. They married after three months and moved to Manhattan in 1946. That December The New Yorker published the Salinger story they’d held since 1942, “Slight Rebellion off Madison.”

Salinger kept working on his Caulfield stories. In 1950, he submitted a collection of this writing to The New Yorker for publishing as a novella. The magazine rejected the book, with fiction editor Gus Lobrano telling Salinger, “This story is too ingenious and ingrown.”

Shortly after The New Yorker’s rejection, Harcourt, Brace and Company accepted Salinger’s manuscript. But the publishing house asked Salinger to rework the book. The writer declined to do so and resumed his search for a publisher. Finally, Little, Brown and Company agreed to publish Salinger’s work. By then, the collection of Caulfield stories was a novel of 73,404 words.

The Catcher in the Rye came out on July 16, 1951. Most critics praised the book. And it spent 30 weeks on The New York Times best sellers list. But The Catcher in the Rye didn’t fly off shelves. Novels such as The Caine Mutiny and From Here to Eternity outsold Salinger’s work in 1951.

But the book’s popularity increased each year after the initial release date. By 1954, readers in nine non-English speaking countries could read The Catcher in the Rye in their native language. And 1.5 million copies of the American version of the book sold by 1964.

Today, The Catcher in the Rye remains a fixture of American literature. More than 70 million copies have sold, with about 685 copies sold each day.

And the novel brought Salinger something he didn’t want, fame. He left New York for Cornish, N.H. on his birthday, Jan. 1, in 1953. There he lived in increased seclusion. The final story published during Salinger’s lifetime was “Hapworth 16, 1924.” It appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965.

Salinger, born in 1929 in Manhattan, died in Cornish on Jan. 27, 2010.


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Rudyard Kipling

Nicholas Sparks

J.D. Salinger