Posted in Arcadia Coach, From The Editor's Desk, research, Writing

The Fourth “R”- RESEARCH (Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmatic and…)

Editor’s Note: This is cross-posted at Arcadia Coach, the new venture I am working on with Edward Branley. Hope to see you there! 

Writing Research!

Writing research for your manuscript is nothing like you remember having to do in school, when the teacher or professor assigned you a topic you weren’t interested in, or you just picked it to be near the girl or boy you had a crush on. For your manuscript, you get to control all the aspects of the story from scratch, but be sure that your research is spot on.

writing research

Readers are smart, they know when you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes, and send them down the misdirection path.  Become an expert. Tell all your friends, family, and even strangers in the grocery store line all your useless knowledge you are picking up in the process. You want to be able to discuss with your readers that you meet all the little details, and enthrall them with the stories of how you went in that direction.

Today with the advent of the Internet and social media, it is easier to get information that is further away from your location, in the far nether-regions of the world. [If you can find it, so can your reader base!]  From the comfort of your couch, your local watering hole, coffee shop, or public library, you can find anything you are wondering about. No more waiting weeks for the InterLibrary Loan to arrive to find out it wasn’t the right one; sifting through card catalogs (what’s that?- see below), and microfiche and microfilm for hours, days, or weeks. Carrying a hundred books home to find the one line you think you need, only to return 99 of them the next day.  If you were lucky, the librarian took a liking to you, and put stuff on the side if you told her what you were looking for.

writing research
Card Catalog Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Magazine


Devil is in the Details

Be careful in how and where you sprinkle the details throughout your manuscript since you don’t want it to read like a textbook; more like “the reader can visualize what is in your head”. Keep them remembering where things were in the story, don’t overload them with every tidbit you know on the subject on one page. Call back to the earlier times in the timeline and in the story in various parts of the book. A little detail can go a long way in completing your manuscript.

Think about all the little details, yes.. sweat the small stuff. Food blogs, architectural drawings, what clothes people were wearing, even what was happening in the news at the time, can affect your ability to make sure your reader is totally enmeshed in your novel / manuscript. You want it to be seamless.

Make sure your research is in the right time period, including cars, ships, horse & buggies, trolleys … you don’t want to say the first car started driving down the street in 1850, when the first car, the Benz Patent Motor Car, didn’t hit the street until New Year’s Eve 1879.

writing research
Benz Patent Motor Car image courtesy of Daimler Benz

No question is too silly or wrong. If you have an interest in it, it is a spark that you can use to bring knowledge to someone else who has the same question.

Oh, and most important: Have fun! If you are not enjoying the process, then it will show in your writing. Let the writing research take you down various rabbit holes… be sure you have a ladder to get out though!

Cheers,
Dara 

 

A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.

― Ursula K. Le Guin 

 

Photo of Ursula K. Le Guin via the New York Public Library

A writer is… by Ursula K. Le Guin

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

Arthur Plotnik

Outside of professional writing, which included articles and columns, he is the author of eight nonfiction books and a number of literary works.  His bestselling title was The Elements of Editing, a guide that grew out of his training of new staff.  Published by Macmillan and  packaged  by the Book of the Month Club with the iconic The Elements of Style, it sold more than 200,000 copies before going out of print. Parts of it are still used in journalism programs. Learn more at: http://www.arthurplotnik.com/biography.html

Editing lets the fire show through the smoke ~ Arthur Plotnik

Posted in Language, Ted Talks, Writing, YouTube

10 TED Talks for Writers … on creativity, process, storytelling, and passion

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

Andrew Stanton: The Clues to a Great Story

Amy Tan: Where does Creativity Hide?

John Koenig: Beautiful New Words to Describe Obscure Emotions

Tracy Chevalier: Finding the Story Inside the Painting

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius

Pico Iyer: Where is Home?

Isabel Allende: Tales of Passion

Elif Shafak: The Politics of Fiction

Joshua Prager: Wisdom from Great Writers on Every Year of Life


What are TED Talks?

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.

“It is not the task of a writer to ‘tell all,’ or even to decide what to leave in, but to decide what to leave out. Whatever remains, that meager sum of this profane division, that’s the bastard chimera we call a ‘story.’ I am not building, but cutting away. And all stories, whether advertised as truth or admitted falsehoods, are fictions, cleft from the objective facts by the aforementioned action of cutting away. A pound of flesh. A pile of sawdust. Discarded chips of Carrara marble. And what’s left over.

“Houses Under The Sea”

― Caitlín R. Kiernan

Houses Under the Sea: Mythos Tales. This one is Richard Kirk’s illustration for the collection’s title story, “Houses Under the Sea,” the altar to Mother Hydra.

The bastard chimera we call a ‘story.’ – Caitlín R. Kiernan

Posted in Books, From The Editor's Desk, Writing

What is a Beta Reader’s Role?

Beta readers are people who are most likely to buy and read your book. They play an important role in your publishing journey, as they see your book raw, naked, and parts you wouldn’t even show your mother. Make sure they are on your plan, as they will look at it with fresh eyes and tell you things you don’t necessarily want to hear.

My daughter is a beta reader for a series of books by my client, edward branley, since his “dragons” series (Dragon’s Danger, Dragon’s Discovery) is exactly in her age range. [Edward will tell you one of the characters is based on her. ] She tells him if it works, if it doesn’t and why it’s right or wrong. She makes suggestions to make it better.

The Book Designer has five tips for working with Beta Readers. I believe in all of them, so I’m sharing what they said:

  1. Don’t Give Them a Draft Your beta reader is still a reader — a reader who might tell other readers about your book. It’s important to treat your beta readers right, and that begins with what you ask them to read. Don’t give them your first draft. In fact, be sure that what you give them is the very best writing you can produce on your own. Write your draft and set it aside for at least a week. Go back to it and rewrite it if you need to. Then set it aside for another week — again. Revise, revise, revise, until it isn’t remotely possible for you to do any better.
  2. Your Manuscript, Their Way Before you send your manuscript to your beta readers, ask them what format they’d like it in. Beta readers might want to print your manuscript or read it on a Kindle. If they prefer the latter option, send them instructions for how to get your manuscript on an e-reader. Do whatever you can to remove any obstacles that will prevent your beta reader from carving out time to read your book.
  1. Give Them Guidance Let your beta reader know what kind of feedback you’d like from them. Develop a checklist with questions you’d like answers to. Do you want readers to comment on the strength of a character, or the organization of a concept? If you create a specific list of questions around content, beta readers won’t spend their time punctuating sentences. Adapt your revision checklist to meet the needs of each book your write.
  2. Don’t Take it Personally Remember, it takes a great deal of time to read and respond to a book. And your beta readers will have opinions that might sting a little. Be gracious for any feedback a beta reader gives you, even if you don’t agree with it. Ask yourself, “Will addressing this comment make for a better book?” If so, take their advice and apply it to your next revision. If not, whatever you do, don’t defend yourself. Your beta reader already knows your position (you’ve done as you’ve seen fit, as evidenced by your manuscript) but they don’t agree. Thank them for their comments and move on.
  3. Return the Favour Remember, you’re not paying your beta readers to read your book. They’re offering feedback because they want to help or they’re interested in your book’s premise or topic. If your beta reader asks you to be a beta reader in future, seriously consider returning the favour. And when it comes time to publish your book, give them a mention in your acknowledgements. Everyone likes to see their name in “print.”

 

Still confused as to why you need one, or what they are? Read on… 

What is a Beta Reader, and why do I need one?

http://www.smallbluedog.com/what-is-a-beta-reader-and-why-do-i-need-one.html

What makes a good beta reader?

http://www.smallbluedog.com/what-makes-a-good-beta-reader.html

The few, the proud, the beta readers

http://fiona-skye.com/the-few-the-proud-the-beta-readers/

Honestly, I’d tell you that you need a beta reader to help you revise your manuscript before you go looking for an editor. If you need one, I think I can point you in the right direction for that editor.

Note: beta reader featured image from Fiona Skye

 

Posted in book lists, Books, From The Editor's Desk, Writing

Umberto Eco and the Anti-library

umbertoeco
Umberto Eco image courtesy of Brain Pickings 

 

“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an anti-library.”

― Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility

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My anti-library Kindle list

Taleb’s book is part of my anti-library, ironically enough.

Taleb’s quote above fascinated me, and I bought the book to read, but with the editing business going strong and the fact-checking side of the house prepping for the next issue of Genome Magazine, it’s on my TBR pile.  The good news is, now that school has resumed, perhaps the TBR pile can be dug into, perhaps at the beach?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s  The Theory of Colours

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I have done some research on color theory and psychology, and my colors around the world blog post utilizing this as a reference. One of Goethe’s most radical points was a refutation of Newton’s ideas about the color spectrum, suggesting instead that darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light.

070936-glossy-black-icon-alphanumeric-quote-close1

Light and darkness, brightness and obscurity, or if a more general expression is preferred, light and its absence, are necessary to the production of color… Color itself is a degree of darkness. 

 

Leon Leyson’s The Boy on the Wooden Box

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The Boy on the Wooden Box is on my Kindle since my son Jason went to hear Leon Leyson’s widow, Lis, speak on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Fullerton Public Library. Leon Leyson was the youngest person ever saved by Oskar Schindler.  He was #289 on Schindler’s List. Be sure to read Jason’s take on Lis Leyson’s speech.

As a history major in my undergrad days, this time period has always had a deep impact on me. I am sure it will be eye-opening and emotional.

I’m reminded of Marlon Brando’s famous Playboy interview with Lawrence Grobel, in which he says that he used to read all the time, but finally stopped because information was of no use to him. Grobel interviewed him on his island in Tahiti; Brando told him that he no longer read anything except Shakespeare. Everything that was worth knowing was contained in Shakespeare. Brando said:

070936-glossy-black-icon-alphanumeric-quote-close1I used to read an awful lot. Then I found that I had a lot of information and very little knowledge. I couldn’t learn from reading. I was doing something else by reading, just filling up this hopper full of information, but it was undigested information. I used to think the more intelligence you had, the more knowledge you had, but it’s not true. Look at Bill Buckley; he uses his intelligence to further his own prejudices. Why one reads is important. If it’s just for escape, that’s all right, it’s like taking junk, it’s meaningless. It’s kind of an insult to yourself. Like modern conversation–it’s used to keep people away from one another, because people don’t feel assaulted by conversation so much as silence. People have to make conversation in order to fill up this void. Void is terrifying to most people. We can’t have a direct confrontation with somebody in silence–because what you’re really having is a full and more meaningful confrontation.

 

Epictetus’ The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness 

the-art-of-living

Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle:

070936-glossy-black-icon-alphanumeric-quote-close1Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.

Epictetus‘ (c. AD 55 – 135) influential school of Stoic philosophy, stresses that human beings cannot control life, only their responses to it, keeping the focus on progress over perfection, on accomplishing what can be accomplished and abandoning unproductive worry over what cannot.

What’s on your Anti-Library List? 

Let me know either by commenting here, or on twitter @bookdoctordara.

Posted in From The Editor's Desk, Literary Arts Series, Monday Musings, Quote, Writing

Mark Twain on Writing: “Kill your adjectives”

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Mark Twain, who read widely, was passionately interested in the problems of style; the mark of the strictest literary sensibility is everywhere to be found in the prose of Huckleberry Finn . . . He is the master of the style that escapes the fixity of the printed page, that sounds in our ears with the immediacy of the heard voice, the very voice of unpretentious truth.

Lionel Trilling, “Mark Twain’s Colloquial Prose Style”, from The Liberal Imagination, 1950

Mark Twain

Twain was often asked for advice on the art and craft of writing. Sometimes he responded seriously, sometimes not.  Here’s a piece of writing advice on from a letter he wrote on 20 March 1880 to a student named D.W. Bowser:

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

I often tell my editing clients one of my favorite pieces of advice he gave. Twain famously said:

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” 


Bonus: “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps” information for you philatelists! 

Mark Twain 44¢
(1835-1910)
Mark Twain
Issue Date: June 25, 2011
City: Hannibal, MO
Quantity: 50,000,000

Mark Twain is the 27th honoree in the Literary Arts series. “Our literary tribute this year rightfully honors Mark Twain, author of one of the greatest novels in American literature and the man whom William Faulkner called ‘the first truly American writer,’ said Postal Service Board of Governors member James H. Bilbray. “Mark Twain was a rarity, as he was one of the first writers to exploit the vernacular voice in his books, using the speech of common Americans,” Bilbray said.

Samuel Clemens’ family moved to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River when he was just a child.  Clemens developed a love for the river that would stay with him his entire life.

As a young man, Clemens met a steamboat pilot named Horace Bixby.  That’s when he decided to learn the craft, becoming one of the best pilots on the river.

As an author, Clemens took his pen name from his experiences on the water.  The Mississippi River is difficult to navigate.  To “mark twain” meant the water had been measured and was a safe depth.  In 1863, Clemens began writing as Mark Twain.

If it had not been for the Civil War, Twain may have remained a pilot who occasionally wrote newspaper articles.  But most business travel stopped along the Mississippi during these years, so Twain went back to writing.  His humorous stories of life on the river were a hit with readers then and remain popular today.

In 2010, the first volume of Twain’s autobiography was published.  It was his wish that it not be released until 100 years after his death so that he might speak his “whole frank mind.”  The volume offers a glimpse into the real Samuel Clemens – a man with strong political and social views who nevertheless entertained millions with riveting tales of life on the Mississippi.

More on the “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamp” Series

Dorothy Parker and John Steinbeck
Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison
James Thurber and Ogden Nash
Bonus: James Thurber Cartoon 

 

 

Posted in Language, Literary Arts Series, Literature, Words, Writing

Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps – Humorists Ogden Nash and James Thurber

What is the connection between Ogden Nash and James Thurber? Besides both being humorists, they published at The New Yorker during the same time period. In 1930, Nash’s first poem “Invocation” was published January 11.  Did you know Nash contributed 329 poems to The New Yorker between 1930 and 1971?

Meanwhile, the magazine ran a drawing by James Thurber for the first time in the February 22, 1930 issue. E. B. White had rescued Thurber’s doodles from being discarded, and encouraged the writer to publish his art work.

Ogden Nash 37¢
(1902-1971)

Ogden Nash.jpg

Issue Date: August 19, 2002
City: Baltimore, MD
Quantity: 70,000,000

American humorist and poet Ogden Nash wrote light-hearted, whimsical, and sometimes nonsensical verse. He often used an extremely large poetic license to create comical rhymes and puns. Ogden Nash is the 18th honoree of the Literary Arts Series.

An interesting couple of notes about the Ogden Nash stamp. It is the first time the word ‘Sex’ has appeared on a stamp; and probably also is the first time a limerick has appeared on a U.S. stamp.

U.S. Postal Service chief stamp developer Terry McCaffrey told CBSNews.com he expects to get complaints about “sex,” which is included in the six Nash poems in the background of the design: “The Turtle,” “The Cow,” “Crossing The Border,” “The Kitten,” “The Camel,” and “Limerick One.”

Nash poked fun at human foibles without cynicism. He wrote on many subjects, but all of his poems expressed his wry wit and demonstrated his playfulness with language. “I’m very fond of the English language. I tease it, and you tease only the things you love,” Nash reportedly said. He invented words and used puns, creative misspellings, irregular line lengths and unexpected rhymes to make his verse humorous and memorable. Because of his unique style, many consider Ogden Nash to have been one of the most accomplished American writers of light verse in the 20th century.

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1969, Nash complained about stamps that would not stick to envelopes. He lamented, “The Post Office should supply a roll of Scotch tape with every 100 stamps, but mine won’t even sell me one. I’d like to go back to where I came from: 1902.”

Nash considered himself a ‘worsifier’. One of the most universally known verses is: “Candy is dandy/but liquor is quicker.” Others include: “If called by a panther, / Don’t anther,” and “In the vanities / No one wears panities.”

Did you know? Nash’s great-great-grandfather was governor of North Carolina during the Revolution, and that ancestor’s brother was General Francis Nash, for whom Nashville, Tennessee, was named.

James Thurber 29¢
(1894-1961)

James Thurber

Issue Date: September 10, 1994
City: Columbus, OH
Quantity: 150,750,000

One of the most popular humorists of his time, James Thurber celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people.  In Thurber-Land, the men are often sad, bewildered, and inept; the women are fierce and determined; and their dogs are indifferent to men a women alike, and are immersed in a fantasy world of their own.  Thurber is the author of The Secret Life of Walter Mittywhich portrays an oversensitive man who escapes from his nagging wife through his daydreams and the creator of numerous New Yorker magazine cover cartoons.  Writing nearly 40 books, he won a Tony Award for the Broadway play, A Thurber Carnival, in which he often starred as himself.

One of his books, My World and Welcome To It, was turned into an NBC television series in 1969-1970 starring William Windom. My World and Welcome To It, won best Comedy Series and Windom won Best Actor in a Comedy Series at the 1970 Emmys.

Thurber spent much time in and about the Algonquin Hotel in New York City.  Though never a formal member of the Algonquin Round Table, he was a favorite among many of its members including, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.

Thurber is the 11th honoree of the Literary Arts series. Read his “The Art of Fiction” interview the Paris Review by George Plimpton and Max Steele.

Did You Know?  As a child, Thurber’s brother shot him in the eye with an arrow during a game of William Tell. James Thurber lost his left eye, and the incident left his vision permanently impaired.


For the rest of the Give A Lick: Literary Arts series of blog posts, check out Dorothy Parker and John Steinbeck, as well as Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison.


For Further Reading & Source Material: 

A New Yorker Timeline

Eighty-five from the archive: Ogden Nash

PR Wire “Literary Arts series Continues with Issuance of Ogden Nash stamp”
*Note: The cool thing about this link is that it shows you the full verses of poems used on the Ogden Nash stamp.

Poetry Foundation / Ogden Nash

Thurber House

Ten Facts about Caldecott Winner , James Thurber

Thurber Prize for American Humor 
*Note: The Thurber Prize for American Humor is the nation’s highest recognition of the art of humor writing. 

Posted in Language, Literary Arts Series, Literature, Words, Writing

Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps – Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison

Continuing on the Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamp week, today I will be featuring Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison. The connection between these two stamps is that they are the only two in the series that are intended for three-ounce letters.

Flannery O’Connor 93¢
(1925-1964)
Flannery O'ConnorIssue Date
: June 5, 2015
City
: McLean, VA
Quantity
: 20,000,000

Flannery O’Connor’s stamp is 30th in the Literary Arts Series, released in 2015.

Mary Flannery O’Connor was an American writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, she wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries. She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. Her writing also reflected her own Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics.

The stamp shows O’Connor surrounded by peacock feathers—an homage to O’Connor’s love for the birds that she cared for on her mother’s farm toward the end of her life. She wrote about peacocks in a 1961 essay called “The King of Birds.” Today, three of those peacocks that were her pets have been returned to her homeplace in Andalusia, which has become a visitor center.

All three birds are named after characters in O’Connor’s work. The strutting male bird is Manley Pointer, after the scheming Bible salesman from O’Connor’s story “Good Country People.” One of the hens is named Joy/Hulga, after the woman whose prosthetic leg Pointer steals in the same story. The second hen’s name is Mary Grace, the “raw-complexioned girl” from O’Connor’s story “Revelation” in her collection “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”

The setting of Andalusia, including the ever-present peafowl, figures prominently in her fiction. If it is true, as critics and scholars have noted, that Southern fiction is marked by the importance given to a sense of place, then a major force in shaping Flannery O’Connor’s work is landscape. Andalusia provided for her not only a place to live and write, but also a functional landscape in which to set her fiction.

While living at Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor completed Wise Blood, which was published in 1952. Then her highly acclaimed collection of short stories A Good Man Is Hard To Find was published in 1955. She also wrote another novel, The Violent Bear It Away, published in 1960. Her second collection of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge, was published posthumously in 1965. A collection of nonfiction prose titled Mystery and Manners, edited by Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, was published in 1969. The Complete Stories, edited by Robert Giroux, won the 1971 National Book Award for Fiction. Then Sally Fitzgerald edited a large collection of O’Connor’s letters, The Habit of Being, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award after its publication in 1979. O’Connor’s Collected Works was published in 1988 as part of the Library of America series, the definitive collection of America’s greatest writers.

 

Ralph Ellison 91¢
(1913-1994)

ralph ellison

Issue Date: February 18, 2014
City: Kansas City, MO
Quantity: 30,000,000

Ellison’s stamp is 29th in the Literary Arts series, released in 2014.

With his 1952 novel Invisible Man, a masterpiece of 20th-century fiction, Ellison drew on a wide range of narrative and cultural traditions, shedding vivid light on the African-American experience while setting a new benchmark for all American novelists.

The stamp art is an oil-on-panel painting featuring a portrait of Ellison based on a black-and-white photograph by Ellison’s friend Gordon Parks, a renowned staff photographer for Life magazine. The photo appeared on the back of the dust jacket of the first edition of Invisible Man in 1952. The background of the stamp art shows a Harlem street at twilight.

Drawing deeply on European and American literature as well as jazz, the blues, African-American folklore, and popular culture, Invisible Man won the National Book Award in 1953. Ellison’s nonfiction writing, especially the 1964 collection Shadow and Act, has also been praised for providing touchstones for black artists who loved American culture but often felt excluded by it.

In case you missed it, come and check out the rest of the “Give a Lick” Literary Postage Stamp series: 
John Steinbeck and Dorothy Parker
Humorists James Thurber and Ogden Nash
[Bonus James Thurber cartoon]

 

 

Posted in Language, Literary Arts Series, Literature, Words, Writing

Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps – John Steinbeck and Dorothy Parker

Inspiration comes from many places. Today’s blog post inspiration came from the Richard Wright quote of last week, when I went looking for an image of Mr. Wright to use as the focal point. His postage stamp led me to wonder what other literary wordsmiths had been immortalized on postage stamps.

The USPS started the Literary Arts series in 1979.  According to the USPS, “These skillful wordsmiths spun our favorite tales — and American history along with them.”

The full list of Literary Arts postage stamps can be found on the USPS website. I will be highlighting two per day this week, with perhaps a second week to come later on.

Today’s highlighted Literary Giants are John Steinbeck and Dorothy Parker.

John Steinbeck 15¢
(1902-1968)

Steinbeck_15_1979
Issue date: February 27, 1979
City: Salinas, CA
Quantity: 155,000,000

John Steinbeck was the first to be honored on the Literary Arts series. Steinbeck’s novels mirrored America’s struggle and victory over the Great Depression. His most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. Other Steinbeck novels include Of Mice and Men, The Winter of Our Discontent, The Pearl, Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat.

I love the Paris Review’s “The Art of Fiction” interviews. If you haven’t read them, start with Steinbeck, Interview No. 45.

Listen to Steinbeck read two of his short stories, “The Snake” and “Johnny Bear” in 1953.

Dorothy Parker 29¢
(1893-1967)

Dorothy Parker
Issue date: August 22, 1992
City: West End, NJ
Quantity: 105,000,000

Dorothy Parker is 10th in the Literary Arts series.  Famous for her verses and her stories, she worked for Vogue and Vanity Fair, becoming their drama critic. She was published in Vanity Fair, Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Life (when it was still a comic magazine), and The New Yorker, run by her old friend, Harold Ross.

American journalist Vincent Sheean said: “Among contemporary artists, I would put her next to Hemingway and Bill Faulkner. She wasn’t Shakespeare, but what she was, was true.” John Keats in his biography of her, You Might as Well Live (1970) stated: “She wrote poetry that was at least as good as the best of Millay and Housman. She wrote some stories that are easily as good as some of O’Hara and Hemingway.”

A founding member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, she was best known for her wit. Among her more memorable quotes are, “I don’t care what is written about me as long as it isn’t true” and “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

Read Dorothy Parker’s Paris Review’s “Art of Fiction” Interview No. 13.

Have you heard Dorothy Parker’s voice? You can hear her reading 30 of her poems at The Dorothy Parker Society.


Note: Featured stamp collection image courtesy of Birmingham Coin & Jewelry.

Check out the rest of the “Give A Lick” series:

Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison
Humorists Ogden Nash and James Thurber
[Bonus: James Thurber Cartoon]

 

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2009 Richard Wright Postage Stamp courtesy of USPS

The more closely the author thinks of why he wrote, the more he comes to regard his imagination as a kind of self-generating cement which glued his facts together, and his emotions as a kind of dark and obscure designer of those facts. Reluctantly, he comes to the conclusion that to account for his book is to account for his life.

– Richard Wright
Native Son (1940)

 

Many writers do feel the urge to write about what they see, what they know, what they’ve experienced, capturing the writer’s zeitgeist.   Are you writing about your experience or are you more interested in your imagination’s ability to create new worlds?

Born September 4, 1908 in Roxie, Mississippi, Wright came from a family of sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South.  He was the 25th inductee into the Postal Service’s Literary Arts series. Best remembered for his controversial 1940 novel, Native Son, and his 1945 autobiography, Black Boy, Wright drew on a wide range of literary traditions, including protest writing and detective fiction, to craft unflinching portrayals of racism in American society. Wright died in Paris on November 28, 1960.

‘Words Can Be Weapons Against Injustice’

Did you know? 

Wright’s Native Son was the first best-selling novel by a Black American writer. It was also the first Book-of-the-Month Club selection by an African-American writer.

Native Son sold 215,000 copies within three weeks of publication. The book made Wright the wealthiest Black writer in America at that time.

For further reading:

Joe Bunting’s Do You Write from Experience or Imagination? 

Richard Wright Immortalized on Postage

10 Amazing Facts About ‘Native Son’ Author Richard Wright

Quote of the Day: Richard Wright

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My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.

—Anton Chekhov


Anton Chekhov ( 1860-1904), was a prolific Russian  playwright known for The Seagull (1895),  Uncle Vanya (1897), The Three Sisters (1901), and  The Cherry Orchard (1904).

His overall body of work has influenced writers of all genres, from Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Henry Miller, Flannery O’Connor and Somerset Maugham.

Some consider Chekhov to be the founder of the modern short story. Ward no. 6 (1892), The Lady with the Little Dog (1899), A Dreary Story (aka A Boring Story) (1889), and perhaps his most well-known short stories, The Little Trilogy: The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, and About Love (1898).


Notes: 
Chekhov photo courtesy of Thinkit Creative

For summaries of Chekhov’s works, see AmericanLiterature.com

Anton Chekhov on Writing

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Oscar Wilde

 There should be a law that no ordinary newspaper should be allowed to write about art. The harm they do by their foolish and random writing it would be impossible to overestimate—not to the artist but to the public. . . . Without them we would judge a man simply by his work; but at present the newspapers are trying hard to induce the public to judge a sculptor, for instance, never by his statues but by the way he treats his wife; a painter by the amount of his income and a poet by the colour of his necktie.

—Oscar Wilde, Art and the Handicraftsman

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was known as the “Apostle of Aestheticism”.  Wilde explained “Aestheticism is a search after the signs of the beautiful.  It is the science through which men look after the correlation which exists in the arts. It is, to speak more exactly, the search after the secret of life.” Wilde calls aestheticism a philosophy. “It is a study of what may be found in art and nature. Whatever in art represents eternal truth expresses the great underlying truth of aestheticism.”

Oscar Wilde Signature

 

 

 

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Notes:
Oscar Wilde photo courtesy of The American Reader

Wilde’s signature  courtesy of his official website

Title Quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Critic as Artist

 

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde