Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain!

"My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water." – Mark Twain

November 30 is the anniversary of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), better known to most of us as Mark Twain. As a tribute to his special day, I thought I’d share some of the lesser known facts about his writing career and life.

Before selecting the pseudonym of Mark Twain, he wrote under the pen name of Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass for three humorous pieces he contributed to the Keokuk Post (Iowa).

He first used the name Mark Twain on an article published in the Nevada Territorial Enterprise in 1863. The name came from his boat skipper days. To test the depth of the water, a crewman shouts "mark twain!" The crewman is calling for two fathoms, or a depth of 12 feet, which is barely enough for a boat to navigate safely. "Twain" is an old-fashioned way of saying "two" and a fathom is six feet.

The short story, The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, published in a New York paper in 1865, is credited for making him an overnight celebrity after it was quickly reprinted throughout the country. His first published book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County was a collection of 27 short stories that had been previously published in magazines and newspapers. It was published in 1867.

He was the first writer to incorporate himself as an enterprise and trademark his name.

In 1872, he patented the self-pasting scrapbook which was marketed as "Mark Twain's Patent Scrapbook." Keeping track of various clippings of what others were saying about him, led him to discover a way to improve the scrapbook. Supposedly he made $200,000 from all his other books, and $50,000 from the scrapbook alone.

He created a game called Mark Twain’s Memory Builder, A Game for Acquiring and Retaining All Sorts of Facts and Dates. He originally conceived the game as a way to help his daughters learn historical dates, but it quickly grew in his mind into a marketable commodity that, he hoped, would sweep the country.

His first novel, The Gilded Age, 1873, was in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner. The first novel he wrote alone was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

He received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford in 1907 and enjoyed wearing the scarlet robe for the rest of his life.

He wore a white suit in the winter of 1906 to testify to Congress about copyright and then continued to wear one year round.

In 1894, over $100,000 in debt, he declared bankruptcy. To make money to pay his creditors, he arranged a lecture tour that began in Cincinnati in July, 1895, and ended a year later in Cape Town, South Africa.

During his lifetime the most popular of his books was his first one: Innocents Abroad, published in 1869.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took him longer to write than any other of his books, from 1876 until 1884. Three months after it was published, it was banned by the Concord Public Library in Massachusetts.

He is quoted as saying, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming next year, and I expect to go out with it.” He died one day after the comet’s perihelion.

Do you have a favorite Mark Twain book, story, or bit of trivia?

SPECIAL NOTE: I usually post only on Mondays and Thursdays. However, tomorrow as part of the VBT, Writers on the Move, I am making an exception so that I can introduce you to Dacia Helle, author of Enemies and Playmates, Hit List, No Justice and Beyond Salvation.

I’ll be doing a guest post over at Heidi M. Thomas, where I’m talking about writing in another genre and I’m also looking for reference book recommendations.

At VBT, you’ll find a list of authors and hosts. I hope you’ll have an opportunity to stop by and visit some of the other interesting and talented authors as well. As usual, with VBT’s monthly tours, you’ll have a chance to win a prize by leaving a comment on the mystery site. See VBT for more details.

Thank you for stopping by.

Tags: Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, VBT, The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County , Heidi Thomas, Darcia Helle, Halley’s Comet,


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Interesting that back in the day, celebrities still went into debt now and then!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I *love* Mark Twain. Love his funny quotes. I love that he was so wise, but really human at the same time.

I didn't know how quickly Huck Finn was banned...even back then!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Helen Ginger said...

What great information about Twain! I really enjoyed reading your post, unlike back when I was in high school. ;-)

Straight From Hel

Joanne said...

The only trivia I might add is that The Mark Twain House is a very popular tourist attraction here in CT!

The Old Silly said...

Very nteresting info on one of my most influential authors as a child!

Marvin D Wilson

arlee bird said...

I have HUCKLEBERRY FINN listed in my profile as one of my favorite books, which it has been for 40 years. It is such a travesty when goups have banned this book with such a powerful message, and yet ignore some of the atrocious rap lyrics that I often hear blaring from cars that pull up next to me at stoplights.
I thought the Ken Burns documentary on Mark Twain was an excellent account of this author's fascinating life.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I'm a big Mark Twain fan. Have you ever seen Hal Holbrook do his one-man Mark Twain play? Exceptional.


Galen Kindley--Author said...

I have a two disc DVD by PBS on Mark Twain. Some of the incidents you relate are in there. Overall, it's a fascinating. I recommend it.

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks for sharing. He is an American icon--and he did it his way. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

Trivia. The high school in our town is Samuel Clemens High School. We also have Laura Ingalls Wilder Intermediate School, among others.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world