by Camille Griep
November is a busy month with holidays galore. We’ve got turkeys and expandable pants, novels and word counts, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But when was the last time anyone wished you a Bad Day?
Have a Bad Day Day (November 19th) is a time to assuage those of us with a dearth of humility, chips on our shoulders, and unfortunate timing. To celebrate we present authors who’ve lost their tempers, their manners, and, in one instance, their life during some no good, very bad days.
Video Killed the Radio Star
Long before The View and Celebrity Rehab, The Dick Cavett Show featured a metaphorical mud-wrestling pit for authors and thinkers, priming the pump for the brawling reality TV of today. In 1971, Norman Mailer head-butted Gore Vidal backstage prior to the show, preceding a vitriolic on-air exchange. Vidal, who also publicly spat with Truman Capote and William F. Buckley, had the last word when he quipped, “Once again, words failed Norman Mailer.” (They later made up.)
Lest one think men were the only combatants on The Dick Cavett Show, Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman joined the fray nine years later. In a diatribe proving Oprah let James Frey off easy, McCarthy accused Hellman of being “overrated,” “bad,” “dishonest,” and washed up, saying, “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.” (They didn’t make up.)
Some People Say That There’s a Woman to Blame
Then there’s the story of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, best friends and renowned Latin American writers. Rumors of their feud surfaced in 1976; however, it was 30 years before the world saw the actual photos of García Márquez sporting a shiner a la Vargas Llosa. The fight, which occurred somewhat bizarrely during a screening of Alive, was initially believed to be political, but the photographer of the black-eyed photo claims it was over Vargas Llosa’s wife, who García Márquez consoled during a rocky patch in her marriage.
Boxing’s Been Good to Me, Howard
Of course we can’t forget Wally Stevens, Vice President of the Hartford Insurance Company and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Prior to his Pulitzer, Stevens took several trips to Key West, where writers of the day hung out at the hotel Casa Marina. He had run-ins with Robert Frost in 1935 and 1940. But his biggest baddest day was in 1936 when he slugged Papa Hemingway during a party. Their disagreement was kindled with Stevens insulting Hemingway’s sister, calling her a “sap.” In the end, Stevens apologized, but not before his hand and Hemingway’s jaw were equally broken.
Book Reviews Gone Wild: Alain de Botton, Alice Hoffman, & Some Lady You’ve Never Heard Of
These days, altruism is a tough sell. Nevertheless Alain de Botton, despite a privileged upbringing, has done his best to bestow a wider understanding of love, art, and beauty to the masses. But he shares a common artist’s woe: being misunderstood. And so it was when poor Caleb Crain reviewed The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work in the New York Times. Upon the review, de Botton wrote, “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.” de Botton eventually apologized, but not without a few clarifying caveats.
Alice Hoffman, novelist (Practical Magic, The Dovekeepers) and magical realism expert, tried to qualify her displeasure with Roberta Silman’s review of her 2009 novel, The Story of Sisters, with valid objections to spoilers and the like. Dismayed by the world’s indifference, Hoffman took to Twitter, as one should never do whilst unhappy. After calling Ms. Silman a “moron,” defending her attack as a feminist war cry, she then shared Silman’s phone number and email, effectively sic’ing her followers on the reviewer. Thankfully, all that anger manifested as a typo and Silman was saved from 1 – 800 – TEAMHOF.
In other news of rage-induced writing impairment, self-published author Jaqueline Howett received her 15 minutes of infamy when she lambasted a 2-star review of her novel. The reviewer in question was not a big time newspaper, but a certain Big Al, independent critic with a modest website. Ms. Howett proceeded to self-destruct in the comments section, and spent a week or two as fodder for the “How Not To” collections of the big time newspapers. The old but amended adage might read: “Better to let people think you’re a fool than to take to the comments section and remove all doubt.”
A Lover and a Fighter
Passionate people often find ways to limit their own success. French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine loved and explored each other and their world and their art vibrantly, though they fought with equal intensity, often sparring with knives wrapped in towels until blood was drawn. Though they had found some measure of success, their fighting had also intensified (undoubtedly with the assistance of absinthe and hash). After a fight that began with a good old-fashioned fish slapping, Verlaine left and threatened to kill himself. Rimbaud followed him to Brussels where Verlaine shot him twice in the wrist. Verlaine was eventually sentenced to two years in prison. When he was released, he took to his poetry to call his and Rimbaud’s life together a “domestic farce.”
And Then There’s This Guy
Putting Jonathan Franzen here is cliché. Poor guy seems to have nothing but bad days. His particular bugbear is technology or maybe women or maybe Europe, though really his spewing is so plentiful that it’s difficult to round up in a succinct manner. Thankfully, Boris Katcha at Vulture has collated a list of everything Jonathan Franzen currently hates.
The Terriblest Bar Tab in the Life and Death of Christopher Marlowe
Kit Marlowe is best remembered for writing The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (which authors have been riffing off for centuries), “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (still recited at weddings), and for almost finishing the poetic tale of Hero and Leander (completed by somebody else, then rewritten by an entirely new party).
Time attaches legends to men and women of a certain character, and Marlowe is certainly the recipient of such. Depending on which source one queries, he was a rebel and a spy, a lover and a fighter. It seems certain, however, that he was indeed the latter. Whether or not his days were numbered is still a matter of debate in certain circles. But before he could stand before the council for distribution of heretical materials, Marlowe and associate Ingram Frizer argued over an unpaid bar tab. Out of patience with the disagreement, Marlowe grabbed Frizer’s dagger and attacked him. Frizer fought back and his dagger found purchase above Marlowe’s right eye. Frizer was pardoned in 1593, having acted in self-defense. Or because Frizer was an assassin all along.
We wish you the best Bad Day possible. Oh, and remember to pay that bar tab.