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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Writing the nuances of human behavior


“I try as best I can to enter the realm of nuances of human behavior.” – Robert Ludlum
  
Ludlum, who was born on this day in 1927 and died in 2001, wrote 27 thriller novels and perhaps is best known as the creator of Jason Bourne.  The number of copies of his books in print is estimated at some 500 million, published in 33 languages.  He also published  under the pseudonyms Jonathan Ryder and Michael Shepherd.

A native of New York City, he started his “creative” life as a student at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, doing some writing, but mostly acting.  After a stint in the Marines, he returned to a theatrical career for a couple of decades before becoming a full-time writer.  "I equate suspense and good theater in a very similar way. I think it's all suspense and what-happens-next,” he said.  “From that point of view, as a writer I guess I am theatrical."  Eleven of his books have been made into movies and 2 more are under production. 
Ludlum said his novels often were inspired       by conspiracy theories, both historical and contemporary.  His protagonists are either one heroic man – like Bourne – or a small group of crusading individuals.    They struggle against powerful adversaries whose intentions and motivations are evil and who are capable of using political and economic mechanisms in frightening ways.

“I start every book with something that outrages me,” Ludlum said when asked about his motivation.  “I'm outraged by the FBI, the CIA, and computers that seem to have catalogued our lives. Power too often is accompanied by irresponsibility.”


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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thoughts for 'The Writing Life'


“If you’re a singer, you might lose your voice.  A baseball player loses his arm.  But a writer gets more knowledge, and if he’s good, the older he gets, the better he writes.” – Mickey Spillane
 
*** 
“Actors are good liars; writers are good liars with good memories.” – Daniel Keys Moran 

***
“It's hard to say how certain stories just punch us in the heart and the brain at the same time at the end. I suppose that's what we're all looking for. But each story has its own valence, its own way of saying goodbye to you.” – T. C. Boyle 

***
“If you ask 20 different readers why they read, the answers they give will all be right.” –  Teresa Nielsen Hayden

***
When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end.  So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it. – Charles de Lint

 
I awoke feeling a bit nostalgic about this so-called “writing life” and thought it would be a good day to share a few nostalgic (and somewhat profound) words by writers I’ve enjoyed.   May your “Writer’s Moments” bring you happiness along life’s roads.



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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Great characters lead to great tales


“The characters are always the focal point of a book for me, whether I'm writing or reading. I may enjoy a book that has an intriguing mystery or a good plot, but to become one of my real favorites, it has to have great characters.” – Candace Camp

 Camp, who was born on this date in 1949, is a native Texan who started her prolific writing career while earning a law degree in the 1970s.  She said writing just seemed to come naturally to her, and she actually began “writing to relax” at age 10 and has been writing ever since.  The majority of her works are in the Romance genre where she’s published a remarkable 70-plus novels under both her own name and the pseudonyms of Lisa Gregory, Kristin James and Sharon Stevens. 

Her first book Bonds of Love came out as Lisa Gregory in 1979 and her most recent, The Marrying Season, as Candace Camp just a couple of years ago.         Her publisher is now working with her to re-edit most of the pseudonym books to re-release them under her own name.

Writing runs in her family.  Her daughter is Young Adult writer Anastasia Hopcus and her mother Lula Mae (Irons) Camp was a journalist.

“My mother was a reporter, and though she quit when they had kids, she still loved it,” Camp said.  “She told me about the people at the paper and the articles she wrote. She had the best memory of anyone I know, and she could really tell a tale.”

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Monday, May 22, 2017

It's 'elementary' my dear Watson


“A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.” –Arthur Conan Doyle

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Coyle – in 1859 in Scotland – the creator of one of the iconic figures in literary history, Sherlock Holmes.     Noted for his to-the-point comments while solving mysteries, Holmes once pointed out that, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”  

Originally a physician (I always thought that he resembled what I imagined Dr. Watson to look like), Doyle wrote his first Holmes book, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887.  It was the first of just four novels about Holmes and Dr. Watson, but he “filled out” the Holmes library of tales with over 50 short stories featuring the famous detective.  The Sherlock Holmes stories are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction.   The tales spawned many dozens (if not more) of uses of Holmes by other writers and dozens of movies and television programs.  He also brought Deerstalker hats and Meerschaum pipes into vogue. 
Doyle, who died in 1930, also is known for writing          the fictional adventures of Professor Challenger and for propagating the mystery of the Mary Celeste.   He was a prolific writer whose other works include fantasy and science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels.  

Among the many sayings Doyle created to become part of our lexicon is, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”  Words to both solve mysteries and live by.


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Sunday, May 21, 2017

The influential music of Jerry Goldsmith


If our music survives, which I have no doubt it will, then it will because it is good.” – Jerry Goldsmith
 
A salute to music today reflecting on the works of composer/writer Goldsmith, who died at age 88 earlier this month.  Most known for his work in film and television scoring, he composed scores for many dozens  of noteworthy films including Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which he personally considered his best), The Sand Pebbles, Logan's Run, Planet of the Apes, Patton, Hoosiers (which I always liked the best), and Chinatown – often regarded as one of the greatest scores of all time.  It ranks No. 9 on the AFI's list of top 25 American film scores and was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award.  Remarkably, under pressure after taking it over from another composer, he wrote the Chinatown score in just 10 days.

He was nominated for 18 Best Score Academy Awards for his movies and three dozen Emmys for his television series. Goldsmith has often been considered one of film music history's most innovative and influential composers.                              
                                               If music can be autobiographical, then Goldsmith’s version was his energetic Fireworks: A Celebration of Los Angeles in 1999.  Looking back on the experience, Goldsmith later said, he realized hd was writing about where he was born and had lived his entire life and decided to make the piece a grand celebration of the events that had surrounded his life. 

As for his career in film and television, he noted, “I like the variety. But basically my choice of films is a small intimate film. Quiet film, no action, just people in relationships. That's what I like the most.”

For a small sampling of Goldsmith’s work, check out the opening credits and theme of Hoosiers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r74qegjbF28
Or, take the time for this nice YouTube mix put together by Mark Michael:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeDDeP1oFcY




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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Poetry: A relationship to everything


Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.” – Adrienne Rich

Born in May 1929, American poet, essayist and radical feminist Rich was called "one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century."  Her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, was selected by renowned poet W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1950 and she never looked back from there.  Winner of more than two dozen major writing awards, she also received a MacArthur Genius Grant and Lifetime Achievement Award from the Griffin Poetry Prize Foundation.  She died in 2012.
As I was reading some of her diverse and often wrenching poetry,     
I came across a poem that, while written 30 years ago, still resonates today.  So, for Saturday’s Poem, here is Rich’s,

Prospective Immigrants, Please Note

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.




Friday, May 19, 2017

Keep striving to 'fill the page'


“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

Picoult, who has more than 14 million copies of her books (translated into 34 languages) in print worldwide, is a New Hampshire author who was born on this date in Long Island, NY, in 1966.    The daughter and granddaughter of teachers, she grew up reading and writing and did her first story, "The Lobster Which Misunderstood," at the age of 5.   By the time she reached college (at Princeton) she was writing – and being published – on a regular basis, including winning a couple of national writing contests while still in school.

The first of Picoult’s 23 bestselling novels, Songs of the Humpback Whale, came out in 1992 and her latest, Small Great Things, just last November.  She has had a remarkable 9 consecutive novels released in the Number One position on the New York Times Bestseller List, beginning with  Nineteen Minutes in 2007. 
In 2013 Picoult was a member of a group      of 30 bestselling writers who banded together to form the Writers Council for the National Writing Project.  That project recognizes writing – especially creative writing – as a communicative tool and helps teachers enhance student efforts to become writers.  

“Writer's block is for people who have the luxury of time,” she noted when asked how she keeps focused and continues turning out one successful book after another.   “When you're stuck, and sure you've written absolute garbage, force yourself to finish and then decide to fix or scrap it - or you will never know if you can.”



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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Talent and determination set your pace


“If people ask me for the ingredients of success, I say one is talent, two is stubbornness or determination, and third is sheer luck. You have to have two out of the three. Any two will probably do.” – Fred Saberhagen

Born on this date in 1930, Saberhagen wrote both science fiction and fantasy and gained most of his fame for his Berserker sci-fi series.  He also wrote a well-received series of vampire novels in which Dracula steps away from the usual villainous role to become  the main protagonist.

A one-time editor and writer for Encyclopedia Brittanica, he decided in his early 30s that he would focus on “serious” writing (meaning creative fiction, he later said) and he moved to Albuquerque, NM, and hit the keyboards.  There, he added, “fear” often kept the creative juices flowing.

“I suspect that writer's block afflicts mainly people who have some stable and ample source of income outside of writing,” he quipped.   “So, for me, that was never a problem.”   In the latter years of his life – he died in 2007 – he became a frequent speaker at writing conferences and workshops where he gave this advice         to aspiring creative writers.
                                            “The advice would be the same for any kind of fiction. Keep writing, and keep sending things out, not to friends and relatives, but to people who have the power to buy. A lot of additional, useful tips could be added, but this is fundamental.”


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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The truth in one's imagination


“The thing about imagination is that by the very act of putting it down, there must be some truth in one's own imagination.” – Dennis Potter

Born on this date in 1935, Potter is widely regarded as one of the most influential and innovative dramatists ever to have worked on British television.  His television dramas mixed fantasy, reality, personal and social with themes and images from popular culture.

In addition to his work as a TV dramatist, Potter also wrote journalistically, had several novels and nonfiction books published, and did both screenplays and stage productions. He is best known for his BBC TV serials Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, and for his television play Blue Remembered Hills, all aired on Masterpiece Theatre as well.

Major motifs in Potter's writing are the concept of betrayal and the device of a disruptive outsider.      He also wrote a number of pieces considered semi-autobiographical, and while he won very few awards (he did win an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for his screenplay of the novel Gorky Park), his work has influenced a wide range of other writers and producers both in Great Britain and the U.S.    He died at the relatively young age of 59 and has since been the subject of several television retrospectives, including a festival of his works by the BBC.

Noted for his droll sense of humor, he once remarked wryly that, “The trouble with words is that you never know whose mouths they have been in.”



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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Human because of our language


“Words are our life. We are human because we use language. So I think we are less human when we use less language.” – Carol Shields

Born on this date in 1935, Shields was American-born (Illinois) but became a well-known novelist and short story writer in her adopted country of Canada.   And, after becoming a renowned writer, her life came full circle when she won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel The Stone Diaries, along with  Canada’s equivalent, the Governor General's Award - the only novel to ever win both.

Shields first moved to Canada in the 1960s to do her master’s degree in English, and then she returned after marrying a Canadian citizen.  She started her writing career as an editorial assistant for the journal Canadian Slavonic Papers in the late 1970s and taught creative writing in British Columbia before moving over to the University of Manitoba, where she taught the rest of her life.  She died in 2003.

Side-by-side with her teaching she wrote short stories and a number of well-received novels before her major achievement with The Stone Diaries.  Shields also won the 1998 Orange Prize for Fiction for her novel Larry's Party, and her last novel Unless (in 2002) won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and was nominated for The Booker Prize.      

“There are chapters in every life which are seldom read,” Shields wrote about what should and should not be shared by writers.  “And if they are, they should not be shared aloud.” 



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Monday, May 15, 2017

The sounds and rhythms of words


“The sounds and rhythms of words are really important to me.” – David Almond


Born on this date in 1951, British author Almond started writing for adults but earned accolades and critical success with works for children and young adults. Since the publication of his first young adult book, Skellig, his YA novels, stories, and plays have brought him international success and widespread critical acclaim.  He is one of just 30 writers to win the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, "the world's most prestigious prize in children's literature."

A native of Newcastle, Almond said he dreamed of being a writer “even as a child,” creating little books to share with his family and classmates.       A teacher right out of college, he didn’t begin a writing career until the 1985 adult novel, Sleepless Nights.  While he had modest success writing for adults, it was Skellig that launched him onto the his award-filled (he’s won over a dozen) YA writing path. His most acclaimed recent work is A Song for Ella Grey based on the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.                               

Noted for a lyrical style that also often focuses on the region in which he resides, he said he credits “regional” writers with influencing him.  “I learned to be a regional writer by reading people like (writer of the American South) Flannery O'Connor,” he said.  “She was a huge influence.” 


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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day


Happy Mother’s Day, especially to my wife Susan and daughters Kari and Becky, who also are beautiful and wonderful mothers, giving Susan and me some terrific grandsons.  All 3 of these strong women have always been great inspirations to me as a writer.

And, remembering today my own mother Virginia, who died at the relatively young age of 60, but whose spirit and enthusiasm for life continues to play an important part in my life and how I look upon the world when writing about it.

 “Be happy and be a friend, and your life will always be full,” my mother used to say.  “Money does not measure success.  If your life is filled with friends, then you are rich.”   My mother’s optimistic spirit, concern for others, and hope for the future were, perhaps, the greatest gifts she gave to me and to all whose lives she touched. 

We receive so many gifts from our mothers each and every day.  The best each of us can do in return is cherish those gifts and use them wisely.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Celebrating the start of the day


I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line. Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times - and this, I think, is a sense you develop - I can tell that the line wants to continue. If it does, I can feel a sense of momentum - the poem finds a reason for continuing.” – Billy Collins
I’ve written of Collins before and the former Poet Laureate of the U.S.    just continues adding to his body of work and honors, including the recently awarded Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, given annually to an "internationally acclaimed" author who has "written a distinguished body of work and made a major contribution to the field of literature and letters."

After waking early today – I’m a “morning person” anyway – and while making coffee, I was reminded of the Collins’ poem Morning.  As I re-read it, I also thought it was a perfect share for Saturday’s Poem.  Enjoy!

Morning
Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse


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Friday, May 12, 2017

Writing as an emotional reflection


“Whether you want to entertain or to provoke, to break hearts or reassure them, what you bring to your writing must consist of your longings and disappointments.” – Rafael Yglesias

American novelist and screenwriter Yglesias, celebrating his 63rd birthday today, is perhaps best known for his book and screenplay Fearless, both multiple award winners and award nominees.  He is a New York native who finds himself in a “sandwich” position of family writers – the son of two of them and father of two more.  And, his wife is novelist Ann Packer.   Literally a “born writer,” Yglesias wrote his first successful novel, Hide Fox, while still in the 10th grade.  

He also has had many his major successes with screenplays – besides his own novel’s adaptation – including the 1998 version of Les Miserables, featuring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush and Uma Thurman in the lead roles.   And, look for more from him on television, too.  He just finished a successful run with NBC’s Aquarius       and is rumored to have signed for more.

Fiercely independent with his writing style, he is noted for creating complex characters. “To me, people's lives and loves are entwined with their characters, natures and circumstances,” he said.  “I regard all general advice with skepticism.”

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Engaging with the world around us


“As a writer and as a reader, I really believe in the power of narrative to allow us ways to experience life beyond our own; ways to reflect on things that have happened to us and a chance to engage with the world in ways that transcend time and gender and all sorts of things.” – Kim Edwards

Born in Texas in May 1958, Edwards is the author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, now translated into 38 languages, and the bestselling The Lake of Dreams.  She also authored a collection of short stories, The Secrets of a Fire King.  Her writing honors include the Whiting Award, the British Book Award, and USA Today's 2006 Book of the Year for Memory Keeper’s Daughter.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she has taught widely in the U.S. and Asia and continues to teach at the University of Kentucky.  She also is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant for her work.  
In her teaching,       she said she often reflects  on people’s desire to share stories as one of the things “that make us human.”  

As for advice to beginning writers, she likes the idea of writing from a place that you know.  “I've always set my stories in places I know well,” she said.  “It frees me up to spend more imaginative time on the characters if I'm not worrying about the logistics.“


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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A testament to perserverence


“I love writing and do not know why it is considered such a difficult, agonizing profession.” – Caroline B. Cooney 
 
Born in Connecticut on this date in 1947, Cooney is an award-winning author of Young Adult fiction in a wide range of genres ranging from mystery and suspense to romance and horror.  Her 2008 book Diamonds in the Shadow was named a 2008 ALA/YALSA Quick Pick and was a nominee for the Edgar Allan Poe Award, but she is best known for her early 1990s novel The Face on the Milk Carton, which sold over 3 million copies and was made into a television movie.

Although she got off to a rather rocky start in her writing career, once she “connected,” she never dropped off the writing map again.  To date she’s published over 60 books and many dozens of short stories – something she first thought might be what she would do throughout her writing life.

“I wrote 8 full-length adult novels in my twenties. None of them were published,” she said.  “And so, I decided to write short stories because they got rejected quicker.” 
But, of course, they did not get rejected and led to her writing       "published" novels as well.  Cooney said she first knew she would be a writer in the 6th grade and never gave up on the dream even with those early publishing issues.  “I’m one of the lucky writers,” she said.  “Plots come easily to me.”


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