One of the most often repeated pieces of advice any writer will hear is "Write what you know," and many of the most respected authors in history have done exactly that: Joseph Conrad knew a lot about watching friends die in a river in the middle of the jungle, Dr. Dre knows a lot about smoking weed every day, and so on. However, we tend to forget that sometimes writers just make shit up that has nothing to do with their real lives, and as a result we have an image of them that directly contradicts their actual personality.
For instance, if you only know them from their work, you'd never guess that ...
#6. J.R.R. Tolkien Hated His Hippie Fans
What We Know Him For:
Long before The Lord of the Rings series became 20 hours' worth of blockbuster films, the book trilogy was massively popular with 1960s hippies and flower children, who enjoyed the books' back-to-nature vibe and the fact that the characters are never described washing.
Look, he's laughing his ass off -- there has to be weed in that pipe.
Since then, neo-pagans and new-age types have continued to embrace the Middle-earth mythology to varying degrees of insanity. There's even a religious group called the Elvin Holy Order of Mother Earth that runs the nerdiest sounding celebrations ever at their "sanctuary" in Indiana. This isn't surprising: After all, Tolkien even came up with his own set of gods, the Lords and Ladies of the Valar, which the characters in his books constantly pray and talk to.
But In Real Life ...
J.R.R. Tolkien was a Catholic. And not just a "go to church twice a year" Catholic, but a hardcore one who was so conservative that he reacted to changes in church services in the 1960s by storming out of the building. And Tolkien described Lord of the Rings as a fundamentally Catholic work.
New Line Cinema
"And lo did he return three acts later."
Those Valar dudes? They're not gods, he said: They're more like angels, and anyone who thinks otherwise is dumb. According to him, pagan religions were "ultimately hopeless and futile," and his hippie fans were a "deplorable cultus" -- granted, this hostility might have been influenced by the fact that American fans repeatedly called Tolkien in the middle of the night to spout drug-fuelled ramblings about how they were at one with Tom Bombadil.
Tolkien was so annoyed by his hippie followers that his later work about Middle-earth, The Silmarillion, even attempted to clarify his "Yahweh rules, pagans drool" stance: It describes a very Genesis-like creation of the universe by a monotheistic deity called Iluvatar or the All-Father, followed by the rebellion of a very Satan-ish being named Morgoth. He was going out of his way to set the record straight, but his "Frodo Lives!" chanting fans still didn't listen.
Mel Gibson's already bought the rights.
#5. Kurt Vonnegut Manufactured His Counterculture Image
Oliver Morris/Getty Images
What We Know Him For:
Kurt Vonnegut was a 1960s counterculture hero, the author of classics that have become the perennial favorite of college intellectuals everywhere, including some who have actually read his books. And the man certainly looked the part: The soulful eyes, crazy curly hair and the overall image of a Harvard educated hobo.
He looks like he's about to be asked to leave a cafe for peeing in the corner.
That is the image of a genius too busy bending the rules of time, space, and grammar with his typewriter to give a shit about his vanity. That is somebody who doesn't give a shit about the system, man.
But In Real Life ...
Actually, Vonnegut's hobo look was carefully calculated. Here's what he looked like before publishing Slaughterhouse Five in 1969:
"Hi. Yeah, can you do something about the time-displaced hobo at table five? I'm trying to enjoy my meal. Thanks a ton."
For half of his life, Vonnegut was clean shaven, sophisticated and well fed. However, this was the '60s, and Vonnegut knew he'd be eaten alive by counter-cultural literary circles he hoped to reach with his book if he looked like Darren from Bewitched. He obsessed over his author photo and ended up completely revamping his demeanor so he could look like a crazy writer: He lost weight, grew out his hair, neglected showers, and, of course, grew a mustache that would give Tom Selleck a run for his money.
Vonnegut had worked as a PR man for years, so he knew exactly what he had to do to achieve his dream "to be a famous New York City writer." He was also so insecure about his education that he lied about academic honors he never got, and despite sounding off about Vietnam, had no problem with being an investor at Dow Chemical (makers of napalm).
And so profits grow.
So to all those college kids who "love" his work but have only seen 30 minutes of the Bruce Willis version of Breakfast of Champions, he'd probably say "Well done, you're on your way to becoming a legendary author!"
#4. Louisa May Alcott Loved Money and Drugs
What We Know Her For:
In the 19th century, Louisa May Alcott famously wrote Little Women and its many sequels, like Little Men or the less popular Average Sized Adults. The novels were all collectively about true love, domesticity, and the most important aspect of virtue over wealth, themes that continue to resonate with young readers across the world -- there's even a Japanese anime adaptation of the novel.
In this version, Jo and her sisters can merge to form Chastatron, Protector of Virtue.
It's well known that Alcott based the stories on her own childhood experiences with her three sisters, and many identify her with her heroine Jo: strong-willed, righteous, and probably kinda dull.
But In Real Life ...
Alcott called Little Women "moral pap for the young" that she wrote for the specific purpose of making lots and lots of money. "Money is the means and the ends of my mercenary existence," she also said -- getting rich was the driving force for writing about women who didn't care about getting rich.
"Girls who love their family over money? What a great science fiction concept!"
She didn't particularly enjoy writing these stories: She would much rather be getting high on opium (she was addicted most of her adult life) or writing her less known tales about revenge, lust, and, you guessed it, making lots and lots of money. She probably would have included a lot more sex and opium addiction in Little Women if it weren't for the fact that it would hurt sales.
Alcott knew that her entire reputation and sales depended on the good girl image and living up to the theme of "virtue over wealth" (at least she got the "wealth" part right), so she put together a cover-up of her own writing -- she never claimed ownership of her earlier, smuttier work, which was published anonymously, so she could make a brand out of herself. After hitting it big she mostly stuck to writing the stuff she knew would sell well, hence all the sequels. If she knew that Hollywood has done four movies and a bunch of TV shows based on Little Women, she'd probably be like "Awesome! Now where's my fucking royalty check?"
"It's been 20 years; Mama wants a remake. Michael Bay, some Megan Fox, a little 3D. Boom, jackpot."