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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Off one horse and onto another

“As a writer, when you fall in love with a place, you want to spend more time in it, either physically or mentally, and so you write about it.” – Don Winslow

For thriller/crime writer Winslow, born on this date in 1953, that probably means California (where he’s lived for over 20 years), although this native New Yorker has been all across the world and had the chance to “fall in love” with many different locales.

A private investigator before he became a writer, Winslow earned a degree in African History, has a master’s degree in Military History, and worked as a safari guide in Africa and hiking guide in China before getting into writing in the 1990s.  His first novel, A Cool Breeze on the Underground, is set in NYC where he was doing his private eye work and became the first in a series of books about investigator Neal Carey.  

But he likes to write about many things. “My problem is not that there are too few ideas out there,” Winslow explained.  “It's that there are too many.”    
                                 A self-proclaimed insomniac, he starts his writing day at 5:30 a.m., writes for several hours before going for a 6 or 7 mile hike, then hits the keyboard again.  His routine has resulted in 19 novels, almost all bestsellers, the latest being this summer's The Force.

When he first started he set a page count goal.  So I thought I should write five pages a day. And that's what I did. Eventually I had a book,” he said.  “Producing words isn't a problem for me. And I usually write two books at a time. When one horse gets winded, you just jump on the other.”

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Validating life through writing

“You are validating someone's life by telling their story. Even if it's a sad one.” – Alex Tizon

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Tizon, who died suddenly this year of natural causes, is the author of "Crossing America – Dispatches From a New Nation,” written as he and Seattle Times photographer Alan Berner drove to NYC’s Ground Zero, stopping to interview, photograph and write about ordinary Americans and how the 9/11 bombing changed their lives and the communities in which they lived.   The trip followed on the heels of his 5-part series about fraud and mismanagement in the Federal Indian Housing Program, for which he and 2 Seattle Times colleagues won the Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting.

Born in Manila, The Philippines on this date in 1959, Tizon immigrated with his family in 1964.  Despite growing up in hardship and adversity, he earned degrees from Oregon and Stanford and became a leading journalist.          He also was a much sought after essayist by major publications across America.  His final story – published in The Atlantic after his death – was the controversial piece “My Family’s Slave” about a Filipina peasant woman.   Both denounced and lauded, it may earn him yet another major writing award posthumously.

As a reporter, Tizon sought out and wrote with empathy about people and places often overlooked and generally dismissed, leaving his readers with thoughtful and thought-provoking tales.  “Messages hidden in the thickets of a story are the ones that burrow deepest,” he said,  “because most of us don't realize that any burrowing is going on at all.”

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Just a thought ...

For today's post, I want to just share a few thoughts I've found from writers on the process of writing and what it all means or meant to them, for them, and for all who choose to write; those concepts that come from and lead into our Writers Moments.

“If you want to see the consequences of ideas, write a story. If you want to see the consequences of belief, write a story in which somebody is acting on the ideas or beliefs that she has.” - Charles Baxter

“The greatest writers have persistence.” - Gina Nahai


“In every bit of honest writing in the world, there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.” - John Steinbeck

“Writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.”  - Pico Iyer


“The writer has to be … (someone) … who turns the world upside down and says, ‘Look, it looks different, doesn’t it?’” - Morris L. West

Saturday, October 28, 2017

We start with nursery rhymes

“The first poems I knew were nursery rhymes, and before I could read them for myself, I had come to love just the words of them, the words alone.” – Dylan Thomas

Born on Oct. 27, 1914, Thomas was a Welsh poet and writer whose works include one of the 20th century’s most widely quoted poems, "Do not go gentle into that good night."  Though Thomas wrote exclusively in English, he has been acknowledged as one of the most important Welsh poets of the 20th century and is noted for his original, rhythmic and ingenious use of both words and imagery.

For Saturday’s Poem, here is Dylan Thomas’ 

             Being But Men
Being but men, we walked into the trees
Afraid, letting our syllables be soft
For fear of waking the rooks,
For fear of coming
Noiselessly into a world of wings and cries.

If we were children we might climb,
Catch the rooks sleeping, and break no twig,
And, after the soft ascent,
Thrust out our heads above the branches
To wonder at the unfailing stars.

Out of confusion, as the way is,
And the wonder, that man knows,
Out of the chaos would come bliss.

That, then, is loveliness, we said,
Children in wonder watching the stars,
Is the aim and the end.

Being but men, we walked into the trees.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

The sounds of good writing

 “Sound is so important to creative writing. Think of the sounds you hear that you include, and the similes you use to describe what things sound like. 'As she walked up the alley, her polyester workout pants sounded like windshield wipers swishing back and forth.' Cadence, onomatopoeia, the poetry of language are all so important. Learn all that you can about how to bring sound into your work.” – Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

A tip from California writer, teacher and broadcaster DeMarco-Barrett, host of the West Coast radio show  “Writers on Writing” and author of the popular writing book Pen On Fire. 

A train rumbling by; the hoot of an owl breaking the night’s stillness; a floorboard’s creak just when no one else is supposed to be around.  As children, my brothers and I would gather around our family source of entertainment, an old upright radio, to hear The Shadow, Dragnet, or The Lone Ranger.  Our only view was of the front of that radio as we sat cross-legged on the floor to listen.  But the worlds of crime, drama, and the Old West came pouring out upon us – a wonderful mix of a writer’s words and great sound.

A writer’s responsibility is not just to the story but to the elements within the story. Sound is an integral part of every writer’s moment.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sharing a book's interpretation

“Certainly one of the surprising truths of having a book published is realizing that your book is as open to interpretation as an abstract painting. People bring their own beliefs and attitudes to your work, which is thrilling and surprising at the same time.” – Marisha Pessl

A native of Michigan who grew up in North Carolina, Pessl was born on this date in 1977 and started her writing part time while working as a financial consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers.  She had two failed attempts at novels before breaking out with her 2006 bestseller Special Topics in Calamity Physics about the relationship between a daughter and her controlling, charismatic father.   In 2013 her book Night Film also made the New York Times Bestseller List.

A graduate of New York’s Barnard College, Pessl graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in English Literature and said growing up as “a devoted reader” helped develop her skills as a writer.   Now the mother of two, she is working next on a psychological suspense Young Adult novel, tentatively scheduled for 2018.   
                “I believe writers need to be chameleons, or like Meryl Streep, who can play all sorts of characters,” she said.  “A good writer should be able to cross gender lines and people of all social classes. So for me, writing from a male point of view would be a great challenge.  (One) that I would look forward to taking on.”

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Just 'telling them a story'

“I just want to be told a story, and I want to believe I'm living that story, and I don't give a thought to influences or method or any other writerly concerns.”  – Anne Tyler
Born on this date in 1942, Minneapolis-based author Anne Tyler is best known for her novels Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist, and Breathing Lessons, all finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with Breathing Lessons winning the award.   She is well known in the cinematic world with 7 of her 20 novels being made into movies.

Also a writer of dozens of short stories, Tyler has earned 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).       
                              Noted for her attention to detail and character development, Tyler primarily focuses her writing on everyday Americans and the ordinary details of their lives, putting us – her readers – deep into those lives and the trials and tribulations we all face.   “I don’t think of my work in terms of themes," she said.   "I’m just trying to tell a story.”

Her advise to new writers is simple:  “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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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The rivers that take us there

“To understand and reconnect with our stories, the stories of the ancestors, is to build our identities.” – Frank Delaney

Born on this date in 1942, Delaney was a novelist journalist and broadcaster who authored the New York Times best seller Ireland.  A native of Ireland, Delaney started his career in broadcasting before turning to literature, first penning the bestseller James Joyce's Odyssey in1981.

 He then combined his writing and broadcast careers into a 6-part documentary series The Celts for the BBC.  Widely viewed both in the U.K. and abroad, the series cemented his place as one of the leading historical and historical fiction writers.  He subsequently wrote five books of non-fiction (including the award-winning Simple Courage), ten novels, one novella, and a number of short stories. He also edited many compilations of essays and poetry.   
                     A frequent public speaker, he was a regular contributor and guest on National Public Radio, especially after coming to live in the U.S.  He resided in Connecticut at the time of his death earlier this year.

“We all belong to an ancient identity,” Delaney said, writing about his fascination with history and accompanying tales.   “Stories are the rivers that take us there.”

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Gifting 'The Whole World'

Saturday was chilly and somewhat dreary where I live, so it seemed like a good day to hang out at the local bookstore; have a cappuccino; and peruse the possibilities of books for gifts during the upcoming holiday season – something I highly recommend (both the hanging out part AND the books as gifts part).

I’ve always liked British author Neil Gaiman's quote on giving books as gifts.   He noted, “Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.”

Gaiman wrote both The Sandman series and the multi-award-winning The Graveyard Book, which is another great example of a really interesting idea being brought to life (so to speak) through a writer's imagination.  The protagonist is a young boy who lives in a graveyard where he’s being raised by the occupants (yep, those "occupants").        Neil Gaiman
As I like to tell my student writers:  "Storytelling is limited only by the depth of a writer’s imagination.So, fire up the old computer and Happy Writing!

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Always honest with history

“The message is clear: libraries matter. Their solid presence at the heart of our towns sends the proud signal that everyone - whoever they are, whatever their educational background, whatever their age or their needs - is welcome.” Kate Mosse

English novelist Mosse, who was born on this date in 1961, not only is a champion of libraries everywhere, but also a writer of books – both fiction and nonfiction – and numerous short stories.   She is perhaps best known for her 2005 archaeological mystery novel Labyrinth, now translated into more than 37 languages.

Although known for her adventure and ghost fiction, inspired by real history, Mosse's first two works were non-fiction:  Becoming A Mother (now in its seventh edition) published in 1993 and The House: Behind the Scenes at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, published to accompany the BBC 2 show The House.

Mosse has contributed a number of essays and stories to anthologies and collections and, of course, speaks often in behalf of access to reading and libraries.  “Free and fair access to books - to reading - is a right and one we should fight for,” she said.     
Winner of many awards, she frequently speaks and writes on behalf of women in writing and the arts and is a co-founder/creator of Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, one of Britain’s most prestigious writing awards.     She has been lauded for her detail and accuracy in historical writing, and noted, “I am not a fan of historical fiction that is sloppy in its research or is dishonest about the real history.”

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Poetic genius of youth

“Genius is the recovery of childhood at will.” – Arthur Rimbaud

A French poet known for his contributions to symbolism and influence on modern literature and arts, Rimbaud was born on this date in 1854.  He started writing at a very young age, abandoned his formal education in his teenage years to run away and join the army during the Franco-Prussian War, and wrote voraciously in his late teens and early 20s before abruptly ending his writing career.  Becoming a merchant, he traveled and traded extensively on 3 continents before a premature death from cancer at age 37.       

His poetry influenced the Symbolists, Dadaists and Surrealists, and later writers adopted some of his themes and his inventive use of form and language.  For Saturday’s Poem, here is Rimbaud’s,

I have kissed the summer dawn. Before the palaces, nothing moved. The water lay dead. Battalions of shadows still kept the forest road.

I walked, walking warm and vital breath, While stones watched, and wings rose soundlessly.

My first adventure, in a path already gleaming With a clear pale light, Was a flower who told me its name.

I laughed at the blond Wasserfall That threw its hair across the pines: On the silvered summit, I came upon the goddess.

Then one by one, I lifted her veils. In the long walk, Waving my arms.

Across the meadow, where I betrayed her to the cock. In the heart of town she fled among the steeples and domes, And I hunted her, scrambling like a beggar on marble wharves.

Above the road, near a thicket of laurel, I caught her in her gathered veils, And smelled the scent of her immense body. Dawn and the child fell together at the bottom of the wood.

When I awoke, it was noon.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Pondering the fall season

“Fall colors are funny. They’re so bright and intense and beautiful. It’s like nature is trying to fill you up with color, to saturate you so you can stockpile it before winter turns everything muted and dreary." - Siobhan Vivian 

        In Rocky Mountain National Park

“But then fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.” - Stephen King

“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” - Lauren DeStefano

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Interweaving pieces of lives

“One curious thing about growing up is that you don't only move forward in time; you move backwards as well, as pieces of your parents' and grandparents' lives come to you.” – Philip Pullman
Born on this date in 1946, Pullman is the author of several best-selling books, most notably the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials and the fictionalized biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.  In 2008, The Times of London named Pullman one of the "50 greatest British writers since 1945."

A native of Norwich, England, Pullman was a teacher when his first published work, The Haunted Storm, was published in 1972.  It was an instant hit, winning the New English Library's Young Writer's Award.  For the next 20 years, Pullman split his time between writing and teaching and even though he has been writing full time since 1996, he continues to do some teaching and considerable lecturing.  
                  In 2005 Pullman won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award from the Swedish Arts Council, recognizing his career contribution to "children's and young adult literature in the broadest sense.”  He also is a two-time finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, given biennially to the best writer of fiction for children and young adults.

His advice to new writers is simple.  Write 3 pages a day.   “If you can't think of what to write, tough luck; write anyway. If you can think of lots more when you've finished three pages, don't write it; it'll be that much easier to get going next day.”

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Building your writing skills

“Generating ideas isn't some mystical talent that you have to be born with: it's a skill you can develop.“ – Charles Stross

Born in Leeds, England, on this date in 1964, Stross first wrote for computer magazines before discovering that his Sci-Fi short stories attracted large audiences and writing awards.  A 2002 short story collection, Toast: And Other Rusted Futures, is a best-seller, and subsequent stories have been nominated for the both Hugo and Nebula Awards.

In 2003, Stross decided to try novels and his first one, Singularity Sky, also was  nominated for a Hugo.  His 2005 novella "The Concrete Jungle" was a Hugo winner.  He has since won numerous Sci-Fi/Fantasy awards.  He still writes short stories but enjoys novels because,  “Novels are one of the few remaining areas of narrative storytelling where one person does almost all of the creative heavy lifting.”      
                   In 2012 he collaborated with Cory Doctorow (no relation to E.L.) to write the bestseller, The Rapture of the Nerds.  He and Doctorow also have been involved in the Creative Commons licensing and copyright movement, allowing creators to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive.  Creative Commons licenses do not replace copyright, but are based upon it.

As for his own creativity, Stross now has over 20 books and continues developing new and interesting settings.   “ . . . Build a world that people want to inhabit (especially as readers),” he said,  “and the inhabitants will come. “  

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Writing with a sense of urgency

The books I like to read the most feel like they've been written by somebody who had to write them or go crazy. They had to get them out of their heads. I like that kind of urgency.” – Patrick Ness

Born in Virginia on this date in 1971, Ness is a British-American  (with dual citizenship) author, journalist, lecturer, and screenwriter, best known for his Young Adult books, particularly the Chaos Walking trilogy. 

A one-time creative fiction teacher at Oxford University, he started as a corporate writer for a cable company and then as a magazine feature writer.  After moderate success with several short stories, he discovered his real talent lay in the YA field.  Ness's first YA novel The Knife of Never Letting Go came out in 2008, was an instant success, and earned him the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize followed by numerous other awards.                           
                                       Since then he has had one bestseller after another while also building an audience as a much sought-after lecturer.  And, he’s well known as a reviewer, reviewing books for some of England’s top literary magazines and many leading newspapers.

Ness said his writing routine is simple.  “I write 1,000-1,500 words. Then the next day, I rewrite it and add 1,000-1,500 words to the end of it.”  As for his advice to new writers, he said, “How you leave the reader is so important – and not the climax; I call it the 'exit feeling'. “  His leaves you wanting more.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

A 'charmed' writing life

“Most people are so busy knocking themselves out trying to do everything they think they should do, they never get around to doing what they want to do.” – Kathleen Winsor

Born in the small Minnesota town of Olivia on this date in 1919, Winsor is best known for her 1944 historical novel Forever Amber, a runaway bestseller (more than 3 million copies sold) and the first of 7 books that she would write.   A newspaper sportswriter first (one of the first female sportswriters), she started writing the book after her first husband did research on King Charles II of England.  It sparked Winsor’s interest in the era known as “The Restoration” and started her along a path toward her massive bestseller.

While Forever Amber tells the story of orphaned Amber St. Clare, who makes her way up through the ranks of 17th century English society, the subplot follows Charles as he returns from exile and adjusts to ruling England.   Winsor spent years researching the period, including reading hundreds of books on the era.  Her nearly 1,000-page novel (edited down from almost 5,000 pages) includes vivid portrayals of Restoration fashion, lifestyles and customs and of politics and public disasters like The Plague and the Great Fire of London.

The book made Winsor a worldwide celebrity and ultimately led to her second hit novel, 1950’s Star Money, based loosely on her experience of becoming a best-selling novelist.  
                                  Married 4 times, Winsor became a leading light in California and New York Society circles and was known for her wit and charm, to which she once replied,  “Charm, you know, is simply the ability to make someone else think that both of you are pretty wonderful.”   She died in 2003.

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