“Tiny Terror: Why Truman Capote (Almost) Wrote Answered Prayers” (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Available now.  Here is the amazon link:  BUY IT.


Wall Street Journal HERE

Creative Loafing, Atlanta HERE

New York Journal of Books HERE

Alabama Writer’s Forum HERE

Sewanee Review, 2012:  “Schultz’s analysis of Capote’s motives can at times become annoying, but for the usual reason astute psychoanalysis is often annoying—because it is so convincing.”

And here’s the book description:

“Truman Capote was one of the most gifted and flamboyant writers of his generation. He’s well known for his first two books, Other Voices, Other Rooms and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and for his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, which most critics called a masterpiece of artistic reportage. What has received comparatively little attention, however, is Capote’s last, unfinished book, Answered Prayers, a merciless skewering of cafe society, of the high class women Capote befriended and called his “swans.” When excerpts appeared he was immediately blacklisted, ruined socially, labeled a pariah, a traitor. Capote recoiled–disgraced, depressed, virtually friendless. In Tiny Terror, William Todd Schultz, one of the world’s most esteemed psychobiographers, examines the perplexing Answered Prayers mystery. Through the use of findings from recent attachment research as well as script theory, Schultz unpacks Capote’s early years in the South, his relationship with his doomed, self-obsessed mother Lillie Mae, and his infinitely colorful childhood in Monroeville, Alabama, where he was raised by eccentric, spinsterish aunts. Particular personality patterns are identified, sets of attachment-related strategies that persisted into adulthood and determined much of what Capote did, felt, said, and wrote, including Answered Prayers. What emerges is a cogent, immensely insightful portrait of an artist on the edge, brilliantly but self-destructively biting the manicured jet set hands that fed him.”


“Ingenious… Deftly disassembles the nuts and bolts of Capote’s mucky psychology: As Mr. Schultz shows in this enjoyable guide through the fetid swamp of the author’s psyche, [Capote] was destined to remain a slave to his infantile impulses.” (Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2011)

In this slim, potent second installment in the publisher’s Inner Lives series, the author eschews the delivery of straightforward biographical facts. Rather, he astutely dissects the inspirations behind Capote’s last, unfinished roman à clef, Answered Prayers, a scorching, sensationalistic tell-all about his “filthy rich” friends, whom he dubbed “swans.” Schultz considers these scathing chapters (several were published in Esquire magazine in 1975–6) as Capote’s final self-defining moments, in which he deliberately “bit down hard on the smooth, socialite hands that fed him.” Curiously, the author acknowledges that the whereabouts of the complete manuscript has become the stuff of legend, if Capote did indeed finish it at all. But “why tattle on trillionaires?” Schultz ponders, as he mines the conception and execution of the author’s literary accomplishments: the ill-fated Answered Prayers, the “homosexual fantasia” of his debut Other Voices, Other RoomsBreakfast at Tiffany’s and his controversial blockbuster masterpiece of American crime, In Cold Blood. He questions why such a hardworking, respected writer would denigrate and systematically betray the privileged circles with which he’d become so ingrained. Was it Capote’s “insecurely attached” childhood, the effects of personal deterioration brought on by a dependence on drugs and alcohol, or had these social luminaries truly slighted him? In contemplating Capote’s many behavioral motivations, Schultz’s lucid academic discourse never shames the author for penning such “pseudonym-free, scorching dismissals” that skewered folks like Jackie and Joe Kennedy, Cole Porter and Ann Woodward, but instead paints the author with compassion as a troubled literary burnout bent on vengeance, lashing out at whomever came closest to him.  A fascinating, erudite deliberation.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“In this amalgam of literary criticism and psychological insight on the life and work of Truman Capote, Schultz (psychology, Pacific University; editor, Handbook of Psychobiography) focuses on Capote’s last, unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, a searing roman à clef, which, after Capote authorized excerpts to be published in Esquire magazine, left him estranged from his “swans”—the high-society women who were formerly his most loyal friends and supporters. Using the technique of psychobiography, i.e., referring to selected biographical details to look at the why rather than the who and what, Schultz draws convincing evidence from Capote’s life and written work to form a plausible theory of why he would create such a vindictive and self-destructive work of art” (Alison M. Lewis, Arts & Humanities Reviews)

“Capote has always been a riddle wrapped in an enigma. When I interviewed Capote over the last three years of his life, he always amused, and sometimes confused. He told me stories with a straight face and earnestness which I accepted as truth — his truth — only to discover other versions of the same story later on. So, what to make of Tiny Terror? Schultz has gone a long way in this brief book to show us how complex, how complicated, how intriguing, and how mystifying Truman Capote was. His work lives on. His character continues to be defined.”

– Lawrence Grobel, author of Conversations with Capote

“A probing, ground-breaking analysis of seemingly inexplicable twists and turns in the life of Truman Capote. Schultz skillfully uses contemporary personality theories to show how Capote’s innate personal qualities and excruciatingly painful childhood experiences combined to produce exceptional works of art. Beautifully written, the book will grip you like a mystery novel.”

– Phillip R. Shaver, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California, Davis, and co-author of Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change

“A fascinating  analysis of the complexities of Capote’s relationships with different sides of himself, with the two murderers he wrote about in In Cold Blood, and with the elite social world he turned savagely against in Answered Prayers.”

– William M. Runyan, Professor, School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Life Histories and Psychobiography

“Schultz, a master psychobiographer, constructs in vivid prose a convincing, multifaceted interpretation of Capote’s work and his ‘consistently inconsistent’ personality. The culmination of 25 years spent studying the infamous author, this work also suggests directions for future theorizing and research in personality psychology.”

– Nicole B. Barenbaum, Professor of Psychology, Sewanee, The University of the South

“A remarkably insightful book” (Book Chase)

3 thoughts on ““Tiny Terror: Why Truman Capote (Almost) Wrote Answered Prayers” (Oxford University Press, 2011)

  1. Hi, Todd. Unfortunately I read a library copy and don’t have it to refer to, but I was struck by what you said about some books never getting written. They are simply too personal, and the author was unable to set up a “firewall” between himself and the material. So how does one go about setting up a firewall? Is there any research on this subject?

    1. Is this from the Capote book or the Arbus? I can’t remember what I was talking about! But I do think that when things are too “hot,” too wrenching or emotionally destructive, it’s a little like staring at the sun. You just can’t do it. It’s just too painful. Not everything can be twisted into art. And a firewall would not work, I’d think, because the more separation there is, the less effective, powerful the art.

  2. Thanks. It’s from the Capote. I’ll have to reread it, because I misunderstood it. The firewall doesn’t help you write, it prevents you from writing. Makes sense (and makes one admire Elliott all the more)…

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