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Monday, August 31, 2015

Compelled to write

“I tell aspiring writers that you have to find what you MUST write. When you find it, you will know, because the subject matter won’t let you go. It’s not enough to write simply because you think it would be neat to be published. You have to be compelled to write. If you’re not, nothing else that you do matters.” – Rick Riordan

An American author, Riordan is best known for writing the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series about a 12-year-old who discovers he is the son of the ancient Greek god Poseidon. His books have been translated into 37 languages and have sold more than 30 million.

Born in San Antonio, TX, Riordan was working as an English and social studies teacher when he conceived the idea for the Percy Jackson series as bedtime stories about ancient Greek heroes for his son Haley. Haley had been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, inspiring Riordan to make Percy ADHD/dyslexic.

Rick Riordan

Since 2005, Riordan has created several successful book series, including the multi-award-winning Tres Navarre mystery series for adults, which follows the fast-paced adventures of an erudite Texan private eye.  He’s about to launch yet another series for youth, this one based on Norse mythology.  The first book is called The Sword of Summer.  It will debut in October.

“I think kids want the same thing from a book that adults want - a fast-paced story, characters worth caring about, humor, surprises, and mystery,” he said.  “A good book always keeps you asking questions, and makes you keep turning pages so you can find out the answers.”

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Loving with the mind

“To love is to admire with the heart; to admire is to love with the mind.” – Theophile Gautier

Born this day in 1811, Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, but mostly journalist, where he excelled as an art critic.  Gautier spent the majority of his career at La Presse and later on at Le Moniteur universel after starting his career as an artist.  Because of that experience, he became one of the premier art critics of the 19th Century. 
Gautier’s writing was in a form not previously seen because he wanted the ordinary reader to better understand art through his writing.   Instead of taking on the classical criticism of art that involved knowledge of color, composition and line, Gautier was strongly committed to the idea that the critic should have the ability to describe the art so that the reader might "see" the piece through his description.

And, he wrote poetry.  “I like to think that art and poetry are intertwined,” he said.  “The word poet literally means maker: anything which is not well made doesn't exist.”
Like his art criticism, his poetic writing took new twists, giving the public yet another way to look at things.  Here’s an exerpt from his poem,
Unknown Shores
I may not ask again:
where would you like to go?

Have you a star; she says,
O any faithful sun
Where love does not eclipse?

Ah child, if that star shines;
is in chartless skies,
I do not know of such!
But come, where will you go?

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

A most 'nourishing' profession

“I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”  -- Kurt Vonnegut  

In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published 14 novels, 3 short story collections, 5 plays, and 5 works of non-fiction. He is most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

Vonnegut always claimed that it was by reading other great writers that he himself developed the writing style and ideas that led to his success.  Among the most influential on his writing, he said, were George Orwell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry David Thoreau and H.G. Wells.

A journalist first, Vonnegut often credited journalistic writing as another key to his style – one that made his writing both straightforward and understandable by a wide audience.

“One of the things that I tell beginning writers is this: If you describe a landscape, or a cityscape, or a seascape, always be sure to put a human figure somewhere in the scene. Why? Because readers are human beings, mostly interested in human beings,” he said.  “People are humanists … most of them, anyway.”

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Those canyons in your mind

“Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination.” – Janet Frame

Born this day in 1924, Nene Janet Paterson Clutha, better known by her pen name Janet Frame, had a personal story that rivaled anything she created in fiction. 

A New Zealander, she wrote novels, short stories, poetry, juvenile fiction, and an autobiography, but her biggest celebrity came from her dramatic personal history.  Hospitalized for years in a psychiatric facility, she wrote whenever she could and just days before a planned lobotomy, her debut publication of short stories – written during one of her “release” times – was unexpectedly awarded her nation’s top literary prize.

“That,” she said in perhaps the understatement of the century, “changed everything.”
Janet Frame

Her story began at 18 when she attempted suicide after leaving an abusive family atmosphere.  In-and-out of psychiatric hospitals for the next 8 years, primarily suffering from anxiety and depression, she was falsely diagnosed with schizophrenia and after being treated with both medications and electric shock therapy, she began a long-delayed writing effort, producing a number of short stories that she submitted to a publisher. 

Seeming to be spiraling deeper into depression (actually caused by the treatments), she agreed to the lobotomy but then pulled away from it when her short story collection soared.  With its success and the prize money, she moved to Europe, ultimately had the schizophrenia diagnosis debunked and lived to age 79 before dying of cancer.  In between, she was one of the most prolific and rewarded authors in history, writing two dozen novels, many nonfiction works, hundreds of short stories and poems, countless essays and a 3-volume autobiography that became the film An Angel At My Table.

“As a teen, people thought I might be a teacher,” she said.  “I wanted to be a poet.”

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Scratching the writing itch

“You have the itch for writing born in you. It's quite incurable. What are you going to do?  You might as well use it?” – L.M. Montgomery

I had the good fortune of sharing the pages of a book with the marvelous Lucy Maud Montgomery, who rocketed to worldwide acclaim with her very first book, Anne of Green Gables, and really never looked back.  Over a 45-year writing career, she ended up publishing 20 novels, many featuring her lead character Anne Shirley.  But she also wrote a remarkable 530 short stories.  One of them was chosen for the anthology A Farm Country Christmas, and to my delight, so was one of mine. 

After the book’s publication, I felt the urge to visit Prince Edward Island, the setting for the book.  The house’s gables indeed were green, and as we sat on its beautiful lawn and gazed out at the beauty of the North Atlantic, it was easy to see how such a setting could lead to her book.

Anne Shirley made Montgomery famous in her lifetime and gave her an international following.   Mark Twain called Anne, “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.”  (I believe he was referring to that one who made that visit to Wonderland).  

L.M. Montgomery

By the time of her death in 1942, Montgomery also had written some 500 poems and 30 essays and been honored as the first female in Canada to be named a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in England.  In 1935 she was invested into the Order of the British Empire, one of the highest British honors.  Anne of Green Gables has now sold more than 50 million copies and been published in 20 languages worldwide, the ideals of the lead character upheld as standards by which we all might hope to live.

“We must have ideals and try to live up to them, even if we never quite succeed,” Montgomery once noted.   “Life would be a sorry business without them. With them it's grand and great.”  Indeed.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Just to be yourself

“Writers write to influence their readers, their preachers, their auditors, but always, at bottom, to be more themselves.” – Alduous Huxley

Since my new book And The Wind Whispered is set in 1894 I’ve become more interested in things happening in the world that year.  One thing I hadn’t expected to discover was that it was the birth year of the renowned writer and philosopher.  It was, in fact, on this date that he was born. 

As I’ve written about Huxley before, few people have had as great an impact on the world’s thinking, particularly from his novel Brave New World, ranked by those who do such rankings as somewhere between the Number 1 and Number 5 best fictional work in the English language written during the 20th Century.
Alduous Huxley

Widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent intellectuals, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 7 different years.   He kept striving, through his many forms of writing, to find “the right words” to share his hopes and fears for the world and to encourage each individual to do his or her best to make it a better place.

“And, there is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving,” he said,  “and that's your own self.”

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Creating breathing opportunities

“Reviewers have called my books 'novels in verse.' I think of them as written in prose, but I do use stanzas. Stanza means 'room' in Latin, and I wanted there to be 'room' - breathing opportunities to receive thoughts and have time to come out of them before starting again at the left margin” – Virginia Euwer Wolff

Not to be confused with British author Virginia Woolf, Euwer Wolff, born this day in 1937, is an American author of children's literature.   Her award-winning series Make Lemonade features a 14-year-old girl named LaVaughn, who babysits for the children of a 17-year-old single mother.  True Believer, the second in the three-book series (they’re not really a trilogy), won the 2001 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.   And, in 2011, she was the recipient of the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature.

Wolff said she uses her own teenage years as the foundation for her writing.  “The teenage years are the years to examine faith - the need to be independent and the need to be anchored,” she said. “It’s a time to ask, ‘Who made all this? And what do I have to do with it?’”

 Virginia Euwer Wolff 

I have enjoyed learning that she does her creative writing a lot like I do – slowly.  No one writes as slowly as I do, I'm convinced,” she said.  “It's so hard for me. I learn slowly; I make decisions at a snail's pace.”  We definitely need to sit down and have a conversation because I often feel the same way. And, as for her writing routine, that too sounds a lot like my own.

“I work early in the morning,” she noted, “before my nasty critic gets up - he rises about noon. By then, I've put in much of a day's work.”  Definitely a kindred spirit.  Write on!

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