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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sharing that 'good time' writing

“I think good art should always be entertaining, or at least give pleasure of some sort. And my chief goal as a writer has always been to tell a good story and give my readers a good time.” – Kenneth Oppel

Born in Port Alberni, Canada (one of the coolest small port cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting) on this date in 1967, Oppel has had a distinguished career as a children’s and young adult writer.  Among his many awards are Canada’s Governor General's Literary Prize and the Printz Honor Award from the American Library Association (both for Airborn and The Times); and a Best Book for Young Adults from the ALA for Skybreaker.

Currently a resident of Toronto, Oppel started writing as a teen, penning a humorous story about a boy addicted to video games and ultimately his first book Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure, published just as he was starting college.  While in college at the University of Toronto he wrote his second bestseller, The Live-Forever Machine, for a creative writing class project. 
              One of his most creative and uplifting stories– about a special bond between a teenage boy and a young chimpanzee – is 2011’s bestseller Half Brother, winner of numerous major awards.  It was a story that also touched Oppel’s heart as he wrote it.

“The more I worked on Half Brother,” he said, “the more it seemed to me the story was really about love in all its possible forms - how and why we decide to bestow it, or withdraw it; how we decide what is more worthy of being loved, and what is less.  How we are masters of conditional love."

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Making time for life

“People ask me if I live each day like it's my last, and I don't. I live each day like it's my first, and I can't wait for the next one.” – Kris Carr

A native of New York, Carr (who turns 46 tomorrow) is a New York Times and Amazon best-selling author, wellness activist and cancer survivor who documented her battle against the disease in the documentary film Crazy Sexy Cancer and a companion book: Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips.  In the book, Carr points out that when she first was diagnosed there weren't any books or movies that dealt with the situations and problems facing young women with cancer – and so she decided to write and produce them.

It’s a lesson for writers who think they have a good idea that no one has done.  If you have the idea, regardless, start writing. 

While Carr has become famous for her books (she has 3 other Crazy, Sexy books in her series), she had an earlier artistic career.  After college at Sarah Lawrence, she was a dancer, actress and photographer, working both on- and off-Broadway, in film and television, and in many dozens of television commercials.  She also ran her own successful photography business in New York City for nearly 7 years.  Today, in addition to her writing, Carr oversees an online community, My Crazy Sexy Life, with over 40,000 members.   
                       Still “busy all the time,” she said she didn’t let cancer get in the way of living life to its fullest.  “If we don’t make time for our lives,” she said, “our lives won’t make time for us.”

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Using words to make magic happen

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

Born on this date in 1946, Carpenter, who was both a writer and radio broadcaster, was one of the 20th Century’s leading biographers, including major works on both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  A native of Oxfordshire, England, Carpenter’s  notable output of biographies included J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography  and The Inklings: CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams and their Friends, winner of the 1978 Somerset Maugham Award, given annually to the best book written by someone under the age of 35. 

He also won the prestigious literary award, the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, for his 1988 book Ezra Pound.          
                             When he wasn’t writing, he was performing as a jazz musician, or serving as an engaging broadcaster, host and producer of many of the BBC’s leading series.  He kept up a tireless routine of writing and broadcasting right up to his premature death from Parkinson’s and heart failure at the age of 58.

“You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it,” he wrote in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. “By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.”

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Here to 'live out loud'

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” – Emile Zola
Writers, artists, songwriters, performers – all  are tasked with the obligation to "live out loud" and share their worlds, their talents, and their words.
The late writer Janet Frame, who was born in New Zealand on this date in 1924, once noted, “Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land.  It is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination.”      
                   And Zola,           who wrote countless essays and dozens of books said each artist, musician or writer is born with a dual role.  “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work . . . There are two men inside the artist.  The poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman.”

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Stepping into her own light

“Because Dad was famous, I was so used to being identified as 'John Huston's daughter' that I couldn't think of myself as anyone else.” – Allegra Huston

Born in August, 1964, Huston has moved out of her famous family’s shadow through her success as an award-winning writer and editor.     Her new novel, Say My Name, is making a splash in literary circles following on her earlier success with Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found.   She also is the writer and producer of the award-winning short film Good Luck, Mr. Gorski.    
                         London critic Lynn Barber wrote in The Telegraph that, "Huston is an absolutely outstanding writer, incapable of writing a dull sentence."   In collaboration with the poet James Navé, she conducts writing workshops called “The Imaginative Storm,” a multi-day program which they have taught in many places around the world.

Her advice for writers is to the point. “Don't waste time on what's not important. Don't get sucked into the drama. Get on with it: don't dwell on the past. Be a big person; be generous of spirit; be the person you'd admire.”

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Poetry: 'Everything Happening Around Us'

“I think one of the things that people tend to forget is that poets do write out of life. It isn't some set piece that then gets put up on the shelf, but that the impetus, the real instigation for poetry is everything that's happening around us.” – Rita Dove

Dove, who was born this week in 1952, is both a poet and essayist and the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1987.      From 2004-06 she served as the Poet Laureate of Virginia after earlier being named Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress

Dove is a distinguished professor of English at the University of Virginia and has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them 25 honorary doctorates (most recently from Yale University).   Her most recent book is Collected Poems 1974-2004 and includes the short poem Exit, today’s choice for Saturday’s Poem.

Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving.  A visa has been granted,
'provisionally'-a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it's gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.
Well, the world's open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush
as you did when your mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Writing means sharing

“Writing means sharing. It's part of the human condition to want to share things - thoughts, ideas, opinions.” – Paulo Coelho 

 Born this day in 1947, Coelho is a Brazilian lyricist and novelist and recipient of numerous international awards, amongst them the Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum. His novel The Alchemist, translated into 80 languages, has won him a devoted worldwide audience. 

Coelho told his parents he wanted to be a writer when he was still a teen and they tried to discourage him and get him into law instead.   He tried studying law but dropped out, became a songwriter, and worked as an actor, journalist, and theatre director until his love of creative writing drew him back to his first love.

Many of his 30-plus books are autobiographical in nature, although most are fiction rooted in his life experiences.            

 “When I write a book, I write a book for myself; the reaction is up to the reader,” he said. “It's not my business whether people like or dislike my writing.”  With 210 million (and counting) of his books in print, it’s probably safe to say that they do, indeed, like it.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Saying 'yes' to all of life

 “A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer's task to say, ‘It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home.’ Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist.” – Natalie Goldberg

I once had the good fortune to hear new age writer Natalie Goldberg reading from her terrific book, Writing Down The Bones, and saying the words listed above – expressing what a “true” writer should stand for and represent. 

Born in New York in 1948, Goldberg now lives in New Mexico and is perhaps best known for her series of books exploring writing as Zen practice.           She also is a noted teacher and lecturer. 

As for what drives writers to write, she said, “I don't think everyone wants to create the great American novel, but we all have a dream of telling our stories – of realizing what we think, feel, and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.”

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A tapestry from tiny tales

“I have a feeling that books are a lot like people - they change as you age, so that some books that you hated in high school will strike you with the force of a revelation when you're older.” – Lauren Groff

Groff, who was born on this date in 1978, writes both novels and short stories and is a frequent contributor to such magazines as The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and Ploughshares.  Her novel The Monsters of Templeton debuted on the New York Times bestseller list and was named one of the Best Books of 2008 by Amazon.com and the San Francisco Chronicle.

A native of one of my favorite American small towns – Cooperstown, NY – she is a graduate of Amherst College and the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  She now makes her home in Gainesville, FL.

Her most recent novel, the bestselling Fates and Furies, was nominated for both a National Book Award and Amazon’s top prize.     

Her advice to new writers is to think about the small stories that create the larger whole.  “Bigger stories are made out of longer acquaintance with fact and character,” she said, “but I also love the tiny stories in which almost everything has to be inferred and imagined.”

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Living life 'like music'

“Writing is.... being able to take something whole and fiercely alive that exists inside you in some unknowable combination of thought, feeling, physicality, and spirit, and to then store it like a genie in tense, tiny black symbols on a calm white page. If the wrong reader comes across the words, they will remain just words. But for the right readers, your vision blooms off the page and is absorbed into their minds like smoke, where it will re-form, whole and alive, fully adapted to its new environment.” – Mary Gaitskill

An American author of essays, short stories and novels, Gaitskill is a Kentucky native who now makes her home in Pennsylvania, teaching at Temple University.  Her writings have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Esquire, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories.                            
                                        Born in 1954, she said she chose to become a writer at age 18 because she was "indignant about things—it was the typical teenage sense of 'things are wrong in the world and I must say something.’”  Her fiction typically is about female characters dealing with their own inner conflicts.  Her most recent novel is 2015’s The Mare.

 “My ambition was to live like music,” she said.  I had a strong conviction that there was something out there in the world that was wonderful.”

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Monday, August 21, 2017

A day for sunshine -- and shadow!

Happy Eclipse Day.  As we head out at 5 a.m. for neighboring Wyoming to locate the perfect viewing (or not) spot for this great phenomenon, I thought it fitting to share the old John Denver song “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”           

May your writer’s moments be filled with sunshine.


An Addendum -  Found a great spot for viewing.  Yoder, WY, city park where I was able to capture these images during totality, plus shadows of the partial through the trees before and after.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

It's every valuable experience

“A good book ought to bring out lots of different responses from those that read it - none of them pre-planned, and all of them very personal. Whatever they take away from the reading of the book is valuable.“ – Sharon Draper

Born on this date in 1948, children's writer, poet and educator Sharon Draper was the 1997 National Teacher of the Year and is a 5-time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award for her books about the African-American experience.  Her best-known books are the Hazelwood and Jericho series and her award-winning historical novel Copper Sun.   That latter book, which addresses the issues of the African slave trade and slavery in America, has been named one of the ten all-time best historical novels for youth.                  
                                             Born in Ohio and a graduate of Pepperdine University in California, she now makes her home in Cincinnati.  A much sought-after speaker, she is a member of the National Council of Teachers of English and frequent presenter to writing groups and organizations around the world.

Her advice for new writers is simple, “know” your subject.  “I do research for every single book, regardless,” she said.  “For Double Dutch, I learned to jump and learned the scoring system. For November Blues, I interviewed pregnant teens. I like to get up close and personal with the kids involved in the situations I write about.”

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Thinking in terms of rhyme

“Middle age is when you're sitting at home on a Saturday night and the telephone rings and you hope it isn't for you.” – Ogden Nash
          Born on this date in 1902, Nash was known for his light verse, of which he wrote over 500 pieces. With his unconventional rhyming schemes he was declared by many critics and fellow poets alike as the country's best-known producer of humorous poetry, including what’s often termed the world’s shortest poem “Fleas.”  In two lines, it read, “Adam/  Had’em.”   
          Throughout his life, Nash, who died in 1971, said he loved to rhyme.  "I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old," he stated in a 1958 interview.  For Saturday’s Poem, here are a few examples of Nash’s poetic musings.

    A Word to Husbands
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

             Celery, raw
         Develops the jaw,
       But celery, stewed,
     Is more quietly chewed.

                   A Flea and a Fly in a Flue
A flea and a fly in a flue
               Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
                        Said the fly, "let us flee!"
                        "Let us fly!" said the flea.
                So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

Morning Prayer
    Now another day is breaking,
    Sleep was sweet and so is waking.
    Dear Lord, I promised you last night
    Never again to sulk or fight.
    Such vows are easier to keep
    When a child is sound asleep.
    Today, O Lord, for your dear sake,
     I'll try to keep them when awake.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Stepping into other's lives

“I think of novels as houses. You live in them over the course of a long period, both as a reader and as a writer.” – Nicole Krauss

Born on this date in 1974, Krauss is an American author best known for her novels Man Walks Into a Room, The History of Love (also made into a 2016 movie), and Great House, all multiple award winners translated into 35 languages.  Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker and Harper's and been collected in Best American Short Stories – both the 2003 and 2008 editions.

Her much anticipated next novel, Forest Dark, is scheduled for publication in September.   “To me,” she noted, “… the singular privilege of reading literature (is) we are allowed to step into another's life.”    
A graduate of Stanford, where she studied English, Krauss also earned a scholarship to Oxford, honing her writing skills while earning a master’s in art history.

Being “clear” in your writing – making things understandable – is the best advice she gives to new writers.  “If the book is a mystery to its author as she's writing, inevitably it's going to be a mystery to the reader as he or she reads it.”

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Heart, head, hand - the writing art

“What can't be said can be written. Because writing is a silent act, a labor from the head to the hand.” – Herta Muller

Born on this date in 1953, Nobel Prize winner Muller is a German novelist, poet and essayist noted for her works depicting the effects of violence, cruelty and terror.  Her primary setting has been Communist Romania under the repressive Nicolae Ceaușescu regime, which she experienced herself as a child and young woman.

Also winner of the International Dublin Literary Award and the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award, she was described by the Swedish Nobel Institute as a woman "… who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.”

A one-time translator,             Muller's  books have usually been written in German then re-released in multiple languages, beginning with her award-winning and very gripping novel The Passport.    Also a teacher, she said writing has been an integral part of her life since childhood.

“In writing, one searches,” she said,  “and that is what keeps one writing, that one sees and experiences things from another angle entirely; one experiences oneself during the process of writing.”

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