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Friday, August 18, 2017

Stepping into other's lives

“I think of novels as houses. You live in them over the course of a long period, both as a reader and as a writer.” – Nicole Krauss

Born on this date in 1974, Krauss is an American author best known for her novels Man Walks Into a Room, The History of Love (also made into a 2016 movie), and Great House, all multiple award winners translated into 35 languages.  Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker and Harper's and been collected in Best American Short Stories – both the 2003 and 2008 editions.

Her much anticipated next novel, Forest Dark, is scheduled for publication in September.   “To me,” she noted, “… the singular privilege of reading literature (is) we are allowed to step into another's life.”    
A graduate of Stanford, where she studied English, Krauss also earned a scholarship to Oxford, honing her writing skills while earning a master’s in art history.

Being “clear” in your writing – making things understandable – is the best advice she gives to new writers.  “If the book is a mystery to its author as she's writing, inevitably it's going to be a mystery to the reader as he or she reads it.”

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Heart, head, hand - the writing art

“What can't be said can be written. Because writing is a silent act, a labor from the head to the hand.” – Herta Muller

Born on this date in 1953, Nobel Prize winner Muller is a German novelist, poet and essayist noted for her works depicting the effects of violence, cruelty and terror.  Her primary setting has been Communist Romania under the repressive Nicolae Ceaușescu regime, which she experienced herself as a child and young woman.

Also winner of the International Dublin Literary Award and the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award, she was described by the Swedish Nobel Institute as a woman "… who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.”

A one-time translator,             Muller's  books have usually been written in German then re-released in multiple languages, beginning with her award-winning and very gripping novel The Passport.    Also a teacher, she said writing has been an integral part of her life since childhood.

“In writing, one searches,” she said,  “and that is what keeps one writing, that one sees and experiences things from another angle entirely; one experiences oneself during the process of writing.”

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The inspiration of Will Rogers

“If you want to be successful, it's just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.” – Will Rogers

            Yesterday marked the anniversary of the tragic death of Rogers, one of America's great humorists and homespun philosophers.   Rogers died in a plane crash with aviator Wiley Post as they were flying into Alaska in 1935.  At the time, he was perhaps as well known – if not more well known – than any figure in the world.

              Noted for his saying, "I never met a man I didn't like," Rogers had almost daily statements about everything from culture to politics, shared in many of his more than 4,000 essays written for his widely circulated newspaper column.  He also did hundreds of talks on a syndicated radio show, and appeared in more than 50 movies. 
                  I put a young Will Rogers (age 15) into my historical novel And The Wind Whispered, based on a real life adventure he became embroiled in while traveling by train to the Southern Black Hills with two young Oklahoma ranching friends.  A couple years ago, just after the publication of that novel, I was invited to visit the Rogers boyhood home, and then tour the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, Okla.  Both stops are wonderful experiences and a great opportunity to share in the culture, history and writings of this unique storyteller.  He was an inspiration for my writing before and even more so after.                  
                “Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save,” Rogers once said.   Remember, even if you are on the right track,” he said, “you will get run over if you just sit there.”

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Creating those 'unsettling' settings

“A good writer can set a thriller anywhere and make it convincing: the trick is to evoke the setting in such a way that it highlights the crime or unsettles the reader.”  Garry Disher

Born on this date in 1949, Disher is one of Australia’s best-known authors.  Raised on a farm in a remote region of South Australia, he decided in childhood to become a writer, influenced by his love of reading – something he encourages all writers to do religiously – and  his father’s original bedtime storytelling. 

After studying at Adelaide University, he worked abroad and traveled widely before returning to Australia for his master's degree, and to begin his formal writing career.  His success with short stories for both literary magazines and competitions led to a prestigious creative-writing fellowship at Stanford University.      

A full-time writer since 1988, he’s published nearly 50 books ranging from general/literary novels (Steal Away) and crime thrillers (Wyatt) to story collections, fiction for children and teenagers, and creative writing handbooks and texts.

Also a creative writing teacher for many years, he said he finds all types of writing interesting and challenging.  “I have no favorite genre or style but treat each novel with the same care, imagination and craftsmanship,” Disher said.  “It's as difficult to write a crime or a children's novel with a touch of style and grace as it is a literary novel.”

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Words that 'strengthen the soul'

“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

Science fiction and fantasy writer Le Guin, who celebrates her 88th birthday this fall, has won dozens of annual "year's best" literary awards. For novels alone she has won five Locus, four Nebula, two Hugo, and one World Fantasy Award.  Most recently, she won the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Related Work for a collection of essays entitled Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016.     

A writer since the age of 11, Le Guin has written dozens of short stories, essays, poems and children’s books to complement her numerous novels.  She also is a noted speaker and has worked in both radio and film.  In 2000 she was named a living legend by the U.S. Library of Congress for her contributions to America’s cultural heritage.

"Storytellers and poets spend their lives learning the skill and art of using words well,” she said.   “And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Those 'Good Vibrations' of the heart

“Music is the major form of communication. It's the commonest vibration, the people's news broadcast, especially for kids.”  Richie Havens
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Richie Havens’ 1969 appearance at Woodstock – more out of necessity than because he was supposed to be a featured performer – catapulted him into stardom and was a major turning point in his career.   As the festival's first performer, he was supposed to “warm up” the crowd.  Instead, he held the crowd for nearly three hours, continuing to play because many artists scheduled to perform after him were delayed in reaching the festival location with highways at a virtual standstill.

He was called back for numerous encores, obliged, and having run out of tunes, he improvised a song based on the old spiritual “Motherless Child,” that became his world-famous song Freedom.

Not just a “performer,” Havens, who was born in 1941 and died in 2013, increasingly devoted his energies to educating young people about ecological issues.         He founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in the Bronx.  That, in turn, led to the creation of the Natural Guard, an organization Havens describes as a way of helping kids learn that they can have a hands-on role in affecting the environment.

“Children study the land, water, and air in their own communities,” he said with pride shortly before his death.  “It’s empowering because they see how they can make positive changes from something as simple as planting a garden in an abandoned lot."  

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

The heart: A foundation for the arts

“Innocence of heart and violence of feeling are necessary in any kind of superior achievement: The arts cannot exist without them.” Louise Bogan

A native of  Maine, Bogan was born on Aug. 11, 1897, and eventually moved to New York City to pursue a career in writing and published her first book of poetry, Body of This Death: Poems, in 1923.  A longtime writer and poetry editor for The New Yorker, she was appointed the fourth Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress in 1945. 

Bogan, who died of a heart attack in 1970, has been called by some critics “the most accomplished woman poet of the twentieth century” and her works are still widely available, shared and studied. 

For Saturday’s Poem, here is Bogan’,

       Roman Fountain
Up from the bronze, I saw
Water without a flaw
Rush to its rest in air,
Reach to its rest, and fall.

Bronze of the blackest shade,
An element man-made,
Shaping upright the bare
Clear gouts of water in air.

O, as with arm and hammer,
Still it is good to strive
To beat out the image whole,
To echo the shout and stammer
When full-gushed waters, alive,
Strike on the fountain's bowl
After the air of summer.

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