Before 1980, my pursuit of a professional writing career included checking the Los Angeles Times classified ads under “W”. There I discovered an ad from “The People’s Almanac” (the series of pop reference books edited by Irving Wallace and his family) soliciting ideas for “The Book of Lists”. I ended up getting paid for two lists (one of “crown princes” and the other of “musicians famous for something else”) that never got published, and was definately on their “B” list of contributors when they sent me a letter asking if I’d be interested in writing for a new project of theirs: “The People’s Almanac Presents the Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People”.
The “Famous People” of the title were all deceased (avoiding various legal issues), and most were historically so. My first assignment was the pessimist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and the editors provided me with research material – two biographies, 50 to 75 years old at the time. Being written long before anyone thought of publishing “Intimate Sex Lives” books, both volumes required a lot of ‘reading between the lines’ to extract much of a sexual biography. And a couple weeks after I sent in my thousand words, I got back a tactfully worded request to rewrite it, in which the Assistant Editor (no relative of Irving Wallace) pointed out that I had failed to note that Schopenhauer had died of complications from syphillis.
Obviously, I hadn’t read nearly enough between the lines. I felt like I had just flunked History, Philosophy, Creative Writing and Sex Education on the same day.