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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

theonering.com

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.

wordonfire.org
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.

HarperCollins
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.

AP
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:

Loree Rackstraw
"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).

US Army
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!"

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4
Louisa May Alcott Loved Money and Drugs

ala.org

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.

Nippon Animation
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.

obit-mag.com
"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?"

Columbia Pictures
"It's been 20 years; Mama wants a remake. Michael Bay, some Megan Fox, a little 3D. Boom, jackpot."

3
Shel Silverstein Worked for Playboy and Wrote Perverted Songs

everybodytaste.com

What We Know Him For:

Shel Silverstein is best known for his children's book The Giving Tree, a story about an apple tree with serious self-esteem issues that has been interpreted as a metaphor for parenthood, or saving the environment, or loving Jesus.

HarperCollins
Some even say it's about trees.

Silverstein also wrote a bunch of other children's books and novels, often self-inserting himself as a character called "Uncle Shelby." In short, he sounds like someone you'd feel comfortable leaving your kids with for a couple of hours while you go to the monster truck derby.

But In Real Life ...

Or maybe not. Shel Silverstein also worked for Playboy, drawing the exact type of cartoons you'd expect to find between the sticky pages of the legendary porno mag. And it wasn't just a "young writer desperate to make money" thing, either: He kept it up for about 40 years.

Playboy
That's him, with the beard and half-chub.

Like his children's books, Silverstein liked to "insert" himself into his Playboy comics. One popular series showed the children's author traveling the world, getting into various drug- and boob-related misunderstandings along the way.

Playboy
Scholastic turned down his proposal for The Giving Prostitute.

And that's not all. Silverstein was also a prolific poet and songwriter, and one of his favorite topics (and sources of inspiration) was pot, with titles like The Great Smoke-Off and I Got Stoned And Missed It (which was basically Because I Got High before its time). Sometimes his various interests collided in his cartoons:

Playboy
Mickey always gets chatty on Acapulco Gold.

One of Silverstein's most famous songs is the playful A Boy Named Sue, made into a hit by Johnny Cash. Less known is his sequel/retelling The Father of a Boy Named Sue, in which the eponymous characters of both songs (that is, father and girl-named son) end up sleeping together. Yeah, it's hard to see "Uncle Shelby" making it as a children's author if he'd started out today, considering parents and publishers are less likely to pick up a delightful children's book after they Google the writer and find him on YouTube singing about getting high and having incestuous sex.

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2
Anne Rice Was a Straight-Laced Christian

marshall.edu

What We Know Her For:

While she's most famous for her 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice's long writing career has spanned topics that range from sexy vampires and sexy witches to sexy werewolves and sexy mummies. The most famous book in her vampire series was adapted into a well-received Brad Pitt-Tom Cruise movie in 1994.

Warner Bros.
Sometimes you just have to take a moment to remember this happened.

And that's her tame stuff: Rice's work also branches out into hardcore BDSM erotica like the Sleeping Beauty trilogy, in which the Prince wakes up the Princess "not with a simple kiss, but with a fervent deflowering" ... and things just get wronger from there. The books start off with your average garden-variety spankings and gang rape, and then quickly descend into what would happen if you collected a year's worth of horrifying unintentional Google Image search results and then wrote a chapter about each one.

But In Real Life ...

We're all so jaded about artists secretly being perverts that it's genuinely shocking when the opposite happens. Rice's non-writing life is less "BDSM vampire fantasy" and more "that Sunday school teacher aunt who you have to hide most of your Facebook posts from."

godlessgirl.com
Some Goth fangirl somewhere spent hours Photoshopping this to make it look like her hands are burning ...

Rice became a born-again Christian in 1998 (and a born-again non-Christian in 2010, but she's still religious). But even before that, she was always more of a prude than her own writing: When she actually met the people who were heavily into her bondage novels, she was so creeped out that she had to discontinue the Sleeping Beauty series.

So what freaky stuff is she really into, then? Monogamy, mostly. Rice fell in love with her future husband during high school and, according to her autobiography, she never had the desire to sleep with anyone except a future spouse. The two married when she was 20 and lived in happy monogamy until his death 41 years later -- according to Rice, he's the only man she has ever been with. This isn't something she's unhappy about: In interviews, Rice has described long-term married sex as "something priceless."

Plume
"The only thing more satisfying is shamelessly cashing in on 50 Shades of Grey."

1
Charles Dickens Liked to Watch Corpses

Hulton Arhive/Getty Images

What We Know Him For:

Charles Dickens gave us classics like Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and the phrase "What the Dickens?" (even if Shakespeare said it first). In his most famous stories, the world is ultimately a fair place where all good men are eventually rewarded, and where ghosts are magical beings who spend their time teaching valuable life lessons to old, miserable ducks.

Walt Disney
OK, so we've only seen the Disney version.

But In Real Life ...

Aside from advocating love for our fellow man, Chuck enjoyed something else: staring at corpses. Yep, the venerable Charles Dickens was very much into visiting the Paris public morgue and looking at dead bodies for the sheer hell of it. And he wouldn't just see a body, get his rocks off then leave -- no, he had to stare at it and contemplate all the little aspects that went into the vacant expression of a deceased person.

He didn't do this to ruminate about the existence of the human soul, or to lament the tragic passing of another victim of society's injustices: he just liked looking at dead folk, in the same way that other people like looking at trains or exotic dancers. We can't even say he was researching some book, because he never really touched the subject in his fiction; his work was all about living life.

Hulton-Deutsch Collection
"If I had to describe my life's work in one word it'd be 'YOLO.'"

In reality, not even Dickens knew what this morbid obsession was about. "I am dragged by an invisible force into the Morgue," he once wrote, possibly sporting a major boner. One time he forced his friend Maclise to come with him to the morgue and then called him a pussy when the corpses made him upset (but with fancier words). Another time he witnessed an execution by guillotine in Rome and stuck around to examine the body, describing the "apparent annihilation of the neck." We'd have to check, but we're reasonably sure that this sentence doesn't appear anywhere in A Christmas Carol.

Speaking of which, his addiction to death was such that he even went to the morgue on Christmas day. Think about it: That's how Charles Dickens spent his holidays, gawking at rotting corpses.

John Leech
"To-day? Why, it's Christmas day."
"Excellent! A new batch of suicides!"



For more very different images we have of famous people, check out 8 Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Geeks and 11 Celebrities Who Were Secretly Total Badasses.

Related Reading: While Kurt Vonnegut probably couldn't take Kilgore Trout in a fist-fight, some authors are actually much more badass than their creations. Ian Mallory would've cut King Arthur's throat. We wouldn't want to put Mallory up against Hans Fallada though- he wrote three books mocking the Nazis while locked in a Nazi prison. And did you know Lewis Carroll loved naked pictures of little girls? He did. And Alice in Wonderland will never look the same again.

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