This Day In Writing History
On August 1st, 1949, the legendary American writer and musician Jim Carroll was born in New York City. Born to an Irish Catholic family, he grew up on the Lower East Side. When he was fifteen, his family moved to Manhattan.
In 1961, at the age of twelve, Carroll began keeping the diaries that would make him famous. His two passions were basketball and writing. He excelled at basketball.
Carroll became a star basketball player for Trinity School, an elite Catholic High School. While there, his talent led him to play in the 1966 National High School All Star Game.
Carroll's coach and teammates didn't know that he was living a secret double life as a heroin addicted poet. He first tried heroin at the age of thirteen. He financed his habit by hustling and prostituting himself.
In 1967, while he was still in high school, Carroll's first poetry collection was published. Organic Trains got him noticed by the literary world, and very soon, his work was being published in prestigious literary magazines such as The Paris Review and Poetry.
After his second poetry collection, 4 Ups and 1 Down was published in 1970, Jim Carroll began working for legendary artist Andy Warhol as a screenwriter, writing dialogue and creating character names for Warhol's films.
Also during the 1970s, Carroll published his third poetry collection, Living at the Movies (1973) and his most famous book, The Basketball Diaries (1978).
The Basketball Diaries was a collection of excerpts from the diaries he kept as an adolescent, covering his high school basketball career, his nightmarish heroin addiction, and his passion for writing.
Considered one of the last great works of Beat literature, The Basketball Diaries painted a stark and vivid portrait of the hard drug culture of early 1960s New York City. It would be adapted as an acclaimed and controversial feature film in 1995.
The film, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Jim Carroll, sparked controversy due to a scene where Carroll fantasizes about gunning down his classmates at school.
In 1997, a mentally ill 14-year-old boy named Michael Carneal opened fire on students at Heath High School, killing three and injuring five more. The Basketball Diaries was one of Corneal's favorite movies.
Three of the victims' families filed multi-million dollar lawsuits against the movie studios who distributed The Basketball Diaries and the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers, and the producers of violent video games.
Their lawyer, Jack Thompson, claimed that violent movies, violent video games, and Internet pornography inspired Carneal to go on a rampage. The lawsuits were thrown out and Thompson was later disbarred for unethical conduct, including perjury.
It was this same case that made Stephen King decide to pull his novel Rage (1977) out of print. Michael Carneal was found to have had a copy of Rage - which was about a mentally ill high school student who guns down two teachers and takes his classmates hostage - in his locker.
After the publication of The Basketball Diaries in 1978, Jim Carroll, having finally kicked his heroin habit for good, moved to California to make a fresh start.
There, with encouragement from his old friend and former roommate, legendary rocker and poet Patti Smith, Carroll formed a punk rock group called The Jim Carroll Band. Their debut album, Catholic Boy, was released in 1980.
Catholic Boy, which hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #73, featured the single People Who Died, which appeared in the 1985 feature film, Tuff Turf. The band also had a cameo appearance in the film.
The Jim Carroll Band would release several more albums, the last being an EP called Runaway (2000). As a songwriter, Carroll would collaborate with such famous artists as Lou Reed, Boz Scaggs, the Blue Oyster Cult, ELO, and Pearl Jam.
In the 1990s, Carroll became a spoken word performance artist, giving live readings of his works, including his first and only novel The Petting Zoo, which would be published posthumously in 2010.
Jim Carroll died of a heart attack in September of 2009. He was 60 years old.
Quote Of The Day
“Poetry can unleash a terrible fear. I suppose it is the fear of possibilities, too many possibilities, each with its own endless set of variations. It's like looking too closely and too long into a mirror; soon your features distort, then erupt. You look too closely into your poems, or listen too closely to them as they arrive in whispers, and the features inside you - call it heart, call it mind, call it soul - accelerate out of control. They distort and they erupt, and it is one strange pain. You realize, then, that you can't attempt breaking down too many barriers in too short a time, because there are as many horrors waiting to get in at you as there are parts of yourself pushing to break out, and with the same, or more, fevered determination.” - Jim Carroll
Today's video features Jim Carroll giving a spoken word performance in Toronto and being interviewed on Canadian TV in 1989. Enjoy!
Friday, August 1, 2014
Thursday, July 31, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On July 31st, 1965, the legendary Scottish writer J.K. Rowling was born. She was born Joanne Kathleen Rowling in Yate, Gloucestershire, England.
Although her first name is Joanne, she has always been known as Jo. "No one ever called me 'Joanne' when I was young, unless they were angry," she once said.
Around the age of five or six, Rowling began writing fantasy stories, which she read to her younger sister. She enjoyed playing "wizards and witches" with her childhood best friend Ian Potter, who would be the inspiration for her most famous character.
She attended St. Michael's Primary School, whose headmaster was a kind, elderly man named Alfred Dunn. She adored him and would model Harry's mentor and school headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, after him.
When she was a young teenager, Rowling's great aunt, who "taught classics and approved of a thirst for knowledge, even of a questionable kind" gave her a copy of Hons and Rebels, the autobiography of British political activist Jessica Mitford.
Mitford was born into a wealthy, aristocratic family. In the 1930s, her sisters and father were ardent Nazi sympathizers, but Jessica became a devout communist, eloped, and ran away to Spain to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. J.K. Rowling loved her autobiography. Mitford became her heroine and she read all of her books.
Rowling received her college education at the University of Exeter, where she studied French and the classics. University was a "bit of a shock" to her, as she "was expecting to be amongst lots of similar people– thinking radical thoughts."
Once she made some like-minded friends, however, she began to enjoy college. After a year of study in Paris, Rowling returned to London, where she worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International.
Around this time, in 1990, while on a four-hour delayed train trip from Manchester to London, an idea formed in Rowling's mind for a story about a young boy attending a school of wizardry.
She wouldn't act on the idea until a few years later. In 1991, she moved to Porto, Portugal, to teach English as a second language. While there, she met Portuguese TV journalist Jorge Arantes.
She married him the following year and bore him a daughter, Jessica, named after her heroine, Jessica Mitford. Six months after the baby was born, Rowling and her husband separated.
Just over a year after the separation, Rowling moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, to be near her sister. She was diagnosed with clinical depression and contemplated suicide.
Broke and surviving on welfare, Rowling decided to try her hand at writing. She completed her first novel, writing in longhand in cafes and at other locations while out with her daughter, whom she took for walks to get her to sleep.
Later, she typed up her writings on an old manual typewriter. She decided to go back to teaching, but in order to teach in Scotland, she would need a postgraduate certificate of education, which required a year long, full-time course of study.
While studying for her teaching certificate, Rowling tried to get her novel published. After an enthusiastic response from one of their readers, the Christopher Little literary agency agreed to represent J.K. Rowling.
They submitted her novel to twelve different publishing houses, and all of them rejected it, some stating that the novel was unpublishable and would never sell. Finally, a small publishing house in London called Bloomsbury - which was teetering on bankruptcy - decided to take a chance on the book.
This was because Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury's chairman, was thrilled with Rowling's novel. Given the first chapter to review, she quickly the demanded the next. And the next.
J.K. Rowling was paid a 1,500 pound advance by editor Barry Cunningham, but he warned her not to quit her day job, because she had little chance of making money in children's books.
Her novel was published in June of 1997. It was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. It told the story of Harry Potter, an 11-year-old orphan boy being raised by his ignorant, hateful, and abusive aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley.
Forced to live in a staircase closet and tormented by his odious cousin Dudley, Harry's bleak life changes forever when a giant called Hagrid arrives to take him away from his nasty relatives.
Hagrid reveals to Harry the truth about himself, which his aunt and uncle had concealed from him: Harry is a wizard, like his father, James Potter, and his mother Lily - his aunt Petunia's sister - was a witch.
When Harry was a baby, his parents were murdered by the evil dark wizard Lord Voldemort, who tried to kill Harry as well. But Harry miraculously survived, and the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead is the result of his attempted murder.
Harry discovers that there exists a secret world of wizards and witches hidden from the eyes of muggles - people born without magical powers. Hagrid takes him to Diagon Alley, a shopping district in the magical world, where he learns that he has inherited his parents' fortune.
There, Harry buys the books and supplies he'll need for boarding school - the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry - where he will learn to master his magic and become a great wizard.
On the train ride to Hogwarts, Harry meets fellow students Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. The three will soon become inseparable best friends.
At school, Harry meets his teachers, including kindly old headmaster Albus Dumbledore, teacher and Gryffindor house director Minerva McGonagall, and professor Severus Snape, director of the sinister Slytherin house, who may or may not be a "death eater" - a follower of the evil Lord Voldemort.
At the Hogwarts school, the students play a sport called Quidditch - kind of a cross between soccer and polo, the playing field high up in the air, the players riding on broomsticks. Harry takes a liking to the sport and becomes a talented Quidditch player.
As the forces of good and evil in the magical world prepare for war, Harry learns that his ultimate destiny is to face (and hopefully destroy) his parents' murderer, Lord Voldemort, to whom he is psychically linked via his lightning-shaped scar.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is the first is a series of seven Harry Potter novels that follow the boy wizard through his years at Hogwarts, as he prepares for his final showdown with Lord Voldemort.
Meticulously plotted and detail-rich, the novel became a huge bestseller after it was published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
J.K. Rowling has said that if she had been in a better position to do so, she would have fought her American publisher, Scholastic, Inc., to retain the novel's original title for its U.S. publication.
The Harry Potter novels created a literary phenomenon. They not only encouraged millions of children to discover the joy of reading, they also earned millions of adult fans as well, including me. They disproved the long held notion that children's novels must be brief and fast-paced.
Rowling's amazing fantasy novels are full-length and epic in scope. The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, (2003) clocked in at a whopping 750+ pages. She has earned the respect of many of her fellow writers, including horror master Stephen King, who is a huge fan of the series.
There were however, some people who were less than thrilled by the adventures of Harry Potter. Christian fundamentalists around the world attacked Rowling's novels, accusing her of encouraging children to dabble in the occult, including practicing witchcraft and engaging in devil worship.
Rowling dismissed these ridiculous accusations, explaining that magic in her novels is depicted as a talent - a gift one is born with - and not part of a religion. She also noted that she belongs to the Church of Scotland.
Christian fundamentalists still attack her novels. The Catholic Church was mostly divided on the issue, however, Pope Benedictus XVI attacked the Harry Potter novels for their "subtle seductions," for which he was ridiculed and scorned, given the child sexual abuse scandals plaguing the Church.
The former Pope was neither the first nor is he the last person to attack the Harry Potter novels, which reached the top of the American Library Association's list of most banned and challenged books for the years 1999-2001.
The Harry Potter novels made the jump to the big screen in November of 2001, when a feature film version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released.
Like the novel it was based on, the movie became a huge hit. The film version of the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in two parts in 2010 and 2011.
The movie studio, Warner Brothers, claimed there was too much detail in Rowling's last novel for one feature film. That didn't stop them from condensing the 750+ page Order of the Phoenix into one 138-minute movie.
The film's poorly written, threadbare screenplay removed a tremendous amount of important details, including the critical ending scene between Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore. Needless to say, that film was a huge disappointment.
J.K. Rowling said from the beginning that the Harry Potter chronicles were planned to be a seven-novel series. At the end of the last book, there is an epilogue set 19 years in the future.
While some new characters are established, there is no indication that Rowling will continue the series further - though she hasn't ruled it totally out of the question, either.
She has written some companion books, including Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, (2001) Quidditch Through The Ages, and most recently, The Tales Of Beedle The Bard (2007).
When her Harry Potter books first became an international sensation, Rowling expressed interest in writing other novels and she has. Her first non-fantasy novel, The Casual Vacancy, was published in September of 2012.
Geared toward adult readers, it's a scathingly funny black comedy centered around the people and politics of a quaint little English village whose appearance is deceiving, as a Parish Council election results in the spilling of several villagers' dark secrets.
In April of 2013, a detective novel titled The Cuckoo's Calling, written by a new author named Robert Galbraith, was published. According to the book jacket, Galbraith was an ex-RMP (Royal Military Police) investigator - the perfect person to write a detective novel.
It introduced private detective Cormoran Strike, a down-on-his-luck gumshoe. When famous supermodel Lula Landry dies in a fall from her balcony, her death is ruled a suicide. Her brother, John, doesn't buy it and hires Strike, a childhood friend of their late brother Charlie, to investigate.
The Cuckoo's Calling received rave reviews, but sold poorly. When writer and Sunday Times columnist India Knight sent out a tweet praising the novel, someone named Jude Callegari sent a reply tweet claiming that J.K. Rowling was the real author of the book.
Rowling didn't respond. Her circle of literary friends denied she had written The Cuckoo's Calling. So, Richard Brooks, arts editor for the Sunday Times, began an investigation. He sent a copy of the novel to linguistics experts who confirmed that Rowling had in fact written it.
Confronted with the evidence, Rowling's agent was forced to admit that she had written The Cuckoo's Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Many people thought that the mysterious Jude Callegari who had outed the pseudonym was Rowling herself as part of a publicity stunt.
They were wrong. Judith "Jude" Callegari was the best friend of the wife of one of the founding partners of Russells Solicitors, the UK law firm that represented J.K Rowling, who was furious that her pseudonym had been outed. She issued a press release stating the following:
"To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm, and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced."
Rowling explained the reason for her pseudonym by saying, "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."
After Rowling was revealed as the real author of The Cuckoo's Calling, sales of the novel on Amazon jumped 4000%. She decided to continue the Cormoran Strike series, and the second novel was published last month.
The Silkworm finds Strike hired by Leonora Quine, the wife of notorious novelist Owen Quine, who vanished without a trace shortly after the manuscript for his long-awaited second novel, Bombyx Mori, was leaked. Quine's novel, filled with rape, sadomasochism, and cannibalism, was considered unpublishable.
The Harry Potter novels have sold over four hundred million copies combined. The book, movie, and merchandising royalties have made J.K. Rowling, once a broke single mother on welfare, the 12th richest woman in the UK.
Her new found wealth enabled her do a lot of philanthropic work, including raising money to combat poverty, helping single mothers, raising money to benefit multiple sclerosis research, (her mother died of the disease) and helping other causes.
On the day after Christmas, 2001, Rowling married her second husband, Neil Michael Murray, an anesthetist. She bore him two children, a son and a daughter. They live on an estate in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. They also own homes in Edinburgh and Kensington, West London.
Quote Of The Day
"We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better." - J.K. Rowling
Today's video features a recent Australian TV interview with J.K. Rowling, who discusses her post-Harry Potter writing career. Enjoy!
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On July 30th, 1818, the legendary English writer Emily Brontë was born in West Yorkshire, England. Her sisters Charlotte (author of the classic novel Jane Eyre) and Anne were also poets and novelists. Her brother Patrick Branwell Brontë was a poet and painter.
Their father was a poor Irish clergyman, but he did have an impressive collection of classic literature. Emily and her siblings educated themselves by reading all of his books. As children, they created imaginary worlds and filled notebooks with stories about them.
Emily attended Miss Patchett's Ladies Academy at Law Hill School near Halifax, then later, a private school in Brussels. When her sister Charlotte discovered her own talent as a poet, they decided to collaborate on a book of poetry, along with sister Anne.
Due to the prejudice against women writers in the Victorian era, the Brontë sisters, like other female authors, published their poetry under male pseudonyms. Emily took the name Ellis Bell, Charlotte became Currer Bell, and Anne's nom de guerre was Acton Bell.
Their first book, published in 1846, was titled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The following year, Emily Brontë published her classic novel, Wuthering Heights, as Ellis Bell.
Originally published in two volumes, (Anne Brontë later wrote a third volume called Agnes Grey) Wuthering Heights is considered one of the greatest Gothic novels of all time.
It told the unforgettable story of the intensely passionate, yet ultimately doomed love affair between childhood sweethearts Heathcliff and Catherine, soul mates who are ultimately separated by cruelty and snobbery, their unresolved emotions threatening to destroy them.
When it was first published, Wuthering Heights received mixed reviews due to its stark and brutal depictions of mental and physical cruelty. It has since been recognized as one of the all-time classics of English literature.
Unfortunately, Emily Brontë would never write another novel. After her brother died of tuberculosis, Emily contracted the disease herself, a result of a cold she caught during his funeral. She died in December of 1848, at the age of thirty. Her sister Anne died of tuberculosis the following year.
After Emily Brontë's death, her sister Charlotte edited her two volumes of Wuthering Heights into a standalone novel, and republished it under Emily's real name. Charlotte also died young of tuberculosis, or so her death certificate stated.
Some biographers have claimed that she actually died from either typhus or dehydration, as well as malnutrition from excessive vomiting brought on by severe morning sickness.
Although Emily Brontë's life was tragically cut short, her literary legacy lives on. Wuthering Heights continues to inspire readers to this day, and has been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television.
Quote Of The Day
"Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves." - Emily Brontë
Today's video features a reading of the first seven chapters of Emily Brontë's classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Enjoy!
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On July 29th, 1965, the famous Korean-American writer Chang-Rae Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea. When he was three years old, Lee's father moved the family to the United States so he could finish his training and become a psychiatrist. The family moved first to Pittsburgh, then to New York.
As a young Korean-American boy, Chang-Rae Lee struggled to learn English. His parents only spoke to him and his older sister Eunei in Korean, so they could learn to speak English without a Korean accent. In his mind, Chang-Rae found himself trapped between two very different languages.
He didn't speak at all when he entered kindergarten, but by the time he was ten years old, he had become fluent in both languages and served as a translator for his mother, who had even more difficulty learning English.
Chang-Rae Lee's experiences as the son of Korean immigrants would shape his future writing career. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, an exclusive East Coast prep school, then went to Yale. Instead of following the path of most children of Korean immigrants and study medicine or law, Lee majored in English. During college, he began writing fiction.
After graduating, he became an equities analyst for Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, a Wall Street investment bank, while writing part-time. He found his job unfulfilling, so, taking a cue from his old friend and prep school roommate, novelist Brooks Hansen, he quit to become a writer.
Lee's unpublished early novel, Agnew Belittlehead, won him a scholarship and entrance to the creative writing program at the University of Oregon. After graduating in 1993, he was hired as an assistant writing professor by the University. That same year, he married his wife, Michelle Branca. She bore him two daughters.
In 1995, Chang-Rae Lee's first novel, Native Speaker, was published. In Lee's offbeat tale, Henry Park is a young Korean-American man who suffers from identity issues, alienation, and an inability to grieve for his seven-year-old son, who was accidentally killed by his white playmates in a freak mishap. The novel opens with Park's wife, who is also white, leaving him.
In an intriguing twist, Henry Park works as an operative for a shadowy detective agency whose clients hire it to dig up dirt on people. His psychological problems begin to affect his job, so he seeks therapy. Henry suffers from alienation because he was unable to fit in with either his parents' Korean culture or mainstream American culture.
As he struggles to find himself, he asks his employers for a second chance and is assigned to infiltrate the campaign of John Kwang, a popular Korean-American politician and candidate for mayor of New York City - a task made difficult by the fact that Kwang reminds Henry of his father.
Native Speaker earned Chang-Rae Lee both the prestigious PEN / Hemingway Award and the distinction of being the first Korean-American novelist ever published by a major American press. His second novel, A Gesture Life, also dealt with identity and immigrant issues.
The novel, which won Lee the Asian American Literary Award, told the story of Doc Hata, a Korean who served in the Japanese Army during World War II. As a child, he had been adopted by a wealthy Japanese couple.
While serving as a soldier, Hata meets and falls in love with a Korean woman, who, like over 200,000 others, was forced to become a "comfort woman" for Japanese soldiers. After the war, Hata moves to America. A successful businessman, he fits in with his neighbors, but he is unable to connect emotionally with anyone.
He suffers from an identity crisis and is always at odds with his rebellious, mixed-race adopted daughter, Sunny. He adopted her when she was seven. Now a pregnant teenager, Hata forces her to have an abortion, hoping to save her from the failure that his life has become.
Lee's fourth novel, The Surrendered, published in 2010, a gut wrenching antiwar novel, follows three war ravaged characters.
June Han is a young girl who loses her family during the Korean War. Hector Brennan is the psychologically damaged American soldier who brought June to an orphanage, and Sylvie Tanner, the wife of the orphanage's minster, as a young girl witnessed the murder of her parents at the hands of Japanese soldiers in Manchuria.
Chang-Rae Lee's most recent novel, On Such a Full Sea, was published in January of this year. It's a work of dystopic, post apocalyptic science fiction set in a future America where there are only two classes of people: the extremely rich ruling class and the extremely poor working class.
With China so polluted that it's become uninhabitable, a large population of Chinese refugees now lives in America, where, like other working class people, they reside in formerly abandoned cities which have been turned into self-contained labor colonies.
The main character is Fan, a petite young Chinese woman who, like other other members of her class, works to produce food for the elite. She's a fish tank diver. When her boyfriend disappears, Fan embarks on a surreal, philosophical, and poetic quest to find him.
Chang-Rae Lee still teaches creative writing.
Quote Of The Day
"The truth, finally, is who can tell it." - Chang-Rae Lee
Today's video features Chang-Rae Lee discussing his latest novel, On Such a Full Sea. Enjoy!
Monday, July 28, 2014
My short story, “The Upstairs Sister,” published in the Coe Review this year, can now be found on line. I made it to the archives.
Crooked Lines is published! It's available on Amazon. Also, Crooked Lines is featured on Mona Leeson Vanek’s blog.
My historical novel, Flight to the Frontier, is now available at Amazon Ca and Barnes and Noble.
Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons, has been selected as one of the two books of the month for August in the Goodreads, “Modern Good Reads” group.
My story, “Road Trip to Hell,” is up at Roadside Fiction.
Friday, July 25, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On July 25th, 1897, the legendary American writer Jack London set sail from San Francisco to the Canadian Yukon. He was only 21 at the time and accompanied by his much older brother-in-law, James Shepard.
Following the Panic of '93, a precursor to the Great Depression, London found himself among the millions of other young men working grueling, low-paying, dead end jobs. For a time, he became a hobo and drifted from place to place.
When the economy improved a little, he was able to save money for college, but later, new financial difficulties would force him to drop out. He never graduated.
Intrigued by stories of prospectors striking it rich in the Gold Rush, London and James Shepard decided to go to the Canadian Yukon and try their luck.
What they didn't know was that only 30% of the hundred thousand prospectors who made the trip actually reached the Yukon and only four thousand of them managed to find gold.
Shepard mortgaged his home so that he and London could pay their boat fare and buy the supplies they'd need for their prospecting trip. Then they set sail from San Francisco to Juneau, Alaska.
The eight day boat trip was literally smooth sailing all the way. After arriving in Juneau, London and Shepard made an arduous 500-mile trek to Dawson City, the heart of the Gold Rush.
The brutal Arctic winter had just begun in the Canadian Yukon, and like so many other prospectors, London was unprepared for the harsh climate. His food supply inadequate, he suffered from malnutrition, then developed a severe case of scurvy.
With no gold found and little money left, London spent most of his Yukon adventure living in a shelter and medical facility for the poor. His scurvy caused him lose four front teeth and suffer facial scars.
Although he failed to find gold in the Yukon, his experience there enabled him to strike gold with his writings, setting many of them in bleak, harsh, unforgiving landscape of the Yukon.
His classic short story To Build a Fire, published in 1908, told the story of a young prospector in the Yukon. Unprepared for the brutal Arctic winter and with only a stray wolf-dog for companionship, he struggles to build a fire to keep them both warm.
I first read this great story in my advanced reading class in elementary school. I was awestruck by the power of London's words and felt like I was slowly freezing to death along with his protagonist. It made me want to be a writer.
London's most famous novels, also classic adventures set in the Yukon, were The Call of the Wild (1903), and White Fang (1906).
The Call of the Wild told the story of a dog called Buck, a St. Bernard - Scotch shepherd mix who is stolen from a ranch in California, sold, and shipped to Seattle.
There, he's resold to a couple of French Canadians who take him to the Yukon to serve as a sled dog. Buck survives the brutal cruelty of humans, other dogs, and the Arctic winter, and becomes the leader of the sled team.
In White Fang, a wolf-dog hybrid called White Fang is brutalized by humans and raised to be a savage fighting dog. He goes undefeated until a vicious bulldog nearly tears him apart. Left for dead, he is rescued by a kind young prospector who nurses him back to health. But can he be tamed again?
Jack London would publish nearly two dozen novels and nearly two short story collections during his remarkable career. He died of kidney failure at the age of 40, though some believe it may have been from an accidental or intentional overdose of morphine he used to treat the excruciating pain of his kidney stones.
Quote Of The Day
“I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate.” - Jack London
Today's video features a complete reading of Jack London's classic short story, To Build a Fire. Enjoy!
Thursday, July 24, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On July 24th, 1802, the legendary French writer Alexandre Dumas was born in the village of Villers-Cotterets, Aisne, France. He was half-black like his father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a top general in Napoleon's army.
When he publicly criticized Napoleon's military leadership, the emperor accused him of sedition. Thomas-Alexandre resigned from the army in disgust, and the ensuing scandal ruined the Dumas family.
Alexandre Dumas' father died of stomach cancer when he was three years old, and his mother, Marie-Louise, couldn't provide him with much of an education. However, Dumas loved books and read every one he could get his hands on.
That and his mother's stories of his brave father's adventures as a soldier planted the seeds of his future writing career. He dreamed of heroes and high adventure.
When Dumas was 20 years old, he moved to Paris, where he was employed at the Palais Royal in the office of Louis-Phillipe, the Duc D'Orleans and the future and last king of France.
While working in Paris, Dumas began his literary career, writing articles for magazines and co-writing plays for the theater. In 1829, King Henry III and His Court - his first solo play - was produced and became a great success, as did his second play, Christine.
After writing more successful plays, Dumas turned his attention to novels, as the newspapers and literary magazines of the day offered a lucrative market for serialized novels.
In 1838, Dumas' first novel La Capitaine Paul - a novelization of one of his plays - was published. The success of the book led Dumas to create a studio of sorts dedicated to producing short stories and serial novels, where he worked with assistants and other collaborators.
Dumas continued writing non-fiction, and from 1839 to 1841, he compiled an eight-volume collection of essays about famous crimes and criminals in European history called Celebrated Crimes.
During this time, Dumas married actress Marguerite-Josephine Ferrand, known by her stage name, Ida Ferrier. Though he loved Ida, Dumas was a notorious womanizer.
He would father at least four illegitimate children, one of whom, Alexandre Dumas Jr., would become a fine novelist and playwright himself.
In 1844, Dumas published The Three Musketeers - the first in a three-book trilogy, The D'Artagnan Romances. A fourth book, The Son Of Porthos, aka The Death Of Aramis, was published 13 years after Dumas' death; though it bore his name, it was actually written by Paul Mahalin.
In Dumas' classic swashbuckler, a young man named D'Artagnan sets out to join the King's Musketeers. He meets three of them - Athos, Porthos, and Aramis - and ends up being challenged to a duel by each man.
Just as D'Artagnan's duel with Athos is about to begin, the guards of the evil Cardinal Richelieu arrive and threaten to arrest all the men for dueling. Using his skill as a swordsman, D'Artagnan helps the three Musketeers defeat the guards.
The impressed Musketeers befriend D'Artagnan and offer to take him under their wing. Soon, D'Artagnan runs afoul of the vengeful Cardinal and his beautiful but deadly spy, Milady de Winter.
The Three Musketeers was followed by two more novels - Twenty Years After (1845) and The Vicomte de Bragelonne, aka Ten Years Later (1847). It be adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television.
From 1845-46, Alexandre Dumas published, in serial format, what is considered to be his greatest novel, The Count Of Monte Cristo, an epic novel of adventure, betrayal, hope, vengeance, and forgiveness.
It told the story of Edmond Dantes, an honest and loyal man framed for treason by group of conspirators including a romantic rival and a corrupt prosecutor.
Sentenced to life imprisonment, Dantes is befriended by fellow prisoner Abbe Feria - a priest and sage. He becomes Edmond's friend, father figure, and teacher. They work on a plan to tunnel out of prison.
Fourteen years later, Dantes finally escapes from prison. Before he died, the ailing Abbe gave Dantes a map to a treasure he buried on Monte Cristo, an island off the coast of Milan. Dantes finds the treasure.
Now a wealthy man, Dantes buys the island and re-invents himself as a mysterious aristocrat known as the Count of Monte Cristo. He returns to France, where he finds that his former fiancee Mercedes married one of the men who framed him.
Dantes conceives and executes an elaborate plan of vengeance against the conspirators responsible for his imprisonment, then questions the value of his revenge when it threatens to destroy the son of the woman he still loves.
Even though the success of Alexandre Dumas' plays and novels brought him wealth, he spent money lavishly, and his mansion, the Chateau de Monte Cristo, was always filled with friends and hangers-on looking to take advantage of his generosity.
Often broke and in debt, he continued to write more great novels, including another classic swashbuckler, Robin Hood (1863), Dumas' retelling of the story of the legendary outlaw Earl of Huntingdon, his Merry Men, and his love, Maid Marian.
Alexandre Dumas died in 1870 at the age of 68.
Quote Of The Day
"How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid? It must be education that does it." - Alexandre Dumas
Today's video features a reading of the first chapter of Akexandre Dumas' classic novel, The Three Musketeers. Enjoy!