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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The 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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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The 'bite sized pieces' approach

“Families are endlessly fascinating. We all have one, and they have a great impact on who we are and what we do - Freudian as that is.” – Susan Minot

Born on Dec. 7, 1956, Minot is a multi-talented artist in a variety of genres having written novels, short stories, poetry, plays and movie scripts.

Minot's first book, Monkeys, won the 1987 Prix Femina Étranger in France and was published in a dozen countries. Her other books, all published internationally, include the best sellers Rapture and Thirty Girls and an award-winning poetry collection, Poems 4 A.M.      Also well known for her short stories, she won the prestigious Pushcart Prize for her story Hiding and has had works included several times in “The Best American Short Stories,” and the Pen/O Henry Prize Stories.
A graduate of Brown University (where she studied both writing and painting) and Columbia (for her Master’s in Fine Art), she has been both an editor and a professor alongside her writing career.  While writers can sometimes be overwhelmed by the task lying ahead of them, Minot espouses the “bite-sized” pieces approach.

“I remember when I was in graduate school and someone in workshop would say, 'I'm going to bring in a chapter of my novel.’  The thought that someone could think they'd write a whole long thing... I could only see twelve pages ahead. But then I realized that if you could see twelve more after that, you can start.”

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Finding yourself in your words

“You don’t put yourself into what you write; you find yourself there.” – Alan Bennett

A playwright, screenwriter, actor and author, Bennett – who turned 83 this year – has written hundreds of works for all genres and shows no signs of letting up, as perhaps reflected in his 2016 book Keeping On Keeping On, a compilation of essays and memoir.  He has won numerous Book of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Awards in many different writing fields.

His quote above is from his critically acclaimed The Lady in the Van based on his experiences with an eccentric Miss Shepherd, who lived on his driveway in a series of dilapidated vans for more than 15 years.   First published in 1989 as an essay, then as a book, he adapted it to a stage play, radio program and finally award-winning film – each time starring the great Maggie Smith as the eccentric lady.   “I write plays about things that I can't resolve in my mind,” he said.  “I try to root things out.”           
                                     His other work includes The Madness of George III and its film adaptation, and the play and subsequent film of The History Boys.  He’s also been a popular audio books’ reader doing such children’s favorites as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Winnie-the-Pooh.

A huge advocate for public libraries and their place in society and our social order, he noted, “I don't want to see libraries close; I want to find local solutions that will make them sustainable.  Closing a public library is child abuse, really, because it hinders child development.”

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Monday, December 4, 2017

The 'transformative' power of writing

“Writing is literally transformative. When we read, we are changed. When we write, we are changed. It's neurological. To me, this is a kind of magic.” – Francesca Lia Block

Born in Los Angeles on Dec. 3, 1962, Block writes adult and young-adult fiction, short stories, screenplays and poetry. She is perhaps best known for the Weetzie Bat series— named after a character in her first novel, which she started while still a student at UC Berkeley.

A recipient of the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association for her contribution in writing for teens, Block is also is a lifelong writer of poetry. Her first two books, in fact, were poetry collections: Moon Harvest and Season of Green.   Sandwiched around her fiction, she has released several more standalone collections of poetry,       as well as incorporating poetry and lyrics into many of her novels.  She is currently developing an original show for MTV and writing the screenplay that will bring Weetzie Bat to the cinema. 
Her advice to beginning writers is simple:  “Write with abandon and no constraints for first draft. Cut brutally and save in separate files on second draft. Add conflict; don't be afraid to make your characters suffer. Read what you love. Write what you love. Love.”

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

A 'Merry Little Christmas' tale

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” introduced by Judy Garland in MGM’s 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis.  Garland simultaneously released a single on Dec. 3, 1944, which soared to the top of the charts, cherished at home and abroad during the dark days of World War II.   U.S. troops loved her and the song after she brought it to them on one of Bob Hope’s famous USO tours.

Written by Hugh Martin, the song was sung by Garland’s character Esther to her 5-year-old sister Tootie (played by Margaret O’Brien) as a way to help cheer her up on Christmas Eve as their family prepared to move from St. Louis to New York City.

Some of Martin’s original lyrics were rejected. They were: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past / Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Pop that champagne cork / Next year we may all be living in New York." Garland and director Vincente Minnelli criticized the song as depressing, and asked Martin to change the lyrics.  Though he initially resisted, Martin did made several upbeat changes.  The lines "It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" became "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.”  And the New York reference was eliminated.

In 1957, Frank Sinatra wanted to re-record it and asked Martin if he could “jolly the song up” even more.  Martin took out a line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow” and came out with the wonderful line, "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough."   It became the key to cementing the song as one of our most beloved Christmas classics.   One of my favorite versions is sung by the wonderful Karen Carpenter, which you can find at this link.  Enjoy!

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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Go ahead and smile

“Poetry speaks to the spirit by piercing understanding. It interprets all senseless truths – beauty, love, emotion – into sensible scrawl.” – Richelle Goodrich

A native of Washington State and graduate of Eastern Washington University, Goodrich writes young adult books―fantasies, adventures, and some realities, always with a touch of romance.  Her quotes have been published in such wide-ranging places as the Oxford Philosophy Being Human Course Book; Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada; and in a Revlon magazine ad campaign.  
                 Here, for Saturday’s Poem, is Goodrich’s verse about the power of a smile from her delightful book, Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse and Grumblings for Every Day of the Year.
One smile has the power to...
Calm fears.
Soften stone walls.
Warm a cold heart.
Invite a new friend.
Mimic a loving hug.
Beautify the bearer.
Lighten heavy loads.
Promote good deeds.
Brighten a gloomy day.
Comfort a grieving spirit.
Offer hope to the forlorn.
Send a message of caring.
Lift the downtrodden soul.
Patch up invisible wounds.
Weaken the hold of misery.
Act as medicine for suffering.
Attract the companionship of angels.
Fulfill the human need for recognition.
Who knew changing the world would prove so simple?

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Friday, December 1, 2017

It's All About Attitude

“The key to life is your attitude. Whether you're single or married or have kids or don't have kids, it's how you look at your life, what you make of it. It's about making the best of your life wherever you are in life.” – Candace Bushnell

Born on this date in 1960, Bushnell is an author, journalist and television producer who wrote a column for The New York Observer that was adapted into the bestselling Sex and the City anthology, the basis for the HBO hit series Sex and the City and two subsequent movies.    Bushnell followed that best-selling work with the international bestselling novels 4 Blondes, Trading Up, Lipstick Jungle, One Fifth Avenue, The Carrie Diaries and Summer and the City.        

A native of Connecticut, she decided to become a writer while still in her teens and after moving to New York City at age 19 she started doing freelance journalism that eventually led to her full-time column about the dating scene for young adults.   “Sometimes,” she said,  “you have to find the passion. It comes from the inside... Everyone has to find it for themselves.”     
                              Many of her works have been semi-autobiographical, pulling from her own life experiences and people she’s known.  “You need characters who want things,” she said. “They want love, they want recognition, they want happiness.”

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Standing on the side of Social Justice

“I don't mind expressing my opinions and speaking out against injustice. I would be doing this even if I wasn't a writer. I grew up in a household that believed in social justice. I have always understood myself as having an obligation to stand on the side of the silenced, the oppressed, and the mistreated.” – Tayari Jones

Born in Atlanta on this date in 1970, Jones won the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction for her 2002 novel Leaving Atlanta, a three-voiced coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Atlanta Child Murders of 1979-81.   Written while she was a graduate student at Arizona State University, she based the story on her own experience as a child in Atlanta during that period.

While she wrote the book in grad school she actually started her career while still and undergraduate at Atlanta’s Spelman College, where she earned her degree in English.   She now has written 3 successful novels, following Atlanta with The Untelling and Silver Sparrow, both best sellers and award recipients.   
                                         Now an Associate Professor at Rutgers-Newark University, she is currently in a year-long Distinguished Writer program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  In addition to teaching, she also continues her longtime efforts to mentor up-and-coming young writers, especially girls.     “I take mentoring very seriously,” she said,  “and I am on the board of an organization called Girls Write Now, where we match teen girls and writing mentors because it changes their lives.”

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It's a jungle out there

 “If you’re doing something, show up every day, and something good might happen – it’s not going to happen if you don’t show up.” – Randy Newman

Born on Nov. 28, 1943, Newman is a writer who pretty much always shows up, especially when it comes to writing songs for movies.  He’s been nominated for 20 Academy Awards, 3 Emmys, 6 Grammys and been named for the Governor's Award from the Recording Academy.   Inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his most memorable film scores are for the Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. series; Seabiscuit; and Ragtime.

Newman cites Ray Charles as his greatest influence during his “growing up” years and has been a professional songwriter since age 17.   In his early years he was writing for other musicians or groups with which he sang, but for the past 40 years his raspy, fun-filled voice is all that’s really needed to bring his words to life.    
                                   I can truly say I’ve never heard a Newman song I didn’t like, and I encourage all to check him out on YouTube.  I especially like “It’s a Jungle out there,” the Emmy winning theme song for the long-running TV series Monk.  And below, for your listening pleasure, here’s a link to “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3, one of his Academy Award winners.  This version also shows the words and it’s Newman’s voice that you hear.  Enjoy.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Inspired by Everyday Life

“I think writers are observers and watchers. We always have our ears open and eyes open, so I might see something in everyday life that inspires me. And I think that's probably more than anything else. Everyday life is where I get my inspiration.” – Kevin Henkes

Born on this date in 1960, Henkes is both writer and illustrator of children's books.  As illustrator, he won the Caldecott Medal for Kitten's First Full Moon and Waiting, which also won the coveted Geisel Honor Book award – only the second time in history that a book has won both awards.  As writer, his books Olive's Ocean and The Year of Billy Miller won the Newbery.

A native of Racine, Wis., he has been writing and illustrating children’s books for 30 years. “It’s the only real job I’ve ever had.”        Growing up as an avid reader, he said library trips were a family ritual and one he highly recommends.  He started writing as a teenager and his first picture book was accepted for publication when he was just 19 and an art major at the University of Wisconsin. 

For writers thinking about children’s books, he said, “You don't need to have kids to write a good book for kids. I don't want my kids to see themselves in my books. Their lives should be their lives. “

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