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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Writing To Please

“Taking the time to polish a pun or fine-tune a practical joke is a way of saying, 'I'm thinking about you and I want to please you.” – Andrew Hudgins

Born into a military family on April 22, 1951, Hudgins moved around the American South for much of his childhood, eventually attending Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama. He earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1983. His first book of poetry, Saints and Strangers, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and his third, The Never-Ending, was a finalist for the National Book Award.           For Saturday’s Poem, here is Hudgins’,

Day Job and Night Job
After my night job, I sat in class
and ate, every thirteen minutes,
an orange peanut-butter cracker.
Bright grease adorned my notes.

At noon I rushed to my day job
and pushed a broom enough
to keep the boss calm if not happy.
In a hiding place, walled off

by bolts of calico and serge,
I read my masters and copied
Donne, Marlowe, Dickinson, and Frost,
scrawling the words I envied,

so my hand could move as theirs had moved
and learn outside of logic
how the masters wrote. But why? Words
would never heal the sick,

feed the hungry, clothe the naked,
blah, blah, blah.
Why couldn't I be practical,
Dad asked, and study law—

or take a single business class?
I stewed on what and why
till driving into work one day,
a burger on my thigh

and a sweating Coke between my knees,
I yelled, 'Because I want to!'—
pained—thrilled!—as I looked down
from somewhere in the blue

and saw beneath my chastened gaze
another slack romantic
chasing his heart like an unleashed dog
chasing a pickup truck.

And then I spilled my Coke. In sugar
I sat and fought a smirk.
I could see my new life clear before me.
lt looked the same. Like work.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

A Masterful Writing Approach

What a writer can do, what a fiction writer or a poet or an essay writer can do is re-engage people with their own humanity. – Barbara Kingsolver

I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful – and sometimes wrenching – Pigs in Heaven, a great example of what she says above.   Kingsolver has a gift for taking an ordinary scene and adding magic to it with her creative and descriptive writing.      Here are a couple short examples from her remarkable Pigs in Heaven:

“She’s the first woman he’s ever known who doesn’t give a damn how she looks, or is completely happy with the way she looks, which amounts to the same thing.  Usually women are aware of complex formulas regarding how long the legs should be in relation to the waist in relation to the eyelashes – a mathematics indecipherable to men but strangely crucial to women.”

“Mr. Crittenden holds her accountable for every bead.  In the morning he puts on his jeweler’s glasses and counts the beads in every piece she’s brought in, to make sure they’re all there.  It must be hard work, she thought, this business of mistrust.”       

“Alice breathes a little deeper.  Sympathizing over the behavior of men is the baking soda of women’s friendships, it seems, the thing that makes them bubble and rise.”

Good writers must first be good readers.  Even if you are a very fine writer already, if you read Barbara Kingsolver, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll only get better.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Those Tales That Tease

“I loved to read when I was a kid, and as soon as I realized that an actual person got to make up the books I loved so much, I decided that that was the job for me.” – Margaret Haddix

Born on this date in 1964, Haddix grew up in a family of voracious readers on a farm in  Ohio.  She was so enamored with writing that she not only read everything she could get her hands on but started creating her own works in 2nd and 3rd grades. 

She said there was never anything else she wanted to be than a writer.  She earned degrees in English and Journalism at Miami University in Ohio, first writing for the school newspaper and then for area newspapers in both Ohio and Indiana.  She enjoyed reporting but switched to fiction in the early 1990s, doing creative stories inspired by her work as a reporter.  While she had a bumpy start – her first works were rejected multiple times – she finally found her niche with Young Adult and Children’s fiction and now has more than 30 books on the market.

Among her many writing awards are the International Reading Association Children's Book Award and several American Library Association listings for Best Books for Young Adults for “The Missing” and “Shadow Children” series.  She’s also been selected for Readers' Choice Awards in 29 states.   

“Generally I finish a first draft in 2-6 months, then I set it aside for a while so that when I come back to it I can read it with fresh eyes and figure out how to improve it,” she said about her prolific writing style.         I know I have to write a story when the story keeps me awake at night, teases at the back of my brain all day, just won’t let me go.   And that’s why I became a writer.”

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Nurturing The Storytelling Art

“I have two parents who are brilliant storytellers. The art of developing a story and nurturing a story was present in my household from the day I was born.” – Robert Kurson 

Born on this date in 1963, Kurson is best known for his bestselling book, Shadow Divers, the true story of two Americans who discover a World War II German U-boat sunk 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey.  Shadow Divers spent 24 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and was awarded the American Booksellers Association’s 2005 "Book of the Year Award."

A one-time lawyer with a degree from Harvard Law School, Kurson said he always thought writing was his real profession and he first decided to give it a try by working at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a sports writer and quickly moved up to a full-time features writing job.

A self-proclaimed “adventure seeker,” Kurson also wrote one of the best nonfiction pirate books, the 2015 Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship.  It is a gripping account of the for the wreck of the 17th-century pirate ship Golden Fleece and pirate captain Joseph Bannister.

“Once you discover that real pirates are more interesting than fictional ones, you can't look away,” Kurson said.  “I think that pirates represent every person's ability to get up and leave their current daily situation and go on an adventure, and maybe to see things and do things they've never done before or even dreamed of doing."        “It's never too late in life to have a genuine adventure.”

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Including All In Writing's Moments

“I don't want my books to exclude anyone, but if they have to, then I would rather they excluded the people who feel they are too smart for them!” – Nick Hornby

Hornby, who is English, writes about ordinary people in ways that translate into bestsellers, like Fever Pitch, About a Boy, and High Fidelity.    Fever Pitch, while written about a fan’s obsession (based on his own) with English soccer, was made an even bigger hit as an American movie adaptation, where it focused on Jimmy Fallon’s character’s obsession with the Boston Red Sox.
That’s the universality of writing sports – one situation or type of sport can be easily adapted into another.    I used the technique myself with my Tweens’ book Kelli’s Choice.  There, I took what I knew from my baseball playing days - and stories told to me by both my grandfather and father about their days on the diamond - and adapted it to girls’ softball, something I obviously never played.  It becomes, of course, all about the people.

Also dedicated to helping kids with special needs, Hornby -- who turns 61 tomorrow -- has sold over 5 million copies of his books and donated many of his royalties to helping kids with autism.      He also co-founded Ministry of Stories, a nonprofit set up to help children and young adults develop their writing skills, and to support teachers who inspire students to write.   

Happy birthday to one of writing’s really good guys who has, indeed, produced and lived many great writer’s moments.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Embrace Life; No Regrets

“Do not mind anything that anyone tells you about anyone else. Judge everyone and everything for yourself.” – Henry James

Born in New York City on this date in 1843, James grew up in wealth and with many educational opportunities from his early childhood.  He aspired to writing while still in elementary school, a love that ultimately led to his full-time career in the profession.  By his mid-20s he already was regarded as one of the most skillful writers in America.

By age 30 he had largely relocated to Europe, eventually settling in England and becoming one of the major figures of trans-Atlantic literature. His works frequently juxtapose characters from both Europe and the United States.  His fundamental theme was the innocence and exuberance of the New World in clash with the corruption and wisdom of the Old, illustrated in some of his most well known novels like Daisy Miller (1879), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), and The Bostonians (1886).

James wrote hundreds of short stories, novels, books of criticism, travel, biography, autobiography, and plays, earning numerous writing awards, including 3 nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

In an interview shortly before his death in 1915, he gave this advice to young writers:  "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that what have you had?”  
“I think I don't regret a single 'excess' of my responsive youth - I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions and possibilities I didn't embrace,”

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Poetry Fortifies Your Inner Life

‘If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness.’ – Seamus Heaney

Born on April 13, 1939, Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. A native of Northern Ireland, he was raised in County Derry, and later lived for many years in Dublin.         Author of over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."     For Saturday’s Poem, here is Heaney’s,


My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horse strained at his clicking tongue.

An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck

Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.

I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod.

I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.

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