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The Quick 10: 10 Literary Smack-Downs, Quips, and Squabbles

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There's an adage they give you when you receive your name badge at the door of Writer Land: "You only compete with yourself." While most authors hold true to this (at least in public), there are those who make time to spend bashing their fellow wordslingers. Here are ten cringe-worthy examples.

1. Mark Twain vs. Ambrose Bierce
When they asked Samuel Clemens to read and review long-time friend Ambrose Bierce's not-so-bestseller, Nuggets and Dust Panned Out in California by Dod Grile, publishers Chatto & Windus had no idea they'd get such a scathing report back. Twain calls Nuggets and Dust "the vilest book that exists in print" and ends with what might be the most simultaneously hilarious and hurtful review of all time:

"There is humor in Dod Grile, but for every laugh that is in his book there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit. The laugh is too expensive."

2. James Frey vs. Dave Eggers
Before his tearful apology on Oprah for passing off as a memoir his best-selling tale of addiction and redemption, and even before the book had been released, James Frey took aim at Dave Eggers and his much-hailed A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Here's what Frey said in an interview in New York Observer:

"The Eggers book pissed me off. Because a book that I thought was mediocre was being hailed as the best book written by the best writer of my generation. F**k that. And f**k him and f**k anybody who says that."

3. Ernest Hemingway vs. Ford Madox Ford.
In a letter sent to Ezra Pound in 1925, Papa Hemingway compares contemporary Ford Madox Ford to a bull in a less-than-complimentary tirade:

"Bulls at least are not the greatest stylists in English – no bull has ever been a political exile. Bulls don't run reviews. Bulls of 25 don't marry old women of 55 and expect to be invited to dinner... Bulls do not borrow money... Bulls are edible after they have been killed."

4. Stephen King vs. Stephenie Meyer
In early 2009, hot on the heels of the Twilight film's debut, Stephen King did an exclusive interview with USA Weekend in which he compared JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer:

"The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can't write worth a damn. She's not very good."

Teenage girls 'round the world used their collective angst to... um, buy more movie tickets, I guess.

5. Salman Rushdie vs. John Updike
Bad reviews make for some cranky authors. John Updike reviewed Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown in 2005. Updike took issue with Rushdie's recycling of the name Maximilian Ophuls for his main character (the real Ophuls was an actor and director in the 1940s and 50s). In response, Rushdie quipped:

"Well, why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's probably a male prostitute called 'John Updike'... He should stay in his parochial neighbourhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do."

6. Tom Wolfe vs. "The Three Stooges"
Norman Mailer, John Irving, and John Updike were all less than impressed with Tom Wolfe's 1998 novel, A Man in Full. They each voiced their various issues with the book in typical rival-author fashion, with Mailer comparing the work to "sex with a 300-pound woman," Irving calling the work "journalistic hyperbole described as fiction," and Updike giving what seems to be a diplomatic, if not positive, review with a piece in the New Yorker: "A Man in Full still amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form. Like a movie desperate to recoup its bankers' investment, the novel tries too hard to please us."

Wolfe wasted no time lashing back, claiming the three were "panicked" and "frightened," then compared them to slapstick comedians:

"I think of the three of them now – because there are now three – as Larry, Curly and Moe. It must gall them a bit that everyone – even them – is talking about me."

7. Mario Vargas Llosa vs. Gabriel García Márquez
Nobel laureates don't mess around. Before 1976, the two were close friends; García Márquez was the godfather and namesake for Vargas Llosa's second son. Then, at a movie premier in Mexico City, Vargas Llosa caught García Márquez in the eye with a nasty right hook on the red carpet. Though neither has officially commented on why, it is rumored that when Vargas Llosa cheated on his wife and moved to live with his mistress in Stockholm, she turned to García Márquez for "consolation" — and he advised her to divorce his friend. After the shiner incident, the two literary giants didn't speak for 31 years.

8. Oscar Wilde vs. George Meredith
In his essay, The Decay of Living, Wilde took aim at George Meredith's style, saying, "as a writer, he has mastered everything except language; as a novelist, he can do everything except tell a story; as an artist, he is everything except articulate... I would say that he is a child of realism who is not on speaking terms with his father."

9. Gore Vidal vs. Truman Capote
The two hyper-famous New York authors were once friends, but after their affection for one another wore off, neither wasted any time going for the throat. Vidal claimed to have sat on Capote at a party, mistaking him for a stool. Capote falsely said Vidal had been kicked out of the White House for insulting Jackie Kennedy's mother. Vidal claimed Capote had "raised lying to an art. A minor art." When asked about the friendship gone bad, Capote said, "I'm always sad about Gore—very sad that he has to breathe every day." The back-and-forth carried on after Capote's death, when Vidal got the last word:

"Capote I truly loathed. The way you might loathe an animal. A filthy animal that has found its way into the house."

10. Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman
No feudal arena is complete without a cat fight, and these two ladies did their best not to disappoint. As a guest on the Dick Cavett show, Mary McCarthy was asked with writers she considered overrated. Among the handful was Lillian Hellman, who McCarthy said was "tremendously overrated, a bad writer, a dishonest writer, but she really belongs to the past." When urged to explain her opinion, McCarthy offered this burning blow:

"[E]very word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"

Enter the lawsuit, a messy social tangle of writers taking sides, and, perhaps most bizarrely, Norman Mailer in his new role as mediator. Mailer urged Hellman to drop the lawsuit, but four years later she died before resolving or dropping the complaint.

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8 Gonzo Facts About Hunter S. Thompson
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Hunter S. Thompson in Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
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Like any real-life legend, there are many myths surrounding the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson. But in Thompson’s case, most of those stories—particularly the more outlandish ones—are absolutely true. The founder of the “Gonzo journalism” movement is one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. In celebration of what would have been his 80th birthday, here are some things you might not have known about the eccentric writer.

1. HE WAS NAMED AFTER A FAMOUS SCOTTISH SURGEON.

Hunter S. Thompson was reportedly named after one of his mother’s ancestors, a Scottish surgeon named Nigel John Hunter. But Hunter wasn't just your run-of-the-mill surgeon. In a 2004 interview with the Independent, Thompson brought along a copy of The Reluctant Surgeon, a Biography of Nigel John Hunter, a biography of his namesake, which read: "A gruff Scotsman, Hunter has been described as the most important naturalist between Aristotle and Darwin, the Shakespeare of medicine and the greatest man the British ever produced. He was the first to trace the lymphatic system. He performed the first human artificial insemination. He was the greatest collector of anatomical specimens in history. He prescribed the orthopaedic shoe that allowed Lord Byron to walk."

When pressed about what that description had to do with him, Thompson responded: "Well, I guess that might be the secret of my survival. Good genes."

2. HE MISSED HIS HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION … BECAUSE HE WAS IN JAIL.

Just a few weeks before he was set to graduate from high school, at the age of 17, Thompson was charged as an accessory to robbery and sentenced to 60 days in jail. 

“One night Ralston Steenrod, who was in the Athenaeum with Hunter, was driving, and Hunter and another guy he knew were in the car,” Thompson’s childhood friend Neville Blakemore recalled of the incident. “As they were driv­ing through Cherokee Park, the other guy said, ‘Stop. I want to bum a ciga­rette from that car.’ People used to go park and neck at this spot. And the guy got out and apparently went back and mugged them. The guy who was mugged got their license number and traced the car, and within a very short time they were all three arrested.

“Just before this Hunter had been blamed for a nighttime gas-station rob­bery,” Blakemore added, “and before that he and some friends got arrested for buying booze under­age at Abe's Liquor Store on Frankfort Avenue by the tracks. So Hunter had a record, and he was already on probation. He was given an ultimatum: jail or the military. And Hunter took the Air Force. He didn't graduate with his class.”

3. IT WAS A FELLOW JOURNALIST WHO COINED THE TERM “GONZO.”

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While covering the 1968 New Hampshire primary, Thompson met fellow writer and editor Bill Carodoso, editor of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, which is where Thompson first heard him use the word “Gonzo.” “It meant sort of ‘crazy’ or ‘off-the-wall,’” Thompson said in Anita Thompson’s Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S. Thompson. Two years later, in June 1970, Thompson wrote an article for Scanlan’s Monthly entitled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which became a game-changing moment in journalism because of its offbeat, slightly manic style that was written with first-person subjectivity.

Among the many fellow journalists who praised Thompson for the piece was Cardoso, who sent a letter to Thompson that “said something like, ‘Forget all the sh*t you’ve been writing, this is it; this is pure Gonzo.’ Gonzo. Yeah, of course. That’s what I was doing all the time. Of course, I might be crazy.” Thompson ran with the word, and would use it himself for the first time a year later, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

4. HE TYPED OUT FAMOUS NOVELS TO LEARN THE ART OF WRITING.

In order to get the “feel” of being a writer, Thompson used to retype his favorite novels in full. “[H]is true model and hero was F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker. “He used to type out pages from The Great Gatsby, just to get the feeling, he said, of what it was like to write that way, and Fitzgerald’s novel was continually on his mind while he was working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was published, after a prolonged and agonizing compositional nightmare, in 1972.”

"If you type out somebody's work, you learn a lot about it,” Thompson told Charlie Rose in 1997. “Amazingly it's like music. And from typing out parts of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald—these were writers that were very big in my life and the lives of the people around me—so yeah, I wanted to learn from the best I guess."

5. HE RAN FOR SHERIFF IN COLORADO.

In 1970, Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado on what he called the Freak Power ticket. Among his political tactics: shaving his head so that he could refer to his opponent as his “long-haired opponent,” promising to eat mescaline while on duty, and campaigning to rename Aspen “Fat City” to deter "greed heads, land-rapers, and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name 'Aspen.'" Unfortunately, he lost.

6. HE STOLE A MEMENTO FROM ERNEST HEMINGWAY.

In 1964, three years after Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at his cabin in Ketchum, Idaho, Thompson traveled to the late author’s home in order to write “What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?” While there, according to his widow, Hunter “got caught up in the moment” and took “a big pair of elk horns over the front door.” Last year, more than a decade after Thompson’s death, Anita returned the antlers to the Hemingway family—which is something she and Hunter had always planned to do. “They were warm and kind of tickled … they were so open and grateful, there was no weirdness,” Anita said.

7. HE ONCE USED THE INSIDE OF MUSICIAN JOHN OATES’ COLORADO CABIN AS HIS PERSONAL PARKING SPACE.

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Earlier this month, musician John Oates—the latter half of Hall & Oates—shared a story about his ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado, just outside of Aspen, which is currently on the market for $6 million. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio, Oates recalled how when he first purchased the cabin, there was a red convertible parked inside. “I happened to ask the real estate agent who owned the convertible, and he said ‘your neighbor Hunter Thompson,’” Oates said. “Why is he keeping his car in a piece of property he doesn’t own? The real estate agent looked at me and said ‘It’s Woody Creek, you’ll figure this out. It’s a different kind of place.’” After sending several letters to his neighbor to retrieve his vehicle, Oates took matters into his own hands and deposited the car on Thompson’s lawn. Oates said that the two became friends, but never mentioned the incident.

8. AT HIS FUNERAL, HIS ASHES WERE SHOT OUT OF A CANNON.

On February 20, 2005—at the age of 67—Thompson committed suicide. But Thompson wasn’t about to leave this world quietly. In August of that year, in accordance with his wishes, Thompson's ashes were shot into the air from a cannon while fireworks filled the sky.

“He loved explosions," his widow, Anita, told ESPN, which wrote that, “The private celebration included actors Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, rock bands, blowup dolls and plenty of liquor to honor Thompson, who killed himself six months ago at the age of 67.”

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15 Memorable Quotes from George A. Romero
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Hollywood has lost one of its most iconic horror innovators with the death of George A. Romero, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 77. “He died peacefully in his sleep, following a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer, and leaves behind a loving family, many friends, and a filmmaking legacy that has endured, and will continue to endure, the test of time,” his manager, Chris Roe, said in a statement.

Though he rose to prominence as the master of zombie flicks, beginning with Night of the Living Dead, Romero honed his filmmaking skills on a far less frightening set: shooting bits for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

“I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made,” Romero once said. “What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.” (Rogers returned the favor by being a longtime champion of Romero’s work—and even called Dawn of the Dead “a lot of fun.”)

It’s that high-spirited sense of fun that made Romero’s work so iconic—and kept the New York City native busy for nearly 50 years. To celebrate his life and career, here are 15 of his most memorable quotes on everything from the humanity of zombies to the horror of Hollywood producers.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A SENSE OF HUMOR

“For a Catholic kid in parochial school, the only way to survive the beatings—by classmates, not the nuns—was to be the funny guy.”

ON THE HOLLYWOOD WAY

“If I fail, the film industry writes me off as another statistic. If I succeed, they pay me a million bucks to fly out to Hollywood and fart.”

ON BEING PIGEONHOLED

“As a filmmaker you get typecast just as much as an actor does, so I'm trapped in a genre that I love, but I'm trapped in it!”

ON ZOMBIES AS A METAPHOR

“I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.”

ON FINDING OBJECTIVITY AS A FILMMAKER

“There are so many factors when you think of your own films. You think of the people you worked on it with, and somehow forget the movie. You can't forgive the movie for a long time. It takes a few years to look at it with any objectivity and forgive its flaws.”

ON THE REAL VALUE OF THE INTERNET

“What the Internet's value is that you have access to information but you also have access to every lunatic that's out there that wants to throw up a blog.”

ON THE HORROR OF DEALING WITH PRODUCERS

“I'll never get sick of zombies. I just get sick of producers.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION

“Collaborate, don’t dictate.”

ON THE BEAUTY OF LOW-BUDGET MOVIEMAKING

“I don't think you need to spend $40 million to be creepy. The best horror films are the ones that are much less endowed.”

ON HUMANS BEING THE REAL VILLAINS

“My zombies will never take over the world because I need the humans. The humans are the ones I dislike the most, and they're where the trouble really lies.”

ON BEING IMMUNE TO TRENDS

“Somehow I've been able to keep standing and stay in my little corner and do my little stuff and I'm not particularly affected by trends or I'm not dying to make a 3-D movie or anything like that. I'm just sort of happy to still be around.”

ON THE HUMANITY OF HORROR

“My stories are about humans and how they react, or fail to react, or react stupidly. I'm pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies. I try to respect and sympathize with the zombies as much as possible.”

ON THE ENDURING APPEAL OF HORROR

“If one horror film hits, everyone says, 'Let's go make a horror film.' It's the genre that never dies.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SURROUNDING ZOMBIES WITH STUPID PEOPLE

“A zombie film is not fun without a bunch of stupid people running around and observing how they fail to handle the situation.”

ON LIFE AFTER DEATH

“I'm like my zombies. I won't stay dead!”

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