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Monday, October 31, 2016

Way beyond 'squiggles' on the page

 “A story is open-ended. A story invites you into it to make your own meaning.” – Katherine Paterson

Best known for children's novels, Paterson celebrates her 84th birthday today.  Over her lifetime she has won two Newbery Medals and two National Book Awards.  Bridge to Terabithia, her most widely read work, was both a Newbery winner and highly controversial at the time it was published (1977) because her youthful protagonists take on themes considered adult in nature.  But, they also learn about triumphing through self-sacrifice and how to deal with death and jealousy.  Although her characters often face dire situations, Paterson writes with compassion and empathy, interlacing her writing with wry wit and understated humor.
“The problem with people who are afraid of imagination,            
 of fantasy,” she said of her detractors, “is that their world becomes so narrow that I don't see how they can imagine beyond what their senses can verify.  We know from science that there are entire worlds that our senses can't verify.”

For her career contribution to "children's and young adult literature in the broadest sense" she won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award from the Swedish Arts Council in 2006, the biggest monetary prize in children's literature.  Also for her body of work she was awarded the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature in 2007 and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the American Library Association in 2013.

“Reading asks that you bring your whole life experience and your ability to decode the written word and your creative imagination to the page and be a co-author with the writer,” Paterson said.  “Because the story is just squiggles on the page unless you have a reader.”

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Thought-provoking views of power

 “I am trying to make clear through my writing something which I believe: that biography- history in general- can be literature in the deepest and highest sense of that term.” – Robert Caro

Caro, born on this date in 1935, is best known for his celebrated biographies of United States political figures Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson.  In a few days (Nov. 6th) he will receive the National Book Award medal for lifetime achievement.

A native of New York City, Caro started in journalism while studying at Princeton University.  He began his professional career as a reporter with the New Brunswick (N.J.) Daily Home News, and from there he went on to six years as an investigative reporter with the Long Island newspaper Newsday.

After working for many years as a reporter, Caro came in contact with urban planner Moses and the influence he had on numerous projects in New York City and the state of New York.  Fascinated by Moses’ power, he wrote The Power Broker in 1974.   The book not only rose to the top of most best-seller lists, but also was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the 20th Century.    He has since written four of a planned five volumes of The Years of Lyndon Johnson (1982, 1990, 2002, 2012), a biography of the former president.   For his biographies, he has won almost every possible literary award including two Pulitzer Prizes in Biography and the National Book Award for The Power Broker.
While the Johnson books have received numerous                  
 accolades too, it is The Power Broker that is widely viewed as a seminal work because it combined painstaking historical research with a smoothly flowing narrative writing style.  

 Lauded for his exploration of how power both shapes lives and shapes decisions, he noted, “I never wanted to do biography just to tell the life of a famous man.  I always wanted to use the life of a man to examine political power, because democracy shapes our lives.”

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

A 'familiar' poetic outlook

“If someone is alone reading my poems, I hope it would be like reading someone's notebook. A record. Of a place, beauty, difficulty. A familiar daily struggle.” – Fanny Howe

Poet, novelist, and short story writer, Howe (who recently celebrated her 76th birthday) was awarded the 2009 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, presented annually by the Poetry Foundation to a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition.
Howe has become one of the most widely read American poets.                
Her prose poems, "Everything's a Fake" and "Doubt,” were selected for the anthology Great American Prose Poems: from Poe to the Present.   And, her poem "Catholic" was selected for the 2004 volume of The Best American Poetry.
For Saturday’s Poem, here is Howe’s


I have never arrived
into a new life yet.

Have you?

Do you find the squeak
of boots on snow


Have you heard people
say, It wasn't me,

when they accomplished
a great feat?

I have, often.
But rarely.

is one of the elements.
It keeps things going.

The ferry
with its ratty engine
and exactitude at chugging
into blocks and chains.

Returning as ever
to mother's house
under a salty rain.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Keeping 'introversion' off the table

“TV’s not the problem, and I'm tired of it being posed as this antithesis to creativity and productivity. If TV's getting in your way of writing a book, then you don't want to write a book bad enough.” – Andrea Seigel

Young Adult novelist Seigel – who grew up in California and then did her writing education on the East Coast (at Brown and Bennington) – turns 37 today and says she’s a great example of how an introvert can be succerssful in an extrovert’s world.   Author of 4 novels with a 5th on the way, she also has become a successful screenwriter and has had 2 of her books – The Kid Table and Everybody Knows Your Name turned into films.

She’s also been the subject of a script, featured on the public radio podcast Mystery Show, and was the focus of an episode of NPR’s popular This American Life program, for a rare neurological disorder from which she suffers.  
 Popular with young readers for her realistic portrayals,              
 she said she has simple advice for beginning writers about what to remember when they are submitting their work.  Try to remember that decisions are made by individual, fallible personalities, not gods. It's hard. I know.”

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Roosevelt - A 'Writing' Life

“I am a part of everything that I have read.” – Theodore Roosevelt

I’ve written before about our 26th President, including having him as an integral part of my novel And The Wind Whispered.  But, it seems only right to say a few more words about him today on the occasion of what would have been his 168th birthday. 

Born on this day in 1858, this statesman, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and reformer who played a major role in the development of this country’s national parks, monuments and history itself also was one of our great writers.

Roosevelt was a prolific author, writing with passion on subjects ranging from foreign policy to the importance of the national park system. He also was an avid reader, devouring up to 7 books each and every week, even during the most hectic and trying days of his presidency.  Among his favorites were books of poetry, and one of our country’s poet laureates, Robert Frost, once said that Roosevelt "was our kind. He quoted poetry to me. He knew poetry."
In all, Roosevelt wrote 18 books (each in several           
editions), including The Rough Riders, his acclaimed autobiography, and History of the Naval War of 1812 (still taught in naval war classes).  He also wrote about ranching, explorations, and wildlife, something he experienced first hand.  He also served as editor of Outlook magazine, where he had weekly access to a large, educated national audience.  His thoughtful writings and wise editorial decisions played a key role in protecting some of our country’s most valuable natural sites and resources.

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care,” Roosevelt said.  “Nine-tenths of wisdom is being wise in time.”

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Carrying our collective stories

“Nonfiction writers are the packhorses of literature. We're meant to carry the story. If we can make it up and down the mountain by a reliable if not scenic route, we have delivered. Technique is optional.” – Stacy Schiff

Born on this day in 1961, Schiff started her career as an editor and was the senior editor at Simon & Schuster until 1990.  That’s when she shifted into writing and, in particular, began her focus on biography and non-fiction.  Since then she has written half-a-dozen acclaimed biographies and nonfiction bestsellers sandwiched around numerous essays and articles in such notable magazines and newspapers as The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement and The New York Times Book Review.

After being a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Antoine de Saint Expurey (author of The Little Prince), Schiff won the 2000 Pulitizer for Vera, about Vera Nabokov, wife and muse of Nobel Prize winner Vladimir Nabokov.

Her fourth book, Cleopatra: A Life, was published to great acclaim in 2010. As the Wall Street Journal's reviewer put it, "Schiff does a rare thing: She gives us a book we'd miss if it didn't exist." The New Yorker termed the book "a work of literature."  Last year, she published
  The Witches: Salem, 1692 hailed by The New York Times
  as "an almost novelistic, thriller-like narrative.”
                             Schiff said she very much enjoys research but sometimes runs into walls trying to decipher her subjects’ writing and works.  In an ideal world,” she said, “ the perfect biographical subject would have been the star of his penmanship class at grade school - and would thereafter write an English that positively sings.” 

As for biography as her topic, something a novelist friend once told her “was not a real book,” she added, “The biographer has two lives: The one she leads, and the one she ultimately understands.”

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Letting your stories 'shine through'

“What I hope for from a book - either one that I write or one that I read - is transparency. I want the story to shine through. I don't want to think of the writer.”  – Anne Tyler

Author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Accidental Tourist, and the Time Magazine Book of the Year Breathing Lessons, Tyler celebrates her 75th birthday today.  Still going strong, she has only recently released her 19th and 20th books, A Spool of Blue Thread and Vinegar Girl.   Ever self-deprecating and low key, Tyler once said that while she was waiting for her child after school, another mother came up and asked if she’d found full-time work yet or she was still “just writing.” 

Born in Minneapolis, Tyler was raised in various parts of the country and often felt like an outsider, a factor that she said helped make her a better writer and storyteller.  Her first reminiscences of storytelling were at age 3, when she said she’d crawl under the covers and tell herself stories to help go to sleep.  She was already writing stories at age 7.

Although she was only “in-and-out” of formal schools, she finished high school at age 16 and enrolled at Duke University where she took renowned novelist and poet Reynolds Price’s first creative writing class.  Price later described her as “frighteningly mature for 16,” "wide-eyed,” “an outsider,” and “one of the best novelists alive in the world… almost as good a writer at 16 as she is now.”

Besides the Pulitzer, Tyler is the recipient of the Janet
 Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Ambassador Book Award,         
the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence in 2012.  Five of her novels have been made into movies, including the widely acclaimed version of Accidental Tourist.

To young writers, she says, “I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them - without a thought about publication - and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside.”

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Writing 'to fit' the tale

Writers should be applauded for their ability to make things up.” – Emma Donoghue

While (hopefully) she’s talking about fiction, she’s also written a number of great essays and nonfiction works and earned plenty of applause for almost everything she’s done.

Born on this date in 1962, Irish-Canadian playwright, literary historian, novelist, and screenwriter Donoghue is perhaps best known for her 2010 novel Room, a finalist for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, an international best-seller, and the Academy Award-nominated movie by the same name (for which she adapted the screenplay).
Donoghue, who was born in Ireland but makes her                   
home in Canada, has written one award winner after another – 17 books in all, including her 2016 psycho-drama The Wonder –since she started writing at age 23.  While many of her works are “historical fiction,” she’s been hard to categorize – something for which she’s very happy.
“You know the way there are two kinds of actors - the De Niro kind who's always De Niro, and then somebody like Daniel Day-Lewis, who transforms himself eerily? Well, I aim to be the Daniel Day-Lewis kind of writer. I don't have a house style.”

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Helping make sense of a teen's world

“If I can write a book that will help the world make a little more sense to a teen, then that's why I was put on the planet.” – Laurie Halse Anderson

An American writer best known for children's and young adult novels, especially the book Speak, Anderson is celebrating her 55th birthday today.

A journalist first, Anderson began her career as both a freelance writer and a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer in the early 1980s.   In the mid-1990s she began creative writing aimed at young adults.  After self-publishing a couple, her book Speak not only was accepted by a major publisher but also hit the 1999 New York Times bestseller list. The book – a portrayal of a 13-year-old sexual assault victim who loses her ability to speak after the attack – won the Golden Kite award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.   The book has been translated into 16 languages and made into a major motion picture.
It also opened the door to Anderson’s further writing    
 for young adults and she has had numerous hits since.  Her 2000 book Fever 1793 was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a Junior Library Guild selection, and 2009’s Chains was a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.  That same year she was selected for the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association for her ongoing contribution to young adult literature. 

She said her appeal to young adults is creating characters with which teens can identify. “That can be the most painstaking aspect of being a teen, figuring out what the world really looks like.  If you find someone in a book, you know you're not alone and that's what's so comforting about books.”

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

The 'music' in the words

“Poetry is not easy. Or should I say, real poetry is not easy.” – Robert Pinsky

Pinsky, a professor at Boston University, celebrated his 76th birthday this past week and continues going strong as a poet, essayist, literary critic and translator.  The former Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, he has authored 19 books, most of which are collections of his poetry.

A one-time jazz musician, Pinsky said his poetry has been inspired by the flow and tension of jazz and the excitement that it made him feel. As a former saxophonist, he has said that being a musician was a profoundly influential experience that he has tried to reproduce in his poetry.

“I don't like to have a calm, orderly, quiet place to work. I often compose while driving, compose in my head. It is true that I wrote my little book, 'The Sounds of Poetry, A Brief Guide,' almost entirely in airplanes and airport departure lounges.”  Today, for Saturday’s Poem, here is Pinsky’s
Samurai Song
When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.

When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Like nailing Jello to a wall

“Completing any writing project, particularly a novel, is a daunting prospect. Many people become frozen by the prospect. Others keep waiting for the right time. Some wait for the spark of inspiration. Even experienced writers find it is easier to do anything other than actually write. – Bob Mayer
I wholeheartedly agree.  Sometimes the hardest aspect of the job of BEING a writer is the actual process of writing.  I’ve experienced this and I’m sure the majority of writers have also – the feeling that you just can’t make yourself get to the computer, typewriter or even a notepad on some days.  It’s sort-of overwhelming, and you just think that something else has to be better.

But then, of course, you sit down and hit those first keys and everything seems to “flow” back from the brain to your fingers and you find yourself back in the creative mode.  Writing a blog, of course, gets the daily writing juices flowing, too, and even though I sometimes wake up in a panic that I might not have something to write about, I always seem to find a person or topic to get it going – and then I’m ready for the rest of the writing day.  Also, for me, I’ve maintained my connections with the journalistic world and I almost always have one story or another on the drawing board.

Getting back to Mayer, today is his 57th birthday and I’m sure he has yet another book underway.  So far this prolific author has had 70-plus novels in multiple genres, selling more than 4 million books, including Area 51, Atlantis, and The Green Berets, all #1 series.   And, when I say “multiple genres,” that includes Romance where he holds the distinction of being the only male author on the Romance Writers of America Honor Roll.
A former Green Beret and graduate of West Point,              
Mayer’s prolific writing encompasses both his military experience and his fascination for history, legends and mythology.  And, collaborating with Romance writer Jennifer Cruise he did a series of military-themed romance novels starting with - Don’t Look Down and including the New York Times number one bestseller Agnes and the Hitman.

While getting the work done hasn’t seemed to be a problem for Mayer, he notes that for most writers it can and is a long process.  “A one-hundred-thousand-word novel might take a year or several years, and then you just come to 'The End' one day,” he wrote.  “But it takes hundreds of days to get to 'The End.' As a writer, you have to be ready to put in those hundreds of days.”

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Flexing that 'writing muscle'

“Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised.” – Nikki Grimes

Born this date in 1950, Grimes has authored many books for children and young adults.  Growing up in Harlem, she said, "Books were my survival tools. They were how I got by, and how I coped with things. Books carried me away."

Also a poet and journalist, her interests and talents are as widely diverse as her writing skills, including award-winning photography, fiber art, and beading.

On the board of directors for the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, her work has earned her honors and recognition from a number of prestigious organizations including the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, and (a remarkable 4 times) the Coretta Scott King Author Award for her fiction – Bronx Masquerade, Dark Sons, The Road to Paris, and Talkin’ About Bessie.
“Originally I had planned to write just a couple      
 of children's books and then, return the focus on adult literature,” she noted.  “(But) A funny thing happened along the way - I kept having new ideas, and then I looked up one day, and 30 years had passed!”

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Putting readers 'into the conversation'

I'm trying to make the readers feel as if he or she is right there in the conversation, and so I don't try to manipulate it too much. – Susan Straight

Born on this date in 1960, Straight is a National Book Award finalist for her novel Highwire Moon, one of her 7 adult novels.  She’s also done a novel for young readers, and a children's book, and has written essays and articles for numerous national publications.  Among the recipients of her work are The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and Harper's Magazine.  A frequent contributor to NPR and Salon.com, her short story writing also has earned numerous accolades. The 2003 story "Mines” was included in Best American Short Stories, and 2008’s “The Golden Gopher” earned her the Edgar Allen Poe Award.
A native of Riverside, Calif., Straight earned a writing              
 degree from Southern Cal, then traveled East to earn her MFA from U. Mass-Amherst.  Returning to California, she co-founded the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Writing for Performing Arts program at University of California, Riverside in the mid-1980s. 

Besides her ongoing writing career, she serves as Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing and Director of the graduate program at that school.

Her advice to new writers?  “The best thing I could say is you do have to be a really good listener. If I go to a family reunion, and there's 400 people there, everybody comes up and tells me their stories, right? And I think that when you're a good listener, and you can imagine how someone's talking, dialogue is your key friend, is it not?”

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A 'singular' opportunity

“Novels are one of the few remaining areas of narrative storytelling where one person does almost all of the creative heavy lifting.” – Charles Stross

Born on this date in 1964, Stross is an award-winning British writer who specializes in hard science fiction and space opera, both short stories and novels.  He also writes freelance pieces about computer science and science in general – his two college degree specialties.  

Stross wrote his first science fiction story at age 12 and continued writing all the way through college.  After graduating with a degree in Pharmacy he went on to a graduate degree in computer science, then got back into writing in 2000, first as a technical author then as a fiction writer in 2002.

His first published short story, "The Boys,” actually appeared in 1987, and then became part of his first successful short story collection in 2002.    His first novel, Singularity Sky, was published 
in 2003 and went right to the top of bestseller lists,          
ultimately earning a nomination for Science Fiction’s top award, The Hugo.  Since then, several collections of his short stories have been nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award.

“I think,” Stross mused,  “that if there's one key insight science can bring to fiction, it's that fiction - the study of the human condition - needs to broaden its definition of the human condition.  Because the human condition isn't immutable and doomed to remain uniform forever.”

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