July 15, 2015

 Her [Iris Murdoch] novels often deal with things like the illusion of free will, the comedy of the sexes, and the complex relationship of good and evil. In particular, she grappled with writing about moral goodness without sounding preachy. She told The Paris Review: "Plato remarks inThe Republic that bad characters are volatile and interesting, whereas good characters are dull and always the same. This certainly indicates a literary problem. It is difficult in life to be good, and difficult in art to portray goodness. Perhaps we don't know much about goodness. Attractive bad characters in fiction may corrupt people, who think, So that's OK. Inspiration from good characters may be rarer and harder, yet Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov and the grandmother in Proust's novel exist." WA 15 July 2015

 It probably explains why Dolores, or Evans or Raul are more engaging than William. He's too good a guy.

June 23, 2015

It's like, at the end, there's this surprise quiz: Am I proud of me? I gave my life to become the person I am right now. Was it worth what I paid? -Richard Bach, writer (b. 23 Jun 1936) 


June 15, 2015

"I was undervaluing my own singular nature and experience: Each person, each life, is distinctive, even if you didn’t grow up in a family of acrobats or spend 10 years sleeping alongside lions on the African veld. It’s not what happens to us in our lives that makes us into writers; it’s what we make out of what happens to us. It’s our distinctive point of view."   Dinty W. Moore, Writer’s Digest,  4 Oct 2011


May 23, 2015

Tom Cahill’s description of how he came to appreciate history from the sayings and aphorisms of his mother, who learned them from her Galway-bred mother. 

“But her waves of words had a sort of triple (and simultaneous) effect: first, the experience of coming into contact with alien lives through the medium of the words they had left behind; then, the acknowledgement of humanity I shared with these strangers from another time and place; and last, the satisfying thrill that concentrated metaphorical language can give its listener—the electric sensation at the back of the neck announcing the arrival of the gods of poetry.”

 From: Sailing the Wine-dark Sea: Why the Greeks matter.





"The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations."

Eduardo Galeano, dead at 74



You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. -Anne Lamott, writer (b. 10 Apr 1954) 

She  [Barbara Kingsolver]said: "It's all about accessibility. That's why I write in English as opposed to some sort of highfalutin English that's incomprehensible. I really believe that complex ideas can be put across in simple language. And a good plot never hurt anybody. It doesn't cost you in literary terms to give your readers a reason to turn a page." WA 8 Apr 2015

In some sense, creating characters allows me to evaluate myself, and how I perceive and understand others. It's the first step to being honest and emotionally free. 

 Christa Romanosky  Glimmer Train, 1 April 2015


"Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life's restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men." (The true meaning of free will-Ed.) Martin Luther King, Jr. WA 15 Jan 2015


"[My mother's laughter] was miraculous, sourced in the nowhere of print, unaided by ham mannerisms ... Nothing is more impressive than the sight of a complex person suddenly ripping out a laugh over some words in a serious book or periodical." Nicholson Baker on deciding to be a writer rather than composer. , WA 7  Jan 2014

All her work, she [Edith Pearlman] explained, is directed toward “a single imaginary ideal reader, someone wishing to be entertained and not averse to being enlightened.” NYT 2 jan 2015

A worthy goal for a writer:

"What do I know about Gabo now that he’s gone? I know that he had deep affection and compassion for the people he wrote about: the men carrying all their foibles on their backs, the women surviving on their Amazonian strength, all those characters who were willful, irascible, irresistible, lovable, stubborn, proud, obsessive and ultimately unpredictable; creatures who were all-too human, and therefore easy to identify with regardless of when or where they lived, or whether they lived at all."

 Edith Grossman (Garcia's English translator) on Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The real index of civilization is when people are kinder than they need to be. -Louis de Bernieres, novelist (b. 1954) WS 8 Dec 2014

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.

- -Thich Nhat Hanh

"When one comes to write [...] all that you have been taught leaves you, all that you have stolen lies discovered. [...] You have then to give voice to the hearts of men, and you can do it only so far as you have known them, loved them.” Willa Cather, WA 7 Dec 2014

Ann Patchett said, "Everybody believed that they were special, that they weren't really a waiter, that they were the one who was getting out. ... I had to come to terms with the fact that I was just like everybody else, a girl with a dream and a plate of hot fajitas. You get out not so much because you're special but because you've got enough steel in your soul to crawl up." Speaking of her job waiting tables at TGI Fridays. 

I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia. -Woody Allen, author, actor, and filmmaker (b. 1935)

To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour. -William Blake, poet, engraver, and painter (1757-1827)

"It was typical for her to place her stories in such dramatic settings. 'Almost always, the idea for a book comes to me as a reaction to a particular place,' she said. “I like to create in books some kind of opposition between places and characters.” OBIT for P.D. James NYT 27 Nov 2014

"Whenever we give our pen some free will, we may surprise ourselves. All that wanting to seem normal in regular life, all that fitting in falls away in the face of one's own strange self on the page. [...] Writing or making anything — a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake — has self-respect in it. You're working. You're trying. You're not lying down on the ground, having given up." Poet Sharon Olds, WA 19 Nov 2014

“I once read about a guy whose childhood was a steady calamity. He was afraid, unable to control his mind and self. But he became a writer and discovered he was magnificent at it. Through the act of writing, he could investigate his fears and demystify them. He discovered agency by finding something he was good at and organizing his life around that gift.”


“Agency is not automatic. It has to be given birth to, with pushing and effort. It’s not just the confidence and drive to act. It’s having engraved inner criteria to guide action. The agency moment can happen at any age, or never. I guess that’s when adulthood starts.”

 David Brooks, The Agency Moment, NYT 14 Nov 2014

He [John Berryman] said: "You should always be trying to write a poem you are unable to write, a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve. Otherwise you're merely imitating yourself, going nowhere, because that's always easiest." WA 25 Oct 2014

“It’s like, there are parts of you that never got expressed in the way you lived your life. Writing gets them out there, where you can look at them and decide for yourself whether they are true.” Michael Crump

He [Kurt Vonnegut] once came up with a list of eight rules for writing a short story. Rule number one: "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted." Other rules include "Start as close to the end as possible" and "Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of." WA 11 Nov 2014

The idea that every portrait of a woman should be an ideal woman, meant to stand for all of womanhood, is an enemy of art — not to mention wickedly delicious Joan Crawford and Bette Davis movies. Art is meant to explore all the unattractive inner realities as well as to recommend glittering ideals. It is not meant to provide uplift or confirm people’s prior ideological assumptions. Art says “Think,” not “You’re right.” 

Maureen McDowd, “Lady Psychopaths,” Welcome,  NYT 28 Oct 2014

He [Carl Sagan] said: "My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.” WA 9 Nov 2014

Terrence McNally said, "I guess it hadn't occurred to me that to be a playwright you had to write plays — I thought you could be a playwright and sulk." WA 3 June 2014

“War is a gale. It scoops up routine lives and (when it does not end them) scatters them here and there, never again to be reconstituted in the same form.” Roger Cohen, NYT 

But now, she [Ann McDermott] says, "it's getting a little bit more hip to be Catholic. [...] For me, having characters who are part of a faith then allows me to talk about how that faith either works or fails them without having to attack the institution." Ann McDermott has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for three of her books so far: That Night (1987), At Weddings and Wakes (1992), and After This (2006). Her 1998 novel Charming Billy won the National Book Award. WA 27 Jun 2014

"I realized you cannot evoke a place truly till you find a tone, a narrative, in tune with the dimensions of that place. You can't use Jane Austen to tell stories about Africa." Ben Okri (Writer's Almanac 15 Mar, 2013)

It was Tobias Wolff, who said, "You could say that all my characters are reflections of myself, in that I share their wish to count for something, and their utmost confusion as to how this is supposed to be done." WA 19 June 2013