Friday, 2 May 2014

Published Writers: How Did They Do It????


Featured Writer: 

Virginia Woolf

  born Adeline Virginia Stephen at 22 Hyde Park Gate in London.  Her parents were Sir Leslie Stephen and Julia Prinsep Duckworth Stephen (nee Jackson).  Her father was a notable historian, author, critic and mountaineer.  Her mother, a renowned beauty, served as a model for Pre-Raphaelite painters.


Early Influences:

...her home was filled with the renowned, the likes of, to mention a few:  Henry James, George Henry Lewes, James Russell Lowe.   Virginia’s most vivid childhood memories were of St. Ives in Cornwall, where the family spent their summers. 

The summer home, Talland House, is still standing today.  Memories of these family holidays and impressions of the landscape, especially the Godrevy Lighthouse, informed the fiction she wrote in later years, especially To the Lighthouse.


Grief/Emotional Turmoil:

The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when she was 13, and that of her half-sister, Stella, two years later, led to the first of Virginia’s several breakdowns.  The death of her father in 1904 provoked her another collapse and she was briefly institutionalized. 

Throughout her life, she was plagued by mood swings and associated disorders.  Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued throughout her life.

Sexual Abuse:

Modern scholars, including her nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell have suggested her breakdowns and subsequent recurring depressive periods were also influenced by the sexual abuse to which she and her sister, Vanessa, were subjected by their half-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth which Woolf recalls in her autobiographical essays, A Sketch of the Past and 22 Hyde Park Gate.

Literary Works:

Woolf began writing professionally in 1900.  Her first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915 b Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd.  She went on to publish novels and essays as a public intellectual to both critical and popular success.  She is seen as a major twentieth century novelist and one of the foremost modernists.


Writing Style:

Woolf is considered a major innovator in the English language.  In her works she experimented with stream-of-consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters. 

Her peculiarities as a fiction writer have tended to obscure her central strength as a lyrical novelist.  Her novels are highly experimental.  Intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity fuse to create a world overabundant and auditory and visual impressions. 



After completing the manuscript of her last novel, Between the Acts, Woolf fell into a depression.  On March 28, 1941, Woolf put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, and walked into the river near her home and drowned herself.  She is buried under an elm in the garden of Monk’s House, her home in Rodmell, Sussex.


Last Words:  (note to her husband)

Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.


All readers’ comments welcomed.




Friday, 25 April 2014

Published Writers: How Did They Do It???

Featured Writer: 

Maya Angelou

Born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, is an American poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. In 2001 she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies Home Journal.


Best Known Works: 

Maya Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (1969 which was nominated for a National Book Award and called her magnum opus. Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.


Versatile Talents/Themes/Innovative Approach: 

She has made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books center on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel. Angelou is best known for her autobiographies, but she is also an established poet, although her poems have received mixed reviews.

A poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. In 2001 she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies Home Journal.

She has published three books of essays, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years.  Despite almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated “Blacks, Blues, Black!” a ten-part series of documentaries about the connection between blues music and black American’s African heritage and what Angelou called the “Africanisms still current in the U.S. for National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS.


Inspiration Behind First Autobiography:

 In 1968, at a dinner party she attended with writer James Baldwin, she was challenged and inspired by cartoonist Jules Feiffer, and his wife Judy, and Random House editor, Robert Loomis to write her life story.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, brought her international recognition and acclaim.


Ms. Angelou’s quote on writing: 

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.


Interview with George Plimpton:

Q:  You once told me that you write lying on a made-up bed with a bottle of sherry a dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, yellow pads, an ashtray and a Bible.  What’s the function of the Bible?

A:  The language of all the interpretations, the translations, of the Judaic Bible and the Christian Bible is musical, just wonderful.  I read the Bible to myself; I’ll take any translation, any edition, and read it aloud, just to hear the language, hear the rhythm, and remind myself how beautiful English is.  Though I do manage to mumble around in about seven or eight languages, English remains the most beautiful of languages.  It will do anything. 


On Writing Process:

‘I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution.  Then I go out and shop – I’m a serious cook – and pretend to be normal.  And I go home.  I prepare dinner for myself, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that.  Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning.  And more often than not if I’ve done nine pages I may be able to save two and a half or three.



Dominant Themes for each Book:

‘I try to remember times in my life, incidents in which there was the dominating theme of cruelty, or kindness, or generosity, or envy, or happiness … perhaps four incidents in the period I’m going to write about.  Then I select the one that lends itself best to my device and that I can write as drama without falling into melodrama. 


How Much Polish??

Dominant Themes for each Book:

‘I try to remember times in my life, incidents in which there was the dominating theme of cruelty, or kindness, or generosity, or envy, or happiness … perhaps four incidents in the period I’m going to write about.  Then I select the one that lends itself best to my device and that I can write as drama without falling into melodrama. 

‘I must have such control of my tools, of words, that I can make this sentence leap off the page.  I have to have my writing so polished that it doesn’t look polished at all.  I want a reader, especially an editor, to be a half-hour into my book before he realizes it’s reading he’ doing.’


Maya is an astounding poet, writer, activist, and on, and on, and on.  If any of you have enjoyed reading this small snippet about this remarkable woman, I recommend you do further research.  It will be worth it.


Keep on writing…..

Friday, 18 April 2014

Published Writers: How Did They Do It???

Premise of Blog: As an unpublished writer, I thought it might be interesting to find out more about those envied souls – the published writer.  As there are so many of them and so many genres, I decided to select an author randomly (pointing a finger) from A-Z and focus on what he or she had to say about writing, hoping against hope that some of what they had to say would be of great publishing value.  As it’s quite a large tasking, I thought it might be fun to share this information with other would be published writers and hear what they have to say about the author, their writing or the craft in general.  And, if by lucky chance, a published author happened to take a peek at this blog, well, all comments much appreciated. 

This week’s featured writer:  Debby Applegate 

Debby is an American biographer. She is the author of The Most Famous Man in America:  A Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

Education Background: 

Born in Eugene, Oregon, Applegate grew up in Clackamas, graduating from Clackamas High School in 1985. She graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College in 1989 and earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University in 1998.
A University Fascination: 

Debby attended Amherst College as an undergraduate, where she began a two-decade fascination with famous alumnus Henry Ward Beecher, a 19th-century abolitionist minister who was later the subject of a widely publicized sex scandal.  

In Her Own Words:

I started researching the notorious and charming Reverend Henry Ward Beecher when I was only 18 years old, when I was asked to put together a display on notorious but forgotten alumni as a student worker in the Amherst College Archives (I was a great fan of American history even then).

I was raised in a very unusual religious environment -- my mother's family is Mormon, my father's is Irish Catholic, I grew up around many evangelical Christians in Oregon, and my mother is a New Thought minister -- and Beecher seemed to embody the best of what religion could offer. I loved his very modern sense of humor and irreverence toward old sacred cows, and his joyful, ecumenical approach to religion and life in general. Except, of course, for the fact that he was accused (but never convicted) of an affair with his own parishioner -- which explains why he'd been forgotten.

"What a great topic for a seminar paper!" I thought as an 18 year old student, but as I began writing about him I had no idea how long Beecher would capture my imagination. Finally, after nearly twenty years with Beecher -- including several years of college, 7 years of graduate school and another 7 years of research and writing (it begins to feel almost Biblical!) -- he and I have come to our climax.

I still feel great affection for Beecher even after seeing him at his worst, including discovering a child whom I believe to be his illegitimate daughter. In both his glories and faults, he is one of the great founding fathers of modern American religion and it would be impossible to imagine American culture without his influence. Just try "googling" Henry Ward Beecher's name on the web and you will find hundreds of his pithy, profound and funny quotations collected by people who have no idea that he was once the most famous man in America.

It would thrill me if my book restores some of Beecher's well-deserved fame and infamy. My only dilemma now is what to do now that old Beecher and I have finally come to the end of our collaboration.


Future Writing Aspirations:

As of 2011, Applegate is working on a biography of Polly Adler, New York City's notorious Prohibition-era brothel-keeper whose 1953 memoir, A House is not a Home, became a New York Times Bestseller and a 1963 film starring Shelly Winters. The decision to write the book came after a year of research into 1920s New York City cultural history, during which Applegate discovered Adler's memoir and grew fascinated by it.  Applegate's book is to be titled Madam: The Notorious Life and Times of Polly Adler and will be published by Doubleday.



With all her talent, education, hard work, Applegate remains humble about her talents as witnessed by what she had to say of her win of the Pulitzer:  "Half of it is just good luck ... Had it come out four years ago, I don't think the climate was ready for it. The religious right intersection with politics is very important now."


All comments are welcome.  Keep on writing ……