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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Count Stars, Study The Clouds

“If you want to lose 40 pounds, you order salad instead of fries. If you want to be a better friend, you take the phone call instead of screening it. If you want to write a novel, you sit down and write a single paragraph. It's scary to make major changes, but we usually have enough courage to take the next right step.” – Regina Brett

Born on this date in 1956, Brett is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for her newspaper commentary, an inspirational speaker, and also the author of both books and short stories.  

Brett’s first – and bestselling – book grew out of her work as a columnist for The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  Those columns, entitled "50 Life Lessons,” became some of the most distributed columns she has written, appearing on blogs as well as social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook.  Often misidentified as a 90-year-old woman, Brett has now taken those "50 Life Lessons" columns and adapted them as chapters in that bestselling book, God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life's Little Detours.               
                        One of those is worth sharing as we head into our first summer month, advice for writers and readers alike.  Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy, she said.  “To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. Or to sit on a branch and study the clouds.”

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Contemplating Life Experiences

“Few people even scratch the surface, much less exhaust the contemplation of their own experience. “ – Randolph Bourne

Bourne, a progressive writer and intellectual born on this date in 1886, is best known for his anti-war essays, especially his unfinished work "The State," discovered after his death in 1918.  Harmed by a forceps birth that left him with facial and back deformities, he was susceptible to debilitating diseases, perhaps hastening his death during the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

Bourne graduated from Columbia University and immediately embarked on  “…a literary career of startling brilliancy,” said Floyd Dell of The New Republic, a regular publisher of Bourne’s essays.    His writings have been influential in shaping postmodern ideas of cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Dos Passos eulogized Bourne in 1919, part of his prize-winning U.S.A. trilogy.   And, the Randolph Bourne Institute, which has access to many of his works, seeks to honor Bourne's memory by promoting a noninterventionist foreign policy for the United States as the best way of fostering a peaceful, more prosperous world. 
                 Bourne was known for a generous spirit and ability to form lasting friendships, even with those with whom he disagreed.  “Friendships,” he said, “are fragile things, and require as much handling as any other fragile and precious thing.” 

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Writing Success By Exploring 'The Why?'

“Any form of media is an opportunity to be a mirror and reflection of what we are experiencing more in the details of our life.” – Mara Brock Akil

Brock Akil, who celebrated her 48th birthday this past week, has been a trailblazer for black women, making her impact as an award-winning television writer and producer, including creating the highly successful BET show Being Mary Jane.  That show centers on the personal and professional life of a successful black broadcaster in L.A.  Her writing for the show has earned her both Outstanding Screenplay and Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series awards.   In January, she and her husband Salim Akil also created the show Black Lightning, based on the DC Comics Black Lightning superhero series,  for the CW Network

A screenwriter for more than 20 years, Brock Akil started her career as a journalist after graduating with a journalism degree from Northwestern and credits journalistic writing as the key to her success.      
                                          “I often attribute my screenwriting to journalism because they drill in the who, what, when, where and why - but we really need to land on that why,” she said.  “That's what I've been exploring in my writing for many years.”

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Books - Mankind's Greatest Machine

“Read. The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all – not the car, not the TV, not the computer or the smartphone...” – Ken Burns

Born in 1953, Burns is the creator of some of our most resounding and haunting film series on such topics like The Civil War, World War II and The Vietnam War.  He also is winner of The Steinbeck Prize for his life’s work.   On this Memorial Day, I think it’s fitting to share some of Burns’ words, taken from a Commencement Speech given at Washington University in 2015.  What he said then, including the quote above, resonates even more today.

“Do not allow our social media to segregate us into ever smaller tribes and clans, fiercely and sometimes appropriately loyal to our group, but each also capable of metastasizing into profound distrust of the other,” he said.

“Convince your government that the real threat, as Lincoln knew, comes from within. Governments always forget that, too. Do not let your government outsource honesty, transparency or candor. Do not let your government outsource democracy.” 
              “Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the actual defense of the country – they just make the country worth defending.”

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Specializing in the Impossible

“What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible.” – Theodore Roethke

Poet and writer James Dickey once named Roethke (born on May 25, 1908) as the greatest of all American poets. “I don't see anyone else that has the kind of deep, gut vitality that Roethke's got,” Dickey said.  “Whitman was a great poet, but he's no competition for Roethke.”
             Roethke won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book The Waking and shared his many talents both through his writing and as a longtime teacher of aspiring writers.  His legacy, in addition to inspiring and training generations of students, is a diverse and lyrical body of poetry.   For Saturday’s Poem, here is the title poem from his extraordinary book.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

A Writer's Duty

“I think it's a short story writer's duty, as well as writing well about emotions and characters, to write the story.” – Eric Brown

Born in England on this date in 1960, Brown began writing in 1975, but didn’t officially break onto the scene until the 1982 with the publication of his children’s play, Noel's Ark.  His career took off in the late 1980s with a succession of short stories, led by "The Time-Lapsed Man," also the title of a best-selling collection of his stories.  In 1988, “Time-Lapsed Man” was selected by the Interzone magazine’s readers' poll as its most admired story.   

Brown also has been voted the Best New European SciFi Writer of the Year (in 1991) and has twice won the British Science Fiction Award for his short stories "Hunting the Slarque” and "Children of Winter.”  Since the early 1990s he has published two dozen novels, over a dozen novellas, numerous children’s books, and 10 story collections.  His newest book, just out this month, is Buying Time, a clever and hard-to-put-down time travel adventure.  As for advice to new writers, he says this about writing short stories:

“The market for short stories is hard to break into, but a magazine editor isn't always looking for big names with which to sell his magazine - they're more willing to try stories by newcomers, if those tales are good.”

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

That 'Capacity To Create'

“There is an element of autobiography in all fiction in that pain or distress, or pleasure, is based on the author's own. But in my case that is as far as it goes. “ – William Trevor

Born on this date in 1928, Trevor was an Irish novelist, playwright, and widely regarded as one of the greatest contemporary writers of short stories in English language history.  And, while he was Irish through and through, he made his home in Southwest England for over 50 years, dying there in 2016.
Trevor was a three-time winner of the coveted Whitbread Prize and was nominated five times for the Booker Prize.  In his final decade he was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature, particularly after his final novel Love and Summer not only garnered rave reviews but also was an international best seller.  

He was such a prolific writer of short stories that he had a remarkable 20volumes of them published during the time he also was producing 16 novels, 6 plays, and a number of nonfiction works and major essays.   He attributed his output to an intangible capacity to create.

“The capacity you're thinking of is imagination,” he clarified.  “Without it there can be no understanding, indeed no fiction.”

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

For The Pleasure of Writing

“I don't wait for inspiration. I get up and write every day.” – Cathy Marie Buchanan

Born on this date in 1963, Buchanan makes her home in Toronto, Canada after growing up in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  Her stories have appeared in many of Canada’s most respected literary journals, and she has received awards from the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

The Day the Falls Stood Still, her debut novel, was a New York Times bestseller and she followed it with the mega-selling The Painted Girls, inspired by both a notorious late-19th century criminal trial and Edgar Degas’ real-life model, Marie van Goethem, who posed for Degas’ masterpiece “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.”

Buchanan’s writing moves fluidly from one era to another and to subjects that are wide-ranging and always riveting.  “I write to explore something that fascinates me, and I write the way I do because it is the only way I know how to write,” she said.   
                                    “I keep writing because it is deeply pleasurable to me.”

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Characters and Lessons of Life

“We all lose somebody we care about and want to find some comforting way of dealing with it, something that will give us a little closure, a little peace.” – Mitch Albom

Albom, a best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, dramatist, radio and television broadcaster, philanthropist and musician has written books that have sold over 35 million copies, about 14 million of those being copies of one of the best-selling memoirs of all time, Tuesdays With Morrie.  That book, which chronicles Albom’s weekly visit with Morrie Schwartz, his one-time professor afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), was written to share their weekly conversations about life and death, and as a way to help Schwartz’s family with rising medical bills.  At first rejected by multiple publishers, it was finally published as a thin volume with just a small press run.  But, as word of mouth took over, the book skyrocketed to a 205-week run on the New York Times Bestseller List.  It went on to become an Emmy-winning television movie and a long-running Broadway play and continues to touch people’s lives through the wisdom shared by the dying professor.

Born in May 1958, Albom was first a successful sportswriter before becoming – almost by accident – a phenomenal chronicler of people’s lives and hopes and the inspiration they brought to others.       
                                                    “I find interesting characters or lessons that resonate with people and sometimes I write about them in the sports pages, sometimes I write them in a column, sometimes in a novel, sometimes a play or sometimes in nonfiction,” Albom said.   “But at the core I always say to myself, 'Is this something people want to read?'  I believe that you live on inside the hearts and minds of everyone you've touched while you were here on earth."

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Sharing Some 'Slices of Life'

“I hope people will like my novels after I'm dead. And I hope my children think about me in good ways, by and large.” – Clyde Edgerton

Edgerton’s works are influenced in some way by his personal experiences and much of his prose feels like reading a slice-of-life narrative.  His books, generously sprinkled with humor, are best known for their endearing characters and small-town Southern dialogue.

The North Carolina native, who celebrated his 54th birthday yesterday, couples his writing with teaching creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and also is a well-known speaker at writing conferences and workshops around the country.   The winner of 5 “Notable Book of the Year” awards from the New York Times, he also is recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and has been honored with a North Carolina Award for Literature. 
                  One of Edgerton's recent best sellers is Papadaddy's Book for New Fathers: Advice to Dads of All Ages, offering timely, down-to-earth, and humorous "suggestions" on the art of being a dad.

“It's nice to have more than one little one,” he says (with tongue firmly in cheek) “because then . . . while one is pushing you in a wheelchair, the other one can open the doors for you. “

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

The 'Magic' Of Literacy

“I discovered writing children's books was a way to keep living in my imagination like a child. So I wrote a number of books before I started 'Magic Tree House.' Then, once I got that, I never looked back because I could be somewhere different in every single book.” – Mary Pope Osborne
Born in Oklahoma on this date in 1949, Osborne has authored more than 100 books for children and young adults, including novels, retellings of mythology and folklore, biographies and mysteries.  She is best known for her award-winning Magic Tree House series, now translated into 35 languages with nearly 150 million copies in print.   Her writing, she said, has opened doors for her to the world and allowed her to experience some of the thrills of traveling. "Without even leaving my home, I’ve traveled around the globe,” she said.
Osborne is an ardent advocate and supporter of children’s literacy and created the Magic Tree House Classroom Adventures Program with the mission of inspiring children to read and to love reading.  Free of charge, the program provides a set of online educational resources for teachers and allows for Title 1 schools to apply for free Magic Tree House books.   In partnership with First Book, her program has donated hundreds of thousands of Magic Tree House books to underserved schools.  It is, she said, her way to share her love of reading with kids everywhere.
                                           “I love reading all kinds of books. I usually have about ten books going at any one time - books about the past, the present, novels, non-fiction, poetry, mythology, religion, etc.,” she said.   “Reading is my favorite thing to do.”

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Day-to-Day Reflections On Life

“Being in this fine mood, I spoke to a little boy, whom I saw playing alone in the road, asking him what he was going to be when he grew up. Of course I expected to hear him say a sailor, a soldier, a hunter, or something else that seems heroic to childhood, and I was very much surprised when he answered innocently, 'A man.' “ – W. H. Davies

Born on this date in 1871, Davies was a Welsh poet and writer who spent a significant part of his life as a tramp or hobo, both in the United Kingdom and United States. He also became one of the most popular poets of his time.

Davies’ principal themes were on his observations about life's hardships, the ways in which the human condition is reflected in nature, and his own tramping adventures and the people he met.  For Saturday’s Poem here is Davies’

A Greeting
Good morning, Life - and all
Things glad and beautiful.
My pockets nothing hold,
But he that owns the gold,
The Sun, is my great friend -
His spending has no end.

Hail to the morning sky,
Which bright clouds measure high;
Hail to you birds whose throats
Would number leaves by notes;
Hail to you shady bowers,
And you green field of flowers.

Hail to you women fair,
That make a show so rare
In cloth as white as milk -
Be't calico or silk:
Good morning, Life - and all
Things glad and beautiful.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Real Life, Great Stories

“The best stories come from real life.” – Diane English

Born in Buffalo, NY, on this date in 1948, English is a screenwriter, producer and director, best known for creating the television show Murphy Brown and writing and directing the 2008 feature film The Women.

After studying communications at Buffalo State University, English began her career at WNET, the PBS affiliate in New York City, working first as a story editor for The Theatre in America series, and then as associate director of TV Lab.  From 1977 to 1980, she wrote a monthly column on television for Vogue magazine.

Among the many awards she has earned over the past 30 years are 3 Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for her television work,  and “The Women in Film’s” Crystal Award (it’s most prestigious), for her work on The Women.    
                                                                     Her advice to writers trying to break into the market is succinct.  “You have to be creative. It's the basics. You can't be Picasso unless you know how to draw a real face.  (After that) you can turn it upside down.”

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Get Ready To Jump ... And Fly

“Ideas are all around you - everything gives you ideas. But the real source is the part of your brain that dreams.” – Bruce Coville

A native New Yorker born on this date in 1950, Coville said he became enamored with the idea of becoming a writer in 6th grade and started working on it seriously by age 17.  Today, as an author of young adult fiction, he has over 100 books in his repertoire … and counting.  

His first novel, The Foolish Giant, came out in 1977 and he has produced two to three books a year ever since.  Among his many award winning works are his novels My Teacher Glows in the Dark and  I Was a 6th Grade Alien, and  his audio adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones.
                                      In 2012, Coville was named for the "Empire State Award for Excellence in Literature for Young People,” presented by the New York Library Association.

“Like most people, I was not able to start selling my stories right away,” he said.   “So I had many other jobs along the way to becoming a writer, including toy maker, gravedigger, cookware salesman, and assembly line worker. Eventually, I became an elementary teacher and worked with second and fourth graders.”  All of those things, he said, shaped his life and writing.  And he encourages beginning writers to to dream big.

“If you don’t jump,” he said,  “the wings never come.”

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Living Vicariously Through Her Writing

For me, being a writer was never a choice.  I was born one.  All through my childhood I wrote short stories and stuffed them in drawers.  I wrote on everything.  I didn’t do my homework so I could write.” – Laura Hillenbrand

Hillenbrand, born on this date in 1967, became the writer she felt destined to be, telling stories about two amazing sports figures from the 1930s; one the great horse Seabiscuit, the other the great Olympian Louis Zamperini. 

The first story became a bestselling book and award-winning movie simply called Seabiscuit.  The second, one of the most gripping reads of the past decade, was called Unbroken. These two books dominated bestseller lists in both hardback and paperback. Combined, they have sold more than 13 million copies.

Hillenbrand, as she says above, was born to be a writer, and that meant writing through some of the most debilitating pain and isolation a person might ever experience.  Confined to her home for years because of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, she still pressed on and created remarkable works.   And, she says being confined while writing helped her live her stories more completely in her mind, and she believes made them more interesting and exciting.   
                                     As she was writing, she said, “I’m looking for a way out.  I can’t have it physically, so I’m going to have it intellectually.  It was a beautiful thing to ride Seabiscuit in my imagination.  And it’s just fantastic to be there alongside Louie as he’s breaking the NCAA mile record.  People at these vigorous moments in their lives – it’s my way of living vicariously.”

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