I Miss Richard Wheeler’s Blog

Legendary western novelist Richard Wheeler left this comment on my earlier post about "’Not Ready For Publication’ Authors."  I couldn’t let it remain buried there… he has far too much wit and wisdom to share. 

I don’t know of any shortcuts to literary success. This story drawn
from memory may be apocryphal, and it may involve Thornton Wilder
rather than the crusty New York drama critic Alexander Woolcott, but it
makes the point, true or not.

Woolcott was invited to address the Yale Drama Club, which was
composed of aspiring playwrights. He stalked out on the stage, peered
down at all the young people from behind the lectern, and said, "Why
are you here? If you want to be playwrights, then go home and write."
And with that, walked off the stage. He returned a moment later, having
made his point, and discussed writing with the aspiring Yale students.

iUniverse is gifted at printing handsome books, and perhaps it
pleasures a writer to see his or her material printed. But it is not
true publication. It is not the authentic thing. I can best describe
what real publication is about by borrowing a paragraph from Ed
Gorman’s fine blog. On that day, some of us were discussing an agent,
Ray Puechner, who had a way of helping his struggling clients. Here is
what Ed wrote about him. It truly depicts what it is like to sell a
book to a real publisher, in this case Houghton Mifflin:

The day my wife Carol sold her first novel—to Houghton-Mifflin, no
less—he called (she was at school, teaching) and said, “Here’s what you
do. Buy her flowers and as soon as she comes in the door give ‘em to
her along with a big kiss.” I got the flowers all right but when she
came in the door, I put up my hand to halt her right there. I had the
flowers behind my back. And then I said, “Will anybody who just sold
her first novel to Houghton Mifflin please step forward.” Then the
flowers came out and then the kissing and hugging and laughing. When
she called Ray to thank him—I was on an extension phone—they both got
very teary. It wasn’t just a great day for Carol and Ray—it was also a
great day for me. And Ray had made it so.

Ed Gorman has perfectly described a real sale of a first novel.

I can only urge aspiring writers to write and write and write, and rewrite it again.

It’s posts like this that make me wish Richard Wheeler had stuck with his blog. Well, he’s welcome to post here anytime (and you can find him frequently at over at Ed Gorman’s blog).

3 thoughts on “I Miss Richard Wheeler’s Blog”

  1. I heard a similar story about a music teacher. A promising student auditioned with him, after which the teacher said, “No, you don’t have it. You’ll never be a real musician.”
    Many years later, the teacher happened to run into the student, now a stockbroker, on the street. The student reminded him of what he said and asked him why. The teacher shrugged and said, “I say that to all my students. The good ones don’t listen.”

  2. I wonder who really did the walk off the stage thing…
    I’ve heard it was Vonnegut, William Goldman, Ernest Hemingway, and now Woolcott.
    I’m going to start telling it as Lee Goldberg addressing a convention of Fanfic writers.
    “Why are you here? If you want to be Fanfic writers, go home and steal.”

  3. The story about Ed’s agent – Ray – sounds alarmingly familiar.
    Ray encouraged me to become a writer in 1977 when he took me under his wing and became my first agent. I have yet to sell a novel, which is what he encouraged me to try back then, but in the early 1980s when he was in Fort Worth, Texas, where I was working as I complained to him about the toll writing takes on a person’s personal life he said: “who ever told you this was going to be easy?”


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