The early careers of 12 famous novelists

As recent graduates begin to explore the workforce, they should be reassured that these remarkable authors, featured in Mental Floss’ new book, The curious reader: a literary mix of novels and novelists, now, has taken a sometimes winding path to literary stardom.

1. Khaled Hosseini

When Khaled Hosseini, 15, arrived in the United States as a refugee from Afghanistan in 1980, he knew only a few words of English – and even though he wanted to be a writer, “it seemed strange to me that I was winning. my life writing. stories in a language I didn’t speak, ”he said Atlantic. He therefore finally chose a more “serious” profession, by becoming a doctor. He later wrote what would become his first novel, The kite runner, in the morning before going to work as an internist in a Los Angeles hospital. This hard work paid off: The kite runner was a huge success, paving the way for more novels. Hosseini has not practiced medicine since 2004.

2. Octavia Butler

Raised primarily by her grandmother and widowed mother, Octavia E. Butler grew up in Pasadena, California, poor, dyslexic, and painfully shy. Published black female writers were rare in 1950s America – and black science fiction writers even more – but that didn’t stop Butler from recognizing his own potential. While watching the movie B Daughters of the Devil of Mars (1954) at the age of 12, she realized that she could write something better than this film. “The deciding factor,” she later recalls, was when she realized that “someone was being paid for writing this awful story.”

Butler enrolled in Pasadena City College and graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in 1968. Although her mother encouraged her to find stable work as a secretary, Butler preferred jobs that left her with sufficient freedom. mental energy to wake up early each morning and write. These odd jobs included dishwasher, telemarketer, and potato chip inspector. She also continued her education after her undergraduate studies, attending the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop on the recommendation of her mentor and fellow science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. In 1976, she published Boss, the first book of the model maker series. His 1979 novel Kinship, about a black woman from modern California who is sent back in time to a plantation in pre-Civil War Maryland, cemented her legendary reputation in the world of speculative fiction.

3. Jack London

One of the most popular American novelists at the turn of the 20th century, Jack London’s tales of adventure and survival reflected his real life. As a teenager, London worked as an oyster pirate, then as an oyster pirate fisherman, and later joined a ship bound for the North Pacific. London joined the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, but only became wealthy when he turned his experience of the Yukon into novels and short stories. He published The son of the wolf in 1900. His most famous novel, Call of the wild (1903), became an instant bestseller.

4. Ha Jin

Ha Jin didn’t think he would become a writer. In the 1970s, he followed in his father’s footsteps by enlisting in the People’s Liberation Army; he was only 14, but lied about his age. After his stint in the army, he worked in a railway company, where he learned English, and three years later he finally went to university. (“During the Cultural Revolution, no college was open,” he once explained. “So for 10 years we couldn’t go to college, hence the big hiatus.”)

Jin, real name Xuefei Jin, studied American Literature and graduated with a Masters degree, then came to the United States to study in 1985. His goal was to return to China and teach American Literature, but that all changed. four years later, when he watched from a distance the Chinese army firing at student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. It was then that his life as a writer began: he decided to stay in America, and write only in English, publishing collections of poems and short stories before releasing his first novel, In the pond, in 1998, followed by the years 1999 Wait, which won the National Book Award.

5. Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens’ “school days ended when he was 12”, according to The New York Times. His first job, as a printer in local newspapers, may have sparked an interest in letters, but it was his next post, as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, that got him. most directly leads to his subsequent literary work, especially in his dissertation, Life on the Mississippi. His time on the river could also have given Clemens his pen name, Mark Twain, a nickname that would gain wide fame, first as a writer of humorous short stories like “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”, and more late for his essential contribution to American Literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

6. George RR Martin

As a comic book obsessed kid, George RR Martin realized he could probably write better stories than what has appeared in many fanzines after receiving a letter published in an issue of The Fantastic Four. He released The rag of Armageddon in 1983, but the reception of the novel was so terrible that Martin completely changed gears and medium, writing for The twilight zone reboot and live action The beauty and the Beast television series starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. It was while working on television that he began to write the book that would become A game of thrones, the first volume in his unfinished A Song of Ice and Fire series. The first book was not a bestseller, but the following books in the series took off: they sold over 90 million copies and were adapted into HBO’s behemoth series. Game Of Thrones.

7. Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s first novel, The bluest eye, was written in the limited free time she had between her daily job in the publishing industry and the responsibilities of raising two children. Perhaps the pressures of these two worlds gave her a unique insight into the “role women play in the survival of … communities”, such as The New York Times described one of his lingering themes upon his death in 2019. Morrison’s first job after graduating from graduate school was in academia, teaching at Texas Southern University and then at Howard. She returned to teaching intermittently even after her success as a writer.

8. Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert was a seasoned journalist when he started circulating Dune, his 1965 novel on the galactic intrigue of spices. Although it was well received by science fiction fans and even serialized in Analog magazine, Herbert had no takers until he was accepted by automotive publisher Chilton. In 1972, Herbert had given up his career as a journalist to write novels.

9. Amy Tan

After stints at five different colleges, Amy Tan earned degrees in English and Linguistics and worked as a Language Development Specialist before turning to freelance business writing. Becoming a novelist was the furthest thing from her mind, but Tan had an interest in short fiction and attended a group of writers led by Molly Giles. Tan’s news led to what was to become The Joy of Luck club, published in 1989.

10. Ralph Ellison

Without the Great Depression and Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison could have been a musician rather than a writer. Ellison picked up the cornet at the age of 8 and then started playing the trumpet; at age 19, he began studying music at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 1936, he left for New York to raise funds for his last year of school and decided to stay. There he was taken under the wings of famous writers like Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. Wright was editing a magazine at the time and asked Ellison to write a review and, after that, a short story. (He was accepted, but was moved just before the magazine went out of business.) The depression raged and Ellison headed to Ohio, where he hunted game and sold it for s ‘get out. At night he wrote and studied writers like Joyce and Hemingway.

Ellison never returned to school, but did return to New York City, and more news and essays followed. So done Invisible Man, published in 1952, then a 40-year drought in which Ellison wrote essays and prose but was unable to complete juinteenth. (It was released posthumously in 1999.) Ellison completed his days as a teacher and professor at a series of colleges and universities.

11. Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro, who played the piano from the age of 5 and learned the guitar at the age of 15, at first thought he would be a musician, not a writer, but that wasn’t supposed to be the case. ‘to be. He has had numerous meetings with representatives from A&R, but as he recalled to The Parisian review, “After two seconds, they were like, ‘It’s not gonna happen, man. “” Ishiguro also worked in a homeless shelter and as a grouse drummer for the queen mother at Balmoral, but it was in fiction where he found success: He published his first novel, the set of Nagasaki A pale sight of the hills, when he was 27, to critical acclaim.

12. Stieg Larsson

As a child, Stieg Larsson honed his writing prowess notebook after notebook (and, finally, on a typewriter his father bought him). Although he wrote an adventure novel as a preteen, Larsson’s interest in writing was primarily journalistic. By his mid-twenties, he had served his compulsory 14 months in the national army, trained Eritrean revolutionaries in Ethiopia, and pledged to combat the lingering wave of right-wing radicalism in Sweden through his own socialist and anti-fascist writings. Larsson took a job at a graphic design firm and spent every spare moment writing articles for left-wing publications like Britain Projector. In 1995 he helped found his own: Expo. Then, in 2002, he decided to write a fiction series, hoping that its success would help fund his other projects. But at the same time The girl with the dragon tattoo and its two sequels achieved international fame, Larsson himself did not live long enough to reap the benefits – he died of a heart attack at the age of 50, before the publication of one of his books.

For more incredibly interesting facts about novelists and their works, get our new book, The curious reader: a literary mix of novels and novelists, out now!