Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Dog Ate My Book?

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

John Steinbeck's birthday was last week. He was born February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California. His work mirrors his varied lifetime experiences. He was a college dropout and worked as a manual laborer. His novels, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden are some of my favorites. However after researching this post, I've added some of his books to my list of must reads.

Steinbeck's first draft copy of Of Mice and Men, met with an interesting fate. Ironically, the original working title for Of Mice and Men was "Something that Happened." The theme reflected through the story is that "sometimes things happen that simply show the way life is." Enter Steinbeck's new puppy, Toby. He ate the original manuscript of Of Mice and Men. 

Steinbeck lost two months of work in one evening. As a dog lover, Steinbeck took it all in stride. He wrote to his agent, Elizabeth Otis, “My setter pup, left alone one night, made confetti of about half of my manuscript…. I was pretty mad but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically. I didn’t want to ruin a good dog for a [manuscript] I’m not sure is good at all.”

Of Mice and Men was the first novel that received solid recognition. It was chosen by the Book-of-the-Month Club. A real coup for any writer. Almost overnight, Steinbeck rose to a much-sought-after writer. Steinbeck was nationally distributed and widely acclaimed. 

He gained attention from Broadway and authored the stage version of the book, which earned him a New York Drama Critics Circle Award. I guess Toby knew what he was doing, when he ate the first draft. Hollywood came calling, and a movie followed. Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was the most frequently banned book in the 1990s. 

John tested out his writing by reading to his dogs. Do you read to anyone? Who knows Toby, the setter, may not have liked the first reading and may have done Steinbeck a favor. Look at how it turned out for Steinbeck. Suddenly famous, Steinbeck wrote in a letter to fellow writer Louis Paul, "I have promoted Toby-dog to be lieutenant-colonel in charge of literature.”

May we all have a Toby who edits our work.

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