It’s the birthday of O. Henry (books by this author), born William Sidney Porter in Greensboro, North Carolina (1862). His mother died when he was a kid, and he was raised by various relatives and headed off to Texas when he was 15. He worked as a hired hand on a sheep ranch, and he fell in love with a wealthy young woman. They got married and had a daughter. He got a respectable job at a bank, and then as a reporter for the Houston Post. But the bank was audited after he left, and he was arrested on charges of embezzling money. His wife’s father posted bail for him, but before his trial he ran away, heading to Louisiana and then to Honduras. His wife was too sick with tuberculosis to meet him there, and heartbroken, he went back to Texas and turned himself in so that he could be with his wife while she died. Afterward, he was sentenced to prison for five years. It was while he was in jail that his writing career really took off – he published 14 stories before he was let out for good behavior after three years. He would send his stories to a friend who would send them to publishers, so no one ever suspected that O. Henry was writing from jail.
When the New York Times asked O. Henry if he had any advice for young writers, he wrote: “I’ll give you the sole secret of short-story writing, and here it is: Rule 1. Write stories that please yourself. There is no rule 2. The technical points you can get from Bliss Perry. If you can’t write a story that pleases yourself, you will never please the public. But in writing the story forget the public.”
reposted from Writer’s Almanac.