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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Following 'the truth' along a writing path

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties: you alter the difficulties or you alter yourself meeting them.” – Phyllis Bottome  
Born on this date in 1884, Phyllis Forbes Dennis was a British novelist and short story writer who wrote under her birth name, Phyllis Bottome.
Primarily a mystery writer, she penned some 35 novels and many dozens of short stories over a nearly 60 year writing career, starting with her first book at age 17.  After marrying, she and her husband were part of the British diplomatic corps, although his work was mainly through MI-6, the spy division made famous as the parent organization of the fictional James Bond.
It was great “grist for the writing mill,” she once noted.        Four of her books – Private Worlds, The Mortal Storm, Danger Signal, and The Heart of a Child – were adapted to film.   In addition to fiction she also wrote a highly regarded biography of psychologist Alfred Adler.   She died in 1963 and her husband bequeathed a large collection of her papers and correspondence to The British Library.

“Truth, though it has many disadvantages, is at least changeless,” Bottome famously said.   “You can always find it where you left it.”

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A simple process: One word at a time

“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
During his senior year at Springfield, IL, High School, Clements’ English teacher handed back a poem he’d written and he said two things were amazing about that paper.  First, he’d gotten an A—a rare event in this teacher’s class; and second, she’d written in large red letters, “Andrew—this poem is so funny. This should be published!”

It was the beginning of his love of writing and, as many writers say, a teacher often shapes their writing lives.   After college, he went on to teach writing to all levels from elementary through high school         and started his own writing career.
In addition to teaching, he worked for several publishing companies and in 1985 wrote his first picture book. His first novel, Frindle, released in 1996, won 16 state book awards and the Christopher Award given to writing that “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.”  In 2015-16 it was named the Phoenix Award winner for the best book that did not win a major award when it was first published.  Now the author of over 70 books, Clements has won two dozen major writing awards.

“Sometimes kids ask how I've been able to write so many books,” he said.   “The answer is simple: one word at a time. Which is another good lesson, I think. You don't have to do everything at once. You don't have to know how every story is going to end. You just have to take that next step, look for that next idea, write that next word.”

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Creating pictures in people's minds

“Life happens, and I write about it wherever I am.” – Melissa Etheridge

A native of Leavenworth, Kan., Melissa was born on this date in 1961 and almost from the time she could walk and talk she was interested in music, singing everywhere she went and learning to play the guitar at age 8.       Known for her mixture of "confessional lyrics, pop-based folk-rock, and raspy, smoky vocals," her songs often are inspired by her own experiences. “But, sometimes,” she said,  “they (the words) are more than my real-life and, conversely, my life is more than just my songs.”

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 (now in remission) she underwent surgery and chemotherapy and said it caused her to celebrate life each and every day. "I don't have a bucket list," she said.  "Whatever I do each day IS my bucket list."     She is a committed advocate for environmental issues and the use of biofuels.

There are a remarkable 74 YouTube videos of her performing, and each is a feast for its vivid expression and presentation.  “As an artist, singer and songwriter,” she noted,  “I try to use my words to create pictures in people's minds.”

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Another 'Best Day' of your year

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Eminently quotable, Emerson was the first American to advocate for Americans to develop a writing style of their own; to create “American” writing and not just copy that of their forebears from other parts of the world.

I find it interesting that he was born this day in 1803, almost simultaneously with the commissioning of Lewis and Clark's great expedition into the Louisiana Purchase.  Thus, as the Corps of Discovery was created to open American frontiers, this great writer and thinker was born to a similar pathway – only toward discovery of the written word. 

Emerson was one of the first writers to keep journals, influencing his great friend Henry David Thoreau to do the same.  Emerson’s lifelong extensive journals and notes, ultimately, were published in 16 volumes by Harvard University Press and are considered to be his key literary works – even though that was not his intent.  “I just wanted to maintain a record of the things that were important to my life,” he wrote.   As it turned out, they are things that have influenced generations of writers both in their content and the practice of journaling itself. 

A teacher as well as writer and scholar, he was a staunch supporter of education for girls and women and helped found a Massachusetts school for girls.  And, from the mid-1840s on, he was a national leader of the abolitionist movement.  Known for his kindness and support of others, he said simply, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Nature's palette sets our writing table


“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” – William Wordsworth

A beautiful sky greeted me as I stood at the edge of the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado this past week. And after taking the photo, I was reminded of William Wordsworth’s wonderful poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."    So, here for Saturday's Poem to accompany the clouds wandering through a  Colorado sky, is Wordsworth’s,

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Authors know their landscapes best

“An author knows his landscape best; he can stand around, smell the wind, get a feel for his place.” – Tony Hillerman

Born on this date in 1925, Hillerman, who died in 2008, has always been one of my favorite authors.  A writer of regional Native American detective novels and non-fiction works, he was best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mysteries featuring two iconic police officers – Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.  Several of his books have been adapted as big-screen and television movies, including A Dark Wind and the multiple-award winner A Thief of Time.

A native of Oklahoma, Hillerman gravitated to New Mexico after World War II, where he was a highly decorated combat veteran.  Starting as a journalist, he worked out of Santa Fe, and then moved to Albuquerque where he both wrote for newspapers and earned a master’s degree in writing.  It was while covering crime news that he met a sheriff who became the model for his Navajo cop Joe Leaphorn and sparked an idea for his first book The Blessing Way. 

A consistently bestselling author, he wrote 18 books in his Navajo series and more than 30 books total, among them a memoir and several about the Southwest, its beauty and its history.  Given numerous awards, he said two of the most meaningful were one from the Navajo Nation and another from the Department of the Interior, recognizing his attention to Native culture and his encouragement       for maintaining nature and the land. 

Also a writing professor for many years, he said his best advice to writers was awareness of who they were writing for.  “Remember, he advised, "you write for both yourself and your audience, who are usually better educated and at least as smart as you are.”

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Writing the nuances of human behavior

“I try as best I can to enter the realm of nuances of human behavior.” – Robert Ludlum
Ludlum, who was born on this day in 1927 and died in 2001, wrote 27 thriller novels and perhaps is best known as the creator of Jason Bourne.  The number of copies of his books in print is estimated at some 500 million, published in 33 languages.  He also published  under the pseudonyms Jonathan Ryder and Michael Shepherd.

A native of New York City, he started his “creative” life as a student at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, doing some writing, but mostly acting.  After a stint in the Marines, he returned to a theatrical career for a couple of decades before becoming a full-time writer.  "I equate suspense and good theater in a very similar way. I think it's all suspense and what-happens-next,” he said.  “From that point of view, as a writer I guess I am theatrical."  Eleven of his books have been made into movies and 2 more are under production. 
Ludlum said his novels often were inspired       by conspiracy theories, both historical and contemporary.  His protagonists are either one heroic man – like Bourne – or a small group of crusading individuals.    They struggle against powerful adversaries whose intentions and motivations are evil and who are capable of using political and economic mechanisms in frightening ways.

“I start every book with something that outrages me,” Ludlum said when asked about his motivation.  “I'm outraged by the FBI, the CIA, and computers that seem to have catalogued our lives. Power too often is accompanied by irresponsibility.”

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thoughts for 'The Writing Life'

“If you’re a singer, you might lose your voice.  A baseball player loses his arm.  But a writer gets more knowledge, and if he’s good, the older he gets, the better he writes.” – Mickey Spillane
“Actors are good liars; writers are good liars with good memories.” – Daniel Keys Moran 

“It's hard to say how certain stories just punch us in the heart and the brain at the same time at the end. I suppose that's what we're all looking for. But each story has its own valence, its own way of saying goodbye to you.” – T. C. Boyle 

“If you ask 20 different readers why they read, the answers they give will all be right.” –  Teresa Nielsen Hayden

When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end.  So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it. – Charles de Lint

I awoke feeling a bit nostalgic about this so-called “writing life” and thought it would be a good day to share a few nostalgic (and somewhat profound) words by writers I’ve enjoyed.   May your “Writer’s Moments” bring you happiness along life’s roads.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Great characters lead to great tales

“The characters are always the focal point of a book for me, whether I'm writing or reading. I may enjoy a book that has an intriguing mystery or a good plot, but to become one of my real favorites, it has to have great characters.” – Candace Camp

 Camp, who was born on this date in 1949, is a native Texan who started her prolific writing career while earning a law degree in the 1970s.  She said writing just seemed to come naturally to her, and she actually began “writing to relax” at age 10 and has been writing ever since.  The majority of her works are in the Romance genre where she’s published a remarkable 70-plus novels under both her own name and the pseudonyms of Lisa Gregory, Kristin James and Sharon Stevens. 

Her first book Bonds of Love came out as Lisa Gregory in 1979 and her most recent, The Marrying Season, as Candace Camp just a couple of years ago.         Her publisher is now working with her to re-edit most of the pseudonym books to re-release them under her own name.

Writing runs in her family.  Her daughter is Young Adult writer Anastasia Hopcus and her mother Lula Mae (Irons) Camp was a journalist.

“My mother was a reporter, and though she quit when they had kids, she still loved it,” Camp said.  “She told me about the people at the paper and the articles she wrote. She had the best memory of anyone I know, and she could really tell a tale.”

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Monday, May 22, 2017

It's 'elementary' my dear Watson

“A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.” –Arthur Conan Doyle

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Coyle – in 1859 in Scotland – the creator of one of the iconic figures in literary history, Sherlock Holmes.     Noted for his to-the-point comments while solving mysteries, Holmes once pointed out that, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”  

Originally a physician (I always thought that he resembled what I imagined Dr. Watson to look like), Doyle wrote his first Holmes book, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887.  It was the first of just four novels about Holmes and Dr. Watson, but he “filled out” the Holmes library of tales with over 50 short stories featuring the famous detective.  The Sherlock Holmes stories are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction.   The tales spawned many dozens (if not more) of uses of Holmes by other writers and dozens of movies and television programs.  He also brought Deerstalker hats and Meerschaum pipes into vogue. 
Doyle, who died in 1930, also is known for writing          the fictional adventures of Professor Challenger and for propagating the mystery of the Mary Celeste.   He was a prolific writer whose other works include fantasy and science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels.  

Among the many sayings Doyle created to become part of our lexicon is, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”  Words to both solve mysteries and live by.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

The influential music of Jerry Goldsmith

If our music survives, which I have no doubt it will, then it will because it is good.” – Jerry Goldsmith
A salute to music today reflecting on the works of composer/writer Goldsmith, who died at age 88 earlier this month.  Most known for his work in film and television scoring, he composed scores for many dozens  of noteworthy films including Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which he personally considered his best), The Sand Pebbles, Logan's Run, Planet of the Apes, Patton, Hoosiers (which I always liked the best), and Chinatown – often regarded as one of the greatest scores of all time.  It ranks No. 9 on the AFI's list of top 25 American film scores and was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award.  Remarkably, under pressure after taking it over from another composer, he wrote the Chinatown score in just 10 days.

He was nominated for 18 Best Score Academy Awards for his movies and three dozen Emmys for his television series. Goldsmith has often been considered one of film music history's most innovative and influential composers.                              
                                               If music can be autobiographical, then Goldsmith’s version was his energetic Fireworks: A Celebration of Los Angeles in 1999.  Looking back on the experience, Goldsmith later said, he realized hd was writing about where he was born and had lived his entire life and decided to make the piece a grand celebration of the events that had surrounded his life. 

As for his career in film and television, he noted, “I like the variety. But basically my choice of films is a small intimate film. Quiet film, no action, just people in relationships. That's what I like the most.”

For a small sampling of Goldsmith’s work, check out the opening credits and theme of Hoosiers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r74qegjbF28
Or, take the time for this nice YouTube mix put together by Mark Michael:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeDDeP1oFcY

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Poetry: A relationship to everything

Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.” – Adrienne Rich

Born in May 1929, American poet, essayist and radical feminist Rich was called "one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century."  Her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, was selected by renowned poet W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1950 and she never looked back from there.  Winner of more than two dozen major writing awards, she also received a MacArthur Genius Grant and Lifetime Achievement Award from the Griffin Poetry Prize Foundation.  She died in 2012.
As I was reading some of her diverse and often wrenching poetry,     
I came across a poem that, while written 30 years ago, still resonates today.  So, for Saturday’s Poem, here is Rich’s,

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.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Keep striving to 'fill the page'

“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

Picoult, who has more than 14 million copies of her books (translated into 34 languages) in print worldwide, is a New Hampshire author who was born on this date in Long Island, NY, in 1966.    The daughter and granddaughter of teachers, she grew up reading and writing and did her first story, "The Lobster Which Misunderstood," at the age of 5.   By the time she reached college (at Princeton) she was writing – and being published – on a regular basis, including winning a couple of national writing contests while still in school.

The first of Picoult’s 23 bestselling novels, Songs of the Humpback Whale, came out in 1992 and her latest, Small Great Things, just last November.  She has had a remarkable 9 consecutive novels released in the Number One position on the New York Times Bestseller List, beginning with  Nineteen Minutes in 2007. 
In 2013 Picoult was a member of a group      of 30 bestselling writers who banded together to form the Writers Council for the National Writing Project.  That project recognizes writing – especially creative writing – as a communicative tool and helps teachers enhance student efforts to become writers.  

“Writer's block is for people who have the luxury of time,” she noted when asked how she keeps focused and continues turning out one successful book after another.   “When you're stuck, and sure you've written absolute garbage, force yourself to finish and then decide to fix or scrap it - or you will never know if you can.”

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Talent and determination set your pace

“If people ask me for the ingredients of success, I say one is talent, two is stubbornness or determination, and third is sheer luck. You have to have two out of the three. Any two will probably do.” – Fred Saberhagen

Born on this date in 1930, Saberhagen wrote both science fiction and fantasy and gained most of his fame for his Berserker sci-fi series.  He also wrote a well-received series of vampire novels in which Dracula steps away from the usual villainous role to become  the main protagonist.

A one-time editor and writer for Encyclopedia Brittanica, he decided in his early 30s that he would focus on “serious” writing (meaning creative fiction, he later said) and he moved to Albuquerque, NM, and hit the keyboards.  There, he added, “fear” often kept the creative juices flowing.

“I suspect that writer's block afflicts mainly people who have some stable and ample source of income outside of writing,” he quipped.   “So, for me, that was never a problem.”   In the latter years of his life – he died in 2007 – he became a frequent speaker at writing conferences and workshops where he gave this advice         to aspiring creative writers.
                                            “The advice would be the same for any kind of fiction. Keep writing, and keep sending things out, not to friends and relatives, but to people who have the power to buy. A lot of additional, useful tips could be added, but this is fundamental.”

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