word craft


Story Behind the Story #9:
The History of Helpless Harry

The History of Helpless HarryBooks evolve in curi­ous ways. Con­sid­er The His­to­ry of Help­less Har­ry. Or, to give it its full title:

The His­to­ry of Help­less Har­ry
To which is added a Vari­ety
Of Amus­ing and Enter­tain­ing

I had writ­ten, or so I thought, a real­is­tic tale about a boy—in an his­tor­i­cal context—who was being pushed about, and gen­er­al­ly bul­lied, until he turns things around and comes out unscathed and triumphant.

I sent the man­u­script to my agent. She gave me a call and sug­gest­ed we have lunch to talk about the book. Of course I met with her.

Lunch was a genial affair, with chit chat about fam­i­ly, pub­lish­ing, and the like. Not a word about my book. Until she said, “What was your intent with your story?”

“A seri­ous study of how a boy is mis­treat­ed, but, with strug­gle, sees his way to a good end.”

“Seri­ous? In what way?”

“A real­is­tic, and hope­ful­ly mov­ing, novel.”

She hes­i­tat­ed a moment and then said, “What would you say if I told you I thought it was very funny?”

“Fun­ny?” I said, shocked.

“Very fun­ny. I sug­gest you take anoth­er look at what you’ve written.”

Rather shak­en, I went home and went over what I had written—her words in my head. And “egad!” as they say in old-time melo­dra­mas, I had to admit that what I had writ­ten was absurd, and yes, pos­si­bly a slap­stick farce.

I set back to rewrit­ing, and added a vari­ety of amus­ing and enter­tain­ing adventures.

With pic­tures by Paul O. Zelin­sky it worked well. And was quite funny.

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