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Friday, August 31, 2018

Taking Care of the Little Things

“It is not the straining for great things that is most effective; it is the doing the little things, the common duties, a little better and better.” – Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Born in Massachusetts on this date in 1844, Phelps was the daughter of one of the nation’s leading theologians, the Rev. Dr. Austin Phelps, and the writer Elizabeth Wooster Stuart Phelps, author of a series of books for girls called The Kitty Brown stories.  Rev. Phelps also was a noted writer, his works becoming standard textbooks for Christian theological education and still in print today.

The younger Elizabeth had a storytelling gift even as a child and by age 13 had had stories published in Youth's Companion and many Sunday school publications.   Prominent literary figures like John Greenleaf Whittier lauded her early writings which put her on the path to author a remarkable 57 volumes of fiction, poetry and essays in her lifetime. 

Her most popular novel, The Gates Ajar – her vision of what Heaven might be like and published right after the Civil War – was a runaway bestseller and established her as a leading writer and a well-known speaker advocating for social reform and women’s rights.     Her 1877 book, The Story of Avis, was way ahead of its time, focusing on issues that would be among the leading feminist causes at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

“Happiness must be cultivated,” she advised shortly before her death in 1911.  “It is like character. It is not a thing to be safely let alone for a moment, or it will run to weeds.”

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Writing 'Life With Its Teeth Out'

“Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination.” – Janet Frame

Born in August of 1924, Nene Janet Paterson Clutha was a New Zealand author who published under the name Janet Frame, authoring novels, short stories, poetry, juvenile fiction, essays and several bestselling nonfiction books.

After dealing with depression and anxiety and spending several years of hospitalization as a young adult, Frame decided to start anew by traveling abroad.  In London, she began therapy with London doctor Robert Hugh Cawley, who encouraged her to pursue what would become one of the great writing careers.  She later dedicated 7 of her novels to Cawley.   
       During her lifetime (she died in 2004), Frame's work garnered numerous literary prizes including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for The Carpathians.   Also a gifted writer of nonfiction, she was one of the most widely published essayists of the late 20th Century and two of her nonfiction books, An Angel at My Table, and The Envoy from Mirror City, earned Book of the Year Awards in several nations.

Noted for her hard-hitting realism, she once noted, “I like to see life with its teeth out.”

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Saluting The Great Neil Simon*

“Everyone thinks they can write a play; you just write down what happened to you. But the art of it is drawing from all the moments of your life.” – Neil Simon
Simon, who died earlier this week at the age of 91, grew up during the Great Depression, a time that was a great shaper of not only his life but also his art.  Writing “life” became the grist for his creative mill, beginning with work on comedy scripts for radio and then gravitating to the Broadway stage in the early 1960s.
As one of America’s most prolific stage and screenwriters, he wrote more than 30 plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, earning more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.   After breaking onto the playwriting scene with Come Blow Your Horn (in 1961), Simon won his first Tony for the long-running, and one of the most widely performed plays in history, The Odd Couple. 
The first playwright to earn 15 “Best Play” awards, he also was given a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, and won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Lost in Yonkers.    In 2006 he was presented America’s top humor award, the Mark Twain Prize.  And, Simon was the first living playwright to have a Broadway theater named in his honor (now, of course, in his memory).   
        Literary Critic Robert Johnson said that while humor was Simon’s forte’, “(Simon’s plays) have given us a rich variety of entertaining, memorable characters who portray the human experience, often with serious themes."   Simon says his willingness to try new things was key to his success.    “If no one ever took risks,” he said,  “Michelangelo probably would have painted the Sistine floor.”
           *A variation of this blog post first appeared this past July 4th on the anniversary of Simon’s birthdate in 1927.

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Monday, August 27, 2018

A Thought For The Day

 ... And Week

           “Reading is an act of civilization; it's one of the greatest acts of civilization because it takes the free raw material of the mind and builds castles of possibilities.” – Ben Okri (B. 1959)

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Creating 'Room' For Your Writing

“Reviewers have called my books 'novels in verse.' I think of them as written in prose, but I do use stanzas. Stanza means 'room' in Latin, and I wanted there to be 'room' - breathing opportunities to receive thoughts and have time to come out of them before starting again at the left margin” – Virginia Euwer Wolff

Not to be confused with British author Virginia Woolf, Euwer Wolff, born this day in 1937, is an American author of children's literature.   Her award-winning series Make Lemonade features a 14-year-old girl named LaVaughn, who babysits for the children of a 17-year-old single mother.  True Believer, the second in the three-book series (they’re not really a trilogy), won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.   

Wolff said she uses her own teenage years as the foundation for her writing.  “The teenage years are the years to examine faith - the need to be independent and the need to be anchored,” she said. “It’s a time to ask, ‘Who made all this? And what do I have to do with it?’”

She does her creative writing slowly.  “No one writes as slowly as I do, I'm convinced,” she said.  “It's so hard for me. I learn slowly; I make decisions at a snail's pace.”  
                                     “I work early in the morning,” she noted, “before my nasty critic gets up - he rises about noon. By,  then I've put in much of a day's work.”

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Special Kind Of Library

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges

Born in Argentina on Aug. 24, 1899, Borges has been called one of the 20th Century’s most important writers and perhaps the most important figure in Spanish-language literature since Cervantes.  While he wrote numerous short stories and essays, he once said he most loved poetry.  He wrote his first poems as a boy, published his first book of poems (of many) at age 23, and continued writing poetry right up to his death in 1986.   Since then several “Best Of” or “Collections From” his works also have appeared.  
                                         For Saturday's Poem, from the collection Poems of the Night, here is Borges’

The Forging

Like the blind man whose hands are precursors
that push aside walls and glimpse heavens
slowly, flustered, I feel
in the crack of night
the verses that are to come.
I must burn the abominable darkness
in their limpid bonfire:
the purple of words
on the flagellated shoulder of time.
I must enclose the tears of evening
in the hard diamond of the poem.
No matter if the soul
walks naked and lonely as the wind
if the universe of a glorious kiss
still embraces my life.
The night is good fertile ground
for a sower of verses.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Storytelling Extraordinaire

“Writing is a passion I have never understood, yet a storyteller is all I ever wanted to be.” – Ruth Park

Born in New Zealand on this date in 1917, Park dived into her passion early, starting writing as a freelance journalist while still in her teens and eventually moving on to a full-time job as a newspaper reporter in Australia.  Her writing there caught the eye of a radio producer who enticed her into writing for an on-going children’s radio serial called The Wide-awake Bunyip.  By the early 1950s she had made it her own and under the title The Muddle-Headed Wombat it continued to be aired until 1970.  Ultimately it also provided her with a series of a dozen highly acclaimed children’s books.  In 2008, 2 years before her death, she was awarded Australia’s prestigious Dromkeen Medal for her lifetime contributions to children’s literature.

But it was her first of her 9 novels, The Harp in the South, a story of Irish slum life in Sydney, that earned her worldwide acclaim, even though it was highly controversial because of its candor and graphic depictions.  Translated into 37 languages, the book has never been out of print, won many awards, and sold millions.  The book and its sequel, Poor Man’s Orange, were also made into Australian TV mini-series and BBC movies.   
“The world is full of novels in which characters simply say and do,” Park said.  “There are certainly legitimate genres in which this is sufficient. But in real and lasting writing the character IS.”

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

How To Open A Writing Door

“Generally, if you preface an interview request with, 'I'm an author writing a book,' for some reason, that seems to open a lot of doors.” – James Rollins

James Paul Czajkowski, who writes under the name James Rollins, was born in Chicago in August 1961.  After studying veterinary medicine and working as a veterinarian in California, he caught the writing bug, switched careers and never looked back, although he said he enjoyed the veterinary profession.   Primarily a writer of action-adventure/thrillers, mysteries, and techno-thrillers he also writes fantasies and short stories under a second pen name, James Clemens. 
                                            An amateur spelunker and a certified scuba diver, Rollins often sets his stories in either underground or underwater locations, his best-known books being Subterranean, Excavation and Sandstorm, the first in his multiple-book, wildly successful “Sigma Force” series.   A prolific author, he produces 2 to 3 titles annually and says he never seems to lack for material.

“Whenever I start a novel,” he said,  “I'm always looking for two things: a bit of science that makes me go 'what if?' and a piece of history that ends in a question mark.”

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Just Trust The Writing Process

“For several decades, I believed it was necessary to be extraordinary if you wanted to write, and since I wasn't, I gave up my ambition and settled down to a life of reading.” – Diane Setterfield
Like most writers, Setterfield’s enjoyment of reading eventually led her to the keyboard and success in the writing field.  Born on this date in 1964, Setterfield is a British author whose 2006 debut novel The Thirteenth Tale became a New York Times No. 1 best-seller and well-received BBC Television film.  To date it has been published in 38 countries and sold over 3 million copies.   Her newest novel, Once Upon A River, is scheduled for early 2019.
       A native of Oxford, she studied and then taught French literature for a number of years before trying her hand at writing, keeping a diary along the way.  She said that habit not only got her into a daily writing mode but also has provided grist for her writing mill.    

“You have to relax, write what you write,” she said as her advice to aspiring writers.  “It sounds easy but it's really, really hard. One of the things it took me longest to learn was to trust the writing process.”

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Vision 'Blooming Off The Page'

Writing is.... being able to take something whole and fiercely alive that exists inside you in some unknowable combination of thought, feeling, physicality, and spirit, and to then store it like a genie in tense, tiny black symbols on a calm white page. If the wrong reader comes across the words, they will remain just words. But for the right readers, your vision blooms off the page and is absorbed into their minds like smoke, where it will re-form, whole and alive, fully adapted to its new environment.” – Mary Gaitskill

Born in Kentucky in 1954, Gaitskill has authored several novels and numerous essays and short stories that have appeared in places like The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Esquire, The Best American Short Stories (1993 and 2006), and The O. Henry Prize Stories (1998).   A collection of her essays, Somebody With A Little Hammer, was published in 2017.

She chose writing as her career at age 18 because she was "indignant about things—it was the typical teenage sense of 'things are wrong in the world and I must say something.’”    Her fiction typically is about female characters dealing with their own inner conflicts.  And while her characters are often controversial, her writing style has won her many awards.

She said she’s always strived to write like the life that she’s lived.   “My ambition was to live like music.”

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

No Age Limits On Creativity

“Through my writing, I have made new friends and continued to learn about this world of ours in all its wonder, with all its challenges.” – Sonia Levitin
Sonia Levitin, a German American novelist, artist, producer, Holocaust survivor, and author of plays, essays and over 40 novels and picture books for young adults and children was born in August 1934 and started writing in elementary school.  Among her best known works are Adam's War, Journey To America, and Who Owns The Moon.
Her semi-autobiographical works have a somewhat common theme of courageous main characters who are faced with difficult challenges and who must "take charge" in order to overcome them.  “I’ve come to realize I am always writing my own life story, blending personal experience with research and, of course, imagination...I write for young people because I remember my own youth so well.” 
While writing is her forte' (she has won many major awards including The Edgar Allen Poe and American Library Association Award for Young Adult Literature) she has recently unveiled a new creative talent – as a painter.      Her expressionist paintings have earned great critical acclaim and at age 84 she continues to show that creativity has no age limits, on either end of the spectrum.  
“When I was only eleven years old, I decided to become a writer,” she said.   “I told this ambition in a letter to Laura Ingalls Wilder, (and) the die was cast.  How could I go back on my word?”   And she never did.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Catching That Good 'Butterfly' Air

“How to Write a Poem?  Catch the air around the butterfly.”
– Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Stoykova-Klemer’s poems have appeared in publications throughout the U.S. and Europe, including The Louisville Review, Margie, Adirondack Review and others.   The leader of a poetry group in Lexington, KY, she also hosts “Accents,” a radio show for literature, art and culture on WRFL Radio in Lexington.  And she operates the independent Accents Publishing “for brilliant voices” locally, nationally and internationally.

A native of Bulgaria, she holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University in Louisville.      For Saturday’s Poem, here’s Stoykova-Klemer’s,

The Most

Last Resort.
We meet at last,
Plan Z.
I’ve heard a lot about you,
Worst Case Scenario.

I look forward to
working with you,

It’s going to be you and I now.
Do you feel lucky to end up with me?
Hey, it’s okay.

After the initial shock
wears off,
you too,
will try to make
the most of me.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Literature That Speaks To Everyone

“Literature speaks with everyone individually - it is personal property that stays inside our heads. And nothing speaks to us as forcefully as a book, which expects nothing in return other than that we think and feel.” – Herta Müller

A Romanian-born German novelist, poet, essayist and recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature, Müller was born on this date in 1953.   Since the early 1990s she has been internationally established, and her works have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Many of Müller's literary works address an individual's vulnerability under oppression and persecution, rooted in her experiences as one of Romania's German-speaking ethnic minority under the brutal dictator Ceaușescu.      Perhaps best-known among her many novels are The Passport and The Hunger Angel, along with several best-selling books of poetry and an award-winning book of essays, Hunger and Silk.

“I write in order to bear witness to life,” she said.  “What can't be said can be written. Because writing is a silent act, a labor from the head to the hand.”

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

In Love With Writing

“Life can't defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death.” – Edna Ferber

Born this day in 1885, Edna Ferber was a novelist, short story writer and playwright, whose novels were wildly popular and won her a remarkable four Pulitzer Prizes – for So Big, Show Boat, Cimarron and Giant, the latter three also made into award-winning movies.  Show Boat also was adapted for the stage as a Broadway musical and Cimarron won the Academy Award for Best Picture. 
Ferber's novels generally featured strong female protagonists, along with a rich and diverse collection of supporting characters. She usually highlighted at least one strong secondary character who faced discrimination ethnically or for other reasons, demonstrating her belief that people are people and that the not-so-pretty people have the best character.

“I like to look at all sides of people and be open to any idea,” she said.  “A closed mind is a dying mind.”

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