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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Exercising that 'writing muscle'

“Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised every day: The more you write, the easier it becomes.” – Jane Green

A cancer survivor who now lives in Connecticut, Green was born in London on this date in 1968 and has become one of the world's leading authors in commercial women's fiction, with millions of books in print and translations in over 25 languages.

A journalist by training, she worked as a feature writer for several London-based newspapers, including The Daily Mail, before writing her first novel, Straight Talking, which went right to bestseller lists in 1995.  Since then she’s had 15 additional bestsellers.

Frequent themes in her books include cooking, class wars, children, infidelity, and female friendship. She says she does not necessarily write about her own life, but is inspired by the themes of her life.   She made the move from journalistic writing to creative writing with a unique writing regimen that sounds like a great plan to an old journalist like myself.  “I treated my books as a very long journalistic exercise.  I thought of every chapter as an article that needed to be finished (on a deadline).”                       

Her journalism training also taught her that writing is a job, and that you must write, whether you are inspired or not.  “The only way to unlock creativity," she said,  "is to write through it.”

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Monday, May 30, 2016

A time to remember

 On Memorial Day, it’s fitting that we all take a few minutes to both remember loved ones who have died, and to show our appreciation to and remember those who risked their lives for the greater good of our nation.  So many men and women went above and beyond to ensure that our country remains safe and free.   

I like this Memorial Day quote that relates, of course, to those who write.

“On Memorial Day, I don't want to only remember the combatants. There were also those who came out of the trenches to become writers and poets, who started preaching peace; men and women who have made this world a kinder place to live.” – Eric Burdon

Happy Memorial Day!

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Exploring the power of words

“I think the reason I'm a writer is because first, I was a reader. I loved to read. I read a lot of adventure stories and mystery books, and I have wonderful memories of my mom reading picture books aloud to me. I learned that words are powerful.” Andrew Clements

Born this date in 1949, Clements has written dozens of children's books, beginning with his novel Frindle, which won the award writers most care about – the award of favorable public opinion from those you hope will read your book.  In Clements’ case, of course, that was school kids, who voted overwhelmingly that his book was the one they all liked best. 

Not honored by the writing community at the time, it came back 20 years later to win the 2016 Phoenix Award as “the best book that did not win a major award when it was published in 1996.”  Frindle gives us a different way to look at dictionaries and how words are developed and used, and also one of the most interesting explanations I’ve read:

“The dictionary is like a time capsule of all of human thinking ever since words began to be written down,” Clements said.   “Exploring where words have come from can increase your understanding of the words themselves and expand your understanding of how to use the words.”

It’s Clements’ use of words that has set his writing at the forefront as far as kids – particularly“Tweens”
   – are concerned.  That, and his ability to “get into the personnas” that he is creating.  For a terrific read (and don’t be embarrassed about reading a kids’ book), read his compelling Things Not Seen.  It will open your eyes (no pun intended).

“Part of being a fiction writer is being able to imagine how someone else is thinking and feeling,” he said.  “I think I've always been good at that.”


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Saturday, May 28, 2016

A thank you for the music

Daniel Grayling Fogelberg was born in 1951 in Peoria, IL, where his father was an established musician, teacher, and bandleader. His first instrument was the piano, but he gravitated to the guitar in high school and became one of the nation’s pre-eminent singer-songwriters during his lifetime.  He died in 20007, living in Colorado, also my adopted state.

"Leader of the Band" is from his 1981 album The Innocent Age. The song was written as a tribute to his father, Lawrence Fogelberg, who was still alive at the time the song was released but died in 1982.

On this Memorial Day weekend it seemed fitting for Saturday’s Poem.  Widely available in Fogelberg’s and other versions on YouTube, this one is from 2003:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYFVEB4j6zI

And here are the words to

Leader of the Band
By Dan Fogelberg

An only child alone and wild, a cabinet maker's son
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay

A quiet man of music denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once, but his music wouldn't wait
He earned his love through discipline, a thundering velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band

My brother's lives were different for they heard another call
One went to Chicago and the other to St Paul
And I'm in Colorado when I'm not in some hotel
Living out this life I've chose and come to know so well

I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And papa, I don't think I said I love you near enough

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band
I am a living legacy to the leader of the band

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Discovering one's 'usefulness'

“The need to write comes from the need to make sense of one's life and discover one's usefulness.” John Cheever

Born on this date in 1912, American novelist and short story writer John Cheever has been recognized as one of the most important short fiction writers of the 20th century.  A compilation of his mid-life writing, The Stories of John Cheever, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a National Book Critics Circle Award, and its first paperback edition in 1981 was named for the National Book Award.

A “natural” writer, he wrote his first short story and was published while still in his teens in New York City.  After dropping out of high school, he took  a job as a caretaker at a New York artist’s colony, continued writing and had a number of works published in prominent magazines like The New Yorker.   In the late ‘30s he worked for the government’s Writer’s Project before enlisting in the Army during World War II, when he had his first book of short stories published.  Ultimately he became a chronicler of both his times and the people he encountered, and was lauded for his keen, often critical, view of the American middle class.

His stories are characterized by his attention to detail, his careful writing, and his ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.                  
Always cognizant of his reading public and what they liked, he once said, “I can't write without a reader. It's precisely like a kiss - you really can't do it alone.”

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Taking an instant out of time

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.  The visual life is an enormous undertaking.” – Dorothea Lange

Born on this day in 1895, Lange influenced generations of Americans with her poignant photographic images that remain icons of the Great Depression.  Her photographs and accompanying writing about what she saw humanized the Depression’s consequences and influenced the development of documentary photography.

Her own pathway in life was hindered by two traumatic events, the first being the victim of polio at age 7, a disease that left her partially crippled for life.  Then Lange and her family were abandoned by her father when she was 12, spiraling them into poverty and forcing her to start working as a young teen, including a part-time job as a photographer’s assistant.    Simultaneously continuing her studies, she earned her high school diploma and enrolled at Columbia University where she formally studied photography. In 1918, she found a job as a photo finisher in San Francisco and embarked on the pathway to her eminent career.

In 1933, she was signed by the Roosevelt administration to begin documenting the lives of ordinary Americans and what they were going through to survive the Depression.  Her photos are still keys to our understanding of what many Americans endured.

Often exposed to harsh and unforgiving environmental conditions, she contracted esophogeal cancer and died in 1965.  But her work continues to be studied by generations of young photographers.  “A camera,” she said,  “is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”  Thanks to  Dorothea Lange, we’ve been able to see deeply into America’s history and its soul.

Lange (left) and her award-winning photo of a migrant mom and kids in California in 1935

A PBS “American Masters” show on Lange, “Grab A Hunk of Lightning,” can be found at: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/dorothea-lange-about-the-film/3096/

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Inventing a field of dreams

“Most people write a lot of autobiography, but when I came to write autobiography I discovered that nothing interesting had ever happened to me. So I had to take the situation and invent stories to go with it.” W. P. Kinsella

William Patrick Kinsella, born on this date in 1935, is a Canadian novelist and short story writer whose work usually focuses on baseball, First Nations people, and other Canadian issues.  For a truly wonderful read about life on the First Nations’ Reserve in Kinsella’s home province of Alberta, check out Kinsella's book of short stories Dance Me Outside, his very first book from 1977. Narrated by a young Cree named Silas Ermineskin, it is a remarkable look at Reserve life, love, sorrow and triumph.

But while he writes poignantly and with great detail about the First Nations, it is for his 1982 baseball novel Shoeless Joe that he gained international acclaim.

 The book was mildly controversial in that it used the reclusive (and still living at the time)  author J.D. Salinger as one of its main characters, even though Kinsella  had never met him. "I made sure to make him a nice character so that he couldn’t sue me.” Kinsella said.    The best-selling book was later adapted into the wonderful 1989 Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams, further cementing Kinsella’s reputation and making Costner a star.

“Most writers are unhappy with film adaptations of their work, and rightly so,” Kinsella said.  “But Field of Dreams caught the spirit and essence of Shoeless Joe while making the necessary changes to make the work more visual.”    Primarily set in Iowa it has one of the great literary exchanges when one of the old-time “spirit” ballplayers he creates emerges from a cornfield and asks the main character Ray if this is Heaven?  “No,” Ray answers.  “This is Iowa.”

If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I commend both to you – in that order.  You won’t be disappointed.  It's also a salute to the imagination and the creativity we have to make fields of dreams.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Free air, fresh writing

“Every individual ought to know at least one poet from cover to cover: if not as a guide through the world, then as a yardstick for the language.” – Joseph Brodsky

Born this date in 1940 in Leningrad, Brodsky first started writing at age 15, and getting published by the underground journal Sintakss (Syntax) before he was out of high school.  Those early works got him in deep trouble with both Stalin and his successor Nikita Khrushchev as being “anti-Soviet,” and by his late 20s he had been jailed, “confined” to a mental institution, and finally expelled from his homeland.  Luckily for the writing world, he came to live in the United States thanks to the  help of poet W. H. Auden.

From that point until his death in 1996, he taught writing and poetry at many different U.S. universities, including such institutions as Yale, Columbia and Michigan before becoming a full-time faculty member at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.          
 In 1987, Brodsky was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity.” And in 1991, he was appointed United States Poet Laureate, the first naturalized citizen to be so honored.

He said coming to America was the best thing that could have happened to him.  After living under totalitarianism and oppression, America was a breath of fresh air that renewed his spirit and belief in his fellow human beings. “Cherish your human connections: your relationships with friends and family,” he advised his students.  “Know how delightful it is to find a friend in everyone you meet.” 

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Monday, May 23, 2016

A hero for anti-bullying

“I hid my heart under my bed because my mother said if you're not careful someday somebody's going to break it. Take it from me, under the bed is not a good hiding spot.” –  Shane Koyczan

Born on this date in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Koyczan grew up in British Columbia and in 2000 became the first Canadian to win the U.S. Individual Championship title at the National Poetry Slam.

A spoken word poet, writer, and member of the group Tons of Fun University, he is best known for writing about issues like bullying, cancer, death, and eating disorders and internationally famous for his anti-bullying poem To This Day 

 (Check out this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa1iS1MqUy4 to see him “perform” it at his TED talk).            

Also the author of 4 books of poetry and many essays – both written and spoken – Koyczan said he’s interested in pursuing opera next.  “Opera is the original marriage of words and music, and there's a theatre element, a dramatic element,” he said.   “It's right up my alley.”

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Praise for 'And The Wind Whispered'

And The Wind Whispered, my historical fiction novel set in 1894 in Hot Springs in the southern Black Hills, was honored yesterday by the Colorado Division for the Humanities and Center for the Book as a Colorado Book Awards finalist in Historical Fiction. 

Yesterday was a full day of readings and presentations, including a visit with a book club, reading at a

Reading at The Book Bar in Denver  

bookstore and the awards ceremony in Denver (actually the suburb of Parker) last evening where the book earned the Silver (runner-up) Award. 
With my wife Susan on stage at the Awards                          

It was an honor to be in the Final Three in the Historical Fiction category and meet so many other great authors, editors and illustrators from the other various categories.

Recently there's been quite a bit of praise for the book, so since I'm making today my own Writer's Moment, here are some of those reviewers' comments.  Hope you'll look for And The Wind Whispered in a bookstore, through Amazon, or on any e-book site.  Happy Reading and thanks!

Praise for
And The Wind Whispered

2016 Colorado Book Award Finalist

From recent reviews:

“Buffalo Bill, Bat Masterson, Nellie Bly.  A minstrel show with an attitude.  Big crowds, intriguing plot twists, and powerful female personalities that do far more than swoon and simper.  There's trouble in Hot Springs - and it's about to get a lot hotter before some of the protagonists achieve resolution.  
“It's rare to find a work that is a real delight in its uniformly feisty, believable protagonists who work within a plot that holds no boundaries.  And The Wind Whispered is a remarkable achievement, no matter what genre you're partial to.” – Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review

“And the Wind Whispered begins as any good murder mystery should, with a body. Throw in a dark cave and three snoopy kids, and you've a good story - if you know how to write it.   Dan Jorgensen knows how.   The book mixes in historical characters and accounts … tied together in a web of intrigue.” – Kevin Woster, KELO (CBS) Television News.

And the Wind Whispered by Dan Jorgensen contains several scenes that are so exciting that they become almost impossible to put down. … The mystery of who killed Alexander Previn, and why, forms the basic plot of the novel. Along the way, readers are put in contact with multiple characters from Old West lore — Bat Masterson, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, reporter Nellie Bly, Annie Oakley, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, even a young Will Rogers, among others - who get involved in helping to deal with the McCarty-Curley outlaw gang and working to solve the mystery.

Jorgensen keeps his characters in plenty of danger throughout, making it easy for readers to keep turning the pages.   Set in 1894, the novel deals with a time period too often neglected by Western novel writers, that is, the final decade of the 19th century when the Old West was disappearing and the ‘New West’ was emerging. Also, the novel is set in the Black Hills of South Dakota, an exciting area too often neglected by writers of Western novels.

And the Wind Whispered represents refreshing new ground in Western novel writing.”  Paul F. Murray (Reader’s Favorite)


“Jorgensen fills his story with humor and plot twists and manages to keep everything moving along while also working in a good deal of interesting ‘Wild West’ lore.  Western fans will feel at ease with the adventures of the novel’s three young heroes, but the story’s wider cast will make it interesting even to readers who tend to avoid historical or western novels.” – Lynette Olson, Emporia (Kan.) Gazette

“Author Dan Jorgensen assembles an all-star cast of famous names from the American West in his historical whodunit/adventure tale And the Wind Whispered.

“Set in 1894 in and around the boom town of Hot Springs, South Dakota, Jorgensen’s novel starts with a train ride, expands to include a dead body, and eventually numbers such iconic figures as Nellie Bly, Bat Masterson, Deadwood Sheriff Seth Bullock, Will Rogers, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, and even Theodore Roosevelt among its cast of characters.

“Jorgensen stuffs his narrative with salty humor and plot twists.  The author manages to keep everything bubbling along while also unobtrusively working in a good deal of interesting local Wild West lore.   A very spirited outing.”   Historical Novel Society Review

Saturday, May 21, 2016

No promises, but hope - Saturday's Poem

“The moment of change is the only poem.” Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Cecile Rich, born in May 1929, was an American poet, essayist and feminist called "One of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century” in text accompanying the prestigious MacArthur (Genius) Fellowship, awarded to her in 1994.
Her works span 7 decades, including dozens of poetry collections, a dozen nonfiction books, and a huge number of essays.  Rich’s collection Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972  won the National Book Award.  She also was awarded the Frost Medal and the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Poetry Prize.      
  In the mid-1990s she famously refused the National Medal for the Arts in protest of the failure of Congress to provide funding for the arts.

Rich frequently spoke and wrote on behalf of the oppressed and on the plight of immigrants.  Here, for Saturday’s Poem is her short piece,

Prospective Immigrants, Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.

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