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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Standing For Journalistic Freedom

“In the end, does it really matter if newspapers physically disappear?  Probably not:  the world is always changing.  But does it matter if organizations independent enough and rich enough to employ journalists to do their job disappear?  Yes, that matters hugely; it affects the whole of life and society.” – Andrew Marr

Born this day in 1959, Andrew Marr is a British commentator, broadcaster, print journalist, one-time editor of The Independent, and longtime host of “The Andrew Marr Show” on BBC News. 
                            He reflects a worry shared by many who started as or continue to serve as journalists – that our newer generation of readers is forgetting about the valuable role that journalists have in a free society, and that funding for investigative journalism and newspapers as we long have known them is rapidly disappearing.   

“The business of funding ‘digging journalists’ is important to encourage,” he noted.  “It cannot be replaced by bloggers who don’t have access to politicians, who don’t have easy access to official documents, who aren’t able to buttonhole people in power.” 

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Unfolding The Novel 'Bit By Bit'

“Something happens between a novel and its reader which is similar to the process of developing photographs, the way they did it before the digital age.  The photograph, as it was printed in the darkroom, became visible bit by bit.  As you read your way through a novel, the same chemical process takes place.” – Patrick Modiano

French novelist and 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Modiano turns 73 today and his analogy of the development of the novel “before our eyes” is a remarkable one that also gives us a bit of a look into his writing style.  He lets the picture slowly unfold, sometimes leaving us startled, sometimes satisfied, sometimes angry, but always interested in what’s coming next.

His novels delve into the puzzle of identity in ways seldom seen.   And, he tackles a time in France – the German occupation during World War II – that evokes both heroism and shame depending on whose point of view his tale is being told. 
The winner of almost every major European and French writing award, he was honored for his life’s body of work even prior to winning the Nobel and was – up until that award – one of the few international writers whose work had never been translated into English.  
                                            Modiano expressed what most novelists feel about the writing process when he discussed “starting” a new work.  “I quickly realized that it is difficult to get started when writing a novel. You have this dream of what you want to create, but it is like walking around a swimming pool and hesitating to jump in because the water is too cold.”


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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Being Willing To Leap Into The Unknown

“Part of writing a novel is being willing to leap into the blackness. You have very little idea, really, of what's going to happen. You have a broad sense, maybe, but it's this rash leap.” – Chang-Rae Lee

Born in South Korea on July 28, 1965, Lee is a novelist and professor of creative writing at Stanford University.  Much of his writing focuses on his family’s immigrant experience in moving to the U.S., but what he stresses for his students is to be aware of a broad spectrum of writing and writing styles. 

“I'll offer them stories from Anton Chekhov to Denis Johnson, from Flannery O'Connor to A.M. Homes,” he said, “and perhaps investigating all that strange variation of beauty has rubbed off on me. Or perhaps that's why I enjoy teaching.”
Lee's first novel (in 1995), Native Speaker, jump-started his own career as it won numerous prizes, including the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. The novel centers around a Korean American industrial spy, and explores themes of alienation and betrayal as felt or perpetrated by immigrants and first-generation citizens.  His book about the Korean War, The Surrendered, was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize for Literature.   
                                        Often, he said, he isn’t sure where he’s headed when he starts writing, but that’s not a bad thing.   As for what's the most challenging aspect of teaching, he said it's convincing younger writers of the importance of reading widely and passionately.   “I often think that the prime directive for me as a teacher of writing is akin to that for a physician, which is this: do no harm.”

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Reaching People, One-By-One

“Never use the word 'audience.' The very idea of a public, unless the poet is writing for money, seems wrong to me. Poets don't have an 'audience'. They're talking to a single person all the time.” – Robert Graves

Graves, born in England in July, 1895, made his living as a historical novelist (I, Claudius and The Golden Fleece are just two examples), critic, and translator of Greek and Roman Classics.  But poetry was his first love and he wrote hundreds of poems on every topic imaginable..  His study of poetic inspiration, The White Goddess—has been continuously in print since 1948.  “To be a poet is a condition rather than a profession,” he said.

For Saturday’s Poem, here is Graves’

Free Verse

I now delight
In spite
Of the might
And the right
Of classic tradition,
In writing
And reciting
Straight ahead,
Without let or omission,
Just any little rhyme
In any little time
That runs in my head;
Because, I’ve said,
My rhymes no longer shall stand arrayed
Like Prussian soldiers on parade
That march,
Stiff as starch,
Foot to foot,
Boot to boot,
Blade to blade,
Button to button,
Cheeks and chops and chins like mutton.
No! No!
My rhymes must go
Turn ’ee, twist ’ee,
Twinkling, frosty,
Will-o’-the-wisp-like, misty;
Rhymes I will make
Like Keats and Blake
And Christina Rossetti,
With run and ripple and shake.
How pretty
To take
A merry little rhyme
In a jolly little time
And poke it,
And choke it,
Change it, arrange it,
Straight-lace it, deface it,
Pleat it with pleats,
Sheet it with sheets
Of empty conceits,
And chop and chew,
And hack and hew,
And weld it into a uniform stanza,
And evolve a neat,
Complacent, complete,
Academic extravaganza!

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Hers Is A Recipe For Success

“Creating characters is like throwing together ingredients for a recipe. I take characteristics I like and dislike in real people I know, or know of, and use them to embellish and define characters.” – Cassandra Clare

Born to American parents in Iran on this date in 1973, Judith Rumelt took on the writing nom de plume of Cassandra Clare while still in high school in Los Angeles, where she mostly grew up.  By the time she finished college in the late 1990s she was writing under the name full time, beginning with a series of magazine jobs and then switching to YA fiction in 2005.    She is perhaps best known for her bestselling series The Mortal Instruments, which include her mega-seller titles City of Bones and City of Ashes.   Her sequel to the series, the Dark Artifices series, is currently “In Progress,” with Lord of Shadows now on the market.

A prolific writer, she has 22 books either on the market or coming by year’s end and also has written more than a dozen shorter works of fiction, all highly acclaimed and most as award winners.  Clare said her recipe for “lots of writing” is simple:

“Write every day. Don't kill yourself. I think a lot of people think, 'I have to write a chapter a day' and they can't. They fall behind and stop doing it. But if you just write even one hundred words a day, it's not that much. By the end of a month, you'll have three thousand words, which is one chapter.”         “And write what you love - don't feel pressured to write serious prose if what you like is to be funny.”

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Opening Doors To Perception

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” – Aldous Huxley 
While he wrote more than 50 books and hundreds of essays, Huxley will forever be known for his masterpiece Brave New World, destined to be studied, discussed and worried over for decades (if not centuries) to come.   And while I greatly admire his quote above, I equally love this following one because it represents what every writer, artist and musician hopes for when he or she creates something.
“The finest works of art," Huxley said,  "are precious, among other reasons, because they make it possible for us to know, if only imperfectly and for a little while, what it actually feels like to think subtly and feel nobly.” 
Born on this date in 1894, Huxley said he was always interested in writing and looking at life and things around him in new ways.  Huxley completed his first novel at the age of 17 and began writing seriously in his early 20s, almost immediately establishing himself as a successful writer and social satirist.  “Writers write to influence their readers, their preachers, their auditors,” he remarked, “but always, at bottom, to be more themselves.”

Well known at the time, it is sometimes forgotten today that he also had a fine career as a screenwriter and playwright, living for 25 years in Hollywood and Taos, N.M., up to his death in 1963.        “Experience,” he said in advice to writers,  “is not what happens to you.  It's what you do with what happens to you.”

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

My 'Thought For The Day'

"Storytelling is limited only by the depth of a writer’s imagination.” 
– Dan Jorgensen

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Get Disoriented; Be Creative

“Expecting to be wrong about most things most of the time brings, finally, the kind of humility that leads to peace. I think.” – John Burdett

Born in London on this date in 1951, Burdett is a British crime novelist whose working career actually began as a lawyer – primarily at posts in the Far East, where he not only made a small fortune but also got most of the grist for what would become his writing mill.   The bestselling author of the Bangkok 8 series – the original and 5 sequels – he also gained acclaim with his blockbuster crime mystery The Last Six Million Seconds.

Set in Hong Kong in April and May 1997, just before the British turnover of the territory to mainland China, the novel deals with a horrific murder investigation and introduces one of his most interesting protagonists, half Irish-half Chinese Royal Hong Kong Police Chief Chan (“Charlie”) Siu-kai.

Burdett is the son of a London cop and traces his family back through carpenters and stonemasons on the eastern outskirts of London.  He decided early on that he wanted to see the world and write about it.  “The world other than as advertised,” he said,  “can be an amazing place.”  These days, he divides his time between Bangkok and a stone farmhouse in southwest France.        “I advise aspiring novelists when they complain to me that they are stuck, ‘Get disoriented,’” he said.  “Maybe your agonizing writing block isn’t agonizing enough.  Your enemy is comfort.”

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Doing Every Writer A Favor

“Any writer who gives a reader a pleasurable experience is doing every other writer a favor because it will make the reader want to read other books. I am all for it.” – S.E. Hinton

Hinton, who celebrated her 70th birthday yesterday, became a household name while still in her teens, authoring her mega-bestseller The Outsiders in 1965.  Inspired by two rival gangs, the Greasers and the Socs, at her Oklahoma high school, the book has sold upward of 15 million copies.   Her desire was to show sympathy toward the Greasers by writing from their point of view.

Hinton – whose initials stand for Susan Eloise – has been acclaimed for her attention to the details that Young Adults not only identify with but embrace.  Many have said she is a true spokesperson for their points of view.  America’s YA librarians agreed, giving her the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her body of work on behalf of youth and young adults.  The librarians noted that in reading Hinton's novels "a young adult may explore the need for independence and simultaneously the need for loyalty and belonging, the need to care for others, and the need to be cared for by them."        She also is a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame.  

Hinton's books Tex; That Was Then, This Is Now; and Rumble Fish – like The Outsiders – have all been made into popular movies.  “How a piece ends is very important to me,” Hinton said.   “It's the last chance to leave an impression with the reader, the last shot at 'nailing' it.  I love to write ending lines.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Letting Your Imagination Soar

 “If the novelist isn't surprised by where his book ends up, he or she probably hasn't written anything worth remembering.” – Tom Robbins

Born in North Carolina on this date in 1932, Robbins was named one of the 100 Best Writers of the 20th Century by Writer’s Digest, and it all started in the mid-1960s when he was asked and rejected an opportunity to write a book about art.  Robbins told the publisher that he had a better idea for his writing talents and so they gave him a chance.  The result was his first novel and first bestseller, Another Roadside Attraction.

Since then he’s written 8 bestselling novels, many dozens of short stories and essays, and 2 nonfiction books, the latest being his 2014 self-declared “un-memoir” Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life.       Heading up the list of his many successes is, perhaps, his irreverent novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, also made into a popular movie.  While Robbins says he’s hesitant to give writing advice, he does say this:
                                     “The one thing emphasized in any creative writing course is 'write what you know,' and that automatically drives a wooden stake through the heart of imagination. If they really understood the mysterious process of creating fiction, they would say, 'You can write about anything you can imagine.'”

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

'Poetry Is . . . A Search For Order'

“For me, poetry is always a search for order.” – Elizabeth Jennings

Born on July 18, 1926, Jennings was considered a “poetic traditionalist” and also one of Great Britain’s most beloved practitioners of the poetic arts.  

Jennings (who died in 2001) started writing in her mid-20s after graduating from Queen Anne’s College.  She was published in such major journals as Oxford Poetry, New English Weekly, The Spectator and Poetry Review before her first book, simply titled Poems, came out in 1953.  That won her the Arts Council of Great Britain’s award for “Best First Book of Poetry.”
       Not one to rest on her laurels, she followed with A Way of Looking, winner of the prestigious Somerset Maugham Award, given to leading writers under age 35.   Known for her lyric poetry and mastery of form, Jennings said of her writing technique, “It’s simple.  I write fast and revise very little.”    For Saturday’s Poem, here is Jennings’

The radiance of the star that leans on me
Was shining years ago. The light that now
Glitters up there my eyes may never see,
And so the time lag teases me with how

Love that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star's impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

'Just Call Us Writers'

“Publishers have published women's fiction into a corner, and now we are all trying to punch our way out of it. We just have to write the best books we possibly can and hope that, once the pink covers and Bridget Jones have faded from memory, we might finally be allowed just to be called writers.” – Lisa Jewell

Born on July 19, 1968, Jewell is one of Britain’s most popular writers – particularly of “comedy romance” – and basically got into writing on a dare.  A fashion designer at the time, Jewell accepted a challenge from a friend to write 3 chapters of a novel in exchange for dinner at her favorite restaurant. Those chapters eventually were developed into Ralph's Party, which became the UK's bestselling debut novel in 1999.

Since then she has written bestseller after bestseller, including Thirtynothing, After The Party (a sequel to Ralph's Party) and most recently Then She Was Gone.  To date she has authored 15 novels and a number of essays and short stories.   The mother of two “very busy” girls, she noted of her writing style that, “I don't really get into a writing routine until March or April, when I'll write a few hundred words a day, often in a cafe in the morning after the school run.”  
                                                           “I write in cafes, never at home. I cannot focus at home (and) am forever getting off my chair to do other things. In a cafe, I have to sit still, or I'll look a bit unhinged.”

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

That Rewarding Solitary Occupation

“Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He or she must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking. “ – Jessamyn West

Born in Indiana on this date in 1902, West wrote dozens of short stories and 20 novels, most notably her acclaimed 1945 work The Friendly Persuasion.

After moving to California and graduating from Whittier College, she taught school for many years before coming down with tuberculosis.  Not expected to live, she moved into a sanatorium for treatment and while there began writing to pass the time.  Ultimately, she regained her health but the writing bug stuck and she moved into her new career full time in 1939.

Her stories, although shaped by her imagination, are loosely based on tales told to her by her mother and grandmother of their life in rural Indiana – a setting and, of course, a time she never knew personally.    “The past is really almost as much a work of the imagination as the future,” she remarked about her endeavors.  Her opus work, The Friendly Persuasion, eventually was made into an Academy Award “Best Movie” nominee, and its sequel, Except For Me and Thee was made into a much heralded television movie.

In an interview about the power of words, West said people should choose them carefully.  “A broken bone can heal,” she said, “but the wound a word opens can fester forever.”

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Always Finding Room To Grow

“The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.” – Robert Cormier\

Born in Massachusetts on this date in 1925, Cormier started writing in elementary school, had his first work published in college, and was an award winning journalist for his hometown paper, The Fitchburg Sentinel, before testing the waters as a Young Adult author.   His first effort Now and at the Hour was a major hit and was followed with a long string of successful books, including the multiple award-winning I Am the Cheese and We All Fall Down.   His books have often been cited as “classics” for young adult readers. 
              Cormier (who died in 2000) was honored by the American Library Association for creating a body of work that provided young adults with a window to view the world and help them to grow and better understand themselves and their role in society.

Cormier said while writing, he never thought about how old or young his readers might be.  “I simply write with an intelligent reader in mind,” he said.  “I don’t think about how old they are.”

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

'Who We Are; What We Must Do'

I try for a poetic language that says, This is who we are, where we have been, where we are. This is where we must go. And this is what we must do” – Mari Evans

Evans, born on July 16, 1923, was one of America’s most influential Black writers, authoring poetry, children’s literature and plays, and editing countless works of others.  She also edited the definitive and award-winning Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation. 

Evans, who died last year just short of her 94th birthday, grew up in Ohio, attended the University of Toledo and taught at places like Purdue and Cornell.  In 1968 she plowed new ground by writing and producing the award-winning television program, “The Black Experience.”   Her first poetry collection, Where Is All the Music? established her as a major poetic writer, and her second, I Am a Black Woman gained her worldwide acclaim. Her poem “Who Can Be Born Black” is often anthologized.   
                                                       I Am A Black Woman resonated with the power and beauty of Black women and set the bar for many of her fellow female Black writers in the latter part of the 20th century.  “I am a black woman,” Evans wrote, “tall as a cypress, strong beyond all definition, still defying place and time and circumstance, assailed, impervious, indestructible.”  

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