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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Unpredictable, sporadic and addictive

“Writing's like gambling. Unpredictable and sporadic successes make you more addicted, not less.” – M. John Harrison

Born on this date in 1945, Michael John Harrison is an English author and literary critic whose work includes the Viriconium sequence of novels and short stories, the multiple award-winning 1989 novel Climbers, and the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy, its third book Nova Swing winning the Arthur C. Clarke award, given annually for the best science fiction work published in the United Kingdom.  The book also won the Philip K. Dick Award in the U.S.       
                            Among his many awards for Climbers was the prestigious Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, the first work of fiction to win the prize.

Widely considered one of the major stylists of modern fantasy and science fiction, Harrison’s reach is into all genrés and he has been twice nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.   “He writes fantasy and science fiction … of a form, scale and brilliance that it shames not only the rest of the field, but most modern fiction,” noted 3-time Arthur C. Clarke winner China Tom Miéville.

Harrison’s works cross the writing spectrum and he also is a noted teacher of creative writing, focusing on landscape and autobiography.  “Every moment of a science fiction story,” he said,  “must represent the triumph of writing over world-building.”

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Finding the story 'beneath the surface'

“You can have all the information you want in the world. If you don't have the people raising questions and looking beneath the surface, and people being paid to do this, you're not going to find the answers. “ – Lowell Bergman

Bergman, born on July 24, 1945, has had one of the most prestigious careers in American journalism, working 5 decades in both print and television news, earning almost every major journalistic award, and now also teaching journalism at UC-Berkeley. 

A native of New York City, Bergman studied at the University of Wisconsin and UC-San Diego, starting in journalism by co-founding the San Diego Free Press.  After stints at the San Francisco Examiner and Rolling Stone, he moved over to TV as a producer, reporter and then executive in charge of investigative reporting at ABC News.  An original producer of 20/20, he joined CBS News as a producer for 60 Minutes, where over the course of 14 years he produced more than 50 stories, many Emmy winners.

His investigative story into the tobacco industry, was later chronicled in the multiple Academy Award–nominated film The Insider, a gripping I highly commend as one of the all-time best films about investigative journalism.    Since leaving CBS he has combined his love of print, broadcast and teaching, including working 10 years as an investigative correspondent for The New York Times – where he won a Pulitzer Prize for the series “A Dangerous Business.”   And he is both a producer and reporter for the PBS series Frontline.            
  Named by the Society of Professional Journalist for its James Madison Freedom of Information Award for Career Achievement, he continues teaching and mentoring young journalists from around the world and serving as a conduit between student projects and their publication in some of the top media outlets.   “I tell my students that if you have enough preparation, you can handle the big interviews,” he said. “You won't be intimidated.”

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Intensifying the experience of living

Good fiction reveals feeling, refines events, locates importance and, though its methods are as mysterious as they are varied, intensifies the experience of living our own lives. – Vincent Canby

Born in July of 1924, Vincent Canby had the distinction of being both the chief film critic AND the chief theater critic for the New York Times – the only person to ever do so.  As film critic from 1969-93 he reviewed more than 1,000 films.   Image result for Vincent Canby
He then turned his critical eye to the theater where he did the theater reviews until his death in 2000.
He was such a respected writer and reviewer that Bob Hope requested that Canby be the one to write his obituary, but Canby died first.  However, he still received the byline on Hope’s story since he had crafted most of it prior to his own death, and Times editors didn’t think it could be topped. 

The career of Vincent Canby is discussed in the film For the Love of Movies:  The Story of American Film Criticism, a wonderful and insightful piece of writing and movie-making that I highly recommend for all who love the silver screen and those who comment upon it.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

That 'hard-boiled' writing approach

“A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled.” – Raymond Chandler

Born on this date in 1888, Chandler started his writing career out of desperation after losing his oil company job during the Great Depression.  He found he had a great knack for writing crime stories and wrote for magazines for several years before devising his first novel – an instant hit and bestseller, The Big Sleep, published in 1939.

In addition to his many, many short stories, Chandler published seven novels including Double Indemnity and The Long Goodbye – considered a masterpiece in the genre and named one of the top 100 novels of the 20th Century.   A founder of the “hard-boiled school of detective fiction,” Chandler’s protagonist Philip Marlowe was made even more famous through the acting of Humphrey Bogart, who played him in a number of films adapted from Chandler’s works. 
                                             British author Ian Fleming said that Chandler offered “some of the finest dialogue written in any prose” and mystery writer Paul Levine described Chandler's style as the "literary equivalent of a quick punch to the gut."

“Write ‘actively,’” Chandler said when asked for his advice to young writers.  “And when in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Always a search for order

“For me, poetry is always a search for order.'' – Elizabeth Jennings

British poet Elizabeth Jennings, born this date in 1926, won many awards for her “orderly” poetry, which as it often turns out were anything but.  She won acclaim and awards for her lyric style including the prestigious Somerset Maugham Award for her second book of poetry A Way of Looking, and the W.H. Smith Literary Award for her 1987 Collected Works, which includes one of her most famous short poems, “In A Garden.”   She died in 2001.                   
                                  For an enjoyable and thoughtful afternoon or evening of poetic reading pick up one of her books.  They will transport you to whatever place about which she is writing.   For Saturday’s Poem, here is Jennings’,

                                     In A Garden

When the gardener has gone this garden
Looks wistful and seems waiting an event.

It is so spruce, a metaphor of Eden
And even more so since the gardener went,
Quietly godlike, but of course, he had
Not made me promise anything and I
Had no one tempting me to make the bad
  Yet I still felt lost and wonder why?

Even the beech tree from next door which shares
Its shadow with me, seemed a kind of threat.

Everything was too neat, and someone cares 

In the wrong way.
  I need not have stood long
Mocked by the smell of a mown lawn, and yet
I did.
  Sickness for Eden was so strong.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Write every day -- and make it 'right'

“I feel I'm functioning at some level as a journalist because even though I write fiction, I'm trying to get the world accurate.” – Michael Connelly

Born on this date in 1956, Connelly is one of America’s premier writers of detective fiction.  His books, which have been translated into 39 languages and have won nearly every major award given to mystery writers, including the Edgar Award, Anthony Award, and Los Angeles Times Best Mystery/Thriller Award.

A journalist first, Connelly graduated from the University of Florida and started his career on the crime beat, great training for his later work in creative writing.  He is one of the leading advocates for keeping newspapers at the forefront in the media.

“A newspaper is the center of a community,” he said.  “It's one of the tent poles of the community, and that's not going to be replaced by Web sites and blogs.”       

One-time president of the Mystery Writers of America, he has had many works made into movies and television series, including the award-winning Netflix series Bosch.  And, he’s a frequent speaker and panelist on writing.

His advice to all writers is simple:  “Write every day even if it’s just a paragraph.”

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Writer to reader: It's in the soul

“I love writing novels, even if only a few thousand people read them. Here's my soul; I hope it appeals to your soul.”  Mark O'Donnell

Writer and humorist O’Donnell was born on this date in Cleveland, OH, in 1954 and despite his love of novels, he was best known for his smash Broadway hit and subsequent hit movie Hairspray, for which he won a Tony Award.  He also earned a Tony nomination for his 2008 Broadway show Cry-Baby.  He did have two best-selling novels, Getting Over Homer and Let Nothing You Dismay.

An identical twin – his brother was television writer Steve O’Donnell – Mark collapsed and died suddenly in 2012 and no cause has ever been determined.                          

In the years leading up to his death, he had been teaching regularly at Yale where he had many successful students and offered young writers this advice:  “Everybody has parents. As a dramatist, whenever you write a character, you must write their parents as well, even if the parents aren't there.”

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

That 'Rainbow' Connection

In Colorado this time of year, afternoon thundershowers are prevalent, invariably followed by a stunning rainbow.   So, the other day when I saw yet one more, I was reminded of the wonderful song “Rainbow Connection,” written by the award winning songwriters Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher.

Originally performed by muppet Kermit the Frog (voiced by the late, great Jim Henson), It debuted in the 1979 hit The Muppet Movie (if you haven’t seen that movie, it’s another one of those “Not to be missed” things to put on your list).

Williams and Ascher, both in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, earned Oscar nominations for the movie’s score and this terrific song, which often has been compared with “Over The Rainbow” in The Wizard of Oz exactly 40 years earlier.  Both songs are beautiful, make up the opening scene of their respective movies, and reflect each singer's urge to find something more in life.

"Rainbow Connection" has been recorded by hundreds of artists around the world – everyone from Jason Mraz to Willie Nelson and Sarah McLaughlin to the Yale University Whiffenpoofs and the Cast of “Glee.”  The American Film Institute rated it the 74th greatest movie song of all time – not bad for being sung by a frog.

Here's a version by the late Karen Carpenter, whose voice truly took every song to its highest level.  May you find your own rainbow connection in all your writers' moments.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

A sense of 'connections'

“I want to look at this character from all points of view. I know I don't want to make them all good or all bad or all anything... the story itself often helps create the character.”  Chris Crutcher

Born in Ohio on this date in 1946, Crutcher grew up in a small town in Idaho where he was a multi-sport athlete and avid reader from early childhood.  Influenced by To Kill A Mockingbird and the idea that writing about small town life was a good thing, he went into writing for teens almost from the start of his writing career.   Good choice! 

The American Library Association has named 8 of his 13 young adult novels and 2 short story collections “Best Books for Young Adults.”  Four of his books appeared on Booklist’s “Best 100 Books of the 20th Century,” compiled in 2000 – more than any other single author on the list.  Crutcher received the ALAN Award in 1993, the NCTE SLATE Intellectual Freedom Award in 1998, the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 and Writer Magazine’s  “Writers Who Make a Difference” Award in 2004.

Crutcher's debut novel was Running Loose in 1983 about a senior in high school who has it all until life throws him for a few loops. Many of his novels concern teenaged athletes who have personal problems, often swimmers.         His recurring supporting characters include a wise teacher or coach.  One of his most honored is Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, the story of a girl who suffers a severe facial injury from an abusive parent.

“What I hope my writing reflects... is a sense of the connections between all human beings... and a different perspective on the true nature of courage,” he said.  “For me, those are things worth exploring and writing about.”

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Escaping to a genre' of ideas

“To me, fantasy has always been the genre of escape, science fiction the genre of ideas. So if you can escape and have a little idea as well, maybe you have some kind of a cross-breed between the two.” – Sheri S. Tepper
Born in Colorado on this date in 1929, Tepper wrote science fiction, horror and mystery novels and also was known for her feminist science fiction, often with an eco-feminist slant.  Her novel Grass is considered a classic on this theme.   Tepper employed several pen names, including A. J. Orde, E. E. Horlak, and B. J. Oliphant, and although she stared writing late in life (in her 50s) she turned out more than 50 books. Tepper started writing under the name Sheri Stewart Eberhart, first doing children’s books and poetry but then finding her niche in the sci-fi/fantasy world.

Her book The Revenants firmly established her in the genré and in the 1990s and early 2000s she wrote a couple dozen books, including two best-selling trilogies – The Marianne Series and The Arbai Trilogy, both multiple award winners, including two Hugos.   Her 1992 stand-alone book, Beauty, won a Locus Award for Best Fantasy.   Shortly before her death in 2016 she was given the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

In receiving the award she said she would encourage new writers to look into the sci-fi world.  “Science fiction,” she said,  “still is an idea genré.”

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Seeking the elusive 'reality of joy'

“The poet's expression of joy conceals his despair at not having found the reality of joy.” Max Jacob

Born in France on this date in 1876, the avant-garde poet Max Jacob is regarded as an important link between symbolists and surrealists, as can be seen in his prose poems (like The Dice Box) and in his paintings, exhibited in Europe and America alike during his heyday in the 1930s.  Born Jewish but a Catholic convert, Jacob didn’t hesitate to speak out against the Nazis, which led to his arrest and death in an internment camp in 1944 while still at the height of his popularity.
                     Writer-artist Max Jacob and an example of his painting style
Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan attributes the quote "The truth is always new" to Jacob.  Here, for an example of his prose poetry and Saturday’s Poem, is Jacob’s thought-provoking,


Can one plant a beech tree in such a small garden? The doors and windows of the seven neighboring workshops come together on the little courtyard where my brother and I are. The seed of the beech tree is a slightly rotten banana or a potato. There are some old ladies who are not pleased with you. But if the beech tree grows up, won't it be too big? And if it doesn't grow up, what's the sense of planting it? Yet while planting it, my friends found my precious gems that I had lost.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

A life full of surprises

“A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise. Because that is how life is - full of surprises.“ – Isaac Bashevis Singer

Nobel Prize winning author Singer was born in Poland on this date in 1902.  He grew up in the tradition of Yiddish storytelling and did his entire body of work first in Yiddish and then in English, the language he adopted after emigrating to the U.S. in 1935.

Prior to winning the Nobel, he also was awarded two U.S. National Book Awards, one in Children's Literature for his memoir A Day Of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw, and one in Fiction for his collection A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories.  One of his best-known stories was about a girl named Yentl, basis for the hit movie by Barbra Streisand.

Singer settled in New York City, where he first took up work as a journalist and columnist for The Jewish Daily Forward.  Much of his early writing was serialized in that newspaper and then expanded to others around the world.        After focusing his efforts on independent writing, he published at least 18 novels, 14 children's books, a number of memoirs, essays and many dozens of widely published stories.

He always expressed that it is a writer’s responsibility to be a conduit for the oral traditions of his or her culture even if it meant sharing in others’ concepts or ideas.  “Originality is not seen in single words or even in sentences,” he said.  “Originality is the sum total of a man's thinking or his writing.”

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thinking with another person's mind

“Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own.” – Charles Scribner, Jr.

Born on this date in 1921 Charles Scribner Jr. succeeded his father in 1952 as chief of the family publishing house, which had been founded by his great-grandfather in 1846. Charles Scribner Jr. oversaw its operations until 1984, when Macmillan, another American publishing company, acquired it. 

He also was Ernest Hemingway's personal editor and publisher in the last portion of Hemingway's career. "He once gave me some rules of life," Scribner recalled.  "Among them: 'Always do sober what you said you'd do when you were drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut!'" 

Scribner once said he would rather have gone into teaching but felt the obligation of continuing his family’s legacy.  He is noted for streamlining and diversifying the company, including adding a successful line of reference books.  He felt that despite its successes with such famous authors as Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe and James Jones, it was too top-heavy with novels. 

His own volume of memoirs, In the Company of Writers: A Life in Publishing, is a wonderful primer on the ins and outs of the publishing world.  
  “Language is the soul of intellect,” Scribner wrote,  “and reading is the essential process by which that intellect is cultivated beyond the commonplace experiences of everyday life.”

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Imagining & writing people's lives

“If you are a good writer - and I think I am - you are able to handle any kind of group and imagine their lives.” – Earl Hamner, Jr.

Born on July 10, 1923, Hamner was perhaps best known for his book Spencer’s Mountain, which spun off into a movie, and his hit television series The Waltons.  Inspired by his childhood in the mountains of Virginia, The Waltons ran for a decade in the 1970s and early 1980s and is still in syndication.  He also was well known as the voice of the elderly John Boy Walton, who opened and closed each episode.
Hamner, who died in 2016 at the age of 93, got his big break in the late 1950s by writing eight episodes of The Twilight Zone – more than any other writer besides its creator Rod Serling.   It was that versatility that put him on the writing map as someone who could take an idea and make it his own, regardless of the genré.         But, he said, no matter what he wrote, he always felt both he and his writing were rooted in his Appalachian childhood.
“I did leave Walton’s Mountain to live and work in New York City, wrote more novels, and raised a family of my own,” he said shortly before his death.  “But no matter where I am, the call of a night bird, the rumble of a train crossing a trestle, the scent of crab apple, the lowing of a sleepy cow can call me home again. In memory I stand before that small white house, and I can still hear those sweet voices saying good night.”

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