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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

That 'swirl and swing of words'

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” – James A. Michener

A native of Pennsylvania, Michener was born on this day in 1907 and during his long life (he died at age 90), he wrote 40-plus books, hundreds of essays and short stories, and several screenplays and radio pieces.  The majority of Michener’s works were fictional, lengthy family sagas covering generations in particular geographic locales while incorporating solid history.  I first got turned on to both Michener and my own itch to become a writer when my high school English teacher handed me a copy of Hawaii and said, “Read this and maybe some day you can write like he does.  You have it in you.” 

I have tried follow his example of doing meticulous research and his admonition of write, rewrite, and rewrite again to be sure.  “I’m not a very good writer,” Michener once said, “but I’m an excellent rewriter.”  Both his research efforts and rewriting skills are traits every writer of historical fiction should strive to achieve.

Trained as a historian, Michener started writing while serving in the Navy during World War II, and his first effort (at age 40) was Tales of the South Pacific.  The book won the Pulitzer Prize and became the foundation for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s long-running award-winning Broadway show South Pacific, also made into a movie.

 His novels have sold an estimated 75 million copies worldwide, almost all based on detailed historical, cultural, and even geological research.  
 Another of my Michener “favorites” was Centennial
set in my adopted state of Colorado and written to coincide with the state’s 100th birthday in 1976.   Like Hawaii, it documented generations of families whose lives and cultures shaped the history of the state. 

“I think the crucial thing in the writing career is to find what you want to do and how you fit in,” Michener offered as advice to new writers.  “What somebody else does is of no concern whatever except as an interesting variation.”  I would add, though, that Michener’s example is a great guide for all who seek the writing life.

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