In Writers’ Market, Sales of Miserable Childhoods Soar | HumorOutcasts

In Writers’ Market, Sales of Miserable Childhoods Soar

April 19, 2018

NEEDHAM, Mass.  Harold “Hal” Weller had been a “gypsy” professor of English in the Boston area for most of his working days, sustaining a low-income lifestyle with “adjunct” teaching positions without health benefits at a number of area colleges.  “I wasn’t ever going to write the Great American Novel,” he says with bitter self-effacement, “so I used to pick up every penny in the streets and return my beer bottles for the measly nickel deposit.”

“I’m an unsuccessful writer, and I can teach you my proven strategies for failure.”


As a sideline, Weller took to generating “prompts”–ideas or questions that get blocked writers’ creative juices flowing.  “It’s a minor cottage industry,” says Norm Quinabogin, head of marketing for ThinkWrite, a publisher of print and on-line prompt collections.  “Hal showed a real talent early on for linking the mundane with the mysterious,” pointing to his widely used prompt “You wake up and find your spouse has turned into a dolphin and is doing The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in bed–in ink.  How does it affect your relationship?”

Things were progressing nicely until Weller stumbled upon a report in the Business Section of The Boston Globe that said ThinkWrite’s owner, Hughston-McNary Media, generated $1.137 billion in earnings in its 2016 fiscal year, causing him to feel underpaid at the piecework rate of $100 per prompt.  “I realized I was leaving money on the table,” he says, and he flexed his literary muscle for the first time in his life.  “I decided I was tired of being Hughston-McNary’s wage slave.”

“Oh yeah?  Well I had a whole litter of kittens die when I was a kid.”


But peddling prompts at retail turned out to be more of a chore than Weller expected.  “I’d go down to the town green every weekend, trying to sell ‘You suddenly develop an addiction to pipe cleaners.  Where do you get your ‘fix’ on Saturday night when arts and crafts stores are closed?’  It was like counterfeiting $1 bills, I was getting nowhere.”

But one night in a creative writing class Weller’s frustrations at life boiled over, leaving him with a hot insight.  “I snapped at this ditzy women and said ‘Having ideas to write about is half the battle!  REAL writers don’t need prompts.’  She said ‘I’m sorry, I guess my childhood wasn’t unhappy enough,’ and a business was born.”

Today, Weller presides over a staff of 13 former English majors who crank out unhappy childhoods that, for a one-time set-up charge of $49.95 and an annual maintenance fee of $9.95, provide struggling MFAs with all the angst they need to create works with depth.

“For next week I want you to write about a relative who died in a tragic accident.  Extra credit if you’re responsible.”


“It’s been a godsend,” says Emily Forscht, who grew up in a Buffalo, New York, suburb in comfortable circumstances with a mother whose hobby was diagramming sentences.  “I can’t remember any particular family strife, or kids teasing me, or even blackheads in my T-zone, so I wasn’t equipped to produce the kind of dark, noir fiction that I want to write.”

Weller’s company, Miserable Childhoods ‘R Us, gave Forscht what she was looking for: a fictional history that included a “crack” cocaine-addicted mother, a father who deserts the family to join the professional bowlers’ tour, a twin sister who steals her identify and ruins her credit score, and a tank full of guppies that is decimated by widespread mother-infant cannibalism.

“Okay, who feels most miserable today?”


“Now when I sit down at my computer it’s like somebody opened the floodgates at a hydroelectric dam,” Forscht says as she checks her email for news from her agent, who is fielding competing offers from the five major publishing companies for her coming-of-age memoir, If It’s All the Same, I’d Rather Die.  “Make sure you carve out lunch boxes, backpacks and other children’s product tie-ins,” she taps to her literary representative.  “I want to sell them separately to Disney.”

When Weller is told of the glowing recommendation his former client gives him, a smile of deep satisfaction crosses his face.  “If I can bring newfound misery into just a few lives before I die,” he says over a lump in his throat, “I’ll know that I did not live in vain.”

Con Chapman

I'm a Boston-area writer, author of two novels (most recently "Making Partner"), a baseball book about the Red Sox and the Yankees ("The Year of the Gerbil"), ten published plays and 45 books of humor available in print and Kindle formats on My latest book "Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up!" was released by HumorOutcasts Press last year. My humor has appeared in The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe and Barron's, and I am working on a biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington's long-time alto sax player for Oxford University Press .

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2 Responses to In Writers’ Market, Sales of Miserable Childhoods Soar

  1. April 21, 2018 at 4:46 am

    Well … I *thought* my childhood was unhappy enough … but maybe I was wrong.

  2. April 19, 2018 at 10:07 pm

    Hilarious. I’m sharing this on my Library Laughs Facebook page.

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