This Day In Literary History
On June 23rd, 1398 (c), the legendary German inventor Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany. As a young boy, he learned to read. This was a rare skill in the 15th century, as books were a luxury for the rich.
At that time, books had to be written by hand, (usually by monks, scholars, or scribes) a slow and expensive process. Fortunately for Gutenberg, he was born into a patrician (aristocratic) merchant family.
After he learned to read, he became an avid reader and spent hours in the library. The few libraries that existed then did not loan out their books. The books had to be read in the library and were chained to the wall to prevent theft.
Whenever Gutenberg's father ordered a book, it would take from several months to a year for the handwritten manuscript to be completed. Gutenberg hated to wait and dreamed of a more efficient means of producing books than writing them out by hand.
In 1411, there was an uprising against the patricians in Mainz, so the Gutenberg family moved to Eltville am Rhein, where Johannes took up the goldsmithing trade, as his father was a goldsmith who worked with the ecclesiastic mint.
Gutenberg became a skilled metalworker, and his skills would help him create his greatest invention - the mechanical printing press. By 1440, he began experimenting with the elements that would form his mechanical printing process.
Using his skills as a metalworker, Gutenberg designed a movable typeface, with separate metal type for each letter to be printed. He also developed oil-based inks of various colors that would hold up better on the page than the traditional water-based inks.
Last, but certainly not least, he built printing presses based on the designs of the olive, wine, and cheese presses of the time. By 1450, Gutenberg's print shop was in business. One of the first items to be printed there was a German poem.
The successful operation of the press and the quality of the printed material attracted attention, and Gutenberg was able to convince Johann Fust, a wealthy and powerful moneylender, to give him an 800-guilder loan to expand and maintain the business.
He took on Fust's son-in-law, Peter Schoffer, as an apprentice. In 1452, Gutenberg borrowed another 800 guilders from Fust. His print shop was a success and he printed thousands of indulgences for the Church.
Indulgences were certificates absolving the bearers of their sins and guaranteeing them a way out of Hell after their deaths. Indulgences were sold to rich parishioners - the only ones who could afford them.
This made the Church a tremendous amount of money. The printing of indulgences earned Gutenberg a tidy profit as well, which he put back into the business and used to repay his loans. He then embarked on his greatest printing project.
Gutenberg determined to print the most important book of the time - the Bible. He designed and tested beautiful layouts that combined color and black inks. Expenses for the Bible project started piling up, and he borrowed more money from Johann Fust.
Soon he was in debt for over 2,000 guilders. The Bible project took about three years to complete, and around 200 copies of the Bible were printed. During this time, a dispute arose between Gutenberg and Fust.
Fust accused Gutenberg of misusing the money he lent him and demanded all of it back. He filed suit at the archbishop's court. The court ruled in Fust's favor, giving him ownership of Gutenberg's print shop and half the bibles that had been printed.
Unfortunately, Fust also gained control of the Gutenberg name. Though effectively bankrupt, Gutenberg did run a small print shop in Bamberg and participated in another Bible printing project in 1459.
None of the materials he printed bore the Gutenberg name because Fust owned it. So it's uncertain exactly what Gutenberg printed in his little Bamberg shop. It's been speculated that he may have printed 300 copies of the 744-page Catholicon Dictionary there.
Johannes Gutenberg died in 1468 at approximately 70 years of age. By 1500, there were more than a thousand print shops in Europe. Gutenberg's dream of distributing information to the masses had come true.
In 1971, Project Gutenberg was launched by University of Illinois student Michael Hart, taking the inventor's dream into the digital age. The idea of Project Gutenberg was to digitize public domain texts into searchable ASCII files.
The files could then be stored on the university's Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer - one of fifteen nodes on a network that would serve as the precursor to the Internet. The first text to be digitized was the Declaration of Independence.
Project Gutenberg has since digitized over 30,000 public domain texts (novels, poetry, plays, nonfiction, etc.) in various languages. With the advent of telecommunication, Project Gutenberg e-texts were distributed on bulletin boards and the Internet.
E-books continue to evolve, and electronic reading devices like the Amazon Kindle have made them more popular than ever, but it was Johannes Gutenberg who gave the world its first means of mass-producing books.
Quote Of The Day
"The most important human being whoever lived, if you want to leave out religious figures, would be Johannes Gutenberg... that's when the liberation of human thought happened, because people could read the thoughts of people across the world, and have thoughts of their own, and publish them and spread information around." - Tom Clancy
Today's video features a documentary on Johannes Gutenberg, hosted and narrated by Stephen Fry. Enjoy!
Friday, June 23, 2017
Thursday, June 22, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On June 22nd, 1964, the famous American writer Dan Brown was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. Brown's father was a teacher, and he grew up on the campus of Philips Exeter Academy, where his father taught.
Brown was an avid reader, but didn't care for most modern fiction, preferring to read the classics or nonfiction. After graduating college, Brown went to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make it as a singer and songwriter.
In Los Angeles, Brown joined the National Academy of Songwriters and met Blythe Newlon, the Academy's Director of Artist Development. They fell in love. Later, when they moved back to New Hampshire, they married.
Brown worked as a teacher while he pursued his singing career. He released his first album, Dan Brown, in 1993. It was followed by Angels & Demons in 1994. He would later use that title as the title for his second novel.
His musical career floundering, Dan decided to try his hand at becoming a novelist after reading Sidney Sheldon's suspense thriller The Doomsday Conspiracy while on vacation in Tahiti. He thought he could write a better novel.
He began work on his first novel and co-wrote a humor book with his wife - 187 Men To Avoid: A Guide For The Romantically Frustrated Woman - under the pseudonym Danielle Brown.
Dan Brown's first novel, a techno thriller called Digital Fortress, was published in 1998. With Digital Fortress, Brown first began exploring his fascination with cryptography.
In the novel, NSA (National Security Agency) cryptographer Susan Fletcher is called upon to stop Digital Fortress - encryption code software that the NSA's code-breaking supercomputer TRANSLTR is incapable of cracking.
If Digital Fortress spreads through the Internet, it could cripple the NSA. The novel addresses civil rights issues in the Internet age, such as government agencies hacking into citizens' private data (i.e. messages in e-mail accounts) and reading it.
In Dan Brown's second novel, Angels & Demons (2000), Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is called upon to help in the investigation of a bizarre murder.
A respected nuclear physicist has been found murdered, with one eye removed and an ambigram of the word Illuminati branded on his chest. Langdon is an expert on the Illuminati - a secret brotherhood of scientists founded during the Renaissance dedicated to advancing science and challenging the authority of the Church.
At the time of the murder, the Pope has died and a papal enclave has convened at the Vatican to elect the new pontiff. The Preferiti - the cardinals who are candidates to become the new Pope - turn up missing. They are being murdered, one by one, in the same way as the nuclear physicist.
Langdon discovers that the fabled Illuminati still exists and is planning to blow up Vatican City with an antimatter bomb as retribution for the massacre of their predecessors, which was carried out by the Church centuries ago.
Angels & Demons was a bestseller - a huge critical and commercial success for Dan Brown. He followed it with the sci-fi suspense thriller Deception Point (2001).
It told the story of Rachel Sexton, an NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) intelligence analyst and part of a team of experts whose mission is to authenticate findings made by NASA deep within the Arctic's Milne Ice Shelf.
The findings are fossils of insects contained within a meteor, which NASA claims may constitute proof of extraterrestrial life. What the team doesn't know is that their activities are being secretly monitored by a Delta Force unit.
Rachel suspects that the meteor may be a fraud. But who would want to discredit NASA? Could it be her own father, ruthless conservative Senator Sedgewick Sexton, a presidential candidate running on a platform of reducing government spending?
He wants to scrap NASA and turn space exploration over to the private sector. His opponent, the incumbent President, is a huge supporter of NASA. Is the Delta Force unit in on the hoax or have they been ordered to assassinate the team of experts to hide the truth?
In 2003, Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code - a prequel to Angels & Demons - that proved to be a runaway bestseller, selling over sixty million copies and causing a huge controversy.
In The Da Vinci Code, Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is called upon to assist in the investigation of another bizarre and brutal murder - one that took place in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Jacques Sauniere, the museum's curator, was found murdered, with a strange cipher near his body. Teaming up with Sauniere's granddaughter Sophie, Langdon follows a bizarre trail of anagrams, ciphers, number puzzles, and other brainteasers as he tries to solve the murder.
The trail eventually leads the pair to mysterious clues hidden within the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, a cryptex invented by Da Vinci, and the Holy Grail - proof that the foundation of Christianity was a fairy tale invented and propagated by the Church.
Jesus Christ actually escaped crucifixion and fled to France with his pregnant wife, Mary Magadelene, where she bore the child, whose descendants became royalty.
Mary Magdalene was the real rock upon which Jesus built his church, not Peter, which infuriated the fiercely misogynistic disciple. Years later, the Church tried to exterminate all of Jesus and Mary Magdalene's descendants to conceal the truth.
But, some of them survived, and a secret brotherhood (whose membership included Leonardo Da Vinci) pledged to protect them and the proof of the "con of Man."
Blending thrilling, intriguing suspense fiction with historical facts and theories, The Da Vinci Code proved to be hugely popular and hugely controversial.
The Vatican denounced the novel as anti-Catholic. The Christian Right called it blasphemous, and both factions published numerous non-fiction books dedicated to debunking the historical facts and theories Dan Brown based his novel on.
After a movie adaptation was released in 2006 (directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon) and became hugely successful itself, some disgruntled writers filed suit to get a piece of the pie.
First, Lewis Purdue sued Dan Brown, claiming that Brown plagiarized his novels The Da Vinci Legacy (1983) and Daughter Of God (2000).
Then, writers Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh filed suit, claiming that Brown based The Da Vinci Code on theories put forth in their famous 1982 nonfiction book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dan Brown won both lawsuits, as the plagiarism claims were ruled to be baseless.
A feature film version of Angels & Demons was released in May of 2009. A few months later, The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's third novel in his Robert Langdon series, was released.
In it, Langdon agrees to give a lecture in Washington, DC, at the request of his mentor, Peter Solomon. When he arrives in Washington, Langdon finds Solomon's severed hand mounted on a wooden base.
The victim's fingers are pointing up at a fresco on the ceiling, a painting that depicts George Washington dressed in celestial robes and ascending to heaven.
As he investigates his friend's murder, Langdon uncovers clues that lead him toward a fabled source of wisdom known as the Ancient Mysteries - and toward Mal'akh, a tattooed, musclebound madman who believes that the secrets of the Ancient Mysteries will enable him to rule the world...
Dan Brown is one of our finest modern suspense novelists. His most recent novel, Inferno, was published in 2013. The fourth book in the Robert Langdon series, it opens with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, with no memory of the past few days.
Sienna Brooks, a doctor caring for him, tells him that he stumbled into the emergency room after a bullet grazed his head. The female assassin who tried to kill him then invades the hospital to finish the job. Robert and Sienna are forced to flee.
When Robert finds a curious object - a medieval bone cylinder containing a hi-tech projector that displays a modified version of Botticelli's Map of Hell and the words "The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death" - he plunges into yet another deadly mystery.
As he and Sienna are hunted by everyone from assassins to soldiers, Robert Langdon follows a trail of clues that lead him to a brilliant and demented billionaire and Dante fanatic who's come up with a solution to the world's overpopulation problem - sterilizing one-third of humanity with a virus...
Dan Brown's fifth Robert Langdon novel, Origin, is scheduled for release in October.
Quote Of The Day
"Writing an informative yet compact thriller is a lot like making maple sugar candy. You have to tap hundreds of trees, boil vats and vats of raw sap, evaporate the water, and keep boiling until you've distilled a tiny nugget that encapsulates the essence. " - Dan Brown
Today's video features Dan Brown on Google+ Hangout discussing his most recent novel, Inferno. Enjoy!
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On June 21st, 1956, the legendary American playwright Arthur Miller defied the United States Congress, refusing to inform on his friends and colleagues whom a Congressional committee had suspected of being communists.
At the time of his Congressional hearing, Miller, born in Harlem, New York, in 1915, had established himself as one of America's greatest playwrights. An outspoken liberal who openly supported leftist causes, he was long suspected of being a communist.
No evidence exists to prove that he belonged to the American Communist Party; some biographers have speculated that he may have joined under a pseudonym, but that's pure conjecture.
A Red Scare had swept through the American landscape of the 1950s - the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union - infesting the country with fear and paranoia.
The House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), founded by Congress in 1938, was tasked with weeding out suspected communists and communist sympathizers. The committee became notorious for its dubious methods.
To extract confessions from suspected communists, the HUAC, under the direction of Joseph McCarthy, the notorious Republican senator from Wisconsin, would resort to coercion, deception, and false testimony by so-called witnesses.
Another tool in the committee's arsenal was guilt by association - if a defendant's relatives and / or friends were communists, then the defendant must be as well, or he wouldn't associate with them.
Worst of all, when no evidence existed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the HUAC's mostly false and slanderous accusations of communism, the committee simply manufactured it.
In those days, being convicted of communism meant not only jail time, but also the blacklisting of the defendant from his trade, the loss of his civil rights, and public ostracism.
During the infamous Hollywood Blacklist, actors, directors, writers, and producers convicted of being communists or communist sympathizers could not find work after their release from jail.
The Hollywood studios refused to hire convicted or even suspected communists or communist sympathizers, for fear of governmental interference in the movie business.
Blacklisted actors and directors would have to work in small independent productions or make movies in foreign countries. Blacklisted writers would have to use fronts - impostors pretending to be them - to sell their works in Hollywood.
Three years before he found himself brought before the HUAC, Arthur Miller had written a play inspired by what happened to his close friend, legendary filmmaker Elia Kazan.
Brought before the HUAC and accused of being a communist, Kazan, wishing to avoid the Hollywood Blacklist, informed on several of his friends, including legendary playwright Lillian Hellman and actor John Garfield.
Kazan avoided the Blacklist, but his reputation would take a huge hit. He was rightfully considered a rat willing to ruin the lives of others for the sake of his own self interest. Miller didn't speak to him for ten years.
In his classic play The Crucible (1953), Arthur Miller presented a scathing satirical indictment of the HUAC, likening its hearings to the infamous 17th century Salem witch hunts.
In those trials, innocent lives were also destroyed by false accusations, (of witchcraft) national hysteria, and pompous, self-righteous judges more interested in extracting confessions than in uncovering the truth and delivering justice.
The Crucible became a huge hit on Broadway and would go on to become Miller's most frequently produced play. It infuriated the HUAC to no end.
So, in 1956, when Miller applied for a renewal of his passport, the HUAC took advantage of the routine request to haul him in for questioning, as it was against the law to issue passports to known or suspected communists.
Having nothing to hide, Miller told the committee that he would gladly provide testimony about his own political beliefs and activities, so long as he was not asked to inform on others.
The chairman agreed and promised that he would not have to inform on others. Miller kept his end of the deal and gave the HUAC a detailed account of his own political activities.
The committee then reneged on the chairman's promise and ordered Miller to give them the names of all of his friends and colleagues who shared in his political beliefs and activities.
He refused to comply, so he was charged with contempt of Congress. His case later came to trial, and in May of 1957, a judge found him guilty.
Miller was fined $500, sentenced to thirty days in jail, blacklisted, and of course, denied a renewal of his passport. Fortunately, his conviction was overturned on appeal.
The Court of Appeals found that he had been deliberately deceived by the HUAC chairman and tricked into incriminating himself, which was a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Arthur Miller's experience with the HUAC would haunt him for the rest of his life. This is why, in the 1970s, he took a personal interest in the famous Barbara Gibbons murder case.
The victim's son, Peter Reilly, was convicted of her murder based on what most people believed was a coerced confession. There was little, if any, actual evidence to prove his guilt.
Miller, believing that Reilly was innocent and had been railroaded by the Connecticut State Police and the state Attorney General who had prosecuted the case, used his celebrity to draw attention to Reilly's plight.
The case reminded Miller of his own railroading by the House Unamerican Activities Committee, which would become the House Committee on Internal Security in 1969 and finally be abolished in 1975.
In December of 1954, by a vote of 67-22, Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the Senate for his unethical and illegal conduct. Though he would continue to perform his general duties as a Senator for the next two and a half years, his political career was ruined.
McCarthy was shunned by almost all his fellow Senators. Whenever he gave a speech on the Senate floor, the other Senators would immediately leave the floor rather than listen to him.
Haunted by his fate, McCarthy became a pale shadow of his domineering former self. He drank himself to death, dying in May of 1957 at the age of 48.
Quote Of The Day
"I know that my works are a credit to this nation and I dare say they will endure longer than the McCarran Act." - Arthur Miller
Today's video features a three-part interview with Arthur Miller, where he discusses his classic play The Crucible and his ordeal at the hands of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Enjoy!
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On June 20th, 1905, the legendary American playwright and screenwriter Lillian Hellman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was born to a wealthy Jewish family, and spent her childhood partly in New Orleans and partly in New York City.
Lillian studied at New York University and Columbia University. Then, at the age of 24, she traveled around Europe, settling in Bonn, Germany, where she continued her education.
It was 1925, and Lillian became interested in a student group dedicated to what she thought was the cause of socialism. Instead, it turned out to be a national socialist (Nazi) group that rejected her because she was Jewish.
Shaken, Lillian returned to the United States. There, she found work as a reader for the MGM film studio in Hollywood. It was her job to read novels, short stories, plays, and newspaper articles to determine if they would make good movies.
While in Hollywood, she met the legendary mystery writer Dashiell Hammett and fell in love with him. After divorcing her husband, she began a love affair with Hammett that would last nearly thirty years, until his death in 1961.
Hammett would base his famous characters Nick and Nora Charles, from his classic novel The Thin Man, on himself and Lillian Hellman.
In 1932, Lillian returned to New York City, where she wrote her classic, controversial play The Children's Hour. It premiered on Broadway in November of 1934 and ran for nearly 700 performances.
The Children's Hour was inspired by a real incident that took place in Scotland, circa 1810. The play is set at an all-girls boarding school run by close friends Karen Wright and Martha Dobie.
Mary Tilford, a student at the school, is spoiled, petulant, vindictive, and a pathological liar. Her cousin, Joe Cardin, is a handsome young doctor who plans to marry Karen.
Seething with jealousy, Mary falsely accuses Karen and Martha of having a lesbian affair and blackmails another student, Rosalie Wells, into corroborating her false testimony.
Karen and Martha sue for libel, but Mary's lies are believed. The women lose the case and their school. Joe still believes in Karen and won't leave her, even though his life has been ruined by the scandal.
Karen decides they must break up for Joe's sake, but he persuades her to think things over. When Martha learns that Karen wanted Joe to leave her, she becomes consumed with guilt.
Martha is forced to come to terms with the fact that she really is a lesbian. When she finally admits her feelings to Karen, Karen coldly dismisses her, telling her that they never really felt that way about each other.
Martha tries to declare her love for Karen, but Karen won't have it and tells Martha she's going to bed. While sitting in her bedroom, Karen hears a gunshot. To her horror, she discovers to that Martha has killed herself.
The Children's Hour became a huge hit and was considered shocking by early 1930s audiences. Even though it was illegal to mention homosexuality on the Broadway stage at that time, the play was not closed by censors - because it was so good.
Lillian's success with The Children's Hour earned her a screenwriting job in Hollywood. When MGM picked up the film rights to her play, Lillian wrote the screenplay herself. Unfortunately, she was forced to change the story considerably.
The stifling Hollywood Production Code was in effect, and it forbade any mention of homosexuality on screen. Thus, in These Three (1936), Martha is secretly in love with Joe and falsely accused of having an illicit affair with him. Despite the change, the film received good reviews from critics.
As a screenwriter, Lillian was also known for her adaptation of Sidney Kingsley's hit Broadway play, Dead End. The bleak film, released in 1937, was the first to feature the Dead End Kids.
The Dead End Kids were a street gang whose members were poor youths from the slums of New York City's East Side desperate to escape their lives of poverty and despair. Some have no problem turning to crime, while others seek a better way out.
Another of Lillian's accomplishments as a screenwriter was her work for the Screen Writers Guild, a then fledgling union for screenwriters. Lillian fought hard to get her fellow screenwriters onscreen credit for their work and decent pay.
In 1936, with the Spanish Civil War capturing the attention of the world, Lillian sought to warn people of the growing threat of fascism. She joined other literary figures such as Dorothy Parker and Archibald MacLeish to fund an anti-fascist documentary, The Spanish Earth (1937).
The film famously miscredited Orson Welles as its narrator. It was in fact narrated by the legendary writer Ernest Hemingway.
Lillian went to Spain to offer her support to the International Brigades - the foreign soldiers from around the world who had volunteered to fight General Franco's fascist army. She did a broadcast to the United States on Radio Madrid while bombs were falling on the city.
Back in the United States, Lillian joined the Communist Party, but left after a couple years. She found her chapter of the party to be boring and ineffective. "[I] saw and heard nothing more than people sitting around a room talking of current events or discussing the books they had read."
After World War II broke out in 1939, Lillian, who was enjoying the success of her play The Little Foxes, grew frustrated by her country's isolationism. So, she wrote another play hoping to awaken Americans to the threat of Hitler.
Watch on the Rhine opened on Broadway in April 1941 - just eight months before Pearl Harbor. The play, which told of a German Resistance operative with an American wife who returns to Germany to rescue his comrades from the Gestapo, won Lillian the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
In 1943 and 44, Lillian applied for a passport so she could visit England but was denied twice because she was deemed an active communist, though she'd left the party a few years before and never rejoined. Her politics would come back to haunt her in the next decade.
Years later, in 1952, while enjoying the success of her classic play The Autumn Garden, Lillian found herself subpoenaed by HUAC (the House Unamerican Activities Committee) for interrogation.
Lillian refused to apologize for her past membership in the Communist Party or denounce the party. She was willing to testify about her own political beliefs and associations, but adamantly refused to name names and denounce others.
The HUAC desperately wanted Lillian to denounce her former lover John F. Melby, who worked for the State Department, as a communist, but she refused. She wasn't charged with a crime by the HUAC after concluding her testimony, but the FBI increased its surveillance of her and began monitoring her mail.
The 1960s found Lillian enjoying the success of her last great play, Toys in the Attic (1960). Another film adaptation of The Children's Hour was released in 1961.
Although Karen and Martha are falsely accused of having a lesbian affair in this version, the Production Code, albeit loosened somewhat, was still in effect, so the lesbian aspect of the story is incredibly watered down.
Despite a stellar cast that featured Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner in his film debut, The Children's Hour was mostly panned by critics and a flop at the box office.
Lillian had nothing to do with the production. She had just lost her longtime lover, Dashiell Hammett. She would later edit a collection of his short stories, The Big Knockover. The book featured an introduction by Lillian.
In the 1970s, Lillian wrote and published a series of memoirs. Part of the second book, Pentimento: A Book of Portraits (1973), would be adapted as the 1977 Oscar winning feature film, Julia.
In 1979, Lillian's longtime enemy, writer and critic Mary McCarthy, was being interviewed on PBS' The Dick Cavett Show when she accused Lillian of fabricating her Pentimento memoir, saying "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"
Lillian Hellman filed a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit against McCarthy, Dick Cavett, and PBS. The suit hadn't been settled when Lillian died of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 79. Her executors decided to drop it.
Quote Of The Day
"Nothing you write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped." - Lillian Hellman
Today's video features a 1944 radio play adaptation of Lillian Hellman's classic play, Watch on the Rhine - starring Bette Davis! Enjoy!
Monday, June 19, 2017
Theresa A. Cancro
One haiku has been published in "Frameless Sky, Issue 6," a multimedia journal of haiku, tanka, artwork and music, which is in DVD format. The theme is "Tango." A Youtube video containing a large excerpt of the journal can be viewed here. My haiku appears in the excerpt.
One haiku appears in the most recent issue of The Weekly Avocet, #236.
My flash, "Southern Charm," is up at Flash Fiction Magazine. This story originated in Practice, so thanks to the Practice critiquers.
Lori Sambol Brody
New story in Cheap Pop: "How I've Been Without You."
My book 'Edit Your Masterpiece With Ease For Fiction Writers', which I co-authored with fellow lister, Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam, is out on Amazon.
I couldn't have written this book without you guys, all the discussions and posts I sent to this list played a big part. What less could I expect? I belong to the best critique group there is, so thank you all.
The goal we had with this book, Chioma and I, was to save writers from the numerous rewrites they often have to make by providing a checklist and giving tips on how to prune their stories like a professional, whether its redrafting or recrafting.
Many of the things I've discussed on this list are there, better phrased, though. Thanks. I couldn't have done this without you. And thanks to Chioma, my favourite blogger on creative writing, for suggesting we do this together.
Sarah Corbett Morgan
My review of the memoir, wrapped around Afghanistan's history, Crossing the River Kabul, is up at The Internet Review of Books.
Mona Leeson Vanek
In their Looking Back weekly column, The Sanders County Ledger, Thompson Falls, MT, published a large excerpt from Volume 1, Chapter 4, titled "Evergreen Wealth" of my Behind These Mountains trilogy in their May 18th and May 25th issues. It's in the weekly "Remember When?" column. The weekly newspaper is also available online.
Friday, June 16, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On June 16th, 1938, the famous American writer Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lockport, New York. She was very close to her paternal grandmother, Blanche Oates, who lived with the family and planted the seeds of her future writing career.
When Joyce was a little girl, her grandmother gave her a copy of Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland, which she credited as "the great treasure of my childhood and the most profound literary influence in my life." When Joyce turned 14, her grandmother gave her a typewriter, and she began writing.
Joyce Carol Oates described her family as average, happy, and close-knit. Many years later, after her grandmother died, Joyce learned some surprising secrets about her life.
Blanche Oates' father had committed suicide, after which, Blanche decided to conceal the fact that she was Jewish. Joyce used these and other details of her grandmother's life as the basis for her 2007 novel, The Gravedigger's Daughter.
As a young teenager, Joyce Carol Oates became an avid reader, devouring the works of William Faulkner, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henry David Thoreau, Ernest Hemingway, and the Bronte sisters, whom she claimed were a strong influence on her writing.
After attending the same one-room school that her mother had gone to, Joyce transferred to bigger suburban schools. At Williamsville South High School, where she graduated in 1956, Joyce worked for the student newspaper. She was the first member of her family to graduate high school.
Joyce Carol Oates won a scholarship to Syracuse University, where she joined the Phi Mu sorority, a decision she came to regret. In college, Joyce read the works of D.H. Lawrence, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Mann, and Franz Kafka, all of which she claimed were still strong and pervasive influences in her own writing.
When she was nineteen years old, she won a college short story contest sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine. She graduated Syracuse as valedictorian in 1960 and received an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison a year later.
During her college years, Joyce taught herself to be a writer by "writing novel after novel and always throwing them out when I completed them." In 1964, when she was 26 years old, she published her first novel, With Shuddering Fall.
Two years later, she published a short story, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, loosely based on the life of serial killer Charles Schmid, the "Pied Piper of Tucson." The story was frequently republished in anthologies and was adapted in 1985 as a feature film called Smooth Talk.
Joyce Carol Oates would later use real life crimes and criminals as the basis of her novels, changing names, dates, places, and details, and adding fictionalized elements. Her 1995 novel Zombie, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel, was based on the life of cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
The novel presents the diary of Quentin P., a psychotic sex offender on parole who becomes a serial killer as he searches for the perfect "zombie" - a mindless, obedient, handsome young man to be his companion and lover.
The brilliant, cunning, and strangely child-like Quentin lures young men into his clutches and lobotomizes them with various weapons as he conducts experiments in creating a zombie. In addition to Quentin's diary entries, the book contains his bizarre sketches of objects such as weapons and staring eyes.
In her 2008 novel My Sister, My Love, Joyce Carol Oates presents a dark and scathing satire of the famous JonBenet Ramsey murder case. It's told in the form of a memoir written by 19-year-old Skyler Rampike. When he was ten, his beloved six-year-old sister Bliss - a child ice-skating star - was found raped and murdered.
In his memoir, Skyler paints a grotesque picture of his family before and after the tragedy. His father, Bix, is a ruthlessly ambitious, money-hungry philanderer; his pathetic, neurotic mother Betsey is determined to impress the snooty neighbors in their affluent community.
She's also obsessed with living out her childhood dream by turning her daughter into a figure-skating star, dressing her in provocative costumes and forcing her to practice and perform.
After Bliss's murder, the already dysfunctional Rampike family is plunged into tabloid hell, as suspicion falls on both Bix and Betsey - and even 10-year-old Skyler. Joyce Carol Oates' powerful writing - and her fascination with violence and the dark side of the human condition - earned her the respect of male peers such as Norman Mailer.
Her 1996 novel, We Were The Mulvaneys, was selected by Oprah Winfrey's book club in 2001. The Mulvaneys are a happy, close-knit, affluent model family living in upstate New York.
Then, on Valentine's Day, 1976, after attending her high school prom, teenage daughter Marianne Mulvaney goes to a party, gets drunk, and is raped by a fellow student whose father is a respected businessman and close friend of Marianne's father.
Her refusal to press charges against her attacker leads to the slow and painful disintegration of the once perfect Mulvaney family. Years later, at a family reunion, the Mulvaneys finally come to terms with the past and receive the closure that had eluded them.
An extremely prolific writer, Oates has written over 40 novels, (plus 11 more under pseudonyms) with three more due out soon. She has also written over 35 short story collections.
Her other writings include seven books for young adults and children, ten books of poetry, eight plays, and numerous nonfiction works. She will no doubt be remembered as one of the most gifted writers of her generation.
Joyce Carol Oates' most recent novel, The Book of American Martyrs, was published in February. It's an amazing book, a testament to the literary talent and power of the nearly 80-year-old author.
The Book of American Martyrs opens with devout Evangelical Christian Luther Dunphy ambushing Gus Voorhees, chief doctor at the Broome County Women’s Center in Muskegee Falls, Ohio, and blasting him in the throat with a shotgun.
The horrific murder destroys the lives of both men and their families, and as the 700+ page novel progresses, (and is narrated by various characters) we see that these two men, these martyrs to their respective causes and complete polar opposites, were more alike than they ever knew.
The Book of American Martyrs paints a dark portrait of the abortion debate in America, the dangers of unchecked idealism, the poisonous influence of religion, and the insidious nature of prejudice from which no one is immune.
Quote Of The Day
"If you are a writer, you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework, you can still be writing, because you have that space." - Joyce Carol Oates
Today's video features Joyce Carol Oates speaking at the 2016 National Book Festival. Enjoy!
Thursday, June 15, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On June 15th, 1763, the legendary Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa was born. He was born Nobuyuki Yataro in Kashiwabara, Japan.
When Issa was three years old, his mother died, and he was cared for by his doting grandmother. He began studying haiku with Shinpo, a local poet.
Five years later, Issa's father remarried. His stepmother turned out to be a hard and cruel woman, and after she gave birth to a son of her own, she mistreated Issa terribly. He complained to his father that she beat him a hundred times a day.
When he was fourteen, Issa's beloved grandmother died. Lonely, moody, withdrawn, and estranged from his family, Issa preferred to stay away from them, wandering the fields and forests and communing with nature, which further infuriated his cruel stepmother.
Sensing Issa's unhappiness, his father sent him to Edo, (now known as Tokyo) where he lived in poverty, did odd jobs, and continued his haiku studies, this time at the Kastushika Haiku School with poets Mizoguchi Sogan and Norokuan Chikua.
After Chikua's death, Issa was elected to succeed him as a teacher at the school. He later resigned and took to wandering again, until his father's death in 1801.
In his father's will, Issa was named as sole beneficiary, but his stepmother and half-brother conspired to steal his inheritance from him. After thirteen years of legal wrangling, Issa finally received his rightful inheritance.
In the meantime, he had traveled around Japan, visiting and living in many places, including Kyoto, Osaka, Nagasaki, Matsuyama, and other cities. He worked hard to support himself and made a name for himself as a haiku poet.
Taking the pseudonym Kobayashi Issa, he wrote prolifically, both poetry and prose. At the age of 51, after finally receiving his inheritance, Issa returned to his hometown, Kashiwabari, and married a young village woman named Kiku.
Sadly, the four children Issa's wife bore him died in infancy, and his wife died in childbirth. Later, his house burned down. A devout Buddhist for many years, Issa's spirit could not be crushed by tragedy.
He married again, and his second wife bore him his only surviving child, a baby girl. She was born in 1827 - shortly after Issa's death at the age of 65.
Throughout his prolific literary career, Issa wrote over 20,000 haiku poems and over 250 prose works, including memoirs, his most famous being The Year Of My Life, published in 1820.
As a haiku poet, Issa wrote the simple, unadorned poetry of the common man, using local dialects and the words of daily conversation.
And yet, in their simplicity, Issa's poems were extremely profound. Sometimes they were humorous, sometimes sarcastic, and sometimes quiet and thoughtful.
Issa's haiku are best known for their remarkably poignant and compassionate insight. And of course, they are steeped deep in Buddhism - but without the slightest hint of religious dogmatism.
After the death of one of his children, Issa wrote the following poem. It's a perfect example of his simplicity, his profoundness, and his compassion:
This world of dew
is a world of dew -
and yet, and yet...
Here are some other memorable Issa haiku:
Flitting butterfly -
thus is Buddha's law
in this world
A light snow
over fields, over woods...
The beggar child prays
with trembling voice...
for a doll
dewdrops are tumbling
Issa's haiku inspired me to become a poet when I was eight years old. I came across Issa: Haiku Poet - a short biography and a selection of his poems - in my school reading textbook.
Moved and impressed by how much he packed into his little three-line, seventeen-syllable poems, I immediately started writing my own haiku. Issa is rightfully considered one of Japan's greatest haiku masters.
Quote Of The Day
"Where there are humans, you'll find flies and Buddhas." - Kobayashi Issa
Today's video features a 90-minute lecture on haiku. Enjoy!