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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Those 'Labyrinthe Corridors of Knowledge'

“Andrew Carnegie loved libraries; he knew their importance to an educated society and as anchors to our communities. And so, just as some loyal baseball fans travel to attend games at all 30 major league stadiums, over the last decade or so, I have slowly, casually, visited Carnegie libraries whenever I am on the road.” – Sam Weller

An engaging and much sought-after speaker – especially about longtime Science Fiction writer Ray Bradbury – Weller is on the road often.  Author of the award-winning The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury, he is a frequent lecturer (nearly 400 talks) on Bradbury’s life and legacy.  His 2014 book Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations recounts Bradbury's influences, creative processes, and love for writing and reading.

Weller, who celebrates his 50th birthday today, is native of Illinois and a faculty member at Columbia College, Chicago.   The one-time Midwest Correspondent for Publishers Weekly, his personal essays have appeared in the Paris Review, on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and in Slate magazine. His short fiction can be found in numerous books, anthologies, literary journals, and magazines, and he’s now at work on his own fantasy-style novel.
                                                                                Sam Weller – and with Ray Bradbury
It’s in libraries that Weller often finds inspiration, advising all to enjoy visiting a library instead of just searching on line.   “Browsing for books with a mouse and screen is not nearly as joyful an act as wandering the stacks and getting lost in the labyrinthine corridors of knowledge,” he said.  “The best libraries are places of imagination, education and community. The best libraries have mystery to them.”

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Real characters, epic fantasies

Some books are a revelation. They come along at just the right time for just the right reasons. They become heart books and soul books. – Judith Tarr

A writer of historical and epic fantasies, or what she likes to call “alternate history,” Tarr (who celebrates her birthday today) has won awards and legions of followers under three names – her own, and as Caitlin Brennan and Kathleen Bryan.

She has been a World Fantasy Award nominee for her Alexander the Great novel, Lord of the Two Lands, and won the Crawford Award for her Hound and the Falcon trilogy. As Brennan she wrote The Mountain’s Call and sequels, and as Bryan The Serpent and the Rose and its sequels.  Tarr also enjoys writing about and working with horses, especially Lipizzans.  She owns Dancing Horse Farm in Arizona where she gives lessons and talks on both horses and writing – especially works that are “historically” connected. 
“I like going back in time and writing historical fantasy,”              
she said.   “I use some real historical characters as a background to give depth to the fantasy. And I throw my fictional characters into the midst of this, and, so far, it has turned out interesting.” 

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

The pen writes for 'character'

“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.” – Thomas Paine
“These are the times that try men's souls,” wrote Thomss Paine nearly 250 years ago.  He spoke, of course, of the beginnings of the American Revolution, but his words from then might be considered apropos for today’s society as well – as would many of the other thoughtful things this Foundiong Father wrote. 

Born on this date in 1737, Paine was not only a political activist, but also a philosopher, political theorist, and author of the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the Revolution – Common Sense and The American Crisis, from which the above quote is taken.
Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said,                   
 "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain."
“We can only reason from what is,” Paine once wrote.  “We can reason on actualities, but not on possibilities.”  His reasoning and eloquent writings helped to birth a nation.  To read more about this remarkable man, check out the website: http://www.biography.com/people/thomas-paine-9431951#synopsis

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Filling the blank pages with life

“There's a reason poets often say, 'Poetry saved my life,' for often the blank page is the only one listening to the soul's suffering, the only one registering the story completely, the only one receiving all softly and without condemnation.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Estés, who celebrated her 72nd birthday this week, uses her poems throughout her psychoanalytic books, spokenword audios, and stage performances as expressive therapy for others. A doctor who is a post-trauma recovery specialist and psychoanalsyst who has practiced clinically for 41 years, she also is the author of many books on the journey of the soul.
Her work, published in 37 languages, includes                         
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype, a New York Times' bestseller for a remarkable 145 weeks.  From that work and for Saturday’s Poem, here is:

Rainmaker: you could be the water

By the scent of water alone,
the withered vine comes back to life,
and thus…wherever the land is dry and hard,
you could be the water;
or you could be the iron blade
disking the earth open;
or you could be the acequia,
the mother ditch, carrying the water
from the river to the fields
to grow the flowers for the farmers;
or you could be the honest engineer
mapping the dams that must be taken down,
and those dams which could remain to serve
the venerable all, instead of only the very few.
You could be the battered vessel
for carrying the water by hand;
or you could be the one
who stores the water.
You could be the one who
protects the water,
or the one who blesses it,
or the one who pours it.
Or you could be the tired ground
that receives it;
or you could be the scorched seed
that drinks it;
or you could be the vine,
green-growing overland,
in all your wild audacity…


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Friday, January 27, 2017

'Start at the beginning; end at the end'

“Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Lewis Carroll

While they may have seemed impossible, for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, born on this date in 1832, they were at least worth trying.  Feted for his work as a mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon, and photographer, Dodgson is, of course, most famous for his fantastical writings, portrayed in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass – both written under his nom de plume, Lewis Carroll.

Despite his inclination toward math and science, he was a longtime writer, starting on poetry and short stories while still a young teen.  He actually had some moderate successes writing as himself before, in 1856, publishing a wildly successful romantic poem, “Solitude,” under the name that would make him famous.   It was that same year – the outset of his long career as a teacher of mathematics and logistics at Christ Church University – that he also took up the new art form of photography, and started a friendship with the family of University Dean Henry Liddle. 

It was while spending time with the Liddle family that he began sharing fantastical tales with the three young Liddle daughters, Lorina, Edith, and Alice.   Alice, it is long-believed (although Dodgson would not verify it) served as the model for the Lewis Carroll’s title character.

As for photography, Dodgson became one of the new medium’s top practitioners, establishing his own studio near his University offices and being lauded as an amateur master of the medium.  One of his surviving photos is a great character study of  young Alice, who he once advised to, “Always speak the truth, think before you speak, and write it down afterwards.”
His advice to writers and those seeking any type                             
 of quest comes right out of his “Alice” books.  “Begin at the beginning,” Carroll noted, “and go on till you come to the end; then stop.”

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trying to express the inexpressible

“Our job as writers, as far as I can tell, is to attempt to express what seems inexpressible.” – Nick Flynn

Writer, playwright and poet, Nick Flynn is best known for his trilogy of memoirs about his relationships, especially with his parents, and – with his most recent work The Reenactments – the making of a successful movie, Being Flynn, based on his multi-award winning first memoir.

Born on this date in 1960, Flynn also has authored 3 volumes of poetry for which he’s won a number of major prizes. Flynn's poems, essays, and non-fiction have been featured in The New Yorker, Paris Review, National Public Radio’s This American Life, and The New York Times Book Review and have been translated into 14 languages. 
A native of the Boston area, he spent considerable time in New York City before relocating to Houston, TX, where he teaches creative writing at the University of Houston.

“Certain stories we carry with us,” Flynn said.  “Events in our life, they define who we are. It's not a matter of getting over anything; we have to make the best of it.”
“You come to realize people are not simple.”                             

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Books: Humanity's 'Backlist'

“What is true for book publishing is true for civilization: the books that survive the test of time are humanity's backlist, our collective memory.” – Jason Epstein

 When it comes to books and their history, Jason Epstein, who was born in 1928, knows of what he speaks having led one of the most creative careers in book publishing in the last half of the 20th century.  In 1952, he created Anchor Books, which launched the so-called “paperback revolution,” and established what became known as “Trade” paperbacks (the larger format size).  Epstein also co-founded The New York Review of Books, and in the 1980s he created the Library of America, prestigious publisher of American classics, and The Reader's Catalog, the precursor to online bookselling.

While at Random House, he edited well-known novelists like E. L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal and was a major contributor of essays to the writing world.

Author of the best selling Eating: A Memoir, he was                        
the first recipient of the National Book Award for Distinguished Service to American Letters, received The Curtis Benjamin Award of the Association of American Publishers for "creative publishing," and was given the lifetime achievement award from the National Book Critic’s Circle.

Unlike some other longtime publishers, he embraced technology as a way to advance bookselling, noting, “The revolutionary process by which all books, old and new, in all languages, will soon be available digitally, at practically no cost for storage and delivery, to a radically decentralized world-wide market at the click of a mouse, is irreversible.”

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Creating 'longing' for what is true

“Good writers don’t moralize, nor do they preach, but they do create longing for the true and the beautiful.” – Eudora Welty

Eudora Alice Welty spent most of her life in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, where her home is not only a National Historic Landmark but also a public museum.  Primarily a writer about the American South, she still deserves to be called a “National” Writing Treasure.  Her writing shared a love of the region and its unique communities and brought then to life for the entire nation to see.  

Primarily a writer of short stories (honored in 1992 for her lifetime contributions to the genre), she also penned one of the all-time best American novels – the 1973 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Optimist’s Daughter.  And, she did a series of lectures released in the 1980s as a New York Times bestselling nonfiction book, One Writer's Beginnings, runner-up for the National Book Award.

“Place” was always vitally important to Welty in her writings.   It is, she said, what makes fiction seem real, because with it come customs, feelings, and associations.   Place answers the questions: "What happened? Who's here? Who's coming?"              
                                      And that, she said, is the job of the storyteller.

“Both reading and writing,” Welty noted,  “are experiences – lifelong – in the course of which we who encounter words used in certain ways are persuaded by them to be brought mind and heart within the presence, the power, of the imagination.”

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Living for the process

If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire must be not to write.” – Hugh Prather

An American self-help writer, lay minister, and counselor, Prather was most famous for his mega-selling first book, Notes to Myself, which was first published in 1970 and has remained continuously in print since, now selling well over 5 million copies.

A native of the Dallas, TX, area, he was born on this date in 1938 (he died in 2010).  In his writing, Prather often draws on Christian language and themes – his work underscoring the importance of gentleness, forgiveness, and loyalty.  All told, Prather authored 15 self-help books and became a sort-of “go to Guru” in the field.
Prather said his advice to would-be writers, and others          
for that matter, is to live for the process, not necessarily what comes out of it.  “To live for results would be to sentence myself to continuous frustration,” he said.  “My only sure reward is in my actions and not from them.””

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

God's finger on your shoulder

“There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved: It is God's finger on man's shoulder.” – Charles Morgan

Born on this date in 1894, Morgan was an English playwright and novelist whose main writing themes were – as he himself put it – "Art, Love, and Death,” and the relationship between them.

While Morgan enjoyed an immense reputation during his lifetime, particularly in France, and was awarded the 1940 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, he was sometimes criticized for “excessive seriousness” in his writing.  

A poet first, following a time in the military during World War I, he gravitated to novels and playwriting, including the best selling novels The Fountain and The Voyage – for which he won the Tait Black Prize – and his scripts for theater, The Flashing Stream and The Burning Glass.

When not writing for himself, he did many reviews and was highly regarded as a critic.  He also did a number of major essays, including the thought provoking “The Writer and His World,” published shortly after his death in 1958.

Always seeming somewhat surprised by his successes, he once noted, “As knowledge increases, wonder deepens.”

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Enhancing that 'Degree of Consciousness'

Poetry brings all possible experience to the same degree: a degree in the consciousness beyond which the consciousness itself cannot go.” – Laura Riding

A champion of free verse and feted as one of the world’s leading poets in the 1920s and 1930s, Laura Riding, born in January 1901, was also a critic, essayist, novelist and short story writer.  And, she was well known for speaking out against Fascism and Nazism.
In her later years she turned away from poetry,                    
after writing hundreds of poems, to focus on other forms of writing.  But her poems remain among those most studied and reviewed around the world, published in a dozen languages.

Here, for Saturday’s Poem, is Laura Riding’s

Yes and No

Across a continent imaginary
Because it cannot be discovered now
Upon this fully apprehended planet—
No more applicants considered,
Alas, alas—

Ran an animal unzoological,
Without a fate, without a fact,
Its private history intact
Against the travesty
Of an anatomy.

Not visible not invisible,
Removed by dayless night,
Did it ever fly its ground
Out of fancy into light,
Into space to replace
Its unwritable decease?

Ah, the minutes twinkle in and out
And in and out come and go
One by one, none by none,
What we know, what we don't know.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Capitalizing on 'the building blocks of fiction'

“Before the scene, before the paragraph, even before the sentence, comes the word. Individual words and phrases are the building blocks of fiction, the genes that generate everything else. Use the right words, and your fiction can blossom. The French have a phrase for it - le mot juste - the exact right word in the exact right position.” – Nancy Kress 
Kress – who was born on this date in 1948 – is an award-winning writer of science fiction who has made it a habit to do just that:  Select the right word or phrase.  A stickler for the “science” part of her sci-fi writing, she also is noted for her attention to research to make all her stories exciting, interesting and plausible.

She is perhaps best known for Beggars in Spain, her novella expanded to a full-blown novel and winner of both the prestigious Hugo and Nebula Awards.  She also won the Nebula for Best Novella in 2013 for "After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall,” and in 2015 for "Yesterday's Kin.” A school teacher and then college professor before turning to creative writing, she has written numerous short stories, novellas, reviews and essays and is a much sought after presenter at writing workshops. 

As for advice to new writers, she said to work hard                    
 on the conclusion so that it leaves questions answered and readers satisfied.  “The most-asked question when someone describes a novel, movie or short story to a friend probably is, 'How does it end?'” she said.  “Endings carry tremendous weight with readers; if they don't like the ending, chances are they'll say they didn't like the work. Failed endings are also the most common problems editors have with submitted works.”

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Using 'The Poetry of Words'

“They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Today is the birthdate (in 1809) of writer, editor, and literary critic Edgar Allan Poe, best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre.  Widely regarded as a key figure of Romanticism in the United States and American literature as a whole, he also was one of the country's earliest practitioners of the short story.

The first well-known American writer to try to make a living by writing alone, Poe was both successful – and not – having spurts of decent amounts of income followed by periods of destitution.  Ultimately, his lack of income may have been a contributing factor to his early death.  But the actual cause of his death at age 40 has never been determined, and has been the subject of movies and “whodunit?” books.

Poe probably would have liked that.  He enjoyed writing a good mystery and a good detective story.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in fact, said, "Each [of Poe's detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed.... Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?"  The Mystery Writers of America have named their annual awards for excellence, "Edgars.”

His crafting of pieces using “just the right word
 or turn of phrase” might reflect back to his love                             
 of language and the poetic uses of words.   He once noted,  “I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty.”

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Put passion at the heart of your work

“I always tell people, start with what you're passionate about. If you truly are passionate, you'll keep it up.” – Robert Scoble

Good advice, obviously, whether it’s for something you are writing, or for any other project upon which you are embarking.  

Scoble, who celebrates a birthday today, is best known as a blogger and for his blog Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technology evangelist at Microsoft.  Now at UploadVR, he also has worked for Fast Company as a video blogger, and Rackspace and its sponsored community site Building 43, writing on breakthrough technology.

Born in New Jersey, he grew up in the Silicon Valley – literally in the shadow of Apple’s international headquarters – and studied journalism and mass communications at San Jose State.  He has legions of followers and one piece of advice for would-be bloggers is to always maintain your site and don’t change it.  In addition to his blog and very active use of Twitter, he has written several books including the bestselling Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with  Customers.
“Be the authority on your product/company,” Scoble advises.  “You should know more about your product than anyone else alive if you're writing a blog about it.”  In other words: Be Passionate.

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