INTERVIEWER: You went to Europe to make your living as a fiction writer in 1950, when you were twenty-eight; you gave yourself two years to make a go of it- if you couldn’t make a living from your writing, you would quit. Did you have any doubts during those first two years?
GALLANT: It’s difficult to live on writing, especially the kind I produce. I set off without the least idea of what the difficulties would be. The only time I felt that I had made a terrible mistake was near the beginning, when I was living in Madrid. I had taken an agent in New York, someone who had written me when my first story appeared in The New Yorker. I looked up his name in a book called something like The Artists and Writers Yearbook in the USIS library in Salzburg. I thought it would be a good thing to have an agent in America because I was moving around all the time; it didn’t occur to me that someone with his name listed in such a book might not be respectable— it still puzzles me. I sent him stories, which he said he was unable to place. The truth was that he did place the stories but kept the money. To keep The New Yorker from finding out he wasn’t paying me, he had told the magazine my address was Poste Restante, Capri. The letters The New Yorker sent were returned, of course, but no one there knew much about me, and they might easily have thought I was some sort of lunatic who did not pick up her mail. The result was that by the spring of 1952, in Madrid, I was destitute. I don’t mean hard up; I mean lacking in everything from food to paper to write on. But the worst of it was my belief that no one wanted to publish my work-I believed the agent when he said he appreciated the stories, but no one else did.
Then one day in Madrid, I came across a copy of The New Yorker (I don’t remember where or how, for I could not have afforded to buy it) that to my intense astonishment contained a story of mine.
Gallant’s agent, Jacques Chambrun*, embezzled $1,535 in royalties from her, however, the incident spurred her friendship with New Yorker fiction editor William Maxwell. Chambrun had also embezzled money from W. Somerset Maugham, Ben Hecht, Grace Metalious, and Jack Schaefer, among others.
*“A charlatan and bogus count, Chambrun was an ugly man with “a certain charm and elegance. Everything about him gave off an aura of prosperity and good-natured joie de vivre.” Chambrun, who’d been Somerset Maugham’s wartime agent, “not only charged exorbitant commissions of 20 to 30 percent, but also kept more than $30,000 of Maugham’s royalties.” Chambrun, true to form, forged Hecht’s signature on a contract, secretly sold Marilyn’s story to a London tabloid, the, for £1,000 and kept all the money.”-The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, Jeffrey Meyers, University of Illlinois Press.
“Tell me a story,” the bearded man sitting on my living-room sofa commands. The situation, I must say, is anything but pleasant. I’m someone who writes stories, not someone who tells them. And even that isn’t something I do on demand. The last time anyone asked me to tell him a story, it was my son. That was a year ago. I told him something about a fairy and a ferret—I don’t even remember what exactly—and within two minutes he was fast asleep. But the situation is fundamentally different. Because my son doesn’t have a beard, or a pistol. Because my son asked for the story nicely, and this man is simply trying to rob me of it.
I try to explain to the bearded man that if he puts his pistol away it will only work in his favor, in our favor. It’s hard to think up a story with the barrel of a loaded pistol pointed at your head. But the guy insists. “In this country,” he explains, “If you want something, you have to use force.” He just got here from Sweden, and in Sweden it’s completely different. Over there, if you want something, you ask politely, and most of the time you get it. But not in the stifling, muggy Middle East.”
From AmericanFolklore.net, which has an excellent index of stories:
Why Opossum has a Pouch (Koasati Tribe)
One evening, Opossum was playing in a field with her babies when Big Bat came swooping down and grabbed all of the little ones and carried them away. Opossum shouted and begged for Bat to bring her babies back to her, but he would not. Bat put the little opossums into a deep hole in the rock and watched over them there.
Opossum walked around and around the forest, crying for her babies. When Wolf heard her wails, he came to her and asked what was wrong. “Big Bat has taken my babies from me and he will not give them back,” she told him.
Read the rest here.