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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Delving into the library for adventure

“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 unabashed supporter of our public libraries, Weller won acclaim for his biographical works on fellow writer Ray Bradbury.  Among his writings about Bradbury, the renowned Fantasy and Science Fiction writer, are The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury and Listen to the Echoes, The Ray Bradbury Interviews, a collection of interviews, photos, mementos, and artifacts.

A journalist before he started writing short stories and biographies, Weller is a native of Lake Forest, IL, born on this date in 1967.  The one-time Midwest correspondent for Publishers Weekly, he also has written for The Paris Review, All Things Considered, Slate Magazine, and The Huffington Post.  His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, literary journals and magazines, and he teaches creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago. 
                               His recommendation for every writer's success is to spend time within the halls of your local library.  “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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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Seeking answers, finding more questions

“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” – Lloyd Alexander

Born on this date in 1924, Alexander authored more than 40 books, primarily fantasy novels for children and young adults. His most famous work The High King, part of his Chronicles of Prydain series, won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature.    Alexander also was awarded two U.S. National Book Awards.

A native of Philadelphia, Alexander grew up with a deep love of reading, particularly adventures and classics.  “Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, and so many others were my dearest friends and greatest teachers,” he said.   
        While he never finished college, his writing eventually earned him several “writer-in-residence” opportunities at colleges and universities – an experience he said was like being a favorite uncle who comes in and spoils the kids and then leaves them to their parents at days’ end.

A World War II veteran, Alexander – who died in 2007 – spent time in Wales late in the war and the landscape and history he discovered there shaped a number of his fantasy novels.   Enamored with adventures and tales of knights and dragons, he went into the army to get a taste of adventure for himself.  “I decided,” he said, “that my own adventure was the best way to learn about writing.”

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Writing to 'create sunshine'

“It is the artist's business to create sunshine when the sun fails.” – Romain Rolland

Born on this date in 1866, Rolland was a French dramatist, novelist, essayist, and art historian who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1915.  Also known as “The People’s Playwright,” Rolland's most significant contribution to the theatre might lie in his advocacy for a "popular theatre."   He won acclaim for his essay The People's Theatre (Le Théâtre du people).

His novels and works of nonfiction also were widely read and quoted, and he authored noted biographical works on German composer Ludwig von Beethoven and French poet and essayist Charles Péguy.  A professor as well as writer and critic, he and psychologist Sigmund Freud were good friends and longtime correspondents.  Rolland died in 1944, shortly after the publication of his book Péguy.          
                                Rolland's dramas were staged by some of the most influential theatre directors of the 20th century, including Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator, who directed the world première of Rolland's pacifist drama The Time Will Come.  

A lifelong pacifist, Rolland wrote from his home in occupied France during WWII, “I find war detestable, but those who praise it without participating in it even more so.”

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Taking risks, making strides

“If you sell yourself short before you even start, you'll never know how far you could have gone. Ambition is a wonderful thing and has gotten me farther than I ever thought I'd go.” – Carrie Vaughn

Born into a military family on this date in 1973, Vaughan is both a novelist and short story writer, author of the YA “Kitty Norville” series and of more than 60 stories for science fiction, fantasy and internet (zine) magazines.   She also is part of a writing team for the “Wild Card” Sci-Fi Superhero books, edited by Game of Thrones’ author George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass (Both of who I had the opportunity to meet and discuss writing with at last Fall’s Historical Writers of America conference in Albuquerque).

A graduate of and writer-in-residence for the acclaimed Odyssey Writing Workshop, Vaughan earned her Master’s in English Literature from CU-Boulder and now makes her home in Boulder, CO.  She was recently honored (2017) as a Hugo Award finalist for her short story "That Game We Played During the War."     
                                        “Don't hold back in your writing,” is her advice for new writers.  “Take risks. Go ahead and tackle that crazy idea that you think will never fly, because that may be the one that makes you stand out from the crowd. Keep pushing the envelope.”

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Poetry mends the broken parts

“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

Born on this date in 1945, Estés is the recipient of numerous awards for her life's work, including the first Joseph Campbell Keeper of the Lore Award for her books and many spoken word series.    She has been a featured speaker around the globe including a much lauded performance with Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison at Carnegie Hall. 

A writer, post-trauma specialist, and a certified psychoanalyst, her many books include The Faithful Gardener: A Wise Tale About that Which Can Never Die and her much honored Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype.

“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious,” she said.  “If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”           
                      “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”


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Friday, January 26, 2018

Managing Life's Travails

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

Born in Massachusetts on this date in 1960, Flynn is the author of two award-winning memoirs, a play, and a number of poetry collections, including My Feelings and Some Ether, which earned him the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award.

Flynn said he always had the urge to become a writer, but out of high school he tried a number of other things before taking the plunge.  After working as an electrician for several years, he spent some time at sea, including serving as a ship’s captain before taking on a position at a homeless shelter in Boston.  While there, he resumed his studies and his writing.        After studying on a two-fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, he earned his MFA from New York University and began teaching at Columbia University’s Writing Project.  Today he teaches creative writing at the University of Houston while still living part time in Brooklyn, NY.

Some Ether, his debut work in 2000, focuses on his tumultuous family life and includes a detached yet affecting look at childhood and trauma.  “Certain stories we carry with us, events in our life, they define who we are,” Flynn said. “It's not a matter of getting over anything; we have to make the best of it.”

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Resonating Power of Words

“One should be able to return to the first sentence of a novel and find the resonances of the entire work.” – Gloria Naylor

Born in New York City on this date in 1950, Naylor was a professor and novelist best known for The Women of Brewster Place and Mama Day.  She died from a heart attack in 2016.

 The daughter of sharecroppers from Mississippi who moved to New York to seek a better life, she grew up in Harlem and became the first member of her family to graduate from high school and attend college.  Even though Naylor's mother had little education, she loved to read, and encouraged her daughter to read and keep a journal.   Naylor started writing as a teenager, filling countless notebooks with her stories, poems and observations that formed the basis for her later writing.  
                                         While a student at Brooklyn College, she became immersed in the works of African-American female authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison and began writing stories centered on the lives of African-American women.  That led to her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place, which won the National Book Award for Best First Novel.

A teacher as well as writer, Naylor encouraged young writers to share their own life stories as a way to begin writing.  “Not only is your story worth telling,” she advised, “but it can be told in words so painstakingly eloquent that it becomes a song.”

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Attached at Life's Corners

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” – Virginia Woolf
Born on Jan. 25, 1882, English writer Virginia Woolf has often been credited with developing “stream of consciousness” writing genre', alongside her contemporaries James Joyce and Joseph Conrad.  Both a feminist and a modernist, her novels often ignored traditional plots to follow the inner lives and musings of her characters.   Her writing had (and has) many admirers and probably an equal number of haters.  In her own time (she died in 1941), her writing was banned (for a wide range of reasons) by some countries, including Adolf Hitler's Germany.    Her most well known works are To The Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own. 

A great essayist as well as novelist, she once noted “A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out.”  
                                 But it was fiction writing where Woolf made her lasting mark and for which she is still studied today.  She said she found herself intrigued by and drawn into writing fiction because of how it so keenly wove together thoughts and reality.  “Fiction,” she said,  “is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.  Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.”

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Power, Energy & Positive Thinking

  Thoughts have power; thoughts are energy. And you can make your world or break it by your own thinking.” – Susan L. Taylor

Born on this date in 1946, Taylor is a writer and editor who helped grow the African-American magazine Essence into a force in American journalism.  During her tenure as editor-in-chief (from 1981-2000) she was called “the most influential black woman in journalism” by American Libraries magazine.

After starting at Essence as a freelance fashion and beauty editor, she simultaneously raised a family and went to night school at Fordham University where she earned her Bachelor's degree.   At the same time she helped produce the magazine's national television program and started Essence Books.   Her monthly inspirational column, "In the Spirit,” was one of the magazine’s most popular features, leading to 3 volumes of selected columns, all national bestsellers.

Among Taylor’s many awards are the Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women;        the Matrix Award from New York Women in Communication; and the Henry Johnson Fisher Award from The Magazine Publishers of America – the industry’s highest honor.  She was the first African-American woman to earn that honor.   In 2002, Taylor was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame

“We need quiet time to examine our lives openly and honestly,” Taylor said.  “Spending quiet time alone gives your mind an opportunity to renew itself and create order.”  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Building Worlds; Creating Characters

“Once the world has been created, the fantasy author still has to bring the story's characters to life and unfold a gripping plot. That's why good fantasy is such a hard act to bring off.” – Tony Bradman

Born in a suburb of London on this date in 1954, Bradman gravitated to reading fantasies while still in primary school; started writing when he was in college (at Queens’ College, Cambridge where he earned his Master of Arts degree); and became a full time writer of children’s lit. and fantasy books of his own in the 1980s.

After college his first work was a both a music writer and children’s book reviewer for Parents magazine before beginning to write children's literature in 1984. Today, he is the author of more than 50 books for young people, led by his wildly popular Dilly the Dinosaur series, which has sold over 2 million copies worldwide.

Bradman said he first “discovered” books and stories by reading Thomas the Tank Engine stories, and then gravitating to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  “That,” he said, “really got me hooked.”           “I loved words and language, but the key thing for me then – as it is now – was story,” Bradman said.   “I love the feeling of being drawn into a story, the delicious sense of tension that comes from wanting to know what is going to happen next and almost being afraid to find out. That happens when you read the best stories – and as I found out, it can happen when you write a story of your own, too.”


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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Immersing Readers - Start to Finish

“Readers want to see, hear, feel, smell the action of your story, even if that action is just two people having a quiet conversation.” – Nancy Kress

Sci-Fi writer Kress, who was born in New York on Jan. 20, 1948, is one of those authors who immerses readers in the story.  The author of 27 novels, 3 books on writing, 4 short story collections, and over a hundred works of short fiction, her books have won numerous "reader's choices" awards, not to mention 6 Nebulas and 3 Hugos.  Her first major multiple-award winner was one of her first novellas, the 1991 Beggars in Spain, later expanded  into a novel by the same title.  She also won multiple awards for 2013’s After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, and 2015’s Yesterday's Kin.
Kress, who has master’s degrees in both Education and English, has taught at the collegiate level and also spent time working in advertising before turning her attention in the early 1990s to full time Science Fiction.   Her books have sold in the millions and been translated into 14 languages.  Her advice to new writers is to focus on sharp, compelling openings.           
            “How many times have you opened a book, read the first few sentences and made a snap decision about whether to buy it?” she said.   “When it's your book that's coming under this casual-but-critical scrutiny, you want the reader to be instantly hooked. The way to accomplish this is to create compelling opening sentences.”

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Singing the poems of life

“There are still many tribal cultures where poetry and song, there is just one word for them. There are other cultures with literacy where poetry and song are distinguished. But poetry always remembers that it has its origins in music.” – Edward Hirsch

Hirsch, born on this date in 1950, is a multiple-award winning poet described as “elegant in both his writing and reading of poetry,” bringing his own musical sound into the mix.   
Among his many awards are the National Book Critics Circle Award for his collection Wild Gratitude; numerous fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation; and a MacArthur “genius” award.  He is the author of 8 books of poetry and 7 nonfiction books, and has served as editor of at least a dozen other volumes.  For Saturday’s Poem, here is Hirsch’s,

Early Sunday Morning

I used to mock my father and his chums
for getting up early on Sunday morning
and drinking coffee at a local spot
but now I’m one of those chumps.

No one cares about my old humiliations
but they go on dragging through my sleep
like a string of empty tin cans rattling
behind an abandoned car.

It’s like this: just when you think
you have forgotten that red-haired girl
who left you stranded in a parking lot
forty years ago, you wake up

early enough to see her disappearing
around the corner of your dream
on someone else’s motorcycle
roaring onto the highway at sunrise.

And so now I’m sitting in a dimly lit
 full of early morning risers
where the windows are covered with soot
and the coffee is warm and bitter.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Presenting a face to the world

“We're all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don't spend any time, or think they don't, on preparing themselves for the world out there - I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world.” – Cindy Sherman

Born in New Jersey on this date in 1954, Cynthia Morris "Cindy" Sherman is a renowned photographer and film director and MacArthur (Genius Grant) Fellowship winner who built her reputation through her award-winning conceptual portraits.

She started her career while still a student at Buffalo State (NY) University where she actually failed a photography class as a first-year student before returning to the genre a couple of years later (she re-took and passed the earlier class).  Sherman is noted for creating “series,” typically photographing herself in a range of costumes. To create her photographs, she often shoots alone in her studio, assuming multiple roles as author, director, make-up artist, hairstylist, wardrobe mistress, and model.

Many of her photos have sold for millions of dollars, including a 2011 print “Untitled #96” – part of a 1981 series of 10 – that went for nearly $4 million, making it the most expensive photograph at the time.        Sherman has either published or been the subject of numerous books of her works and her work, which is credited with being the major influence on contemporary portrait photographers.   Lauded for creating works that challenge the viewer, she noted, “The still must tease with the promise of a story the viewer itches to be told.”

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cather: America's writing daughter

“To note an artist’s limitations is but to define her talent.  A reporter can write equally well about everything that is presented to her view, but a creative writer can do her best only with what lies within the range and character of her deepest sympathies.” – Willa Cather

Born in Virginia in December 1873, Cather was raised on the prairies of Nebraska.  She always said her writing was greatly affected by her “growing up years” and the vastness of the prairieland that surrounded her – experiences she used extensively in her novels and short stories.

She started as a reporter for the Nebraska State Journal and did a stint on the magazine Home Monthly before serving as drama critic and telegraph editor for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Leader.  After moving on to McClure’s in New York City, she got serious about her creative writing and in the 19-teens did her famous “Prairie Trilogy” of O Pioneers!, Song of the Lark, and My Antonia, some of the best realism written about the life and blend of people on the Great Plains.

She won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, and then wrote what I’ve always thought was one of her best, Death Comes for the Archbishop.   “There are only two or three human stories,” Cather once said, “and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”           “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Escaping through your words

“I'm always terrified when I'm writing.” – Mary Karr

Karr’s sentiment probably echoes all who take pen in hand or pull up to a keyboard or typewriter to put words on paper and begin the creative process.

Born in Groves, Texas on this date in 1955, Karr brought her early years to life in the New York Times bestselling  memoirs, The Liars' Club.   The book delves vividly and often humorously into her deeply troubled childhood, most of which was spent in a gritty industrial section of Southeast Texas. 

The author of 2 other memoirs, Cherry; and Lit: A Memoir, she also has had great successes as both a poet (4 volumes to date) and essayist.  She has won the prestigious Whiting Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry, and the Pushcart prize for both her poetry and her essays.

“Young writers often mistakenly choose a certain vein or style based on who they want to be, unconsciously trying to blot out who they actually are. You want to escape yourself,” Karr said. 
        “The thing I have to do as a writer, and that God permits me to do, is that I have to be willing to fail.”

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Stepping away from the real world

“Every book that you pick up takes you a step away from your real world, but if you read a book about magic, it takes you an extra two steps.” – Jenny Nimmo

British author Nimmo, born on this date in 1944, is a master of the “magical” genre, having authored numerous fantasy and adventure novels for kids and teens. Born in England, she has lived mostly in Wales for the past 40 years. 

Nimmo spent several years with the BBC and actually started her writing career by adapting other writers’ works for television shows.  Her first novel, The Bronze Trumpeter, started as a TV script of her own and then grew into a full-fledged book.  Among her best-known works are the fantasy novels: The Magician Trilogy, contemporary stories rooted in Welsh myth; and the bestselling Children of the Red King, a series about schoolchildren endowed with magical powers.

Also known as the Charlie Bone series, her primary protagonist is Charlie Bone, whose magical talent embroils him in sinister intrigues in his school. The Charlie Bone titles have been published in some 20 languages worldwide.       She likes to keep an objective eye on what her characters are doing – even those with special powers.

 “I try not to identify too strongly with any of my characters. I like to stand back and see them objectively. I think this is why I often use boys instead of girls, just in case I get too close and lose the overall picture. “

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