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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Meeting George R.R. Martin

“There was part of me that wanted to see the world and travel to distant places, but I could only do it in my imagination, so I read ferociously and imagined things.” – George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin, who celebrated his 69th birthday this week, not only “imagined” things, but “wrote them wonderfully” and has been called The American Tolkien by Time Magazine, which listed him among the 100 most influential Americans.   Author of the epic series of fantasy novels A Song of Fire and Ice – adapted into the massive HBO hit series A Game of Thrones – Martin makes his home in New Mexico and is one of the most popular writers in U.S. history.

It was my good fortune to spend time with him at an authors' booksigning during the Historical Writers of America conference, where he was named for the HWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  As gracious as he is talented, Martin made an effort to personally greet many of the authors in attendance and posed for this photo with me.  
                             Martin's work has been described by the Los Angeles Times as having "complex story lines, fascinating characters, great dialogue, perfect pacing."  His characters are multifaceted with intricate pasts, aspirations, and ambitions.  “The author,” Publisher’s Weekly says, “makes us care about their fates."

I'm one of those writers who say, 'I've enjoyed having written’,” Martin said.  “There has to be a level of joy in what you're doing.”
George R.R. Martin and his colleague, Melinda Snodgrass, co-author of their Wild Card series of books and TV scripts, (seated front) posed for a photo with me and Gini Grossenbacher and Mark Wiederanders, California authors who were with me on a panel at the Historical Writers of America conference in Albuquerque, NM.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Where language starts

“Poetry begins where language starts: in the shadows and accidents of one person's life.”  Eavan Boland
Born on this date in 1944, Boland is an Irish poet, author, and professor at Stanford University, where she has taught since 1996.  Her work deals with the Irish national identity, and the role of women in Irish history.   
                       Over the course of her long career, Boland has emerged as one of the foremost female voices in Irish literature. Her collection Night Feed established her reputation as a writer on the ordinary lives of women, and her work In a Time of Violence received a Lannan Award and was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize.    For Saturday’s Poem, here is Boland’s,

The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me

It was the first gift he ever gave her,
buying it for five five francs in the Galeries
in pre-war Paris. It was stifling.
A starless drought made the nights stormy.

They stayed in the city for the summer.
The met in cafes. She was always early.
He was late. That evening he was later.
They wrapped the fan. He looked at his watch.

She looked down the Boulevard des Capucines.
She ordered more coffee. She stood up.
The streets were emptying. The heat was killing.
She thought the distance smelled of rain and lightning.

These are wild roses, appliqued on silk by hand,
darkly picked, stitched boldly, quickly.
The rest is tortoiseshell and has the reticent clear patience
of its element. It is
a worn-out, underwater bullion and it keeps,
even now, an inference of its violation.
The lace is overcast as if the weather
it opened for and offset had entered it.

The past is an empty cafe terrace.
An airless dusk before thunder. A man running.
And no way to know what happened then—
none at all—unless ,of course, you improvise:

The blackbird on this first sultry morning,
in summer, finding buds, worms, fruit,
feels the heat. Suddenly she puts out her wing—
the whole, full, flirtatious span of it.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Invading readers' comfort zones

“As a writer, one of the things that I've always been interested in doing is actually invading your comfort space.  Because that's what we're supposed to do. Get under your skin, and make you react.” – Stephen King

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in America and perhaps the world who has not heard of or read Stephen King.  His books have sold upward of 400 million copies; many movies have been made from his works; and he’s won a remarkable 65 major writing awards.  Among them are the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award, and the National Book Award Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Born on this date in 1947, King continues to reside in his home state of Maine and along with his wife Tabitha is one of Maine’s greatest philanthropists.  The Kings annually contribute some $3 million to charitable causes.   He has been unafraid to share his writing talents with others, including authoring the book On Writing, one of the best books written on the craft of writing. 
                       “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut,” King said in advice to would-be writers.   “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A tireless stickler for the details

“I write novels, mostly historical ones, and I try hard to keep them accurate as to historical facts, milieu and flavor.” – Gary Jennings

Born on this date in 1928, Jennings wrote both children's and adult novels until 1980 when he wrote the bestselling historical book Aztec and switched entirely to the historical fiction genre for the rest of his life (he died in 1999).   A native of Virginia and a self-taught writer, he started as a war correspondent   documenting the Korean War and being awarded a Bronze Star for heroism in the process.   After the war he combined writing for newspapers with his creative work before deciding in 1968 to devote himself to fiction.

His thoroughly researched – and sometimes massive – novels were known for their historical detail and occasional graphic content, and he immersed himself in what he was trying to write.  Most notably, he spent 12 years in Mexico to research Aztec and its sequel Aztec Autumn, and joined 9 different circus troupes to write his bestseller Spangle. 
    In the course of his writing he learned that many words modern writers take for granted simply didn’t exist in the time periods he wanted to represent – something he said all writers, especially of historical fiction, should be prepared to deal with.
“I could list hundreds of words I've come up against in the course of my work that did not exist in the era of which I was writing and for which I never could find a suitably old-time, archaic or obsolete substitute, “Jennings said.  “I contend, most seriously, that there is a real need for a good, thick, complete-as-possible dictionary of 'What People Used to Call Things’.“

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

'Everyone has a book in them'

“Writing is writing, and stories are stories. Perhaps the only true genres are fiction and non-fiction. And even there, who can be sure?” – Tanith Lee

Born on this date in 1947, Lee was a British writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, with over 90 novels, 300 short stories, many poems, and a children's picture book (Animal Castle) to her credit. She also wrote two episodes of the BBC science fiction series Blake's 7 and was the first woman to win the British Fantasy Awards’ Best Novel Award for her book Death's Master.  

Lee attended numerous schools as a child, often felt lonely, but said she could “always both find myself and lose myself in books.”  A voracious reader, she started writing early and had her first story published at age 21.   Her first major success was a children's book The Dragon Hoard, and her first adult book – a  massive bestseller that established her in the fantasy genre –  was The Birthgrave.  Inspired by everyone from Angela Carter to William Shakespeare, Lee’s style has been described a rich poetic prose with striking imagery. 
       Lee, who died of cancer in 2015, was always encouraging for those aspiring to become writers.   “Writers tell stories better, because they've had more practice, but everyone has a book in them,” she said. “Yes, that old cliche.”  Her advice was to write with people in mind.  “People are always the start for me... animals, when I can get into their heads, gods, supernatural beings, immortals, the dead... these are all people to me.”

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Loving (and writing) the unexplainable

“I love the unexplainable. It would be so boring to me if everything could be explained.” Nancy Pickard

Born in Kansas City on this date in 1945, Nancy Pickard is the only author to ever win all four major crime/mystery writing awards – the Macavity (5 times), the Agatha (4 times), and the Anthony and Shamus Awards (once each).   She also has served on the board of directors of the Mystery Writers of America – all after starting her writing career after age 35. 

A journalist first – with a degree from the prestigious U. of Missouri Journalism School – she spent time as a journalistic writer, making her home in the Kansas City area.  “I've lived in Kansas for more than thirty years, and for half of those, I was part of a ranching family,” she said.  “So I'm writing about things I know and love.”      
                          Among her best-known books are the award winners I.O.U., The Virgin of  Small Plains, and Say No To Murder.   From her lengthy list of terrific short stories, I’d recommend “There Is No Crime on Easter Island.”  When you finish you’ll be wanting more

Pickard now makes her home in Prairie Village, a “close-in” KC suburb, “… where there's a feeling of everybody knowing everybody else. I think the same thing is true of New York City, by the way.”

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Investing in the importance of words

“If a big person invests time in reading, kids learn reading is important, the child is important, words are important, stories are important.” – Gail Carson Levine

Born in New York City on this date in 1947, Levine is the author of the Newbery Award winning book, Ella Enchanted, and the wonderful semi-biographical novel Dave at Night, based loosely on her father’s “growing-up years” in an orphanage.

Although she grew up as an avid reader, she didn’t have writing on her radar until later in life, wanting to be an artist or actress.  She worked as a welfare administrator and didn’t try her hand at writing until her late 40s.  Ella was her first accepted book, but it took 9 years of doing manuscripts before she got that one accepted.         After it won the Newbery, it was made into a successful movie and gave Levine the financial independence to focus on more.  Now, her 20th book, The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, is just on the market.  Many of her other books are based on fairy tales, only with a modern twist.

“As a child, I loved fairy tales because the story, the what-comes-next, is paramount. As an adult, I'm fascinated by their logic and illogic,” Levine said.  As for why she didn’t get into writing sooner, she said (with tongue firmly in cheek), “Most of the authors I liked were dead, so it didn't seem like a real safe occupation.”

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