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Saturday, February 28, 2015

When you need a friend

When it comes to my writing I reach a point with every piece where I feel the need to have my closest friends look at it – both to see if what I’m doing makes any sense, and to get their critical feedback on how to proceed.   And family, particularly those family members who also are your close or “best” friends, can and should play this role as well. 

Writers can write for themselves, of course, and many do.  But if you are serious about casting your words out to the world – like notes in bottles waiting to be uncorked and read by those “unknown others,” then you need these types of “up close and personal” responses to help you move toward successful completion of what you have created.

As author Judith Viorst once said:
“Close friends contribute to our personal growth, just as they also contribute to our personal pleasure, making the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, and the laughter ring louder because they are there.”

Happy writing … and call those friends.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Longfellow's serenades

Then come as we lay beside this sleepy glade.  And there I’ll sing to you my Longfellow serenade.  – Neil Diamond from his song "Longfellow Serenade."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may be the only poet to ever have a rock song written about him.  Neil Diamond's 1974 hit and his reverence for Longfellow only echoes the reverence people had for the man when he was living in the mid-19th Century.

It is probably fitting that a song was written for him because much of his work is recognized for its melody-like musicality.  As he himself once said, “What a writer asks of his reader is not so much to like as to listen.”

Longfellow wrote many lyric poems not just known for their musicality but also for presenting stories of mythology and legend, including the renowned Song of Hiawatha and the favorite of school children almost from its first day, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.   He was the most popular American poet of his day and also had success overseas, so admired in the U.S.  that his poems commanded huge fees for the time and young people turned out to welcome him much like rock stars of today are greeted when they come to town. His 70th birthday – on this date in 1877 – took on the air of a national holiday, with parades, speeches, and the reading of his poetry. 

Although a “rock star” at the end, the beginning of his career started more slowly.  “Overnight success” didn’t come until he’d been writing for more than 20 years.  “Perserverance is a great element of success,” he said.  “If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody eventually.”

Here’s a link to “Longfellow Serenade.”  Enjoy.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

A journal for detail

“It is the job of the novelist to touch the reader.” – Elizabeth George

Journaling can be an author’s best friend, especially when thinking about day-to-day things that have happened to him or her as well as just being able to document “an ordinary day” as well as an “extraordinary day” in a person’s life.

Elizabeth George, a native of Warren, Ohio, who made her claim to fame by writing about “ordinary and extraordinary” days in the life of a detective 6,000 miles away from her home, is a strong advocate of journaling.

“I’ve always liked creating a journal.  It’s like the way I clear my throat,” she said.  “I write a page every day, maybe 500 words (that’s two pages double-spaced).  It could be about something I’m specifically worried about in a new novel; it could be a question I want answered; it could be something that’s going on in my personal life.  I just use it as an exercise.”
Susan (Elizabeth) George

George, whose given name is Susan and whose birthday is today, holds two degrees - one in teaching and one in counseling/psychology - as well as an honorary doctorate in humane letters, because it was in the writing world that she became a worldwide celebrity with her books about an English detective named Lynley.  After a 14-year teaching career, where she also excelled and was twice named Teacher of the Year for California’s largest county, she started taking bits and pieces from her journals, including travels to England, and wrote a series of books, 11 of which have now been adapted for television by BBC as The Inspector Lynley Mysteries.

Oh, and recognition of the detail in her works – a hallmark of her writing – also has earned her Britain’s Anthony and Agatha Awards and France’s LeGrand Prix de Literature Policiere – a writing version of an Academy Award.  Definitely a testamonial for "keeping a journal."  Happy writing!

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A way of thinking

“Writing is really a way of thinking--not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet.”—Toni Morrison

Black History is much more than a month and is reflective of us all each and every day.  None tell this story better than Toni Morrison, who turns 84 today.  As a novelist, editor and professor she has shaped literature with the power of her epic themes, vivid dialogue and richly detailed characters. 
We will forever be in her debt for giving us such wonderful books as The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved.

 Toni Morrison
She was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 capping a true basketfull of lifetime achievement awards, begun with a Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award, both for Beloved, and then the Nobel Prize for her life’s body of written work.  Hers is truly a craftsmanship that inspires other writers to reach deeper within themselves in hopes of emulating even a small part of what she achieves on the page.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Recording those chronicles

We’ve been subscribers to National Geographic Magazine for 40 years now.  And while that’s a long time, it pales in comparison to many who have had generations of their family as subscribers.  The magazine generates loyalty and little wonder why.

It is the epitome of in-depth reporting and, of course, photographic excellence.   As a journalist, I was taught to understand and use the power of a good photograph to illustrate or highlight the words that I was sharing.  Early on in my writing career, I learned to “grab a camera” and see what developed (no pun intended).  And so I was not surprised to learn that NG’s recently retired editor-in-chief, president of the National Geographic Society, and chairman of the board Gilbert Grosvenor was first drawn to the magazine himself through photography.

He was studying pre-med at Yale University in the early 1950s when he went to the Netherlands on a summer program to rebuild dikes washed out by the great flood of 1953.  While there, he photographed and co-authored a story that was published in the magazine.

“Although I’m not sure I realized it at the time,” he said, “it changed my life.  I discovered the power of journalism.  And that’s what we are all about – recording those chronicles of planet Earth.”

It was both a Writer’s Moment and a Photographer’s Moment for a young man who returned to college, earned his degree, and then joined the National Geographic staff in 1954.  In 2004, after 50 years on the magazine, he was honored by President George W. Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his “recording of those moments for us all.”  And that, of course, is what good writers – and photographers – do.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Don't be so 'judgy!'

 “If we judge others it is because we are judging something in ourselves of which we are unaware.”

That quote came from a writer I had the privilege to meet when he was still a columnist/feature writer at the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  I was working in Northfield, Minn., when I met John Camp.   I always had loved writing features, too, both as a journalist and as a public relations practitioner, so I admired the fine craftsmanship Camp put into his works.

His fellow columnist at the Pioneer Press, Gary Hiebert, was a close friend of mine and one day when I was at the newspaper having coffee with Gary, he pulled me over to John’s desk and introduced us.  That was 1985 and Camp was part way through a series he was working on about a farm family in southwestern Minnesota – not that far away from where I had lived as a child in nearby South Dakota.  We had a pleasant talk and I asked him what he might be doing next after finishing the series – which ended up lasting that entire year.

“I want to write books,” he said.  “I like newspapers, but I think I’ve got a book or two in me.”  That next spring, he won the Pulitzer Prize for the farm series and I told Gary.  “Well, I guess that’ll cement things for keeping Camp in the newspaper businesses.”

“I don’t think so,” Gary answered.  “John wants to be a book writer, so don’t be surprised if he gives it a try.”  But I still was surprised a couple years later when Camp left to change careers, and even more surprised when he not only wrote a book under his own name, but also started writing thriller/suspense/crime novels under the pseudonym John Sandford, about a loner detective who goes against the grain to solve crimes the way he wants and written with the same sort of realism Camp put into his features.

Good idea.  Forty-four novels (and counting) later, he’s still going strong.  It’s only sad that the journalism world lost his gifted voice on behalf of the underdog people he often liked to feature.  Today is Camp’s 70th birthday and he still gets up and writes every day, which is one of his “secrets” to being a writer.  “You have to show up.”  And not to be afraid to follow your dream.

John Camp (Sandford)

His other secret.  Write it as you see it.  “Just go outside and look at something and write it down and you’ll find it’s a very nice piece of writing.”  You can’t go wrong if it’s “real.”

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