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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The 'zest' of creating

“True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.” – Antoine de Sainte-Exupery

A French aristocrat, writer, poet, and pioneering aviator de Sainte-Exupery became a laureate of several of France's highest literary awards and also won the U.S. National Book Award for his nonfiction book Wind, Sand and Stars.  Based on his years as a barnstorming postal aviator in the 1920s and ‘30s and his 1935 attempt to win an air speed contest from Saigon to Paris, the book is autobiographical, gripping and lyrical. 

Perhaps the first “texter” while driving, de Sainte-Exupery had the terrible habit of reading AND writing (on a yellow, lined notepad, no less) while flying, often paying little attention to the world around him as he buzzed through the then relatively uncrowded airspace.  That bad habit might have led to his crashing in the Sahara Desert during the air race, and later probably led to another crash that resulted in his death during World War II. 

Despite the amazing Wind, Sand and Stars, he probably is best remembered for his novella The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) and for his lyrical aviation story Night Flight.  The Little Prince, now in print in over 250 languages and dialects, posthumously boosted both his worldwide reputation as a writer and his overall stature to national hero status in France. 

Antoine de Sainte-Exupery

“Perfection,” he once wrote,  “is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  The works noted above reached such a status.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

The roots of your influences

As I was driving to the Historical Novel Society national conference in Denver over weekend (where I was invited to sign my new book and speak), I tuned in to National Public Radio and heard a fascinating interview with country music artist Dale Watson.  It was such a terrific story that as soon as I arrived at the conference I pulled into a parking space and wrote down all I could remember about it – then realized that I probably could find a link to the story and just share that with blog readers. 

Here it is and I highly recommend it if you have the time (it’s about 9 minutes).  If nothing more, especially listen to the part of the story about his song “Burden of the Cross.”  http://www.npr.org/2015/06/27/417535756/dale-watson-call-him-insane-but-dont-call-him-country

Watson grew up in poverty outside of Pasadena, Texas, but found both an outlet and a life in country music, which he says was engrained in him from a very young age.  He began writing his own songs at age 12, made his first recording at age 14, and became an emancipated minor at age 15.  He’d go to school by day and play Houston nightclubs and honky-tonks at night to support himself and his brother.
A singer, guitarist, songwriter AND self-published author who now makes his home in Austin, Texas, he is a champion of a new genre of country/folk/rock music he calls Ameripolitan.  “Ameripolitan is original music with prominent roots influences,” Watson said.  “I like staying close to the roots of my influences.”  Great advice for writers, too.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Let the spirit live

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end.” – Gilda Radner

One of the joys in my life has been knowing Joan Licursi, among the longtime leaders of Gilda’s Club in New York City – an institute set up in the name of Gilda Radner to insure that no one has to face the ravages of cancer alone.   Radner was born on this date in 1946 and after her death from cancer in 1989, family and friends founded Gilda’s Club, both in her memory and to help others with the disease. 

The organization took its name from Radner's comment that cancer gave her "membership to an elite club I'd rather not belong to.”  Radner's story can be read in her inspiring, humorous and heart-wrenching book, It's Always Something, written after her diagnosis with the illness.   Gilda’s Club has become a global network serving multi-thousands of victims and their families.

Gilda Radner

“While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die - whether it is our spirit, our creativity or our glorious uniqueness,” Radner once said.   “Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next.”

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Write to 'celebrate'

“Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language.” – Lucille Clifton

Born this day near Buffalo, NY, Clifton both studied and lived in Washington, DC, before settling in her adopted Maryland where from 1979–1985 she was the state’s Poet Laureate. Common topics in her poetry include the celebration of her African American heritage, and feminist themes, but she also is a powerful portrayer of daily life in the city and the home.

Her writing began as a hobby and outlet for her thoughts and feelings, but when a friend who also was a friend of the poet Langston Hughes passed along some of her work to him, he encouraged her to stop her job and concentrate on writing.  Her first poetry collection Good Times was published in 1969, and was an instant success, listed by The New York Times as one of the year's 10 best books.  She expanded her writing and was invited to be poet-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore in the early ‘70s, setting a successful path on a writing and teaching career. 
Lucille Clifton

She always attributed her success to her joy of writing poetry and writing about the world around her.  “People wish to be poets more than they wish to write poetry, and that’s a mistake,” she said.  “One should wish to celebrate more than one wishes to be celebrated.”

As someone who has always loved history and is now writing historical fiction, I was taken by her great poem I am accused.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

I am accused
By Lucille Clifton

i am accused of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
with my own hands. i did not.
this past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my mother's itch
took it to breast
and named it
she is more human now,
learning languages everyday,
remembering faces, names and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

On behalf of justice

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” – Pearl Buck
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Good Earth, a novel that paints a compelling picture of Chinese peasant life, Pearl Buck saw the world unfolding around her and chronicled it in a writing style that melded the past and present with clarity and intensity.  Over her lifetime she penned nearly 40 other novels, as well as numerous short stories and non-fiction works. 
Born this date in 1892 in the backwoods of West Virginia, she spent much of her growing up years in rural areas of China where her parents were missionaries.  Throughout her adult life, she was a staunch supporter of multiple humanitarian causes, particularly in support of overcoming poverty faced by children, whether in Asia or America.
After winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938 (the first American woman to win the award), she utilized her prize money to establish the East and West Association, and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to address humanitarian issues around the globe, but particularly in helping Asian and Asian American children.    For more than 50 years she spoke out and wrote against injustice whenever and wherever she saw it.
“The truth is always important and exciting,” she said. “Speak it, then. Life is dull without it.”

Pearl Buck

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Writing tight for delight

“Let's put it this way: if you are a novelist, I think you start out with a 20 word idea, and you work at it and you wind up with a 200,000 word novel. We, picture-book people, or at least I, start out with 200,000 words and I reduce it to 20.” – Eric Carle

As a journalist I was told time and again by my editors to “write tight.”  In other words, say everything you can about a topic so that it is crystal clear to the reader in as few words as possible, because space is always at a premium.

Writing as a journalist would be good training for the writer of children’s books, but if I were an editor I’d be asking someone like Eric Carle the best way to write tight, because he’s been an expert at it with the award-winning books that he’s produced.  Of course his wonderful artwork also doesn’t hurt either.

Carle turns 86 today and shows no sign of easing up on utilizing his creativity on behalf of children everywhere.  The author of the mega-selling best sellers, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Carle said he has always attempted to make his books both entertaining and educational – offering readers opportunities to learn something about the world around them.  He also advises writers wanting to work in the childrens’ literature genre’ to “recognize children’s feelings, inquisitiveness and creativity.”

Eric Carle
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which has very few words but speaks volumes, has been translated into 58 languages and sold nearly 40 million copies.  Overall, Carle has illustrated or written 70 books with 125 million copies in print.  In 2003 he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his career contribution to American children’s literature. 

“We have eyes, and we're looking at stuff all the time, all day long,” Carle said. “I just think that whatever our eyes touch should be beautiful, tasteful, appealing, and important.”

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