Unpublished Novel: Excerpts from Part Four, Chapters 31 and 35

Chapter Thirty-One: The Rejection Letters

Here follows Bob’s correspondence from jail, with his friend and author Edmund Keeley, who was an assistant professor at Princeton. Bob mightily flogged this one connection, towards the end of getting published. But as it evolved, Edmund Keeley turned out to be not part of some grand cohesive zeitgeist of literature, such as they have in France. No, American writers are a shamble lot.

I’m now opening the package of letters to and from “Mike,” aka the author Keeley. Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Princeton University. Typed in Courier with a manual typewriter, the imprint still deep, of the mechanical arm striking onto the creamy pages.

It is marked with the ‘Reformatory Div.-Lorton, VA.’ purple stamp. ‘Department of Corrections,’ and another stamp ‘G 2.’ Perhaps his cell number.

January 7, 1958

Dear Bob,

I received your manuscript two days ago and have managed, after dark, to finish it. I must say that it held my interest all the way.

[Daddy’s famous red pencil makes an appearance here! He’s underlined, in the soft red lead, ‘it held my interest all the way.’]

I am not going to give you a detailed criticism at this time as I want to have another go at it later (in the meantime I am going to show it to a friend who is better capable than I am of making a practical judgement).

[The following section is underlined in the red pencil:]

I can say that some of the scenes strike me as impressive — sometimes moving, sometimes delightfully humorous, sometimes brilliantly vulgar.

[But the red pencil stops at the constructive criticism:]

Others strike me as unnecessarily exaggerated, or irrelevant, or sometimes simply ineffective. My reaction to the style is mixed: at times it works, at times it doesn’t. You are terribly taken by large dictionary words which you sometime use inaccurately (I was too in my first, unpublished novel, so this is a common failing of the beginner – you would say ‘neophyte).

[Sic all errors, to show how the guy sucks at punctuation.]

You also have marvelous capacity for resurrecting cliches, sometimes effectively, sometimes disastrously. But I am making a strictly literary judgement, and, as a writer, my judgement is necessarily subjective; what strikes me as a cliche may not strike others so.

[[Red pencil] I find your historical reminiscences most fascinating [/Red pencil]

…others, who do not know Georgetown, might not; so this is again a subjective judgement.

[Red pencil] On the whole, I am amazed by the quality of the best in the novel [/Red pencil] especially since you have written it, as you say, under almost impossible conditions. As far as I am concerned, there is every reason why you should finish it, and I am eager to find out what happens to all these strange people.

I cannot, after all, give a critical estimate of the whole until I have seen the whole, but

[Red pencil] I quite sincerely believe that what I have seen so far is promising [/Red pencil]

About its commercial possibilities I can say nothing as I am no fit judge in this area; I would guess that it does have possibilities, but there is little substance to my guess. Perhaps I can be of more help to you when I next write.

It is a marvelous experience to write a novel, and the final satisfaction is so highly personal that anything I say (or anything anyone else says, for that matter) is beside the point. For God’s sake keep at it. And let me see the next section when you have completed it.

How the hell are you?

[Signed in blue-black ink] Mike

P.S. I won a prize for THE LIBATION that involves a free year in Rome, but it isn’t selling worth a damn. Still, I can’t complain. The critical reception was grand, for what that is worth.

PPS. Let me know when this reaches you. I am not sure I have addressed it correctly.

PPPS. Just how specific do you want my comments to be?

[Am I over-sensitive, or is it unpardonably rude to tell a man in a cell you’ve got a free year in Rome, and on the back of an unread, non-selling but anyhow PUBLISHED novel…? And please, GRAND? Shudder.

Can we assume that reference to having Bob’s having… ‘written it, as you say, under almost impossible conditions’ meant that he had written in jail? Or possibly that he was writing it during the period of indictment and trial… Because subsequent letters in April and June of 1958 are concerned with the impending incarceration.

This next letter was a carbon copy, the typeface soft and blurry…]

Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
Department of English

April 19, 1958

Mr. Edward W. Garrett
Chief Probation Officer
U.S. District Court for D.C.
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Garrett:

Mr. Robert Sellers has asked me to send you a character reference in his behalf. I can say, after an acquaintance with Mr. Sellers that extends back to my childhood, that I have seldom met a man of gayer spirit, subtler wit, and more sprightly intellect.

There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Sellers would have become an intellectual leader in his community if he had had the good fortune that, for example, I have had. As it is, he has had to struggle all his life with the problems that arise from an unhappy family background and hard economic necessity.

The fact that these became too much for him at one point in his life is understandable, and it is my feeling that his case should be viewed with tolerance. I am sure Mr. Sellers has the qualities that can make him an outstanding citizen if he is given another chance.

Yours sincerely,
Edmund L. Keeley
Assistant Professor of English

[In his signature blue-black ink he’s written “Copy” at the top, and inscribed a message to Bob:]

“O.K. Bashful, Will this do? Who the hell am I to give a character reference? Have you read my novel, or just heard about it? Let me know what you think of it. What are you doing with yourself? – and I am not trying to be funny! I would like a little more information.

Regards to the family.


[The envelope is still stapled to the letter, with a purple three-cent stamp affixed with Miss Liberty upon it. Dated April 20, 1958, the postmark reads “PRAY FOR PEACE.” Bob was still living with us on Dana Place, and I was in kindergarten.]

June 10, 1958
Mrs. J. Robert Sellers
5303 Dana Place, N.W. # 2012
Washington 16, D.C.

Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
Department of English

Dear Gloria, I appreciated very much hearing from you, though your letter conveyed sad news. I was hoping that they would give Bob a suspended sentence, but I guess the lawyer did as well by him as he could. One year in prison is no joy, but it could have been worse, and I am sure he will come out on both feet and ready to go again. Tell him to drop me a line when he gets a chance, that is, as soon as he feels like it. I would enjoy hearing from him. And you let me know if I can do anything to help.

We are about to set sail for Greece on a freighter but we will be back in Princeton in September. Good luck to you both.


P.S. Tell Bob that I expect him to finish that novel now that he will have time on his hands. I’m serious.

[Time on his hands… What a card. Then, six months later:]

December 6, 1958
Princeton University
Princeton New Jersey
Department of English

Dear Gloria,

Do by all means arrange for me to see Bob’s novel. As you know I have always been interested in his possibilities, and I would be happy to give him my opinion, for what it’s worth. I might also be able to get him the opinion of my editor regarding publication possibilities if he so wishes. Would it be feasible for him to write me? I would like to hear how he is getting on.

I am glad that you and the children are well. I admire you for your courage.

Best, Mike

P.S. Tell Bob that fiction is a great act of devotion these days. It doesn’t sell worth a damn.

[At least yours doesn’t, Mike. The envelope tells us this went to:

Mrs. Gloria R. Sellers
3100 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Apt. 212
Washington 8, D.C.

with a magenta four-cent Abe Lincoln stamp. Dated December 5, 1958, the postmark reads “PRAY FOR PEACE.” It was sent two days after Bob’s 32nd birthday.]

Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
Department of English

March 3, 1959

Dear Bob,

I have been waiting to answer your cheerful note until I heard from my friend in the business. Sadly he has gone off to England for a month without reading your manuscript, so I have neither his opinion nor the novel itself. Actually I will not be able to get back to it until later in the term, when things ease up a bit. So his flight does not make that much difference. Perhaps it does to you.

With not too much difficulty I could recover it, and return it to you now if you have a pressing need for it. Let me know. Otherwise I will return it this spring, and if I can’t get an opinion out of this friend, I have others in the business.

[I find this just so incredibly painful. A man in a cell, completely out of control, and his book is being dandled about, misplaced, lost, forgotten, but oh we can get it back ‘if you have a pressing need for it.’ Yeah, Mike I’ve just run out of toilet paper. Egad.]

In the meantime, keep at it. It must be some large satisfaction to you because you have written so much already. It is strange, I suppose, to say so, but I envy you your energy; I put a novel away two months ago and am just about to get back to it, which means probably no more than a few hours a day. You seem to be writing at full speed under much more awkward circumstances. I suppose in this business circumstances are more internal, more psychological, than otherwise. At least you are writing and I am not.”

[Oh those delicate ‘awkward circumstances!’ What an utter ass! What my father wouldn’t have given to waste some time in a bar-room, with his kids, rather than be writing. It reminds me of those who vaunt the Marquis De Sade’s imprisonment as a gift to literature. One he’d rather not have given.]

But I will be next week, if it means cutting out my tongue or another other organ that is getting in the way of my deamon.”

[I believe the bloodie English Professor means DAEMON, a guiding spirit. Pfft.]

I’ll be writing again. As the British say, keep your pecker up — and they don’t mean pecker.

Best, Mike

Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
Department of English

April 19, 1959

Dear Bob, Your manuscript is now back in my hands, and I am enclosing a report by one of the readers that I mentioned. The second reader that I had in mind is back from England, and I am going to turn it over to him next to get you a second opinion, since you say you will not be able to work on the revision immediately in any case.

I think I agree with Richardson that it would be a mistake for any one at this point to go over the manuscript word for word. You should do that yourself once you have completed the thing and gained a certain perspective on it. In other words, I don’t want to substitute my taste for yours, and I think that you will develop taste regarding your own work if some time elapses between drafts. In any case, I am willing to go over a section of it carefully to give you a sense of my taste, if you feel that this will be helpful. I would however, rather wait to see your second draft.

I’ll let you know what the second reader thinks as soon as he has looked at the manuscript.

I hope you make it in June. Let me know. Where should I return the opus when we have all had our say?

Best, “Mike”

[What is this veiled insult about developing taste… something he must do? Something ‘Mike’ has in plenitudes, that he doesn’t want to infect Bob with? He will develop taste “if some time elapses” – well, what else is going to happen?

Now follows the big letter from J.B. Lippincott Company. I wonder how many times Daddy read this letter, how many hours he spent thinking about it. He probably had it memorized.]

On the right hand side:
B. Lippincott Company
Publishers since 1792
Philadelphia . New York . Chicago . Montreal

New York Office
521 Fifth Avenue
PO Zone 17

VAnderbilt 6-3980

On the left hand side, the purple stamp, 4 inches by 3 inches:


April 16, 1959

To: Edmund Keeley, Esq.
Department of English
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

Dear Mike:

I have now read your friend’s novel and, as I promised here are a few comments he might find helpful. I think

[Red Pencil]
he is at his best when he is dealing with straight narrative. His descriptions of physical appearances are good. His handling of the passage of time is adequate
[/Red Pencil]

but I am afraid he is weakest in his interior monologues which have a habit of dominating this novel. The one rule I would give him is dramatize, dramatize!

[Red Pencil]His descriptions of women are very good [/Red Pencil]

but, as I have noted above, when he attempts to explain how the hero feels about his girl friends, he loses his grasp on the reader.

[Red Pencil]
He is also given to movie-like scenes. This is very good — Dos Passos got away with it — when it’s well done. [/Red Pencil]

But all too frequently in this manuscript the only effect achieved is one of choppiness.

[Now wait a minute… the ‘ch’ in that last word… appears to have been written over. Could one be thinking… this editor might have said — ‘sloppiness?’

Did Bob write ‘CH’ over an ‘SL?’ I held the page up to bright sunlight.

Oh Bob… that’s definitely a typewritten ‘S’ under the ‘C.’ But there is no way to tell if there is an ‘L’ under that ‘H.’

Well, the ‘S’ tells all. Bob could not bear to see the word ‘sloppiness’ written in his assessment, so he cleverly substituted a more analytical terminology, one that does not so awfully dismiss the writer for his inattention… No, he is merely guilty of a ‘choppy’ effect — never any ‘sloppy’ one!

How many hours of reading that painful letter… did Bob put in, before he edited it into tolerability.]

page two

I would advise him to attempt to maintain a rather more flowing narrative, utilizing length and more sustained scenes.

These are random comments. I hope they will be of some use. I think a line by line critique of this book would be a mistake at this stage. The author ought to consider this as a prolonged writing exercise. The manuscript goes back to you under separate cover with my thanks.


Sandy [black ink signature]

[Thanks for what? For the joy of referring to my father’s precious first novel as a prolonged writing exercise… not really a novel at all? Dashed hopes, and that bloodie acknowledgement… it’s not good enough, not good enough… yet!

Yet this letter wasn’t written to Bob, it wasn’t even meant for his eyes. How could that bastard Mike have sent it on to him like that, thoroughly raw?]

from: Stewart Richardson

J. B. Lippincott Company
Publishers since 1792
Philadelphia . New York . Chicago . Montreal

New York Office
521 Fifth Avenue
PO Zone 17

VAnderbilt 6-3980

May 20, 1959

Mr.J. R. Sellers
Box 25
Lorton, Virginai

Dear Mr. Sellers: Thanks you for your kind letter. I do look forward to hearing more from you. I think that your book shows a great deal of promise.

Cordially yours,

Stewart Richardson [black ink signature]

Stewart Richardson

[Yes, a book, a book! All is not lost.

If some TIME Elapses.. and then later, the man at Scribner’s saying there was NO TIME to work with the unknown author.

I am thinking of how he anyhow made himself into a great stylist… reading all those letters of appreciation in his files, all the accolades for his book reviews, how happy he made people and entertained them with his writing…

Egads I am totally bummed out now, crying like crazy, pissed off at all these snobs, who wouldn’t go all the way with him.]


Chapter Thirty-Five: Books By Bob

How to Lose Friends and Influence Empty Barstools, by Bob Carnegie

Tender is My Elbow, by Bob Scott Fitzgerald

Farewell to Brain-cells, by Bob Hemingway

Drunk House, by Bob Dickens

Bob Flew Into the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Bob Kesey

The Man in the Grey Flannel Lampshade, by Bob Wilson

120 Days of Boredom, by the Marquis de Bob

The Pits and the Pails of Rum, by Bob Allan Poe

Raging Bullshit: the Story of Bob La Motta

A Streetcar Named…uh, I forget, by Bob Williams

Waiting for The Tab, by Bob Beckett

Wet Lunch, by Bob Burroughs

Drinkula, by Bob Stoker

Tropic of Whiskey Burn, by Bob Miller

Of Sons and Moochers, by Bob H. Lawrence

Decline & Fall Down Go Boom, by Bob Waugh

Bob Shrugged, by Bob Rand

Of Mice & Martinis, by Bob Steinbeck

I’m Okay – You’re Not: Self-Help by Bob

Tender is My Conscience, by Bob Scott Fitzgerald

The Tell-Tale Bank Account, by Bob Allan Poe

Crime & Punishment & Punishment & Punishment & Punishment by Bobbydor Dostoyevsky

Metamorphosis – Not, by Bob Kafka

The Albatross, by Bob Baudelaire

In Cold Gin, by Bob Capote

The Tin Bum, by Bob Grass

To Have Not & To Have Not, by Bob Hemingway

The Fountain-Mouth, by Bob Rand

Flunky, by Bob Burroughs

Heart of Dimness, by Bob Conrad

The Naked & the Drunk, by Bob Mailer

The Will to Failure, by Bob Nietzsche

Bob in Blunderland; or Through the Drinking-Glass, by Bob Carroll

One Hundred Years of Inebriation, by Bob Garcia-Marquez

Au Revoir Brain-Cells, by Bob Sagan

Valley of the Bores, by Bobbie Suzanne

Strangers on a Binge, by Bob Highsmith

The Drunkest Hour, by Bob Churchill

A Tale of Self-Pity, by Bob Dickens

The Dim Man, by Bob Hammett

Fear of Last Call, by Bob Jong

I Never Promised You a Hard-on, by Bob Green

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Drunk, by Bob Joyce

As Bob would have commented: “Very fucking clever.”

As derived by Terence Sellers, Daughter of Bob


Copyright and All Rights Reserved
by Terence Sellers