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From The Writer’s Almanac

It’s the birthday of the writer who said, “My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.” Thornton Wilder (books by this author), born in Madison, Wisconsin (1897). His father was a diplomat, so Wilder and his four brothers and sisters moved back and forth between Asia and the United States. His parents were supportive, but sometimes overbearing. They dictated what Wilder did with his time, and made him work on farms in the summer so that he would be more well-rounded. They decided where he would go to college: to Oberlin, in Ohio, and then to Yale.

After some time in Rome, Wilder got a job teaching French at a boys’ boarding school. In 1926, Wilder spent the summer at MacDowell Colony, a writers’ retreat in New Hampshire, and he started work on his second novel. It was set in the Spanish colonial era of the 18th century — the story of a bridge that collapses in Lima, Peru, while five people are crossing it. The collapse is witnessed by a Franciscan friar, who becomes obsessed by the tragedy and tries to figure out why those five people had to die. Wilder finished it less than a year later and sent it off to his publisher, who almost turned it down, complaining that it was written “for a small over-cultivated circle of readers.” But when The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927) was published, it was an immediate success. It won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize, and by that time, it had sold nearly 300,000 copies and been through 17 printings.

Wilder earned enough from The Bridge of San Luis Rey to quit his job and build a house for himself, his parents, and his sisters in Hamden, Connecticut. He called it “the house the bridge built.” That house was his official residence for the rest of his life.

In 1962, Wilder was 65 years old, a famous writer. He was best known for his plays, like his Pulitzer-winning Our Town (1938) and The Matchmaker (1955), which was adapted into the musicalHello, Dolly!. He had not written a novel for almost 20 years. He was tired of being in the limelight, and he wanted to escape his comfortable life in Connecticut, so Wilder got in his Thunderbird convertible and headed southwest. The car broke down just outside of Douglas, Arizona, a town on the Mexican border, and that’s where Wilder stayed for a year and a half. He was happy to be somewhere where nobody knew much about him or his writing. He rented an apartment with one bed for himself and one for all his papers. During the days he wrote, read, and took walks, and in the evenings he hung around the bar asking questions — so many questions that everyone called him “Doc” or “Professor.” When he left Douglas at the end of 1963, he had a good start on a novel. In 1967 he published it as The Eighth Day, and it won a National Book Award.

He said, “There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head.”

And: “The test of an adventure is that when you’re in the middle of it, you say to yourself, ‘Oh, now I’ve got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home.’ And the sign that something’s wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure.”

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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in American Lit, writers, Writers' Almanac

 

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From the Writer’s Almanac

zolaIt’s the birthday of of writer Émile Zola (books by this author), born in Paris in 1840. His father was an Italian engineer, and he died when Émile was seven, leaving the family to get by on a small pension. Émile’s mother hoped he would become a lawyer, but he failed the qualifying examination, and so he took a series of clerical jobs. He also wrote literary and art reviews for newspapers.

In his early career, Zola generally followed the Romantic Movement in literature, but he later began a writing style he dubbed naturalism, for which he is best known. He defined naturalism as “nature seen through a temperament” and was inspired by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1839) to apply scientific principles of observation to the craft of fiction. Between 1871 and 1893, he wrote a 20-novel series called Les Rougon-Macquart about different members of the same fictional family during France’s Second Empire. He wrote of this project: “I want to portray, at the outset of a century of liberty and truth, a family that cannot restrain itself in its rush to possess all the good things that progress is making available and is derailed by its own momentum, the fatal convulsions that accompany the birth of a new world.” The most famous books from the cycle are The Drunkard (1877), Nana (1880), and Germinal (1885).

He was also involved in the famous Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongfully accused of passing military secrets to Germany and imprisoned on Devil’s Island. Evidence later came out that strongly implicated another man, but the evidence was suppressed to protect the original verdict. Zola published an open letter on January 13, 1898, entitled J’Accuse…!, on the front page of Paris daily L’Aurore. In it he accused the French army of obstruction of justice and anti-Semitism. He was convicted of criminal libel on February 7, but fled to England before he could be imprisoned, wearing only the clothes on his back. The following year, the government offered him a pardon, which he accepted, even though doing so implied that he was guilty. He was finally exonerated of all charges in 1906, four years after his accidental death of carbon monoxide poisoning from a stopped-up chimney.

I want to read Émile Zola’s A Lady’s Paradise.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in writers, Writers' Almanac

 

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John Green on the Boston Marathon Bombing

John Green comments on Flags and Helpers in light of the bombing.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in writers, YA

 

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Good Stories: What Christian Writers Can Offer

Yep, Barabara Nicolosi, founder of Act One and professional screenwriter, is right. I agree that we need to work and think really hard to offer the world the sort of stories Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Françoise Mauriac, Dostoevsky and Victor Hugo offered. But it would be worth it.

This weekend I finish my library class and start writing in earnest. Promise.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2013 in book lovers, Christianity, classic, Nobel Prize, Spirituality, Theology, writers

 

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From the Writer’s Almanac

Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the birthday of poet Theodore Roethke (books by this author), born in Saginaw, Michigan (1908). His father, Otto, and his uncle Charles ran a floral company that their own father had started. The brothers had large greenhouses in their backyards, and young Theodore spent his days weeding and harvesting moss for floral baskets. Many years later, he wrote to a friend: “The greenhouse — my symbol for the whole of life, a womb, a heaven-on-earth.”

Roethke graduated from high school and college and went on to graduate school at Harvard. He had always loved to write, and now he started writing poetry. One night while walking through Harvard yard, he spotted a respected professor and approached him with his work. The professor invited Roethke to his office the next day, and after reading his poems, exclaimed, “Any editor who wouldn’t buy this is a fool!” Roethke was overwhelmed: “I felt I had come to the end […] of a trail. I had learned how to get high grades, but that seemed meaningless. Now I didn’t have to go into advertising […] or the law. I wasn’t just a spoiled sad snob. I could write and people I respected printed the stuff.”

The Great Depression took its toll, and Roethke dropped out of Harvard to teach at Lafayette College, and finally the University of Washington. In recommending him for the University of Washington, the president of Bennington wrote: “He is an extremely complex, temperamental and somewhat eccentric person. If the University of Washington can take his eccentric personality, it will acquire one of the best teachers I have ever seen.”

Roethke was a big man, 225 pounds. He was fascinated by gangsters, and he even talked like one — he had a deep voice, a growl. He was manic-depressive, and he often drank too much. He wore fur coats and drove big cars. As a teacher, he was persuasive and emotional. When he wanted his students to write a description of a physical action, he told them to describe what he was about to do, then climbed out the window onto a narrow ledge and inched his way around the whole classroom, making faces at every window. He insisted students memorize poems so that they would have something to call on when they were going through a tough period in life. He continued teaching throughout his career.

His books of poetry include The Lost Son and Other Poems (1948), The Waking (1953), and The Far Field (1964).

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in American Lit, poetry, writers, Writers' Almanac

 

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I Made It!

I finished the 100 pages for Script Frenzy 2012. Yep, 100 pages done.

It got me to find time for writing. But as I always say frenzy is the key word.

I’ll be the first to say that it’s a very rough piece.

As of today, 16,147 writers have written 244002 pages.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2012 in writers

 

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From The Writer’s Almanac

Old washing machine in Bunratty, Ireland

Old washing machine in Bunratty, Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Beware!

I can’t fathom someone railing against refrigeration or washing machines. I get the preference for fresh food, but what about dairy? Must we get milk and cheese daily?

Today is the birthday of the poet R.S. Thomas, born Ronald Stuart Thomas in Cardiff, Wales (1913). Most of his poems were about the Welsh landscape and its people. He was an Anglican clergyman, as well as a poet, until 1978, when he retired and devoted himself to the cause of Welsh nationalism. He often grew frustrated with his fellow countrymen, though, blaming them for letting their culture fade away into history. In his poem “Welsh Landscape,” he called them “an impotent people, sick with inbreeding / worrying the carcass of an old song.” He didn’t learn the Welsh language until he was 30, and though he wrote his poetry in English, he wrote his autobiography in Welsh. He called it Neb (1985), meaning “nobody.”

He was a Luddite, viewing modern conveniences as distractions that cause us to neglect our spiritual health. He and his wife Elsi lived in a small and almost primitive stone cottage for much of their marriage, and their son, Gwydion, remembered his father preaching against the evils of the refrigerator and the washing machine from his pulpit. His poems were as austere as his lifestyle, and he once wrote: “A recurring ideal, I find, is that of simplicity. At times there comes the desire to write with great precision and clarity, words so simple and moving that they bring tears to the eyes.”

That must have been some church. Was using a washing machine sinful? Or just dirty?

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in World Lit, writers, Writers' Almanac

 

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