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Friday, August 18, 2017

Stepping into other's lives

“I think of novels as houses. You live in them over the course of a long period, both as a reader and as a writer.” – Nicole Krauss

Born on this date in 1974, Krauss is an American author best known for her novels Man Walks Into a Room, The History of Love (also made into a 2016 movie), and Great House, all multiple award winners translated into 35 languages.  Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker and Harper's and been collected in Best American Short Stories – both the 2003 and 2008 editions.

Her much anticipated next novel, Forest Dark, is scheduled for publication in September.   “To me,” she noted, “… the singular privilege of reading literature (is) we are allowed to step into another's life.”    
A graduate of Stanford, where she studied English, Krauss also earned a scholarship to Oxford, honing her writing skills while earning a master’s in art history.

Being “clear” in your writing – making things understandable – is the best advice she gives to new writers.  “If the book is a mystery to its author as she's writing, inevitably it's going to be a mystery to the reader as he or she reads it.”

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Heart, head, hand - the writing art

“What can't be said can be written. Because writing is a silent act, a labor from the head to the hand.” – Herta Muller

Born on this date in 1953, Nobel Prize winner Muller is a German novelist, poet and essayist noted for her works depicting the effects of violence, cruelty and terror.  Her primary setting has been Communist Romania under the repressive Nicolae Ceaușescu regime, which she experienced herself as a child and young woman.

Also winner of the International Dublin Literary Award and the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award, she was described by the Swedish Nobel Institute as a woman "… who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.”

A one-time translator,             Muller's  books have usually been written in German then re-released in multiple languages, beginning with her award-winning and very gripping novel The Passport.    Also a teacher, she said writing has been an integral part of her life since childhood.

“In writing, one searches,” she said,  “and that is what keeps one writing, that one sees and experiences things from another angle entirely; one experiences oneself during the process of writing.”

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The inspiration of Will Rogers

“If you want to be successful, it's just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.” – Will Rogers

            Yesterday marked the anniversary of the tragic death of Rogers, one of America's great humorists and homespun philosophers.   Rogers died in a plane crash with aviator Wiley Post as they were flying into Alaska in 1935.  At the time, he was perhaps as well known – if not more well known – than any figure in the world.

              Noted for his saying, "I never met a man I didn't like," Rogers had almost daily statements about everything from culture to politics, shared in many of his more than 4,000 essays written for his widely circulated newspaper column.  He also did hundreds of talks on a syndicated radio show, and appeared in more than 50 movies. 
                  I put a young Will Rogers (age 15) into my historical novel And The Wind Whispered, based on a real life adventure he became embroiled in while traveling by train to the Southern Black Hills with two young Oklahoma ranching friends.  A couple years ago, just after the publication of that novel, I was invited to visit the Rogers boyhood home, and then tour the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, Okla.  Both stops are wonderful experiences and a great opportunity to share in the culture, history and writings of this unique storyteller.  He was an inspiration for my writing before and even more so after.                  
                “Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save,” Rogers once said.   Remember, even if you are on the right track,” he said, “you will get run over if you just sit there.”

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Creating those 'unsettling' settings

“A good writer can set a thriller anywhere and make it convincing: the trick is to evoke the setting in such a way that it highlights the crime or unsettles the reader.”  Garry Disher

Born on this date in 1949, Disher is one of Australia’s best-known authors.  Raised on a farm in a remote region of South Australia, he decided in childhood to become a writer, influenced by his love of reading – something he encourages all writers to do religiously – and  his father’s original bedtime storytelling. 

After studying at Adelaide University, he worked abroad and traveled widely before returning to Australia for his master's degree, and to begin his formal writing career.  His success with short stories for both literary magazines and competitions led to a prestigious creative-writing fellowship at Stanford University.      

A full-time writer since 1988, he’s published nearly 50 books ranging from general/literary novels (Steal Away) and crime thrillers (Wyatt) to story collections, fiction for children and teenagers, and creative writing handbooks and texts.

Also a creative writing teacher for many years, he said he finds all types of writing interesting and challenging.  “I have no favorite genre or style but treat each novel with the same care, imagination and craftsmanship,” Disher said.  “It's as difficult to write a crime or a children's novel with a touch of style and grace as it is a literary novel.”

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Words that 'strengthen the soul'

“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. “ – Ursula K. Le Guin

Science fiction and fantasy writer Le Guin, who celebrates her 88th birthday this fall, has won dozens of annual "year's best" literary awards. For novels alone she has won five Locus, four Nebula, two Hugo, and one World Fantasy Award.  Most recently, she won the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Related Work for a collection of essays entitled Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016.     

A writer since the age of 11, Le Guin has written dozens of short stories, essays, poems and children’s books to complement her numerous novels.  She also is a noted speaker and has worked in both radio and film.  In 2000 she was named a living legend by the U.S. Library of Congress for her contributions to America’s cultural heritage.

"Storytellers and poets spend their lives learning the skill and art of using words well,” she said.   “And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Those 'Good Vibrations' of the heart

“Music is the major form of communication. It's the commonest vibration, the people's news broadcast, especially for kids.”  Richie Havens
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Richie Havens’ 1969 appearance at Woodstock – more out of necessity than because he was supposed to be a featured performer – catapulted him into stardom and was a major turning point in his career.   As the festival's first performer, he was supposed to “warm up” the crowd.  Instead, he held the crowd for nearly three hours, continuing to play because many artists scheduled to perform after him were delayed in reaching the festival location with highways at a virtual standstill.

He was called back for numerous encores, obliged, and having run out of tunes, he improvised a song based on the old spiritual “Motherless Child,” that became his world-famous song Freedom.

Not just a “performer,” Havens, who was born in 1941 and died in 2013, increasingly devoted his energies to educating young people about ecological issues.         He founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in the Bronx.  That, in turn, led to the creation of the Natural Guard, an organization Havens describes as a way of helping kids learn that they can have a hands-on role in affecting the environment.

“Children study the land, water, and air in their own communities,” he said with pride shortly before his death.  “It’s empowering because they see how they can make positive changes from something as simple as planting a garden in an abandoned lot."  

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

The heart: A foundation for the arts

“Innocence of heart and violence of feeling are necessary in any kind of superior achievement: The arts cannot exist without them.” Louise Bogan

A native of  Maine, Bogan was born on Aug. 11, 1897, and eventually moved to New York City to pursue a career in writing and published her first book of poetry, Body of This Death: Poems, in 1923.  A longtime writer and poetry editor for The New Yorker, she was appointed the fourth Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress in 1945. 

Bogan, who died of a heart attack in 1970, has been called by some critics “the most accomplished woman poet of the twentieth century” and her works are still widely available, shared and studied. 

For Saturday’s Poem, here is Bogan’,

       Roman Fountain
Up from the bronze, I saw
Water without a flaw
Rush to its rest in air,
Reach to its rest, and fall.

Bronze of the blackest shade,
An element man-made,
Shaping upright the bare
Clear gouts of water in air.

O, as with arm and hammer,
Still it is good to strive
To beat out the image whole,
To echo the shout and stammer
When full-gushed waters, alive,
Strike on the fountain's bowl
After the air of summer.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Avoiding those 'writing labels'

Writers never feel comfortable having labels attached to them, however accurate they are. – Jonathan Coe

An English novelist and writer, Coe – born in August, 1959 – has spent his writing career focusing on novels about politics.  But while he has had an underlying preoccupation with political issues, this serious engagement is often expressed comically in the form of satire, and he’s one of the best.

His nonfiction book Humphrey Bogart: Take It And Like It is one of the best written on the late actor and one of the first pieces by him that I discovered, since I’ve always enjoyed Bogart and the interesting life that he led.  

Besides his literature, Coe has had a burgeoning career in music, playing keyboards in the band The Peer Group and writing a number of songs for both that band and others.   He’s collaborated with many other writers on a wide range of songs and continues to toy with the idea of “just focusing on music, which is why I can’t decide what I really want to be” although writing continues to lead the way.  As of 2016, Coe had published 11 novels.                         
                                    “I have trouble keeping things out of books, which is why I don't write short stories,” he said.   “They just seem to turn into novels.” 

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Edna Ferber: Always keep an open mind

“Life can't defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death.” – Edna Ferber

Born in August, 1885, Edna Ferber was a novelist, short story writer and playwright whose novels were wildly popular and won her a remarkable four Pulitzer Prizes – for So Big, Show Boat, Cimarron and Giant, the latter three also made into award-winning movies.   Show Boat was adapted for the stage as a hit Broadway musical and Cimarron won the Academy Award for Best Picture. 

Ferber's novels generally featured strong female protagonists, along with a rich and diverse collection of supporting characters. She usually highlighted at least one strong secondary character who faced discrimination ethnically or for other reasons, demonstrating her belief that people are people and that the not-so-pretty people often have the best character.          
                            Ferber, who died in 1968, said she enjoyed writing a wide range of stories.  “I like to look at all sides of people and be open to any idea,” she said.  “A closed mind is a dying mind.”

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Keeping her readers mesmerized

“In plotting a book, my goal is to raise the stakes for the characters and, in so doing, keep the reader mesmerized.“– Barbara Delinsky

Born in Boston in August, 1945, Delinsky started her writing career in the late 1970s, working as a newspaper reporter and photographer while simultaneously becoming a key volunteer and advocate for many medical causes, particularly on behalf of cancer victims and survivors.

In 1980 she turned to writing romance novels, working under the pseudonym Billie Douglass.  While writing under that name for Silhouette Books, she also got into the market for Harlequin, writing under her own name.

After extraordinary success with both publishers and names, she decided to work strictly as Barbara Delinsky and eventually re-issued some of her Billie Douglass books under her own name.  To date, she has more than 30 million copies of her books published in 25 languages and has won numerous awards, including several “best novel” prizes.  One of those, A Woman's Place, also was made into a “Lifetime” movie. 

In 2001, as a breast cancer survivor, Delinsky branched into nonfiction with Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors.             Proceeds from that book and a second nonfiction work have been donated to fund an oncology fellowship at the Massachusetts General Hospital to help train breast surgeons. 

Delinski has authored more than 60 books, each a stand-alone title.  “Each of my books is different from the last, each with its own characters, its own setting, its own themes,” she said.   “As a writer, I need the variety. I sense my readers do, too.”

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Pursuing writing with a passion

“I love writing. I've pursued it with a passion.” – Betsy Byars

Byars, who was born on this date in 1928, is the author of more than 60 books for young adults and children, several of which have won the top book awards, including a Newbery Medal for Summer of the Swans, a National Book Award for Children’s Fiction for The Night Swimmers, and an Edgar Award (given annually for best mysteries) for Wanted ... Mud Blossom.

Byars has been called "one of the ten best writers for children in the world" by Nancy Chambers, editor of the British literary journal Signal, and listed as one of the Educational Paperback Association's top 100 authors.   In 1987 Byars received the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement from the Catholic Library Association. 

She studied English at Queens College in her native North Carolina and started writing for magazines while living in Illinois where her husband was working on his graduate degree.  Her work was eventually featured in The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Everywoman's Magazine, and TV Guide.   Her first novel, Clementine, was published in 1962.  While she created many beloved characters, each is usually a stand-alone story.            

“Early in my career, I decided not to do sequels,” she said.  “I know that children enjoy them, but I valued the feeling that this was the only time I would write about these characters. I felt it gave me an added incentive to do my best by them, to tell readers everything I knew; to hold nothing back.”

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

The terrific writing of Pat Monahan

“You don’t choose your experiences.  They choose you.” – Pat Monahan

Writers come in many categories and one of the most interesting can be as a song lyricist, where you’re a combination poet and short story writer.  Monahan has been called “One of the best of all time” by almost every other major songwriter. 

Monahan’s amazing success has primarily been with the band Train, but it wasn’t a rocket ride to success.  After initially being rejected by Columbia Records, Monahan and Train, strongly believing that they were writing lyrics and tunes that would resonate with the general public, decided to self-produce.  They scraped together $25,000 and made their record, and of course the rest is history. 

But, Columbia still did not dive into supporting them, instead relegating Train to a sub-label, Aware Records.  The band’s first single, "Free,” was a hit on pop/mainstream rock stations.  Their second, "Meet Virginia,” was a top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Their album, "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me),” with the title song by the same name, was a massive worldwide hit, winning Grammy Awards and rock song of the year.   Another immense bestseller for Train was, “Hey, Soul Sister,” which topped every chart worldwide for a year.  Train is still going strong thanks primarily to the great writing of Monahan, who also is the group’s lead singer. 

For a sample of Monahan’s terrific lyrical writing, look up the lyrics to “Hey, Soul Sister,”or go on this link to the YouTube video.  Enjoy.

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Soaring words from a wise old chief

“If the very old will remember, the very young will listen.” – Chief Dan George


                I’ve written about Chief George before but felt his poem To A Grandchild would make for a perfect Saturday’s Poem.  Actor, poet and author, his best-known written work was My Heart Soars from a line he uttered often in the movie Little Big Man, and his book by the same name.       

            Born in 1899 in British Columbia, he wrote many books, poems and songs, among them these wise words from My Heart Soars.

To A Grandchild

Heed the days
when the rain flows freely,
in their greyness
lies the seed of much thought
The sky hangs low
and paints new colors
on the earth.
After the rain
the grass will shed its moisture,
the fog will lift from the trees,
a new light will brighten the sky
and play in the drops
that hang on all things.
Your heart will beat out
a new gladness
- if you let it happen.
In the midst of a land
without silence
you have to make a place for yourself.
Those who have worn out
their shoes many times
know where to step.
It is not their shoes
you can wear
only their footsteps
you may follow,
- if you let it happen.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Exploring the 'What If?' factors

“Whenever I start a novel, I'm always looking for two things: a bit of science that makes me go 'what if?' and a piece of history that ends in a question mark.” – James Rollins
A writer of action-adventure/thriller novels who had been practicing veterinary medicine when he decided to "mostly" switch careers, Rollins is an amateur spelunker and a certified scuba diver who found those pastimes to be great background and settings for many of his writings. 

“But, I don't actually have a one wellspring of inspiration,” he said. “I subscribe to National Geographic, Scientific American, Discover, and a slew of other magazines. And it is while reading articles for pleasure and interest that an interesting 'What if?' often will pop into my head.”

Born in August 1961, he didn’t start writing until 1999 but has been almost unstoppable since, penning dozens of novels (and counting), among them Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  His very first novel, Witch Fire – written under his pen name James Clemens – was “discovered” as an entry in a Hawaiian writing contest.  His most recent novel is the bestseller, The Seventh Plague.     
                               Rollins continues to practice veterinary medicine, particularly helping abandoned or abused animals.  And, he says he’s found a secondary benefit from his writing. “Generally, if you preface a request with, 'I'm an author writing a book,' for some reason, that seems to open a lot of doors.”


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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Staying visible along your writing path

“I never write to disappear and escape. The truth is exactly the opposite. Most people strike me as escaping and disappearing in one way or another - into their jobs, their daily routines, their delusions about themselves and others.” – Steven Millhauser

Born in New York City on this date in 1943, Millhauser won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for his novel Martin Dressler.   In 2012 won The Story Prize for his book We Others.  That prize is given annually for the previous year’s outstanding collection of short fiction.

While he has had several successful novels, he has earned even more accolades for his numerous short stories.           One of his best known, Eisenheim the Illusionist, was made into the critically acclaimed 2006 film The Illusionist.         
A resident of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he teaches writing at Skidmore, one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, Millhauser has this advice about the writing process:  “When a story or part of a story comes to me, I turn it over in my mind a long time before starting to write. I might make notes or take long drives or who knows what. By the time I give myself permission to write, I know certain things, though not everything. I know where the story is headed, and I know certain crucial points along the way.”

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