Before They Were Famous: William Faulkner

William Faulkner, one of the most distinguished modernist authors, received two Nobel Prizes for fiction and one for literature. Over the course of his writing career, he earned a robust reputation for not only his novels, which openly confronted controversial issues rooted in the rural south, but also his poetry, short stories, and screenplays. Despite his prowess as a literary juggernaut, Faulkner — much to the surprise of many of his most avid fans — encountered a number of personal and professional rejections during his early life.

Faulkner lacked an interest in formal education, dropping out of high school at a young age to pursue a career. To support himself, he worked as a bank clerk in the southern town of Oxford and wrote in his free time. Inspired by Algernon Swinburne, John Keats, and A. E. Housman, much of Faulkner’s earliest works were poems, a good number of which were addressed to his love interest, Estelle Oldham. Despite the young writer’s best efforts, Oldham’s parents disapproved of the couple’s courtship and encouraged their daughter to seek a suitor with better financial prospects.

In 1918, Faulkner attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army with the hopes of pursuing a career as a pilot. However, his application was denied when he failed to meet physical requirements. Determined to see action, Faulkner travelled to Toronto, Canada. Claiming to be an English citizen, he successfully joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Unfortunately, by the time he reached France, the first World War had ended.

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Before They Were Famous: J.R.R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien

Due to the rapidly growing success of a major motion picture franchise, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series remains exceedingly popular with a contemporary audience. Loved by (literally) millions of readers worldwide, Tolkien has been long celebrated for his vivid imagination. However, fans might be surprised to learn about his less commercially popular contributions to literature.

An avid lover of language, Tolkien received an undergraduate degree from Exeter College in English in addition to earning two degrees from Oxford University.

He served briefly in World War I as a Second Lieutenant but, after being discharged, rekindled his romance with words. His first civilian job was at the famous Oxford English dictionary. An academic at heart, Tolkien dedicated much of his life to teaching English and Literature at universities, including his beloved alma mater, Oxford.

Beowulf Adaptation

Within the literary realm, he was fairly renowned, establishing friendships with other well-known writers including author of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis. He enjoyed a long career as a critic and theorist, introducing perhaps one of the most influential analyses on Beowulf to date. In 1936, Tolkien delivered his lecture, “Beowulf: The Monsters and Critics,” dramatically redirecting scholarship on one of England’s most historically significant poems.

While Tolkien remains perhaps best loved for his fictional works, his contributions to academia continue to influence scholars. They are a lasting testament to his profound understanding and love of both language and writing.

— Dominique Dusek, Assistant Managing Editor & Submissions Manager

Before They Were Famous: Harper Lee

Harper Lee

Despite her status as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee remains a mystery to many readers. Lee has earned a reputation for being notoriously private, living in hermit-like seclusion for many years. However, her recent decision to release a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird has inspired me to re-examine this writer’s early life and career.

With an intense interest, I began an investigation into Lee’s life, uncertain of what I might reveal. However, much of what I uncovered seemed entirely expected. In her youth, Lee was regarded as a tomboy who fought with other children on the playground and talked back to teachers. Even well into college, she resisted conformity and never quite fit in even at Alabama University, where she joined a sorority.

Lee dropped out of law school in order to pursue her true passion–writing. But she spent a great deal of time working odd jobs in New York before ever being published. Finding herself in a most curious circumstance, the would-be author received a gift from a close friend of which many writers could only dream.

As a Christmas present, Broadway lyricist Michael Brown insisted on supporting Lee fully for a year so that she would have the opportunity to work on her first novel. By the end of this time, Lee had completed the manuscript for To Set a Watchmen, later retitled Atticus and then, eventually, To Kill a Mockingbird. An instant success, the book was widely acclaimed and even earned Lee a Pulitzer Prize the year after its publication.

Though perhaps what is most amazing about this story is that the book’s creation is owed almost entirely to the generosity of a seldom-acknowledged friend. In its own way, the coming-of-age story we have all come to know and love as To Kill a Mockingbird seems to be an uncanny sort of Christmas miracle. As a fan of the original novel, I can only hope that its sequel will be a compelling revival, though it certainly seems too full of all the exciting promise of an unexpected gift.

— Dominique Dusek, Assistant Managing Editor & Submissions Manager

Before They Were Famous: J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling

Joanne “J.K.” Rowling has earned her place as one of the best-loved and most widely recognized contemporary writers by authoring the Harry Potter series–seven fantasy adventures that captivated old and young readers alike, leaving much of the world spellbound.

Unsurprisingly, Rowling’s own story seems just as magical as the tales of the wizarding world she invented. Currently ranked the twelfth richest woman in England, Rowling once struggled to support her daughter, subsisting on welfare and battling depression.

Before writing the Harry Potter series, Rowling led the life of a struggling writer and single mom. After divorcing her first husband in her mid-20s, the now famous author was diagnosed with severe depression and spent nine months in cognitive behavioral therapy. However, in 1990, Rowling experienced a fantastic life change.

J.K. Rowling

While traveling by train from Manchester to London, a strange idea sprang into Rowling’s brain. Suddenly, her head overflowed with magical scenes of fantastic escapades involving an unlikely protagonist, a scrawny, glasses-wearing boy wizard. At the time, she lamented not having a pen to jot down the story, but soon she realized it possessed a certain magic that would require a great deal of carefulness and craft to transfer to paper.

For the rest of her trip, which lasted four hours, Rowling ruminated on her vision-like ideas, reliving those few precious daydreams that would eventually transform into the book we now know as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Once Rowling returned home, she immediately began writing her novel –a project she would labor over for the next seven years.

In June of 1997, she finally completed the book that would, despite being rejected by twelve different publishing houses, become one of the best-loved stories ever written.

J.K. Rowling launched a literary phenomenon, inspiring people of all generations to embrace a love of reading with a little unexpected sorcery. She taught us lessons in bravery, friendship, and family—a true feat of magic.

— Dominique Dusek, Assistant Managing Editor & Submissions Manager

Before They Were Famous: Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk, bestselling author of the cult novel Fight Club, claims truth is often stranger than fiction. It certainly seems this theme has held true in his own life. However, some of the struggles Palahniuk faced during his early years seem altogether typical for a yet-to-be-published writer.

Palahniuk credits his 5th grade teacher Ms. Olsen with igniting his interest in writing. He recalls she once commented on one of his poems, “Chuck, you do this really well. And this is much better than setting fires, so keep it up.” While not much is known about Palahniuk’s grade school and high school years, his passion for writing seems to have remained constant. After graduating from Columbia High School, Palahniuk attended the University of Oregon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Fight Club

For a short time, he worked for a local Portland newspaper, but quickly became bored and decided to explore other employment options. Palahniuk worked as a diesel mechanic, repairing trucks and writing technical manuals for some time following his graduation. He also (as his fans morbidly enjoy pointing out) worked for a hospice escorting terminally ill patients.

In his mid-thirties, Palahniuk returned to writing, exploring a particular fascination with fiction. While attending a workshop hosted by minimalist writer Tom Spanbauer, he authored a few notable short stories and eventually his first novel. Despite his many attempts, Palahniuk (like many aspiring authors) failed to find a press willing to publish his book. In the wake of rejection, he continued to write somewhat unsuccessfully until 1996 when Fight Club was published.

— Dominique Dusek, Assistant Managing Editor & Submissions Manager

Before They Were Famous: Stephen King

Steven King

One of America’s most beloved horror and suspense writers, Stephen King has published numerous best-selling titles including The Shinning, Misery and the Dark Tower series. The recipient of a Bram Stoker Award, an O. Henry Award and many other literary honors, King has penned 54 novels and nearly 200 hundred short stories. 

However, King’s early career was fraught with struggles as the now-established author suffered many rejections in addition to financial stress. While writing his first novel, Carrie, King became so discouraged he discarded his manuscript. Luckily, his wife Tabitha retrieved the draft from the trash and encouraged her husband to keep writing.

In 1973, Doubleday Publishing House accepted King’s Carrie for printing, paying him $400,000 for the paperback rights. This was a significant sum of money for the struggling writer. This was King’s first major publishing success and the one that would solidify his career.

In the decades since then, King has continued to publish profusely both as himself and under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Despite his initial hardships, he has distinguished himself as a remarkable writer with a macabre imagination, a favorite among many for his strange and unsettling fiction. 

— Dominique Dusek, Assistant Managing & Submissions Manager

In Defense of Lady Macbeth

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All too often scholars and thespians cast Lady Macbeth as a power-hungry, domineering witch who, through acts of coercion, forces her husband to carry out regicide. However, a more careful reading of the Scottish play reveals the Macbeths to be as much partners in crime as they are in marriage.

Though Lady M does encourage her husband to kill the king, she does so not to fulfill her own selfish desires but rather to help her husband realize his own ambition.  After reading a letter from Macbeth recounting his intriguing encounter with the witches, Lady M laments, “Glamis thou art and Cawdor and shalt be what thou art promised. Yet, I do fear thy nature is too full o’th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” (1.4.16).

Acknowledging Macbeth’s desire to ascend through the ranks, Lady M fears that her husband lacks the courage to act upon his ambitions in such a way that would make attaining them easy. She goes on to state, “Thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition but without the illness should attend it” (1.4.19).

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Bad Dads and Favorite Children: An Analysis of Familial Relationships in King Lear

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The painfully complex and utterly ridiculous play, King Lear by William Shakespeare, scrutinizes dysfunctional parent-child relationships in a way that seemingly disapproves of Early Modern parenting attitudes.

Acting as a cautionary tale, Lear specifically examines the relationship between the titular character and his daughters as well as the relationship between Gloucester and his sons, thus illustrating the universality of familial dysfunction and the unsavory impact of bad parenting. Within the Lear household, Cordelia, the youngest, is prized as the favorite child, a fact so blindingly apparent that Lear thinks nothing of admitting it while his two other daughters are present. In reference to Cordelia, Lear thunders at Kent, “I loved her most, and thought to set my rest on her kind nursery” (1.1.122-3).

As a result of these sentiments, Lear displays an unfair bias towards Cordelia, forsaking his two other daughters as second rate. When Lear divides up his kingdom, parceling it out to his daughters, he reserves the greatest and most politically valuable piece of land for his precious youngest child. Though all three daughters are forced to indulge him by playing a can-you-top-this-style-game, Lear divvies up the prizes all too soon and it becomes evident that even according to his own testimony and without having yet said a word, Cordelia is to receive the best allotment. Trying to persuade Cordelia to speak, Lear cajoles, “What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters” (1.1.84-5).

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Meet the Editors: Dominique Dusek

Dominique Dusek
Dominique Dusek

Welcome back, readers! In today’s installment of Meet the Editors, we’re going to meet Dominique Dusek, our Submissions Editors and Assistant Marketing and Development Editor.  In addition to working on Jet Fuel, Dominique actively participates in Sigma Tau Delta, the national English honor Society, and shares her love of writing with the Lewis community as a tutor at the campus writing center. A consummate English nerd, she spends most of her free time if not reading and writing, binge-watching episodes of Sherlock on Netflix, jamming out to Frankie Valli, and riding her horse.

Who are you and what is your role in the Jet Fuel Review?

My name is Dominique Dusek. I’m a senior English Major at Lewis University with a special interest in creative and professional writing and I am currently fulfilling the roles of Marketing and Development Assistant and Submissions Manager for the JFR.

What book might we find on your nightstand right now?

I am currently enmeshed in a book called The Lolita Effect which explores the idea of young women’s sexuality and how it is shaped by the media. So far, it has been pretty interesting and insightful and I would highly recommend it.

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Magic and Mistrust: Analysis of the Implied Role of Witchcraft in Othello

othello 1
Photo from Wikimedia

Similar to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the opening of Othello pits a disapproving parent against a couple so in love they must elope in secrecy. However, any similarities between Othello and a conventional comedy end there.

Best understood as the intimate portrait of a marriage wrecked by jealous insecurity, Othello resonates as a poignant tragedy illustrating how distrustfulness ultimately leads to self-destruction.  Throughout the story, Shakespeare plays with the audience’s expectations by employing ample foreshadowing to suggest the tragic fall of the titular character. One of the most important instances of this is the implied role of magic in the coercion of Desdemona to elope with “the Moor.”

After hearing his daughter has eloped with his comrade, Brabantio, in utter shock and disgust, issues the allegation that the Moor must have persuaded her to elope under the coercion of magic or spells. He claims his daughter has been stolen from him, abused, “and corrupted by spells and medicines bought of mountebanks; for nature so preposterously to err, being not deficient, blind or lame of sense, sans witchcraft could not” (1.3.62-66).

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