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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Making The Right Choices

“I believe without a single shadow of a doubt that it is necessary for young people to learn to make choices. Learning to make right choices is the only way they will survive in an increasingly frightening world.” – Lois Lowry

Born in Hawaii on this date in 1937, Lowry is known for expressing realistic life experiences in her books for young readers, which include her award-winning Quartet The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son, and the Anastasia Krupnik series. 

The daughter of an Army officer, Lowry grew up “around the globe,” graduating from high school in New York and then attending Brown University in Rhode Island before getting married and raising a family.  Always interested in writing, she resumed that love as her children got older, combining writing with finishing her college education in Maine, where she also studied photography. 
                                                       Her first book, A Summer to Die, came out when she was 40, establishing her as a writer that young people wanted to read.  Two years later, Lowry cemented that position with the launch of her popular humorous series of novels featuring Anastasia Krupnik.  Lowry is the winner of two Newbery Awards – one for The Giver and another for her World War II historical novel Number The Stars. 

“What comes to me always is a character, a scene, a moment. That's going to be the beginning. Then, as I write, I begin to perceive an ending. I begin to see a destination, although sometimes that changes. And then, of course, there's the whole middle section looming.”

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Writing The Rhythm Of The World

“What makes me write is the rhythm of the world around me - the rhythms of the language, of course, but also of the land, the wind, the sky, other lives. Before the words comes the rhythm - that seems to me to be of the essence.” – John Burnside

Born on this date in 1955, Scottish writer Burnside is one of only two writers to win both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for the same book.  Burnside’s Black Cat Bone took home the prestigious awards in 2011.  He also won the Whitbread Award for The Asylum Dance.

A onetime computer software engineer, he has been a freelance writer since 1996 and is now Professor in Creative Writing at St Andrews University.       Burnside also has authored short stories, novels, essays, and two multi-award winning memoirs, A Lie About My Father and Waking Up In Toytown.  His short stories and feature essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including The New Yorker and The Guardian.

His newest book is this year’s nonfiction work On Henry Miller, published in the U.S.  “I love long sentences,” he said of his writing style.  “My big heroes of fiction writing are Henry James and (Marcel) Proust – people who recognize that life doesn't consist of declarative statements, but rather modifications, qualifications and feelings.”

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Everyone's A Character; Life's The Scene

“I don't enjoy doing a lot of research, preferring as a rule, to ‘make up my facts.’ That's why I write fiction. I firmly believe that if you want facts, you read non-fiction; you read fiction to discover the truth.” – Joy Fielding

Born in Canada on this date in 1945, Fielding makes her home in Toronto.  She said she always knew she wanted to be a writer, and even when drawn in different directions – particularly acting – she always felt the writing pull.  Today, as author of 26 books, many of them best sellers  -  including the extraordinarily successful See Jane Run, and her 2016 blockbuster She’s Not There  -  she said she’s glad she settled into the writer’s life.

“I love writing because it's the only time in my life when I feel I have complete control,” Fielding said.   “Nobody does or says anything I don't tell them to – although even this amount of control is illusory because there comes a point where the characters take over and tell you what they think they should say and do.”     For her, everyone and everything is a potential character or scene.  Daily life and the day's headlines provide most of her inspiration. 

“I use whatever I can and nothing is sacred. Of course, nothing is exactly the way it is in real life. A writer borrows a bit from here, there and everywhere, and adapts it to her own purpose.  (But) I find that the more of me I include, the more successful the book; the more readers can identify with.”

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Poetry of Nature's Songs

“The moon looks upon many night flowers; the night flowers see but one moon.” – Jean Ingelow

Born on this date in 1820, Ingelow was an English poet and novelist.   She started writing (and being published) as a teenager, but didn’t achieve fame for her work until publication of Poems in 1863.  The book ran through numerous editions and many of the poems were set to popular music.            Her best-selling children’s book Mopsa The Fairy is included in A Critical History of Children’s Literature.  Her poems "When Sparrows build in Supper at the Mill" and “The Warbling of Blackbirds” were among the most popular songs of the day.    Here for Saturday’s Poem, is Ingelow’s,

                     Songs of the Voices of Birds: 
                     The Warbling of Blackbirds

                        When I hear the waters fretting,
                        When I see the chestnut letting
                        All her lovely blossom falter down, I think, “Alas the day!”
                        Once with magical sweet singing,
                        Blackbirds set the woodland ringing,
                        That awakes no more while April hours wear themselves away.

                        In our hearts fair hope lay smiling,
                        Sweet as air, and all beguiling;
                       And there hung a mist of bluebells on the slope and down the dell;
                       And we talked of joy and splendor
                       That the years unborn would render,
                       And the blackbirds helped us with the story, for they knew it well.

                       Piping, fluting, “Bees are humming,
                      April’s here, and summer’s coming;
                      Don’t forget us when you walk, a man with men, in pride and joy;
                      Think on us in alleys shady,
                      When you step a graceful lady;
                      For no fairer day have we to hope for, little girl and boy.

                     “Laugh and play, O lisping waters,
                      Lull our downy sons and daughters;
                      Come, O wind, and rock their leafy cradle in thy wanderings coy;
                      When they wake we’ll end the measure
                      With a wild sweet cry of pleasure,
                      And a ‘Hey down derry, let’s be merry! little girl and boy!’”

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Including a bit of yourself

“All the characters in my books are imagined, but all have a bit of who I am in them - much like the characters in your dreams are all formed by who you are.” – Alice Hoffman

Born in New York City on this date in 1952, novelist and young-adult and children's writer Hoffman is perhaps best known for her 1995 novel and film Practical Magic, one of many of her books with magic or magical realism as their basis.

Hoffman’s first short story, At The Drive-In, was published in Volume 3 of the literary magazine Fiction when she was just starting her studies at Stanford.    American Review editor Ted Solotaroff was so impressed by the story that he contacted her and asked if she had a novel.  She didn’t but was inspired her to start writing Property Of, her first bestseller and first of 27 adult novels and 12 more written for children, Tweens and Young Adults.  In a “coming full circle” aspect to that first novel, Solotaroff published a section of it in his magazine and last year Hoffman wrote a prequel The Rules of Magic, also a best seller. 

Among her many writing awards are a New Jersey Notable Book Award and the prestigious Hammett Prize (for Turtle Moon).  Her advice to writers is not to be intimidated by the process.   “No one knows how to write a novel until it's been written,” she said.     “I never plot out my novels in terms of the tone of the book. Hopefully, once a story is begun it reveals itself.”

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Use imperfections to tell your tale

“The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.” – Ben Okri

Born on this date in 1959, Nigerian poet and novelist Okri is considered one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions.  His writing has been ranked favorably with such award-winning writers as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez.

Starting with his 1980 novel Flowers and Shadows, Okri achieved international acclaim with his lyrical, intense works about Africa and its people. His best-known novels are the The Famished Road (awarded the prestigious Booker Prize), Songs of Enchantment, and Infinite Riches.  That trilogy follows the life of Azaro, a spirit-child narrator, through the social and political turmoil of an unnamed African nation. 
          Okri said his writing was influenced by the oral tradition of his people, and particularly, his mother's storytelling: "If my mother wanted to make a point, she wouldn't correct me, she'd tell me a story."

His advice to writers?   “I believe in leavening,” he said.   “You can't have words sticking out too much, like promontories. They disturb the density. You have to flatten them, or raise the surrounding terrain.”

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Strong Emotions, Vivid Memories

“A strong emotion, especially if experienced for the first time, leaves a vivid memory of the scene where it occurred.” – Algernon Blackwood
Born on this date in 1869, Blackwood was an English short story writer and novelist and one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre. He was also a journalist and a broadcasting narrator.    A gifted storyteller, even in childhood, he said he always amazed friends and neighbors with his ability to spin yarns about the supernatural, and so thought it was his calling to continue doing so as an adult.  
                                  Also an occasional essayist, his first stories were about his North London community and its residents before he turned almost completely to the ghostly tales that led to his title “Master of the genre."  He wrote at least 3-dozen original short story collections, and later became a highly sought-after speaker and broadcaster, sharing his tales with live audiences and on both radio and television.  Among his most well known were The Willows and The Wendigo.   Blackwood also authored 14 novels, several children's books, and a number of plays before his death in 1951.

Most of his stories were written to elicit a sense of “awe” or carry through the  “what if?”  factor, which made them perfect for such broadcast shows as “Suspense” and “Night Gallery.”   He said his secret to success in the genre was to leave a sort-of nagging sense in the reader that something yet might happen.  “Those little things that pierce and burn and prick for years to come. “

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