Friday, May 21, 2010


Have you ever received a rejection letter? If so, you know it stings, even when it makes clear that the publisher has not bothered to read a word of your writing. But how would you like to receive this letter a publisher sent to Zane Grey?

"You've wasted enough of our time with your junk. Why don't you go back to filling teeth? You can't write, you never could write, and you never will be able to write."


Pearl Zane Grey was indeed a dentist, having attended Ivy League Penn on a baseball scholarship.

He deserved that letter. His early writing was full of grammatical errors and stilted writing. He self-published his first novel. Harper's rejected four of his novels in a row. The publisher told him, "I do not see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction."

But Grey had something — or rather someone — in his favor: his wife Dolly. She edited his work, correcting his errors, and gradually Grey's writing improved. Dolly also worked as his manager/agent.

As a young man, Grey read Owen Wister's "The Virginian," the inspiration for many a western writer. It became a template for his novels.

Eventually, he published 90 books, selling 40 million copies. He and Dolly split the proceeds 50/50. Film studios produced more than 100 films of his stories. He mostly wrote westerns, but he also penned books on hunting, fishing and baseball. He also wrote six children's books. His best-known and best-selling book was Riders of the Purple Sage.

Grey never achieved critical acclaim but enjoyed considerable commercial success. And Harper's, the publisher that had rejected all his early works, eventually became Grey's publisher, making millions off his work.

Zane Grey is a case study in perseverance.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gurley Martin

In this week's KET debate among the four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, viewers were introduced to 86-year-old candidate Gurley Martin, a World War II veteran and birther who posted his own birth certificate on his campaign website. Martin is a conspiracist who says every president since 1928 except Ronald Reagan moved the country toward one-world government. And he says Barack Obama is not a legal American citizen.

Martin made the most unexpected and weirdly memorable statement of the one-hour debate when he waxed nostalgic over public executions when asked if he supported the death penalty:

"The death penalty is a learning tool. When I was less than 5 years old I witnessed the legal hanging of a white man for the rape of a white woman on the courthouse square in Ohio County. People came from everywhere, and the crime wave went down immediately."

While the positions of the leading candidates in modern elections are so carefully crafted that you can hardly distinguish one from another, the fringe candidates are the ones who provide the spice on the campaign trail.

And I'll give this to Martin — he speaks in complete sentences. That's rare among politicians.