Yes, Steinbeck wrote a novel about werewolves. Don’t expect to read it. | King City Rustler


Nine years before John Steinbeck published his historic Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, “The Grapes of Wrath,” he was working on a light-hearted detective story about a werewolf.

The manuscript, “Murder on the Full Moon,” was completed in 1930 but was never published. A single copy has been found, mostly forgotten, in the Texas archives since 1969. It includes drawings by Steinbeck himself.

An American literature scholar at Stanford University is pushing for the book to be published, but agents at Steinbeck’s estate vehemently refused this week, after the effort was featured in The Guardian.

The professor, Gavin Jones, is not discouraged. He extracted “Full Moon Murder” from the archives of the Harry Ransom Center in Austin while working on a book on Steinbeck. “I would love to see it released,” he said.

His description of the book has informed literary Twitter and online book forums. Yes, long before Steinbeck was a known Nobel laureate for literary classics from the depression era, the financially troubled writer had tried to mix genres more typical of the pulp fiction of the time. .

“I expected a fragmented, bizarre and incomplete job,” Jones said.

Instead, he found a cohesive and comprehensive 233-page manuscript. “It’s a potboiler, but it’s also the cauldron of central themes that we see throughout Steinbeck’s later work,” he said. For this reason, he thinks it is worth sharing with the public.

His campaign this week prompted a firm email statement from Steinbeck’s agents.

“Steinbeck wrote ‘Full Moon Murder’ under a pseudonym, and once he became an established author, he did not choose to seek publication of this work,” wrote a representative of the agency. based in New York, McIntosh & Otis. “There are several other works written by Steinbeck that were published posthumously, with his instructions and careful consideration of the field. As long-time agents of Steinbeck and the domain, we do not exploit works that the author did not wish to see published. “

The pseudonym chosen by Steinbeck was Peter Pym. Jones said the use of the name didn’t mean Steinbeck didn’t want the book to see the light of day. The author did not get rid of the manuscript, which he had done with other unpublished works, the professor noted.

“He didn’t destroy the ‘full moon murder’,” he said.

Steinbeck wrote history in nine days, according to William Souder, who wrote the biography “Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck”.

The writer was 28 in 1930, living in a cottage in Pacific Grove, near Monterey, Calif., Hoping for a big break. The year before he had published his first book, “Cup of Gold,” a pirate adventure set in the Caribbean in the 1600s. Although it received better reviews than expected, it was already out of print. said Souder.

Steinbeck had written more serious books but had had no luck selling them. He told a friend that all he needed was a dozen more refusals to convince himself that he had to give up writing.

He was also broke, so he decided, “I’m just going to write something terrible for public consumption and try to make a few bucks,” Souder said.

Steinbeck’s writing process typically involved hand-scribbling pages in what Souder called his “microscopic” handwriting. His wife, Carol Henning Steinbeck, a superb editor-in-chief, would type it in next, sometimes making adjustments as we go. It took him a few weeks to type in “Full Moon Murder,” Souder said.

Jones, who is one of the few people who has ever read the book, described the plot (spoilers ahead): The book focuses on a cub reporter who takes a job in the fictional town of Cone City near a dismal and frightening swamp. He was soon drawn into the orbit of a local hunting club. When a member’s dog is killed on a full moon night, the reporter and an eccentric sheriff candidate decide to investigate. More horrific murders of people follow, still under a full moon. Steinbeck’s illustrations include a murder scene.

In order to find the killer – who they begin to suspect could be a superhuman monster from the swamp – investigators apply a crime detection theory based on reading bad murder mysteries. This element gives the novel a “postmodern, ironic feel,” Jones said.

It’s a lost piece of black California, he says. “I think he was making something up here.”

Steinbeck, who dropped out of Stanford, might be surprised that a Stanford professor would ever praise the book. His use of a pen name may seem odd to a modern audience that has become accustomed to authors of literary fiction intermingling with horror and other genres. But when Steinbeck sent the manuscript to a college friend, he told the friend, “I don’t want anyone to know that I have something to do with this,” Souder said.

It’s not clear whether the publishers officially rejected the book or whether Steinbeck ever properly purchased it, Souder said.

Shortly after finishing the novel, Steinbeck found himself with an agent, who sold a more ambitious book, “The Pastures of Heaven,”Begins a new stage in the author’s career. When “Grapes of Wrath” was published in 1939, with its moving story of farm workers forced to migrate from Oklahoma’s depression dust collector, it became an overnight sensation. Other works, like “Cannery Row” and “Of Mice and Men”, have also become classics of the class. Steinbeck died in 1968 at the age of 66.

Solder, who has yet to read “Full Moon Murder,” isn’t as excited as Jones, but he agrees it’s worth posting.

He suggested a compromise: the book should be published “with a scientific introduction or preface that correctly presents it as a book that Steinbeck wrote only in the hope of making a quick buck and not as a book that belongs to the main channel of its development as a book. writer.”

Copyright 2021 The New York Times Company

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