Top 5 authors who regretted publishing their novels

Somebody asked me a very strange question the other day. ‘Jack, do you regret publishing Empty Nights three years ago?’

The answer, quite simply, is no. I’m still tremendously proud of my first novel but I’ll admit that there are things I would do differently. For example I would publish via a traditional publisher instead of a Indi publishing company, I would make sure that the physical novels were normal sized and not the size of a textbook (although I always chuckled when someone said ‘wow Jack, that’s big isn’t it?”) and I maybe would have delayed the launch to complete one more draft. Overall I’m still proud of the novel and if you haven’t already brought a copy please click on the Empty Nights tab above that will direct you to Amazon.

The conversation, however, got me thinking. How many authors regretted publishing their novels? I researched the question, found the answers fascinating and decided to write a top five article on what I found.

I hope you enjoy.

  1. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Don’t let that cute front cover fool you, Bridge to Terabithia will leave you in tears.

If you have not read the book or seen the film adaptation please do so before reading the rest of this entry as it contains heavy spoilers.

Bridge to Terabithia follows the life of Jessie, a fourteen year old boy from a poor family who struggles both academically and socially in school. Jessie befriends a new student called Leslie Burke and together they have adventures in the forest behind their homes, deeming it their magical kingdom. While Jessie is away on a school trip, Leslie is involved in an accident in the forest that results in her death. The remainder of the book covers Jessie’s journey through grief and attempts to answer the question, why do bad things happen to good people?

Sadly the inspiration behind the story is also tragic. Katherine Paterson was inspired to write the novel after her son’s best friend, Lisa aged eight years old, died in a lighting strike in her school’s playground. The school was caught in a freak thunderstorm, as the children ran for cover Lisa was hit by a bolt of lighting. She was killed instantly, in front of her friends and family. Around the same time Paterson suffered a cancer scare and became convinced of her own approaching death. She wrote Bridge to Terabithia as a method of coping and in an attempt to understand Lisa’s death.

Despite the praise for her novel and the cult following her book created, Paterson has repeatedly said that she regrets publishing Bridge to Terabithia. Jessie, the protagonist, was heavily based off her own son David and Lisa was the inspiration for Leslie. Although Lisa’s family have not commented on the novel, David has confirmed that when he was younger he was bullied at school for his role in the book. That’s pretty twisted when you think about it, he was bullied because his childhood friend was killed in an act of god. Thankfully David overcame his troubled relationship with the novel and when film adaptation was released in 2007 he served as both the screenwriter and producer.

I really do think it is a shame that Katherine Paterson has distanced herself from her novel as it has been cited as a useful tool by parents and teachers for explaining to children the concept of death.

2. Jaws by Peter Benchley

Peter Benchley’s Jaws was published in 1974 and tells the story of the hunt for a Great White Shark who preys on humans in a coastal town in America. Benchley was inspired to write the story after hearing about the Jersey Shore Stark Attacks of 1916. Although the story of the shark attacks were covered in the media, the events were forgotten when America entered the First World War the following year. Four people were attacked by a creature dubbed the “Jersey Man Eater” and a fifth was injured. When Benchley rediscovered the story he decided to set the shark attacks near a fictional resort town and wrote a realistic response of how the local population would react.

The film Jaws was produced the following year and suffered a troubled production. Director Steven Spielberg decided it would be best to create the film in the open ocean rather than a studio water tank but the animatronic shark kept malfunctioning in the salt water. The film had a budget of $3.5 million dollars, spent $9 million and ran one hundred days over the shooting schedule. Actors Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss continually argued on set and the script was stripped of subplots from the novel which upset Peter Benchley who left the project. Despite these setbacks (or perhaps because of them) the film earned $472 million at the box office, won three academy awards and is often cited as the best thriller film of all time.

Although there has always been a fear of sharks, the film Jaws cemented this phobia into the public consciences’ by portraying them as monsters of the ocean. Following the films release the shark population across America’s west coast fell by almost half as would-be-heroes hunted the creatures for trophies. This belief continues to this day with shark’s teeth still being sold in tourist markets and shark’s fin being used in far eastern recipes.

What few people realise is that shark attacks on human are incredibly rare. Aside from the Jersey Shore Shark attacks of 1916 there has only been one other recorded event of a shark actively hunting humans. You are more likely to be killed by a cow or a vending machine than you are a shark. Benchley was horrified by the increase in shark hunting and spend the remainder of his life denouncing both novel and film and campaigning for marine conservation. I do sympathise with Benchley, there is no such thing as shark infested waters, water is a shark’s natural habitat. The problem is human infested waters, we are the invaders. However sharks do creep me out, with their lifeless eyes and their hundreds of teeth (that’s not an exaggeration) so I will spend my time sympathising with more friendly looking animals.

3. Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne

Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, sitting at home with his teddy bear.

I’ve spoken about Winnie the Pooh several times on this website as I find the origins of the character fascinating. A.A. Milne wrote the adventures of Winnie the Pooh to entertain his son, Christopher Robin and incorporated him into the stories. The other characters were based off Christopher’s teddy bears (with the exception of Owl and Rabbit) with the title character, Winnie the Pooh, being a mixture of a Canadian Bear in London Zoo called Winnipeg and Robin’s own teddy bear. The Hundred Acre wood was based of Ashdown Forest in Kent where the Milne family lived. If you wish to read more about the real Winnie and why his name is Pooh, click here to read a previous article.

Christopher Robin’s dislike of the character has been well documented. Although he loved the books when he was a child, happily reading the stories on tape and posing with his teddy bears, Christopher grew to resent the fame and later commented how he felt forced to share his best friend with the world. When he attended boarding school he was bullied for his links to the character and considered changing his name to avoid the association. He later accused his father of selling his childhood for cash and distanced himself from his parents only communicating with them via letters until their deaths.

It is less well documented that A.A Milne himself grew to detest his creation. Before moving to Ashdown forest A.A. Milne was a prolific author and political figure. He had published seven novels, five nonfiction books and thirty four plays as well as working as an assistant editor at the satire magazine Punch. After the success of Winnie, Milne found himself forever synonymous with the character, his political opponents and allies failed to take him seriously. Milne was forced to retire from politics, he tried to seek solace in his writings but all potential publishers were interested in were more Winnie stories. A.A. Milne died in 1956 aged 74.

The illustrator of the series, E. H. Shepard, also grew to resent the bear. Shepard had been friends with Milne during the First World War and Milne attributed part of the book’s success to Shepard’s illustrations. Due to this he allowed Shepard to take a share in any royalties made. Similar to the author, Shepard felt that Winnie the Pooh overshadowed his other works. Interestingly Shepard’s illustrations proved tremendously popular and still remain in use today. Three hundred of his sketches were displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and several sketches have become the templates for internet memes.

4. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell

The Anarchist Cookbook was published by William Powell as a teenager in 1971. Powell was a big supporter of the counterculture movement that was sweeping across America and had worked with several Vietnam war veterans who had installed their horror of war into him. Powell realised that it was relatively easy to collect dangerous information from public sources and feared this information could be used in future terror attacks. To prove how easy it was for one individual to obtain this information, Powell spent several years studying anarchists texts in the New York Public Library and accumulated his findings into one book. Each weapon or method of terror was called a recipe and the book itself was referred to as a cookbook.

Can you see the problem yet? By collecting a large amount of dangerous information and storing it in one place, Powell had inadvertently made this information easier to acquire. Sadly the book has been linked to several terrorist events:

In 1976 police linked the book to a terror cell who conducted a bombing of Grand Central Terminal in New York and the hijacking of TWA flight 535.

In 2012 James Holmes killed twelve people at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises by wearing full tactical gear and open firing into the audience. The Anarchist Cookbook was discovered in his booby trapped apartment.

In 2015 it was discovered that the July 7th bombers had actively read The Anarchist Cookbook before carrying out their attacks in London.

Powell has stated on multiple occasions that he regrets publishing the book but he has been unable to pull it from print. Powell gave his publishers printing rights to the book and unfortunately, after each terrorist attack, sales of the book spike. The Cookbook is banned in certain countries around the globe but it is still available on Amazon UK.

A London Underground train damaged by a bomb during the July 7th bombings

5. Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Brokeback Mountain was first published in The New Yorker by Annie Proulx in 1997 and later republished in 1999 as part of the short story anthology, Close Range: Wyoming Stories. In the story two male ranch hands called Jack and Ennis form a romantic and sexual relationship during a time where homosexuality is outlawed. The pair continue to meet throughout their lives resulting in their family lives deteriorating and eventually Jack’s death. Proulx was inspired to write the story after seeing a gay man in the bar watching other men play pool and realising that she had not seen gay characters set in Wyoming before. The story proved to be incredibly popular and was adapted into an opera and a feature length film staring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Surprisingly for a book adaptation the film mirrors the plot nearly perfectly, even lifting dialogue directly from the source material, it is often cited as one of the best film adaptations of all time. Although the film faced controversy when it was released due to the homoromantic relationship it has been regarded as a turning point in queer cinema and in 2018 the film was placed in the United States National Film Registry on the grounds that is was culturally significant.

Despite the praise the film received, author Annie Proulx has voiced her discontent and has said on multiple occasional that she regrets publishing the book. After the film’s release Proulx was bombarded by fan fiction in which Jack and Ennis achieved a happily ever after. Proulx argues that these fans do not understand the message that the book and the film is trying to convey. The story isn’t about the two characters as individuals but about societies’ views on homosexuality during the time period. Proulx often argues with the fans who claim to have ‘fixed’ her plot and out of frustration has stated she regrets publishing the book.

Have you ever written anything you regret publishing? Let me know in the comments or on social media and I’ll see you next time.

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