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Monday, October 16, 2017

A 'charmed' writing life


“Most people are so busy knocking themselves out trying to do everything they think they should do, they never get around to doing what they want to do.” – Kathleen Winsor

Born in the small Minnesota town of Olivia on this date in 1919, Winsor is best known for her 1944 historical novel Forever Amber, a runaway bestseller (more than 3 million copies sold) and the first of 7 books that she would write.   A newspaper sportswriter first (one of the first female sportswriters), she started writing the book after her first husband did research on King Charles II of England.  It sparked Winsor’s interest in the era known as “The Restoration” and started her along a path toward her massive bestseller.

While Forever Amber tells the story of orphaned Amber St. Clare, who makes her way up through the ranks of 17th century English society, the subplot follows Charles as he returns from exile and adjusts to ruling England.   Winsor spent years researching the period, including reading hundreds of books on the era.  Her nearly 1,000-page novel (edited down from almost 5,000 pages) includes vivid portrayals of Restoration fashion, lifestyles and customs and of politics and public disasters like The Plague and the Great Fire of London.

The book made Winsor a worldwide celebrity and ultimately led to her second hit novel, 1950’s Star Money, based loosely on her experience of becoming a best-selling novelist.  
                                  Married 4 times, Winsor became a leading light in California and New York Society circles and was known for her wit and charm, to which she once replied,  “Charm, you know, is simply the ability to make someone else think that both of you are pretty wonderful.”   She died in 2003.



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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Exploring 'the rhythm' of words


“I think with all my books, language has been their subject as much as anything else. Language can elide or displace or sideline whole groups of people. You can't necessarily change the way language is used, but if it becomes something you're conscious of... that gives you a certain power over it.” – Kate Grenville

Born on this date in 1950, Kate Grenville is an Australian writer and author of15 books – including fiction, non-fiction, biography and books about the writing process.  Winner of both the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and Britain’s prestigious Orange Prize, she has had her works published worldwide.  Grenville’s writing career started in film before she wrote a collection of highly regarded short stories in the early 1980s.  Her 1985 novel Lilian’s Story established her reputation as one of Australia’s best fiction writers.  The multiple award-winning book also was made into a successful movie in 1996. 

In the 2000s, Grenville has explored Australia’s colonial past and relationships among its peoples in her acclaimed books The Secret River, The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornhill.      A teacher of writing, too, Grenville has written or co-written several widely used books about the writing process.  

“I read a lot of poetry, and I love what it does with language,” Grenville said.  “I love music, too, and I think there's probably no coincidence there, that the rhythm of the words is almost as important as the words themselves, and when you can get the two working together, which usually takes me about 20 goes, I feel a huge satisfaction.”






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Saturday, October 14, 2017

And that's why we're 'we'


“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” – e. e. cummings
          Born on this date in 1894, Edward Estlin "E. E." Cummings wrote approximately 2,900 poems; 2 autobiographical novels; 4 plays and several essays and was one of the eminent “voices” of 20th century English-language literature.  Cummings' poetry often dealt with themes of love and nature but some, he said, “were just for fun.”  For Saturday’s Poem, here is cummings’
                        If
If freckles were lovely, and day was night,
And measles were nice and a lie warn’t a lie,
Life would be delight,—
But things couldn’t go right
For in such a sad plight
I wouldn’t be I.

If earth was heaven and now was hence,
And past was present, and false was true,
There might be some sense
But I’d be in suspense
For on such a pretense
You wouldn’t be you.

If fear was plucky, and globes were square,
And dirt was cleanly and tears were glee
Things would seem fair,—
Yet they’d all despair,
For if here was there
We wouldn’t be we.


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Thursday, October 12, 2017

This is what you have to do


“I write because I write - as anyone in the arts does. You're a painter because you feel you have no choice but to paint. You're a writer because this is what you do.” – Richard Price

Born on this date in 1949, Price is both a novelist and screenwriter, known for the books The Wanderers and Clockers. Price's novels explore late-20th century urban America in a gritty, realistic manner that has brought him considerable literary acclaim.

His award-winning screenplays including two of the most popular HBO series’ – The Wire and The Night Of – and the Academy Award nominated The Color of Money.

A native of The Bronx, Price studied at both Cornell University and Columbia University and started writing while still in college, achieving success in both creative writing and with his essays in such prestigious journals as Esquire and The New Yorker.   A popular and much sought-after writing teacher, he has done numerous stints at many major universities.         

His advice to students is to develop your characters and then let them grow with your writing.  “You can't take a character anywhere they don't expect the character to go,” he said.  “But within those confines is where creativity lies.”


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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Writing those 'all-inclusive' characters


“I love the characters not knowing everything and the reader knowing more than them. There's more mischief in that and more room for seriousness, too. “ – Anne Enright

Born in Ireland on this date in 1962, Enright says she grew up enjoying writing but didn’t start writing in earnest until the age of 21 when her family gave her an electric typewriter for her birthday.  She started as a television writer, producing both adult and children’s programming while at the same time doing a series of short stories, published in 1991 as the award-winning collection The Portable Virgin.

Since then, her writing has won numerous awards including the Man Booker Prize for her 2007 novel The Gathering, which also won the Irish Novel of the Year Award in 2008.   Widely praised for her characterizations, particularly of women, she noted, “I think it's very important to write a demythologized woman character. My characters are flawed. They are no better than they should be.”
 
       Enright's works have regularly appeared The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and the Irish Times.   Once a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4, she now reviews for The Guardian, is a frequent lecturer, and just completed a term as the inaugural Laureate of Irish Fiction.
 
Her advice to writers is to bring in all aspects of a character’s life.  “There's no such thing as a life that is not normal, or, there's no such thing as a life that is not abnormal,” she said.  “We all have amazing lives; we all have very dull lives.”




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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A person who 'cares' what words mean


 “A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight.  By using words well they strengthen their souls.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

An “October baby,” Le Guin celebrates her 88th birthday this month at her home in Portland, Ore. First published in the 1960s, Le Guin has often depicted futuristic or imaginary alternative worlds in politics, the natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality and ethnography. 

Her writing has influenced such Booker Prize winners and other writers as Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell – and notable science fiction and fantasy writers like Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks.   She has won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award, each more than once.                 In 2014, she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. 
          
In 2016, The New York Times described her as "America's greatest living science fiction writer,” although she has said she would prefer to be known simply as "American novelist.”

“I don't write tracts, I write novels. I'm not a preacher, I'm a fiction writer,” Le Guin said.  “I get a lot of moral guidance from reading novels, so I guess I expect my novels to offer some moral guidance, but they're not blueprints for action, ever.”


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Monday, October 9, 2017

'Listening in' to document life


“The great advantage of being a writer is that you're there, listening to every word, but part of you is observing. Everything is useful to a writer, you see - every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.” – Graham Greene

Greene's quote also is interesting in that he was believed to have worked as a spy for the British government during World War II and beyond while continuing to hone his writing career.   Born on this day in 1904, he is regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, reinforced by author John Irving, who described him as "the most accomplished living novelist in the English language." 
  
Shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Greene produced 25 novels that mostly explored the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world.  He also wrote short stories, essays, plays and movie scripts and worked as a journalist during a 67-year career.  He was working as an editor on The Times of London when his first novel, The Man Within, was published in 1929 to immediate critical acclaim.   In 1941, he won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize for his masterpiece The Power and the Glory.          
 
                                  Considered one of the most “cinematic” of 20th century writers (nearly all of his novels and many of his short stories were made into movies or television shows), his characters are both interesting and controversial, for which Greene had a logical explanation.   “(You know) the moment comes when a character does or says something you hadn't thought about.  At that moment he's alive and you just have to leave it to him to do whatever he prefers.”




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