Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Speaking From Beyond the Grave

It's October, so when you read the title of this blog post, you thought I was talking about some paranormal phenomenon, right?

Wrong. I'm talking about the latest #1 Amazon bestseller, a book that hit that spot in preorders. The book doesn't release until November 15, and the author's been dead for 100 years.

In honor of the centennial of his death, the University of California Press is publishing "The Autobiography of Mark Twain," an uncensored, rambling, and supposedly hilarious look at his life. Samuel Clemens (Twain's real name...1835-1910) left specific orders that his memoirs were not to be published until he was loooooooooong gone and everyone mentioned in them were, too.

So he was free to speak his mind without offending anyone.

On CBS Sunday Morning, Twain scholar Roberty Hirst referred to the book as "partly a journal, partly a diary, and partly recollection. So yeah, I think of it as a kind of blog, a blog without a web."

Twain's memoir would have been very unusual for his time period, but actually feels kind of modern. It's not a chronological story of his life from birth to old age, but rather a "random meandering." Rather than picking up pen and paper or a typewriter, Clemens dictated to a stenographer. Hirst describes it as "daily dictations over four years, about whatever he found interesting that day."

Hmmm...sounds a lot like a blog to me.

And just think about it. How cool for people to care about your totally random ramblings from more than 100 years ago?

Pretty awesome marketing, too. He had to know that the buzz alone would drive sales.

Clemens planned carefully for a centennial posthumous release. Jules Verne (1828-1905), who was popular around the exact same time, did not.

Verne's "Paris in the Twentieth Century" was written in 1863, but not published until 1994. He'd only intended to put it in a vault for 20 years, per his publisher's suggestion, but then forgot all about it. His publisher didn't want to release it at the start of his career, because the grim distopian view of the future it painted was thought to be a potential turnoff to his readers.

(The heroine in my 2008 Golden Heart nominated manuscript, "Party Like It's 1899", finds a copy of Verne's lost book in a used bookstore in Paris and it magically transports her back in time. I won't tell you any more, because I hope to sell that book some day.)

Anyway, whether the work was lost or intentionally held back, the idea of posthumous publication so many years later is just thrilling. To have people so interested in what you wrote more than 100 years ago? Wow!


  1. I kind of shudder when I think about how they publish people's diaries after thy pass. This one was well planned by Mark Twain, though. But, yikes....I don't want someone publishing my emails after I'm gone or something. I'm going to put someone in charge of deleting everything when I go.

  2. I have to say both of these books sound pretty interesting.

  3. I'm with Kitteh. Weirdly, Verne is long gone but totally current, yes? I'm adding the Twain to my TBR.