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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A great idea finding its time

“A great idea is usually original to more than one discoverer. Great ideas come when the world needs them. Great ideas surround the world's ignorance and press for admission.” – Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

An early feminist American author and intellectual, Phelps (born on this date in 1844) was the daughter of a Congregational minister and writer mother.  She began her own writing as a young girl and was noted for her “gift for telling stories.”   One source noted, "She spun amazing yarns for the children she played with.  And her schoolmates of the time and a little farther on talk with vivid interest of the stories she used to improvise for their entertainment. At age 13, she had a story published in the national reader Youth's Companion, and from that point through her teens her youth stories appeared in various national publications.

As an adult, after studying at Abbot Academy, she continued her writing career and became one of America’s most popular writers.  In addition to her hundreds of short stories, she penned 57 volumes of fiction, poetry and essays.  In all of these works she challenged the prevailing view that woman's place and fulfillment resided in the home. Instead Phelps' work depicted women as succeeding in nontraditional careers as physicians, ministers, artists and, of course, writers. 
She was widely sought after as a speaker, and in 1876                                      
she became the first woman to present a lecture series at Boston University on the topic “Representative Modern Fiction.”

A modest person despite her great successes and influence, she noted, “It is not the straining for great things that is most effective; it is the doing the little things, the common duties, a little better and better.”

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Keeping storytelling alert

“I think stories do have an ending. I think they need to have an ending eventually because that is a story: a beginning, middle and end. If you draw out the end too long, I think storytelling can get tired.” – Melissa Rosenberg

Born on this date in 1962, Rosenberg is an American screenwriter who has won Emmys, Writers Guild of America and Peabody Awards for her work in both film and television. 

A California native, she started writing plays as a child, getting neighborhood kids to perform them and planting the writing bug that continued on through adulthood.  After studying and working in New York, she moved back to California, graduated from the University of Southern California and began her screenwriting career.

Among her successes were the immensely successful TV series Dexter and The Twilight Saga; episodes of many other sitcoms and drama series; and the dance movie Step Up.  In recent years she has become a strong advocate for writing                                        
 in the schools, particularly helping young
 girls develop skills that can be used for later careers such as her own.

“I am involved with 'Write Girl,' which is such a great organization, because they go into inner city schools and work with underprivileged girls to pair them up with other writers,” she said.   “And it gets them learning to express themselves and become familiar with their own voice. They have a 100% success ratio getting those girls into college.”

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Roosevelt's commentary still on the mark

“A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything on real issues.”  Theodore Roosevelt

Even 125 years ago American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and reformer Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was right on the mark with his observance of what makes politics so frustrating for the average citizen.

This past weekend I had the chance to see and read more about our 26th President – who has an integral role in my novel And The Wind Whispered – while visiting family and friends in Washington, DC.  One of our stops was at the National Portrait Gallery where we saw portraits of all of our Presidents, and read more about what they had to say about their times in office.  I also took the opportunity to “pose” with Theodore for this photo.         

Then, much to my surprise, the very next day
 while visiting one of our DC area national parks,             
 who should be making the rounds than old Teddy himself.  He graciously agreed to pose with me and talk about my book and what “his role” was within its pages, reminding me that he, too, was a writer, which might be an understatement at best.

In his liftetime, Roosevelt was a prolific author, writing with passion on subjects ranging from foreign policy to the importance of the national park system. Roosevelt was also an avid reader of poetry. Poet Robert Frost said that Roosevelt "was our kind. He quoted poetry to me. He knew poetry." Roosevelt wrote 18 books (each in several editions), including his autobiography and left us with myriad inspirational examples of how to live life and sayings on the same.

“Believe you can,” Roosevelt advised, “and you're already halfway there.”

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

The 'magic' of writing

“The nice thing about being a writer is that you can make magic happen without learning tricks.” –  Humphrey Carpenter

While he is noted for his writing, he was also extremely well-known in England for his long career on BBC Radio before his death in 2005.    And, he made a name for himself in the entertainment world as a versatile musician.  An accomplished player of the piano, the saxophone, and the double-bass, he did the last instrument professionally in a dance band in the 1970s.   And, in 1983, he formed a 1930s style jazz band, Vile Bodies, which for many years enjoyed a residency at the Ritz Hotel in London.

Carpenter also founded the Mushy Pea Theatre Group, a children's drama group based in Oxford, which premiered his Mr Majeika: The Musical in 1991 and Babes, a musical about Hollywood child stars. 

Carpenter’s notable writing output was primarily biographies, including The Inklings: CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams and their Friends (winner of the 1978 Somerset Maugham Award); J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography; Ezra Pound (winner of the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize); and Benjamin Britten.   And he won numerous friends for both himself and his writing with his own humorous autobiography.                               

“Autobiography,” he said with a chuckle, “is probably the most respectable form of lying.”

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Spoon River sampler

“How shall the soul of a man be larger than the life he has lived?”  Edgar Lee Masters

Masters wrote 12 plays, 6 novels, 6 biographies and an amazing 21 books of poetry.  Among his works were Songs and Satires, Spleen,  Lincoln: The Man, and Illinois Poems.

An attorney first, he practiced with Clarence Darrow in Chicago and was well-known as a defender of the poor and downtrodden.  But writing was his passion and while he wrote many, many acclaimed works, his best-known grew out of his growing-up years in Lewiston, IL.  The culture around Lewistown, in addition to the town's cemetery at Oak Hill, and the nearby Spoon River were the inspirations for many of his works, most notably the Spoon River Anthology which was built on tales about the people there. 

Today, for Saturday’s Poem, is one of the 260 poems in Spoon River, from the viewpoint of the  farmer,
                     Abel Melveny
I bought every kind of machine that's known --
Grinders, shellers, planters, mowers,
Mills and rakes and ploughs and threshers --
And all of them stood in the rain and sun,
Getting rusted, warped and battered,
For I had no sheds to store them in,
And no use for most of them.
And toward the last, when I thought it over,
There by my window, growing clearer
About myself, as my pulse slowed down,
And looked at one of the mills I bought --
Which I didn't have the slightest need of,
As things turned out, and I never ran --
A fine machine, once brightly varnished,
And eager to do its work,
Now with its paint washed off --
I saw myself as a good machine
That Life had never used.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Language begins with listening

“I believe in communication; books communicate ideas and make bridges between people.” – Jeanette Winterson

The award-winning English writer Winterson, who celebrates her 57th birthday this week, first became famous for her book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a semi-autobiographical novel about a sensitive teenage girl rebelling against conventional values.

Some of her other novels have explored gender polarities and sexual identity. Winterson is also a broadcaster and a professor of creative writing.  “My books always begin with a sentence and an image - not necessarily connected,” Winterson said.

After winning a basketful of top awards for Oranges, Winterson followed up by winning the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for The Passion, a novel set in Napoleonic Europe.  As a writer of historical fiction, I like to hold up this book up as an example of “how to do it right.”

A two-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award,                      
 Winterson was made an officer of Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2006 “For services to literature.”  One of the best of those “services” is her sensitivity to the lives of others and her terrific portrayal of what she’s witnessed and heard.

“Everything in writing begins with language,” she said, “and language begins with listening.”

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Preserving our quotes and sayings

“The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages is preserved into perpetuity by a nation's proverbs, fables, folk sayings and quotations.” William Feather 

Feather, born on this day in 1889, was an American
 publisher and author based in Cleveland, OH, where he built a publishing empire and shared dozens and dozens of those quotes and fables through his writings.

Born in Jamestown, NY, Feather came to Cleveland in 1903, and after earning a degree from Western Reserve University in 1910, he began working as a reporter for the Cleveland Press. In 1916, he established the William Feather Magazine, and also wrote for other magazines like H.L. Mencken's The American Mercury.  His successful printing business produced several of his own books, including the simply titled but highly sought-after How to Get Ahead.

He also wrote the best-selling The Business of Life and one of the first “How-To" guides, How To Set Up a Family Budget. In his writings he espoused thrift, industry, promptness, perseverance, and dependability.  He also was a spokesman and advocate for books of all kinds.
“Books,” he said, “open your mind, broaden your mind, and strengthen you as nothing else can.  Finishing a good book is like leaving a good friend.”

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Packing writing with emotion

“When you write fiction, you can sort of invent more but also pack it with emotions that are very pertinent to you. Whereas with nonfiction, you have to be as factual as possible but also hopefully - also bring... emotional relevance to the piece.”—Oscar Hijuelos

Born on this day in 1951, Hijuelos (who died at age 62 of a heart attack) was an American novelist of Cuban descent who became the first Latino to win a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (for his book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love).  Hijuelos also held the distinction of spending a year in the hospital as a young child and effectively losing his ability to speak Spanish during his convalescent period. 
He later wrote of that time: "I became estranged               
 from the Spanish language and, therefore, my roots.”  But, he still chose to write of the immigrant experience.   “It's true that immigrant novels have to do with people going from one country to another, but there isn't a single novel that doesn't travel from one place to another, emotionally or locally.”

Educated in New York City, where he began his career in advertising, he started writing in short stories and dramas, then was encouraged by his family to try a novel about the Cuban-American experience.   That book – Our House in the Last World – was critically received and launched a novel-writing career mostly focused on Hispanic-Latino Americans.  Shortly before his death he was honored with the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature. 

Also a musician, he said music became an important backdrop to many of his writings, noting, “Music infuses your spirit with a certain energy that I try to convey in my work.”

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Made of the stories we hear

“You have to relax, write what you write. It sounds easy but it's really, really hard. One of the things it took me longest to learn was to trust the writing process.”  – Diane Setterfield 
A British author who just celebrated her 52nd birthday, Setterfield studied French Literature at The University of Bristol and taught at numerous schools as well as privately before her debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, soared to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.    A Gothic suspense novel, now also a successful BBC television series, the book has sold more than 3 million copies in 38 nations. 
Her newest book, Bellman & Black, also is nowon the worldwide market.

Always a reader who still puts reading at the top of her list of things to do when she’s not writing, Setterfield said she knew she was interested in pursuing a relationship with the man who became her husband when she learned he had more books than she did. 

“Books are at the very heart of my life,” she said.  

“We are made of the stories we have heard and read all through our lives.”

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Matching 'voice' with emotion

“Choosing the narrator for a first-person story like 'Downriver' is a crucial decision because the voice has to be one the reader wants to listen to, and the voice has to be a match for the emotion you want the story to carry”  – Will Hobbs

Celebrating his 69th birthday today, Hobbs grew up in a military family, moving often.  When his dad was stationed in Alaska, “I fell in love with mountains, rivers, fishing, baseball, and books.,” he said.  After college and marriage, he settled in the southwest mountains of Colorado where he began teaching and writing.

The author of 19 novels for “Tweens” and young adult readers, as well as two picture book stories, Hobbs credits his sense          
 of audience to 14 years teaching reading and English. When he turned to writing, he set his stories mostly in wild places he knew from firsthand experience. Hobbs has said he wants to “take young people into the outdoors and engage their sense of wonder.

“Seven of my novels take place in the Southwest, in the Four Corners area which has been my home since 1973. I know these mountains, rivers, mesas and canyons well, so it's been natural for me to draw on my own personal experiences here.”

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

History, Science - a 'thrilling' combination

“Whenever I start a novel, I'm always looking for two things: a bit of science that makes me go 'what if?' and a piece of history that ends in a question mark.”— James Rollins

James Rollins is a pen name of James Paul Czajkowski, born on this day in 1961 in Chicago.  He began his career as a veterinarian, something he said he still enjoys doing when the need arises.  After starting his writing in short stories, he moved to action-adventure/thriller mystery novels in the late 1990s and became a full-time writer following the success of his first novel, Subterranean.

Rollins' experiences and expertise as an amateur spelunker and a certified scuba diver have provided content for many of his novels.  Now translated into more than 40 languages, his Sigma series has been lauded as one of the "top crowd pleasers" (New York Times) and one of the "hottest summer reads" (People Magazine). In each novel, acclaimed for its originality, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets.  The 7th in the series – The 7th Labyrinth – is set for a December release.                       

“I don't actually have a one wellspring of inspiration. Though I'm most often inspired while reading - both fiction and nonfiction,” Rollins said.   “I subscribe to National Geographic, Scientific American, Discover, and a slew of other magazines. And it is while reading articles for pleasure and interest that an interesting 'What if?' will pop into my head.”

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The unflappable Ogden Nash

“If you don't want to work you have to work to earn enough money so that you won't have to work” – Ogden Nash

Born on this day in 1902, Nash was known for his light verse, and at the time of his death in 1971 The New York Times said his "droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country's best-known producer of humorous poetry.”

Nash wrote over 500 pieces of comic verse. The best of his work was published in 14 volumes between 1931 and 1972.   When Nash wasn't writing poems, he made guest appearances on comedy and radio shows and toured the United States and the United Kingdom, giving lectures at colleges and universities.  One he often liked to read and which I selected for Saturday’s Poem, is:

Goody for Our Side and Your Side Too

Foreigners are people somewhere else,
Natives are people at home;
If the place you’re at
Is your habitat,
You’re a foreigner, say in Rome.
But the scales of Justice balance true,
And tit leads into tat,
So the man who’s at home
When he stays in Rome
Is abroad when he’s where you’re at.

When we leave the limits of the land in which
Our birth certificates sat us,
It does not mean
Just a change of scene,
But also a change of status.
The Frenchman with his fetching beard,
The Scot with his kilt and sporran,
One moment he
May a native be,
And the next may find him foreign.

There’s many a difference quickly found
Between the different races,
But the only essential
Is living different places.
Yet such is the pride of prideful man,
From Austrians to Australians,
That wherever he is,
He regards as his,
And the natives there, as aliens.

Oh, I’ll be friends if you’ll be friends,
The foreigner tells the native,
And we’ll work together for our common ends
Like a preposition and a dative.
If our common ends seem mostly mine,
Why not, you ignorant foreigner?
And the native replies
And hence, my dears, the coroner.

So mind your manners when a native, please,
And doubly when you visit
And between us all
A rapport may fall
Ecstatically exquisite.
One simple thought, if you have it pat,
Will eliminate the coroner:
You may be a native in your habitat,
But to foreigners you’re just a foreigner.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Being part of a bigger picture

“When your dreams include service to others - accomplishing something that contributes to others - it also accelerates the accomplishment of that goal. People want to be part of something that contributes and makes a difference.” Jack Canfield 
Canfield, who turns 72 today, is an author, motivational speaker, seminar leader, corporate trainer and entrepreneur, who has built his success around the spectacular Chicken Soup for the Soul series, which has more than 250 titles and 500 million copies in print in over 40 languages.

Canfield is the founder and CEO of The Canfield Training Group in Santa Barbara, California and founder of The Foundation for Self-Esteem in Culver City, California.  Canfield hosts a radio program and writes a globally syndicated newspaper column  and holds a Guinness World Record for having seven books                                             
 on the New York Times best-seller list at the same time.

“By taking the time to stop and appreciate who you are and what you've achieved - and perhaps learned through a few mistakes, stumbles and losses - you actually can enhance everything about you,” Canfield said.  “Self-acknowledgment and appreciation are what give you the insights and awareness to move forward toward higher goals and accomplishments.”

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Casting the die; staying the course

“When I was only eleven years old, I decided to become a writer. I told this ambition in a letter to Laura Ingalls Wilder; the die was cast. How could I go back on my word?” –  Sonia Levitin

A German American immigrant who escaped from Nazi Germany as a young girl (her family was Jewish), she was born Sonia Wolff on this day in 1934.  She wrote her first poem at age 8 and has not only kept her word but ended up with over 40 novels for young adults and children.  For good measure, she added a number of plays and wrote numerous essays on topics for adults. 

Levitin began her professional writing career as a publicity columnist for several newspapers, but after her first novel Journey to America became an instant classic, she began to pick up traction as a professional novelist.   Her novels for young adults often featured semi-autobiographical characters. And most of her books focus around historical events and tragedies, the theme being courageous main characters faced with difficult challenges
 who must "take charge" in order to overcome these obstacles.

A frequent presenter on both writing and the immigrant experience, and a longtime teacher of creative writing, Levitan noted, “Through my writing, I have made new friends and continued to learn about this world of ours in all its wonder, with all its challenges.”

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Imagination plus craftsmanship equals great writing

“I have no favorite genre or style but treat each novel with the same care, imagination and craftsmanship. It's as difficult to write a crime or a children's novel with a touch of style and grace as it is a literary novel.” – Garry Disher

Australian author Garry Disher knows of what he speaks, since he has been one of the world’s most noted authors of both crime fiction and children's literature.

Born this week in 1949, he grew up on his parents' farm in South Australia and began his writing career while still in college – first in Adelaide, then in Melbourne universities.  In 1978, in recognition of his growing skill in the writing world, he was awarded a creative writing fellowship to Stanford where he wrote his first short story collection.

Disher travelled widely overseas before returning to Australia, where he has taught creative writing, but mostly doing writing full time since 1988.  He has written more than 40 crime fiction and children's books, but in recent years he’s also gained recognition for his books about the craft of writing.  Having read through some of his pieces, I highly commend them to anyone seeking to become a writer or advance a career as a writer.  The books are chock full of great advice, examples and just good common sense that many writers sometimes overlook in their haste to get the words down on paper.                                              

For a wonderful look at terrific Young Adult fiction, take a look at his The Devine Wind, and for a great example of the best in crime fiction, read his “Challis/Destry” series, especially Chain of Evidence, which won Australia’s Ned Kelley Award for best crime novel.

“A good writer can set a thriller anywhere and make it convincing: the trick is to evoke the setting in such a way that it highlights the crime or unsettles the reader.”

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