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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Standing on the side of Social Justice

“I don't mind expressing my opinions and speaking out against injustice. I would be doing this even if I wasn't a writer. I grew up in a household that believed in social justice. I have always understood myself as having an obligation to stand on the side of the silenced, the oppressed, and the mistreated.” – Tayari Jones

Born in Atlanta on this date in 1970, Jones won the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction for her 2002 novel Leaving Atlanta, a three-voiced coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Atlanta Child Murders of 1979-81.   Written while she was a graduate student at Arizona State University, she based the story on her own experience as a child in Atlanta during that period.

While she wrote the book in grad school she actually started her career while still and undergraduate at Atlanta’s Spelman College, where she earned her degree in English.   She now has written 3 successful novels, following Atlanta with The Untelling and Silver Sparrow, both best sellers and award recipients.   
                                         Now an Associate Professor at Rutgers-Newark University, she is currently in a year-long Distinguished Writer program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  In addition to teaching, she also continues her longtime efforts to mentor up-and-coming young writers, especially girls.     “I take mentoring very seriously,” she said,  “and I am on the board of an organization called Girls Write Now, where we match teen girls and writing mentors because it changes their lives.”

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It's a jungle out there

 “If you’re doing something, show up every day, and something good might happen – it’s not going to happen if you don’t show up.” – Randy Newman

Born on Nov. 28, 1943, Newman is a writer who pretty much always shows up, especially when it comes to writing songs for movies.  He’s been nominated for 20 Academy Awards, 3 Emmys, 6 Grammys and been named for the Governor's Award from the Recording Academy.   Inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his most memorable film scores are for the Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. series; Seabiscuit; and Ragtime.

Newman cites Ray Charles as his greatest influence during his “growing up” years and has been a professional songwriter since age 17.   In his early years he was writing for other musicians or groups with which he sang, but for the past 40 years his raspy, fun-filled voice is all that’s really needed to bring his words to life.    
                                   I can truly say I’ve never heard a Newman song I didn’t like, and I encourage all to check him out on YouTube.  I especially like “It’s a Jungle out there,” the Emmy winning theme song for the long-running TV series Monk.  And below, for your listening pleasure, here’s a link to “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3, one of his Academy Award winners.  This version also shows the words and it’s Newman’s voice that you hear.  Enjoy.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Inspired by Everyday Life

“I think writers are observers and watchers. We always have our ears open and eyes open, so I might see something in everyday life that inspires me. And I think that's probably more than anything else. Everyday life is where I get my inspiration.” – Kevin Henkes

Born on this date in 1960, Henkes is both writer and illustrator of children's books.  As illustrator, he won the Caldecott Medal for Kitten's First Full Moon and Waiting, which also won the coveted Geisel Honor Book award – only the second time in history that a book has won both awards.  As writer, his books Olive's Ocean and The Year of Billy Miller won the Newbery.

A native of Racine, Wis., he has been writing and illustrating children’s books for 30 years. “It’s the only real job I’ve ever had.”        Growing up as an avid reader, he said library trips were a family ritual and one he highly recommends.  He started writing as a teenager and his first picture book was accepted for publication when he was just 19 and an art major at the University of Wisconsin. 

For writers thinking about children’s books, he said, “You don't need to have kids to write a good book for kids. I don't want my kids to see themselves in my books. Their lives should be their lives. “

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Think Big; Imagine Big

“We have to think big. We have to imagine big, and that's part of the problem. We're letting other people imagine and lead us down what paths they want to take us. Sometimes they're very limited in the way their ideas are constructed. We need to imagine much more broadly. That's the work of a writer, and more writers should look at it.” – Alexis Wright

A native Australian (half of her heritage is Aborigine) Wright was born Nov. 25, 1950, and grew up in Queensland.  She's best known for winning the prestigious Miles Franklin Award for her sweeping 2006 novel Carpentaria, which tells the interconnected stories of several inhabitants – both aboriginal and white – of the fictional town of Desperance on the Gulf of Carpentaria in northwest Queensland.
Wright, who also is a research fellow at the University of Western Sydney, spent years conceiving and then getting the book published, despite the fact that she’d already won several literary awards for earlier writings, including her first novel Plains of Promise.   She also is noted for her nonfiction work Take Power, an anthology on the history of the land rights movement. She has written widely on indigenous rights, and lived and worked for several years in Central Australia where she organized successful Indigenous Constitutional Conventions.   
Wright looks upon her work as a writer, particularly as a novelist, as a pacesetter.  “My role as a novelist is to explore ideas and imagination,” she said, “and hopefully that will inspire people from my world to continue dreaming and to believe in those dreams.”

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

When lightning Strikes

A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning.   
                                                                                                                    James Dickey
The onetime U.S. Poet Laureate (named in 1966) Dickey was a multiple award winner for a wide range of his poems and other writings.  He might be best known for his novel, the taut thriller Deliverance, also an acclaimed film by the same name. 

Born in Atlanta in 1923, he had a career in advertising before starting creative writing in the late 1950s.  His first book, Into the Stone and Other Poems, was published in 1960.   Buckdancer's Choice (1965) earned him a National Book Award for Poetry.  All 331 of his poems have now been collected in the 2013 work, The Complete Poems of James Dickey.   For Saturday’s Poem, here is Dickey’s,

                                At Darien Bridge

                                   The sea here used to look
                                   As if many convicts had built it,

                                   Standing deep in their ankle chains,
                                   Ankle-deep in the water, to smite

                                   The land and break it down to salt.
                                   I was in this bog as a child

                                   When they were all working all day
                                   To drive the pilings down.

                                   I thought I saw the still sun
                                   Strike the side of a hammer in flight

                                   And from it a sea bird be born
                                   To take off over the marshes.

                                   As the gray climbs the side of my head
                                   And cuts my brain off from the world,

                                   I walk and wish mainly for birds,
                                   For the one bird no one has looked for

                                   To spring again from a flash
                                   Of metal, perhaps from the scratched

                                   Wedding band on my ring finger.
                                   Recalling the chains of their feet,

                                    I stand and look out over grasses
                                   At the bridge they built, long abandoned,

                                   Breaking down into water at last,
                                   And long, like them, for freedom

                                   Or death, or to believe again
                                   That they worked on the ocean to give it

                                   The unchanging, hopeless look
                                   Out of which all miracles leap.

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Work that speaks for itself

“The best part of one’s life is the working part, the creative part.  Believe me, I love to succeed…however, the real spiritual and emotional excitement is in the doing.” – Garson Kanin

Kanin, born this day in 1912, was a prolific writer and noted Broadway director.  Among his many hit shows were The Diary of Anne Frank, Funny Girl and Born Yesterday, which he started writing while serving as a soldier and filmmaker in World War II.   His major war role was documenting Dwight Eisenhower’s official record of the Allied Invasion, resulting in the Academy Award-winning documentary True Glory.  A novelist, too, he wrote the bestseller Smash, basis for the hit television series a few years ago.              
                              His most famous line from the long-running Born Yesterday – in which I was fortunate enough to have a community theater role – is enshrined on a New York City Public Library plaque.  It was delivered by his journalist character Paul Verrall, who says: "I want everyone to be smart. As smart as they can be.  A world of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in."

Kanin, who died in 1999, also is famously quoted as saying, “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.”  Seventy-five years after he said that, his writer's moments continue to speak.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks

All writers have moments that can be directly attributed to the people in their lives; people who not only form the basis for the characters through which each shares his or her thoughts, but also those whose inspirational stories swirl in the world that surrounds us. 

Our lives are filled with interactions and meetings with these wonderful people, and yet we often miss the all-too-fleeting opportunities to tell them “Thank you!”   So I'll do it now. 

Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving!   And wishing you many great Writer's Moments.


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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reading brings new friends and old

“The first time I read an excellent work, it is to me just as if I gained a new friend; and when I read over a book I have perused before, it resembles the meeting of an old one.” –George Gissing

Born on this date in 1857, Gissing was an English novelist who published 23 novels between 1880 and 1903 while also teaching and serving as a tutor throughout his life.   Three of his books, The Nether World (1889), New Grub Street (1891) and The Odd Women, were critically acclaimed in the 1890s and are still in print today.

Gissing began his writing career while living and working in Boston and Chicago doing a series of short stories for newspapers while also teaching and then doing a stint as a traveling salesman – experiences he used as the basis for New Grub Street
                                    While Gissing's early novels were not well received, he achieved greater recognition in the 1890s from his novels noted above, combined with his popular short stories in newspapers throughout Europe and his critical writings on Charles Dickens.  He also made and cultivated friendships with influential and respected literary figures such as journalist Henry Norman and author J. M. Barrie.  Then, at the height of his popularity, he died from pneumonia at age 46.   Today, many critics place him alongside Thomas Hardy and George Meredith as one of the leading novelists in late 19th century England.

Gissing said he was fascinated by how individuals can be at the same scene but end up with differing views.  “It is the mind which creates the world around us, and even though we stand side by side in the same meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, and my heart will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched.”

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Turning fears into treasures

“One thing that makes art different from life is that in art things have a shape... it allows us to fix our emotions on events at the moment they occur, it permits a union of heart and mind and tongue and tear.” – Marilyn French

Born in Brooklyn on this date in 1929, French began her writing career in journalism while still in college, although she hoped to become a musician and composer.   After marrying and having two children, she went into teaching for several years, earned both her Master’s and Doctorate degrees in English, and returned to writing.  While she was an essayist and sometime short story writer, her biggest impact came through her novels.
French's first and best-known novel, The Women's Room, follows the details and lives of Mira and her friends in 1950s and 1960s America during the dawning and subsequent impact of militant radical feminism.  The 1977 novel sold over 20 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 20 languages.     
                                      Shortly before her death in 2009, she was asked what advice she might give beginning writers, and she said to capitalize on things that might seem to get in your way, such as fear of failure.  “Fear is a question,” she said.  “What are you afraid of and why? Our fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if only we explore them.”

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Making sense of life

“Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you've made sense of one small area.”—Nadine Gordimer

Born on this date in 1923, Gordimer was a South African writer, political activist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was recognized at her Nobel ceremony as a woman "who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity"

Gordimer, who died in 2014, wrote on moral and racial issues – particularly apartheid – in South Africa and her best-selling works like Burger's Daughter and July's People were banned by the South African government.  Virtually all of Gordimer's works deal with themes of love and politics in the lives of ordinary people, almost always questioning power relations and truth. 
                                     In addition to the Nobel, she won many dozens of other major writing awards, including the Booker Prize, the James Tait Award, and the Central News Agency Literary Award.  She also received 15 honorary degrees.  She began writing early and had her first work – a short story for children – published at age 15.  Her writing led to 21 collections of short stories and 15 novels, plus plays, dozens of essays, and many reviews.

Her advice to other writers was to look to the best writers in history as a guide.  “For example,” she noted, “From Ernest Hemingway's stories, I learned to listen within my own stories for what went unsaid by my characters.”

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

A 'tireless' writing theme

“In order to truly ‘be’ a writer, you have to write every day.  I get up at 6 a.m., read the papers, and then write from 8 until noon.” - John Waters

The 71-year-old Waters is a noted American film director (Hairspray is just one of his many hits), screenwriter, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, visual artist and art collector, and creative writer.  Also, somewhat of a bibliophile, he has a personal library of more than 8,000 books, and says the one that most affected his own work was L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which also resonated with him in the movie version because of “Great dialogue,” one of the things he prides himself on when he’s writing movie scripts.

With the motif "My life is so over-scheduled, what will happen if I give up control?”, Waters completed a hitchhiking journey across the United States from Baltimore to San Francisco and then turned his adventures into the 2014 bestselling book Carsick.    
                                  A native of Baltimore the seemingly tireless Waters has a new book, Make Trouble, moving up several bestseller lists.  He is also both doing live acting and “voice” acting in animated movies.  And, he is working on more books, screenplays and short stories.  But when December arrives, he said he will be devoted to writing Christmas cards.  “I send out about 2,000 cards.”   Definitely helps fill his requirement of “writing every day” and probably makes him the U.S. Postal Service's poster boy in the process. 

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Helping the truth 'burst forth'

“I was not out to paint beautiful pictures; even painting good pictures was not important to me. I wanted only to help the truth burst forth.” – Alice Duer Miller 
Born in 1874, Duer Miller was an American writer whose poetry actively influenced political opinion. Her feminist verses impacted on the suffrage issue, while her verse-play The White Cliffs about an American girl coming to London encouraged U.S. entry into World War II.   A spectacular success on both sides of the Atlantic, the poem sold over 1 million copies.      
                                  She also wrote many successful novels, short stories and screenplays and was on the very first advisory board for The New Yorker.  Here, for Saturday’s poem, is her poem about an encounter on a train.

                               To An Old Lady In A Train

                                  Her hair was beautifully white
                                  Beneath her bonnet, black as night,
                                 Which, plainly of New England kin,
                                 Was tied with strings beneath her chin.
                                 And when she spoke I had no choice
                                 But listened to that soft crisp voice;
                                 And when she smiled, I saw the truth,
                                 She had been lovely in her youth,
                                 And with those quick, observing eyes,
                                 Was charming still to all the wise.
                                 And still, in spite of bonnet strings,
                                 She thought keen, quaint, amusing things,
                                 With gaiety that many hold
                                 Remarkable in one so old.

                                 We talked ten minutes in a train,
                                 And when we came to part again,
                                 ‘Good-bye, enjoy yourself,’ said she.
                                  I told her that ahead of me
                                 No pleasure beckoned, no, I said,
                                 Stern duty only lay ahead!
                                ‘Oh, well,’ her parting answer ran,
                                ‘Enjoy yourself the best you can.’
                                And so unconquerably gay,
                                She went upon her darkening way.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Finding 'balance' for characters and themes

I want readers turning pages until three o'clock in the morning. I want the themes of books to stick around for a reader. I'm always trying to find a way to balance characters and theme.” – Guy Gavriel Kay

Canadian writer Guy Gavriel Kay, born in November 1954, has had a knack for creating what is commonly known as “page turner” books, writing historical fantasy fiction with a flair that has distinguished his writing over several decades. He cut his teeth on fantasy writing by traveling to Oxford to assist Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien, editing J.R.R.’s unpublished work The Silmarillion.  With that experience as inspiration he began his own career with the 1984 book The Summer Tree. 

Many of his novels are set in fictional realms that resemble real places during real historical periods, such as Constantinople during the reign of Justinian I, or Spain during the time of El Cid.                  He has authored a dozen best-selling novels, now translated into some 25 languages, most recently focused on Middle Ages China, although his settings and lead characters have come from almost every era.

Not afraid to mix eras and genres, he has won multiple awards, including The World Fantasy Award for the book Ysabel, set in modern day France but bringing his teenage lead into direct contact with characters from both the distant past and another “parallel” world to ours.    “I have always argued,” he said, “(that) in a good novel, interesting things happen to interesting people, no matter who they are or where they are from.”

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