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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Just one good sentence after another


“I do feel that if you can write one good sentence and then another good sentence and then another, you end up with a good story.”  – Amy Hempel

Born on this date in 1951, Hempel is a short story writer and journalist who teaches creative writing at both Bennington College in Vermont and the University of Florida.

A native of Chicago, Hempel has been termed a minimalist writer, one of a handful of writers who has built a reputation based solely on short fiction.  She’s published a number of collections of her writings, including the multi-award winning and best-selling Collected Stories of Amy Hempel. 
                                              Also a writing judge, frequent presenter, and editor, she helped edit the popular New Collected Stories From the South 2010.  And, her work "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" is one of the most extensively anthologized stories of the last quarter century.

Hempel’s path to creative writing came through journalism and she continues to write for numerous magazines and journals.  I started writing by doing small related things but not the thing itself, circling it and getting closer,” she said.   “I had no idea how to write fiction. So I did journalism because there were rules I could learn. You can teach someone to write a news story. They might not write a great one, but you can teach that pretty easily”



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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Putting fun and mystery into your words


“If you aren't having fun, if you aren't anxious to find out what happens next as you write, then not only will you run out of steam on the story, but you won't be able to entertain anyone else, either.” – Tamora Pierce 

Pierce, who was born on this date in 1954, is winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association for her two quartets – Song of the Lioness and Protector of the Small. The annual award recognizes one writer and a particular body of work for "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature." 

A reader from a very young age, Pierce started writing in 6th grade and gravitated to science fiction after being introduced to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  Known best for stories featuring young heroines, her “Lioness” series is about a girl named Alanna striving to become a knight during Arthurian times.  Fantasy novels and Arthurian legend was the basis for the worlds she thought up as a girl, she said.  After her initial success, she added contemporary issues like youth crime, or things like cholera outbreaks in Africa to her writing.        Pierce said she decided to write her stories about strong young female characters because she noticed a lack of them in the books she read when she was a girl.

“(Usually) I don't write from dreams because I don't remember mine, but I had a fragment of an image left about twins whose father was telling them how their lives were going to go for the next eight years,” she recalled about the genesis for one of her recent books.  “I wrote a scene about that, and then another, and then another, and then another, and after five months I had 732 pages.”



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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sharing Stories in Our Lives


“Stories are really important to people and can really change the way they understand and even live their lives. As such, I don't agree much with people who say, 'Calm down, it's just a story.” – Tim Pratt

Pratt, who was born in North Carolina on this date in 1976, is Senior Editor at Locus Magazine when he isn’t busy writing science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories or crafting yet another award-winning poem.  A graduate of Appalachian State University, where he majored in English and started his writing career, he now makes his home in California.

Pratt’s work has appeared in journals like Asimov’s Science Fiction and Strange Horizons, and America’s Best Short Stories.       He has had his stories and poems published in many Year's Best collections, winning a Hugo Award, a Rhysling Award, and an Emperor Norton Award, as well as numerous nominations in many other Sci-Fi and Fantasy categories along the way.   His most popular novel is a tale of magic and mystery, Heirs of Grace, set in his native North Carolina.

Pratt said he enjoys travel and adventure and recommends it to all.   “Life is full of borders,” he said.  “Some of them, once crossed, can never be crossed again in the other direction. But there are new countries to discover across every one.”



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Monday, December 11, 2017

Creating 'Readers for Life'


“Librarians and romance writers accomplish one mission better than anyone, including English teachers: we create readers for life - and what could be more fulfilling than that?” – Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Credited as being the creator of the sports romance genre, Phillips has often been called the “Queen of Romantic Comedy.”  Born in Ohio on this date in 1948, she is the only 5-time winner of the Romance Writers of America Favorite Book of the Year Award.

A graduate of Ohio University, she was a teacher for a number of years, then a stay-at-home mom when she joined with neighbor Claire Kiehl to co-author her first book, The Copeland Bride, under the pen name Justine Cole.  By the mid-1980s she had begun her own career, which has now produced some 30 titles.

Among her many bestsellers are the terrific “Chicago Stars” series, including It Had To Be You; Heaven, Texas; and her 2016 hit First Star I See Tonight. 

Inducted into the Romance Writers Hall of Fame, Phillips also is recipient of the Romance Writers Lifetime Achievement Award.      When she isn’t writing she enjoys hiking, gardening and reading – and supporting her local library.

Her advice is simple and to the point.  “You can't do extraordinary things in the world,” she said,  “if you're spending time criticizing others because they don't look or behave the way you think they should.”




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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Pouring history onto the page

  “The values transmitted through oral history are many - courage, selflessness, the ability to endure, and to do so with humor and grace. I got those values listening to my dad's stories about the Depression and how their family survived. It gave me courage that I, too, could survive hard times.” – Ann Turner

Born in Massachusetts on this date in 1945, Turner has often used segments from her own background and family's oral history in her writing.  The results have been some 40 novels, picture books, and poetry collections, primarily for children ranging in age from kindergarten through high school.

Turner started writing while still in college, winning first prize in the Atlantic Monthly’s college creative writing contest.  After teaching for a couple years, she decided writing was what she really wanted to do and followed that dream instead.  Her novel A Hunter Comes Home was an American Library Association “Notable Children's Book,” and her first picture book, Dakota Dugout, received the same honor.  Since then she has won dozens of awards, both in the U.S. and internationally in every category in which she writes.   Among her other books are Abe Lincoln Remembers, an NCSS/CBC Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, and Through Moon and Stars and Night Skies, a Reading Rainbow selection. 

There is the magical moment when words begin to pour out onto the page — words which surprise and confound even me,” she said.  I am as interested in seeing what happens to my characters as any reader; that is why I tell kids that writers write for the same reason readers read - to find out the end of the story.”



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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Stepping from the shadows


“The poet is like the earth's shadow. The sun moves, and the poet writes something down.” – Eileen Myles
 Born on this date in 1949, Myles is a poet and writer who has produced more than 20 volumes of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, libretti, plays, and performance pieces over the last three decades.

For Saturday’s Poem, here is Myles’

The Honey Bear

Billie Holiday was on the radio
I was standing in the kitchen
smoking my cigarette of this
pack I plan to finish tonight
last night of smoking youth.
I made a cup of this funny
kind of tea I've had hanging
around. A little too sweet
an odd mix. My only impulse
was to make it sweeter.
Ivy Anderson was singing
pretty late tonight
in my very bright kitchen.
I'm standing by the tub
feeling a little older
nearly thirty in my very
bright kitchen tonight.
I'm not a bad looking woman
I suppose O it's very quiet
in my kitchen tonight I'm squeezing
this plastic honey bear a noodle
of honey dripping into the odd sweet
tea. It's pretty late
Honey bear's cover was loose
and somehow honey dripping down
the bear's face catching
in the crevices beneath
the bear's eyes O very sad and sweet
I'm standing in my kitchen O honey
I'm staring at the honey bear's face.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Losing yourself in your writing


“There are days where I lose track of time, of place, of everything else, because I've been transported to another universe.” – Susan Isaacs

Born on this date in 1943, Isaacs is the author of 13 consecutive New York Times’ bestsellers
starting with 1978’s Compromising Positions, chosen as a main selection of the Book of the Month Club, an almost unheard-of feat for a first-time author.   Today, her fiction has been translated into 30 languages, selling millions worldwide.

Writing novels, she said,  “is what I've done for 30 some-odd years. I can't suddenly say I'm going to take up golf. I need something in my life. As long as I can write a coherent sentence, I'll keep at it.“   But, it’s definitely not something she HAS to do.     
                                   She’s also authored screenplays, reviewed fiction and nonfiction for major newspapers and magazines, and written dozens and dozens of essays, op-eds, and articles on feminism, film, and First Amendment issues.    And, she's a former editor of Seventeen magazine and a freelance writer of political speeches. 

“There is no 'right' way to begin a novel,” she said,  “but for me, plot has to wait. The character always comes first.”




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