‘The story really wants to defeat you. You have to be more mulish than the story’ | Writer’s Almanac

It’s the birthday of the novelist Khaled Hosseini (books by this author), born in Kabul, Afghanistan (1965).

Khaled Hosseini said: “There is a romantic notion to writing a novel, especially when you are starting it. You are embarking on this incredibly exciting journey, and you’re going to write your first novel, you’re going to write a book. Until you’re about 50 pages into it, and that romance wears off, and then you’re left with a very stark reality of having to write the rest of this thing […] A lot of 50-page unfinished novels are sitting in a lot of drawers across this country. Well, what it takes at that point is discipline […] You have to be more stubborn than the manuscript, and you have to punch in and punch out every day, regardless of whether it’s going well, regardless of whether it’s going badly […] It’s largely an act of perseverance […] The story really wants to defeat you, and you just have to be more mulish than the story.”

Source: The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Three of my favorite writers’ birthdays are today: Seuss, Irving and Wolfe.

Today is the birthday of three of my favorite writers: Writer and illustrator Dr. Seuss (born Theodor Seuss Geisel) , writer John Irving, and 20th century writer and cultural anthropologist Tom Wolfe.

In the fall of 1936, Geisel was coming home from Europe, stuck below deck during a long rainy stretch. He started making up words to fit the rhythm of the ship’s engine, and the poem he composed in his head became his first children’s book: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937). His manuscript was rejected more than 20 times; editors disliked the fantasy, the exuberant language, and the lack of clear morals. One day, after receiving yet another rejection, he finally decided to give up and burn his manuscript. He was thinking about this as he walked down Madison Avenue in New York, when he bumped into an old classmate from Dartmouth, who had recently become a children’s book editor for Vanguard Press. After hearing his story, the classmate took Geisel back to his office and introduced him to some executives, and it wasn’t long before he had a book deal. He said later: “If I had been walking down the other side of Madison Avenue, I’d be in the dry-cleaning business today.”

John Irving keeps a practiced routine when he writes. He sits at an L-shaped desk surrounded by notepads and notebooks and writes his books by hand before typing them. “I have lots of notebooks around, because one great advantage of writing by hand — in addition to how much it slows you down — is that it makes me write at the speed that I feel I should be composing, rather than faster than I can think, which is what happens to me on any keyboard.”

Irving’s most recent book is Avenue of Mysteries (2015).

He said, “If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”

And while Wolfe had a Ph.D. he decided to be a newspaper reporter. Then, in the early 1960s, there was a newspaper strike in New York City, and the paper he worked for was affected. He was out of a job for a while, and he decided to pitch an idea to Esquire magazine for a story about the hot-rod car culture around Southern California.

The editor agreed, and Wolfe went out to L.A., hung around car shows, drag races, and demolition derbies, and ran up a $750 bill at a Beverly Hills hotel. He’d taken lots and lots of notes, but he couldn’t figure out what the story should be or how to write it up — not even by the night before his magazine deadline. The editor told him to type up his notes, send them, and he’d go ahead and put together the story. Wolfe sat at his typewriter and banged out a letter to his editor with his ideas and observations. His editor liked it so much that he just removed the salutation (“Dear Byron”) at the top and published Wolfe’s notes as a feature article. The story was a huge hit and became the title piece in Wolfe’s first published book, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965).

Read a lot more about these writers here: at The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Overseas jobs online now!

A character in a story I’m working on is surprised at the online availability of jobs in Afghanistan ::::

…. you could literally find a job in Afghanistan online, from the Army’s Civil Logistics Augmentation Program, which sounded like a rational way to contribute to society — or the destruction of one — to truck drivers where employment may be located in “potentially dangerous areas, including combat or war zones,” and where threats to your life could be from “dangerous forces or friendly fire,” and, in case they’re not killed, candidates need to “work well with others, customers and all levels of management.” Or you can become a “final evaluation consultant” for a human rights organization that calls themselves a “movement working to further human rights for all and defeat poverty.”

Many of the jobs can be applied for right from a smart phone, the good thing being that with Google’s locator services, paid for only by the ads they sell (sure, okay, I believe that) they know a lot about you before you even submit your application – they know you’re interested before you even apply because they know you’ve been looking, and they know where they will have to fly you in from.”

Hemingway’s Advice on Writing, Ambition, the Art of Revision, and His Reading List of Essential Books for Aspiring Writers

By Maria Popova

“As a writer you should not judge. You should understand,” Ernest Hemingway (July 21, 1899–July 2, 1961) counseled in his 1935 Esquire compendium of writing advice, addressed to an archetypal young correspondent but based on a real-life encounter that had taken place a year earlier.

In 1934, a 22-year-old aspiring writer named Arnold Samuelson set out to meet his literary hero, hoping to steal a few moments with Hemingway to talk about writing. The son of Norwegian immigrant wheat farmers, he had just completed his coursework in journalism at the University of Minnesota, but had refused to pay the $5 diploma fee. Convinced that his literary education would be best served by apprenticing himself to Hemingway, however briefly, he hitchhiked atop a coal car from Minnesota to Key West. “It seemed a damn fool thing to do,” Samuelson later recalled, “but a twenty-two-year-old tramp during the Great Depression didn’t have to have much reason for what he did.” Unreasonable though the quest may have been, he ended up staying with Hemingway for almost an entire year, over the course of which he became the literary titan’s only true protégé.

Source: Hemingway’s Advice on Writing, Ambition, the Art of Revision, and His Reading List of Essential Books for Aspiring Writers – Brain Pickings

It’s the birthday of poet Sharon Olds | Writer’s Almanac

It’s the birthday of poet Sharon Olds (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1942). When she was eight years old, her teacher asked the students to write poems, and Olds handed in a poem she had read in the post office, which began: “Neither wind nor rain nor gloom nor dark of night …” When the teacher demanded to know whether she has written it, she explained that of course she had, because it was in her handwriting. It was the first time she realized that writing a poem meant actually making it up, not just writing it down. She said: “My early influences for good writing were the Psalms, and for bad writing were the Hymns. Four beats, the quatrains, that form. […] I didn’t know until I was 55 that my craft was the craft of the Hymns I had grown up singing. I was writing in a way that felt comfortable to me.”

Source: The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Happy Birthday Kurt Vonnegut | The Writer’s Almanac

It’s the birthday of a writer who was also a veteran (11/11 is Veteran’s Day in the United States, which honors Americans who have served their country in the armed forces) Kurt Vonnegut (books by this author), born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on this day in 1922. He’s the author of Slaughterhouse Five (1969), Cat’s Cradle (1963), Breakfast of Champions (1973), and Timequake (1997).

vonnegutHe said that as the youngest child he was always desperate to get some attention at the supper table and so he worked hard to be funny. He’d listen studiously to comedians on the radio, and how they made jokes, and then at family dinner time, he’d try to imitate them. He later said, “That’s what my books are, now that I’m a grownup — mosaics of jokes.”

All his life he loved slapstick humor. He told an interviewer that one of the funniest things that can happen in a film is “when somebody in a movie would tell everybody off, and then make a grand exit into the coat closet. He had to come out again, of course, all tangled in coat hangers and scarves.” When he was on the faculty at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he told his students that they were there learning to play practical jokes. He said, “All the great story lines are great practical jokes that people fall for over and over again.”

Source: The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Maya Angelou Stamp Quote Actually Came From Connecticut Children’s Book Author Joan Walsh Anglund

A picture of part of one of the new Maya Angelou stamp sheets that were issues Tuesday, April 7, 2015. (photo: cjzurcher)
A picture of part of one of the new Maya Angelou stamp sheets that were issues Tuesday, April 7, 2015. (photo: cjzurcher)

The news that the U.S. Postal Service was honoring Maya Angelou, poet, author and civil rights advocate, with her own forever stamp was welcomed by her fans. Angelou, who died last year, was a cultural icon and mother figure to a generation of writers.

Jabari Asim, associate professor of writing, literature and publishing at Emerson College in Boston, was excited. Until he read the quote on the Angelou stamp:

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Funny thing, he had always thought the quote came from Joan Walsh Anglund, the prolific children’s book author from Connecticut.

via Maya Angelou Stamp Quote Actually Came From Connecticut Children’s Book Author – Hartford Courant.

A reading from ‘Prime Green’ by Robert Stone on video | Narrative Magazine

Long before Robert Stone became a National Book Award–winning novelist, he tried selling encyclopedias in rural Louisiana, only to be arrested on suspicion of being an outside agitator. Regrouping from that calamity, he pondered joining a traveling theatrical troupe putting on a Christ play. In March 2009, at our Narrative Night in San Francisco, Bob gave a hilarious and moving reading of youthful tales, included in his memoir Prime Green.

Prime Green by Robert Stone | Narrative Magazine.

Lists :: 1. Because they’re simple. 2. Because they’re playful. 3. Because they work. | Beyond The Margins

Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing:

“[My] lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.”

And in The Paris Review:

“So all of this is in your mind as a fabulous mulch and you have to bring it out. How do you do that? I did it by making lists of nouns and then asking, What does each noun mean? You can go and make up your own list right now and it would be different than mine. The night. The crickets. The train whistle. The basement. The attic. The tennis shoes. The fireworks. All these things are very personal. Then, when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word?”

via 1. Because they’re simple. 2. Because they’re playful. 3. Because they work. | Beyond The Margins.

Stephen King: ‘Religion is a dangerous tool … but I choose to believe God exists’ | The Guardian

Stephen King. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/Getty Images
Stephen King. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/Getty Images

Stephen King, whose forthcoming novel Revival features a Methodist minister who condemns his faith after a horrific accident, has described organised religion as “a very dangerous tool that’s been misused by a lot of people.”

In a rare and lengthy question and answer session published in the print edition of Rolling Stone, King laid out how he “grew up in a Methodist church,” but how he “had doubts” about organized religion ever since he was a child, and how “once I got through high school, that was it for me.”

Nevertheless, said the bestselling novelist, he chooses to believe in God “because it makes things better. You have a meditation point, a source of strength.” He told Rolling Stone: “I choose to believe that God exists, and therefore I can say, ‘God, I can’t do this by myself. Help me not to take a drink today. Help me not to take a drug today.’ And that works fine for me.”

For more on this story, visit: Stephen King: ‘Religion is a dangerous tool … but I choose to believe God exists’ | Books | The Guardian.

bleeding heart

flog me into submission you daily beast of ambition
beating your head against the concrete wall
of emails, text messages and phone calls.
my bleeding heart is no match for the blood you make run
from my forehead, my chewed hang nails, my nose, my heart,
my gums.

why don’t you take it out and show it to me in a broadcast not of beauty but of what’s happening in Africa or the Middle East? bleeding heart.

make me sick again and again with human rights abuses and corporate greed that pollutes the water that quenches the thirst of hundreds of millions of people, you beast, bleeding heart

quenches the thirst of you and me, our children and theirs. bleeding heart.

tell me it’s all in the name of nutrition, flavor, price savings and clean water and air – it’s cheap after all.

it’s cheap when we pick it up at the supermarket stocked with aisles and aisles and aisles and aisles and aisles
in which we lose ourselves among endless varieties of poison,
a disease-making cauldron packaged as a fruitopia eutopia

my kid screams when he sees the labels of the things he wants, squeaks with feigned happiness and glee

my kid screams when he holds the plastic that killed someone in its being made and will kill someone else in its disposal.

my phone rings. I pick it up and hand it to him.
he squeals again.
It’s his mother.

He walks on the street not on the sidewalk, swats at the fly and says “stupid fucking fly.”

Walden Pond, Massachusetts

by Christopher Zurcher

It is cloudy, warm and getting late, sky growing darker
As we return from somewhere north of Connecticut.
A walk around the idyllic Walden Pond
My only regret – leaving my camera in the car.
Frisbee players and swimmers, gleeful children
walden-pondGracing the public beach.
A bullfrog croaks in the marsh
As we meander, letting walkers and runners
Pass us on the narrow trail.
Resting occasionally on the rocks, exchanging kisses.
The cool, smooth, dark water calls us
To join others treading water, swimming the length of the pond.
We turn a corner in the path.
A cairn of round stones stacked and delicately balanced
In the mud at the side of the pond.
Seems to mark the half-way point, the far end of the pond where we are.
For me it is an apex of sheer delight in the beauty of this walk we have shared.
The sun comes out from behind the clouds
Slivers of sunshine cut their way through the trees
Lighting the rest of our way.
As beyond complete as this walk was,
I still feel the need to return another warm day to swim.

Winsted: Northwestern prepares for Mad River Literary Festival April 8-9

Northwestern Connecticut Community College’s 18th annual Mad River Literary Festival will be held in Founders Hall Auditorium on its campus in Winsted on Tuesday, April 8 and Wednesday, April 9.


The Mad River Writers (NCCC students & community writers) will open the festivities with a reading on Tuesday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m. They will be followed by Poet Jason Koo who will read at 7:45 p.m.


On Wednesday, April 9 at 6:30 p.m., poets John Stanizzi, Dennis Barone, and Lisken Van Pelt Dus will read. Their reading will be followed by a question and answer panel with the three poets. The question and answer panel will be followed by a book signing and reception.

via Winsted: Northwestern prepares for Mad River Literary Festival April 8-9.

Rise and shine: the daily routines of history’s most creative minds

Ayn Rand took Benzedrine. Photograph: New York Times Co/Getty Images

The one true lesson of the book, says its author, Mason Currey, is that “there’s no one way to get things done”. For every Joyce Carol Oates, industriously plugging away from 8am to 1pm and again from 4pm to 7pm, or Anthony Trollope, timing himself typing 250 words per quarter-hour, there’s a Sylvia Plath, unable to stick to a schedule. Or a Friedrich Schiller, who could only write in the presence of the smell of rotting apples. Still, some patterns do emerge. Here, then, are six lessons from history’s most creative minds.

via Rise and shine: the daily routines of history’s most creative minds | Science | The Guardian.

Hemingway revealed as failed KGB spy | guardian.co.uk

Up till now, this has been a notably cheerful year for admirers of Ernest Hemingway – a surprisingly diverse set of people who range from Michael Palin to Elmore Leonard. Almost every month has brought good news: a planned Hemingway biopic; a new, improved version of his memoir, A Moveable Feast; the opening of a digital archive of papers found in his Cuban home; progress on a movie of Islands in the Stream.

Last week, however, saw the publication of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America Yale University Press, which reveals the Nobel prize-winning novelist was for a while on the KGB’s list of its agents in America. Co-written by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, the book is based on notes that Vassiliev, a former KGB officer, made when he was given access in the 90s to Stalin-era intelligence archives in Moscow.

For more on this story, visit: Hemingway revealed as failed KGB spy | Books | guardian.co.uk.

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