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Dick Wimmer dies at 74; author whose well-reviewed novel was rejected 162 times

Dick Wimmer, a longtime Agoura Hills resident, once held the record for being history's most-rejected published novelist. After his 1989 breakthrough, 'Irish Wine,' he saw several other works reach print and taught writing at more than two dozen colleges.

May 23, 2011|By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
  • Since 1968, Dick Wimmer had taught English and creative writing and been affiliated with 28 colleges, his family said. He also edited a number of well-regarded nonfiction books about sports, and wrote the screenplay for the 1982 TV movie The Million-Dollar Infield, which featured Rob Reiner.
Since 1968, Dick Wimmer had taught English and creative writing and been… (Spencer Weiner, Los Angeles…)

Creative-writing instructor Dick Wimmer's best lesson for would-be authors may have had more to do with persistence than prose.

His first novel, the well-reviewed "Irish Wine," was published in 1989 after being turned down by publishers and agents 162 times over more than 25 years.

He once laid claim to being history's most-rejected published novelist.

At the time, his closest official competition was Steven Goldberg's "The Inevitability of Patriarchy," which sold after 69 rejections, the Guinness Book of World Records told The Times in 1989.

Wimmer, who also edited books about sports, died unexpectedly Wednesday at his Agoura Hills home of heart complications, said his son Geordie.He was 74.

"I don't want it to be a freak of fiction," Wimmer said in 1989 in The Times of "Irish Wine." "I would like the book to hold up on its own merits."

It did.

The New York Times raved about the book the year it came out, calling it a "taut, finely written, exhaustingly exuberant first novel."

The Los Angeles Times said Wimmer had encased "the zany saga in an enchanted aura by couching it entirely in the stream-of-consciousness prose hallowed by James Joyce and disciples."

The idea for "Irish Wine" came to Wimmer during his early 1960s honeymoon. After the book's 80th or so rejection, he streamlined the story that he always believed was good enough to be published, he said in the 1989 Times interview.

"Irish Wine" tells the tale of a reunion between a brash Irish painter, Seamus Boyne, and a would-be writer from America.

Two sequels followed, the well-reviewed 1998 comic novel "Boyne's Lassie" and "Hagar's Dream," published with the two earlier books as "Irish Wine Trilogy" in 2001.

He was born Richard Samuel Wimmer on June 18, 1936, in New York City to Sidney Wimmer, who owned a pest control company, and his wife, Frances.

After growing up on Long Island, Wimmer earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 1958 and master's degrees in English from Yale University in 1959 and Columbia University in 1974.

His marriage ended in divorce in the late 1970s, about the same time he moved to Agoura Hills.

Since 1968, Wimmer had taught English and creative writing and had been affiliated with 28 colleges, his family said. He taught at Los Angeles Valley College this spring.

He edited a number of well-regarded nonfiction books about sports. They included "The Schoolyard Game," a 1993 collection of basketball writing, and the 1997 anthology "The Gridiron Game."

Wimmer also wrote the screenplay for the 1982 TV movie "The Million-Dollar Infield," which featured Rob Reiner.

"It's probably harder to get a novel published than to make a movie," Wimmer once said, even though his second attempt at becoming a published author was far easier than the first.

"Boyne's Lassie" was turned down 83 times, he later said, before finally making it into print.

In addition to his son Geordie of Agoura Hills, Wimmer is survived by another son, Ceo, of Pasadena, Md., and four grandchildren.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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