Tuesday, June 30, 2009

If you don't believe my book is good, follow me around for a day

Seriously, Margaret Mitchell. A big-shot editor traveled to Atlanta, followed you around and begged you to let him accept your five-feet-high manuscript for publication? I declare.

Don't hate me for another history lesson, but this is too good to pass. Gone With the Wind was published today in 1936. I've never read it, which seems sort of sacrilegious, but we've all got books we should have read and haven't. Mitchell wrote it while bedridden (see full story here, it's the June 30 entry) but was too embarrassed to tell anyone other than her husband she was writing a novel.

Then one of her friends found pieces of the manuscript. The friend worked at Macmillan in NYC and told her editor boss, Harold Latham, that her Southern friend "might be concealing a literary treasure."

Here's what happened next, courtesy of Writer's Almanac. It's so surreal I almost laughed out loud reading it:

"Latham went down to Atlanta to pay Margaret Mitchell a visit and ask her about the novel. Mitchell denied its existence. He spent the day with her, following along on outings with her friends, and asked about the novel again in a car full of her girlfriends. Mitchell changed the subject.

"But when Latham got out of the car, all of her friends in the car kept up the questioning. One friend was adamant that Mitchell was working on a novel, and asked why she hadn't shown it to Latham. Mitchell said that it was 'lousy' and that she was 'ashamed of it.'"

(anybody relate to those sentiments?)

"The friend goaded, 'Well, I dare say. Really, I wouldn't take you for the type to write a successful book. You don't take your life seriously enough to be a novelist.'

"That did it — Margaret Mitchell was furious and galvanized. She hurried back to her cramped apartment, grabbed the assorted piles of manuscript and shoved them into a suitcase, and drove it over to the hotel where Latham was staying. When stacked up vertically in one pile, the manuscript was 5 feet high. She delivered it to him in the lobby, saying, 'Take it before I change my mind.'"

"It was published on this day in 1936, and immediately it was a sensation. Reports abound of people in Atlanta staying up all night to read Mitchell's novel that summer of 1936. It revitalized the publishing industry. The next year, Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize."

Oh and then there was, y'know, a little movie made, too.

Can you imagine? Talk about a great publishing story.


rebecca said...

Okay, you left me speechless. Wow! Thanks for that little bit of literary history. I also have not read Gone With The Wind. Shame on me! Oh, well, I won't worry about it today, I'll worry about it tomorrow....sorry, LOL, couldn't help myself!

writtenwyrdd said...

These are the sorts of tales that keep writers writing. Well, then there's the muse which insists or you can't get any sleep.

beth said...

Love this story!! I had no idea that this was the origins of GWTW. So cool--thanks for sharing.

Chad Aaron Sayban said...

That is a great story about her unusual road to being published. I'm another person who has not yet read Gone With the Wind, but intends to. Thanks for sharing the story.

Melissa said...

I love a good history lesson!

Crimogenic said...

Nice history lesson.

I would love for an editor to follow me around; of course, he would just have to look remotely interested in thrillers and I'd push my manuscript off on him. :)

Diane said...

I never knew that story. Thanks for sharing!

Barrie said...

I'm passing this story along to my sister. She's a HUGE Gone with the Wind fan. Thanks.

Christy Raedeke said...

I had never heard this! Fascinating stuff. Okay if I link to this post?