Happy Birthday Author Nayantara Sahgal

Nayantara Sahgal, on Passion

Novelist and photojournalist Nayantara Sahgal celebrates her birthday today, May 10th. She was born in 1927 into one of India’s prominent political families. Her novel Rich Like Us won the Sinclair prize for fiction. She is known as a writer with feminist concerns, delving into conventional Indian society’s gender roles. These days she serves as a political journalist for Indian, British, and American newspapers.

Nayantara Sahgal quote

Quirky Writing Habits

Today’s birthday quote brought to mind some writers’ behaviors that some others may find bewildering.

Have you ever encountered sidelong looks when explaining your yawns were caused by that wouldn’t-wait 3:00am idea? Or found yourself trying to explain why your antagonist has their own playlist? Or what exactly a series bible is?  Have you ever tried to clarify why your character has a twenty-page biography that readers will never see? Or why you drink coffee when writing dialog but scotch when outlining?

Writers Life – Yes, Maybe We’re Odd

Face it, some of the things we writers do seem weird to the rest of the world.

Some of those folks may even consider you to be a bit odd.  Acknowledge them politely. After all, they’re just baffled. So go ahead and try to explain the whys of your writing process.  Smile at their blank looks.

And then get back to following your passion and write those words!

Happy Birthday Nayantara Sahgal, born today in 1927.

Happy Birthday Emperor, and Thanks for the Good Advice

Marcus Aurelius Was Multi-Talented

2019 0426 Marcus Aurelius Lit Quote

Today marks what would have been Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius’ 1898th birthday. That’s after some minor adjustment for a little Julian calendar anomaly hundreds of years ago. Adjusted or not, he lived a really long time ago. Apparently Marcus had a bit of influence back then.

Did you know he wrote a book?  Not surprising, given his philosophical bent. He entitled his work “To Himself”, it is now known as Meditations. I suspect how-to-be-a-good-writer books weren’t so common back then. I’ll even suggest that self-help books were relatively unknown in the Roman Empire.

Timeless Advice from the Emperor

Despite that, Aurelius offers sound advice for would-be authors.

If you’re like me, you’ve got little notebooks and random scraps of paper, and maybe index cards with flashes of brilliance on them.  If you’re like me, they may be populating your glovebox, crinkling in your handbag, nestled in between bills and magazines. Great little gems, scenes, starting points, mental pictures, scattered amidst regular life and that paying job.

What good are they doing you?  Well, other than helping kick in that declutter urge.  You’ve jotted down that great bit of inspiration, but it won’t gain much traction scribbled on the back of a Walgreens receipt.

Just Do It

More recently, some Nike marketers paraphrased the great philosopher and (snicker) ran with it. Apologies, sometimes I just can’t help myself. But you cannot deny that this advice works. It worked for selling ridiculous quantities of casual footwear. And it’ll work for you, too.

That novel or poem, short story, memoir or even flash piece will never see the light of day if you just think about it.  Get pen in hand or fingers on keyboard and start saving those words rattling around in you head. Sit down and do so regularly, and if you do, as Marcus reminds us, “thou wilt have finished”.

Well done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality vs. Fiction, According to Tom Clancy

tom Clancy Fiction Reality Quote

Today, April 12th, is the birth anniversary of Tom Clancy.

Tom Clancy was once a Maryland insurance broker with a passion for naval history.

Then he wrote The Hunt for Red October, which catapulted onto the New York Times bestseller list after President Reagan pronounced it “the perfect yarn”. Clancy was known for  weaving realism and intricate plotting into can’t-put-it-down suspense novels.

I can readily recall more than a few real-life situations that I’ve transferred to the page, only to find that they were unbelievable.  How can that be? It makes no sense that actual events or conversations don’t translate to fiction. Sense or not, the reality is that reality sometimes bends or tests or even shatters the suspended disbelief of our readers.  Why is that?

Have you ever written real life situations that were just too unbelievable to be included in your work?

Perhaps the entertaining conversation you overheard on the train doesn’t fit into your story. Or maybe your character wouldn’t be caught dead doing that crazy thing you saw the tourist do at the national park. It could be that what you observed was so jarring that it yanks your readers right out of the story.  Speaking of story, did that real-life tidbit actually further your plot or develop a character?  Did it serve a purpose?

The possibility exists that, sometimes, truth actually is stranger than fiction, and should be left alone. 

For now.

Keep it in your idea arsenal for another time.  You never know when your fiction could use that dose of actual real-life.

Photo taken by Gary Wayne Gilbert, 20 Nov 1989 at Burns Library, Boston College and is used under Creative Commons License.

Advice for Aspiring Writers from the Great Danilo Kiš

Danilo Kiš photo with quote

Danilo Kiš was born 22 February 1935 in  Yugoslavia (now Serbia); he died 15 October 1989,  just before the Berlin Wall fell. 

Danilo”s mother was from Montenagro and his father, a Jew, died in Auschwitz.

His novels and short stories addressed the politics 20th century Europe.Danilo’s  most celebrated book, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, Danilo explored totalitarianism.  He received acclaim for novels The Hourglass and Garden, Ashes. 

Literary rumor has it that Danilo was set to win the Nobel Prize for Literature the year he died; it is a fact that he was nominated. 

This quote applies to our characters – unscathed characters are boring. They become interesting as they gain scars. Creative writing courses teach us to beat up our characters, make the suffer. As with real live people, our characters’ experiences, good, bad, better, or horrifying, make them who they are. Are you cruel to your characters?

Today’s birthday quote is drawn from Danilo’s  list of advice for aspiring writers, found in his autobiography. Some may not work for you ideologically, but more than a few are timeless and worth review. Give them a look, take your time, and consider what works for you.

 

Advice For the Young Writer

  • Doubt reigning ideologies and the princes.
  • Keep away from the princes.
  • Be careful not to contaminate your speech with the language of ideologies.
  • Believe that you are mightier than the generals, but do not measure your strength with them.
  • Believe that you are weaker than the generals, but do not measure your strength with them.
  • Do not believe in Utopian projects, except in those you are creating yourself.
  • Be equally bitter towards the princes as you are towards the crowds.
  • Have a clear conscience regarding the privileges that your writer’s trade provides.
  • Do not mix the curse of your profession with class oppression.
  • Do not get obsessed with the urgency of history and do not believe in the metaphor about the trains of history.
  • Do not board, therefore, “the trains of history,” for it is nothing but a silly metaphor.
  • Always keep in mind: “he who hits the bull’s eye, misses everything else.”
  • Do not write pieces about the countries you visited as a tourist; do not write pieces at all, you are not a journalist.
  • Do not believe in statistics, in numbers, in public statements: reality is that which cannot be seen with the naked eye.
  • Do not visit factories, kolkhoz, workplaces:  progress is that which cannot be seen with the naked eye.
  • Do not practice economics, sociology, psychoanalysis.
  • Do not follow eastern philosophies, Zen Buddhism etc; you have better things to do.
  • Be aware that fantasy is fabrication’s sister, and therefore dangerous.
  • Associate with no one: the writer is always alone.
  • Do not trust those who maintain that ours is the worst of all worlds.
  • Do not trust prophets, you are the prophet.
  • Do not be a prophet, your weapon is doubt.
  • Have a peaceful conscience: the princes do not affect you because you are a prince.
  • Have a peaceful conscience: the miners do not affect you because you are a miner.
  • Keep in mind that the thing you did not say in the newspapers is not gone forever.
  • Do not write according to the order of the day.
  • Do not play all your cards on the moment, you will repent it.
  • Do not play all your cards on eternity either, you will repent doing this as well.
  • Be discontent with your destiny, only fools are content with theirs.
  • Be content with your destiny, for you have been chosen.
  • Seek no moral justification for traitors.
  • Stay clear from “absolute righteousness.”
  • Stay clear from false analogies.
  • Trust in those who pay a great price for their inconsistencies.
  • Do not trust in those who pay a great price for their inconsistencies.
  • Do not promote the relativism of all values: there is a hierarchy to all values.
  • Accept the awards awarded by the princes with indifference, but do nothing to deserve them.
  • Believe that the language of your writing is the best language of all, for you have no other language.
  • Believe that the language of your writing is the worst language of all, although you would not replace it for any other.
  • Do not be servile, because the princes will employ you as their doorman.
  • Do not be arrogant, because you will look like the princes’ doorman.
  • Do not allow them to convince you that your writing is useless to society.
  • Do not think that your writing can be considered “useful to society.”
  • Do not think that you yourself are a useful member of society.
  • Do not allow them to convince you, because of that, that you are a social parasite.
  • Believe that your sonnet is more valuable than the speeches of politicians and princes.
  • Have an opinion on everything.
  • Do not say your opinion on everything.
  • For you, your words cost you nothing.
  • Your words are the most precious thing.
  • Do not represent your nation, for whom else could your represent but yourself!
  • Do not be the opposition, for you stand not across the princess, you are down below.
  • Do not stand next to government and the princes, you are above them.
  • Fight social injustice, but don’t make it into a manifesto.
  • Do not allow the fight against social injustice to lead you astray from your path.
  • Become familiar with the thoughts of others, and  discard them afterwards.
  • Do not create a political program, do not create any kind of program: you create from the magma and the chaos of the universe.
  • Beware of those who offer final solutions.
  • Do not be a writer minority of the minorities.
  • As soon as some society begins calling you its own, question what you are doing.
  • Do not write for the “average reader:” all readers are average.
  • Do not write for the elite, there is no elite; you are the elite.
  • Do not contemplate death, and do not forget you are mortal.
  • Do not believe in the immortality of a writer, that is nonsense taught by teachers.
  • Do not be tragically serious, for that is comical.
  • Do not be a comedian, because the boyar are used to being entertained by them.
  • Do not be a fool of the court.
  • Do not believe that the writers are the “mankind’s conscience:” you’ve seen too many sons of bitches.
  • Do not let them persuade you that you are nobody: you’ve already seen that the boyar are afraid of the poets.
  • Never follow an idea to the death, and persuade no one to die.
  • Do not be a coward, and despise cowards.
  • Do not forget that bravery commands a high price.
  • Do not write for holidays and jubilees.
  • Do not write laudations, because you are going to repent it.
  • Do not write obituaries for the heroes of the nation, because you are going to repent it.
  • If you cannot pronounce the truth – stay quiet.
  • Beware the half-truths.
  • When everyone around you is celebrating, there is no reason for you to take part.
  • Do no favors for the princes and the boyar.
  • Seek no favors from the princes and the boyar.
  • Do not be tolerant out of politeness.
  • Do not require justice from everyone: “do not argue with a fool.”
  • Do not allow them to persuade you that all of us have equally valid opinions, and that there is no accounting for tastes.
  • “When both participants in a discussion are wrong, it does not mean they are both right.” (Popper)
  • “Allowing that the other one is right does not protect us from a greater danger: allowing that perhaps everyone else is right.” (Idem)
  • Do not discuss with fools about things they have heard from you for the first time.
  • Do not be on a mission.
  • Beware of those who have a mission.
  • Do not believe in “scientific opinion”.
  • Do not believe in intuition.
  • Beware of cynicism, even your own.
  • Stay clear of ideological gatherings and quotations.
  • Have the courage to say that Aragorn’s poem in Gepeua’s honor is blasphemy.
  • Do not allow them to convince you that both Sartre and  Camus were right in their polemic.
  • Do not believe in automated writing and “conscious unconsciousness” – you strive after clarity.
  • Reject all literary schools that are imposed upon you.
  • When “socialist realism” is mentioned, you leave the conversation.
  • On the topic of “socially engaged literature” you are as quiet as a fish: you leave that to the teachers.
  • You tell the one who is comparing concentration camps with Sante (Dante?) to go and take a walk.
  • You tell the one who claims that Kolyma was worse than Auschwitz to go to hell.
  • As for the one claiming that only fleas were being exterminated in Auschwitz – same procedure as above.
  • Segui il carro e lascia dir le genti. (“Follow your own road, and let the people talk” – Dante).

Thank you to Filip Simunovic for the translation. Read more on his literary blog:  Filip Simunovic

V.S. Naipaul Quote and Headshot

Humor, Tragedy, And a Nobel Prize for Literature

Today, August 17, 2018, Sir. V.S. Naipaul celebrates his 86th birthday.

Recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, British author Sir V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad to parents of Indian descent. Sir Naipaul earned a government scholarships, attended Oxford and worked for the BBC for a short time. His early novels and short stories received a number of recognitions and awards.  A House for Mr Biswas (1961), was based on his father’s life in Trinidad and received high praise.  Later in his career, he wrote about colonial and post-colonial societies and alienation of the individual in the process of decolonization. Sir Naipaul was knighted in 1989 and holds honorary doctorates from Cambridge University and Columbia University in New York, and honorary degrees from the universities of Cambridge, London and Oxford.

“One always writes comedy at the moment of deepest hysteria” ~ Sir. V.S. Naipaul

An insightful man, Sir. Naipaul.  And he nails it, doesn’t he?  Humor and tragedy are a mere knife-edge apart, and comedy emerges in force when things seem to be at their very worst.

My thoughts….

V.S. Naipaul Quote and HeadshotComedy cushions the blow. Humor can be used to soften an intimidating (or terrifying) message. The reality may not be any easier, but swallowing the pill is less unpleasant.

For as long as governments have existed, satirists have used humor not only to poke fun at leaders, but to call them out.

Humor helps normalize overwhelming experiences and nudges us to look at a situation from different angles. That may reduce some of the stress and fear.

As with shorter skirts during wartime, humor offers a distraction.  A bit of silliness, maybe some physical comedy provide an opportunity to turn away from the awfulness around us and just smile a bit.  At the darkest times, those little bits of light sustain us.

And finally, humor draws us together, providing a bond with others. We’re all in this together, after all, right?

And with that, I will refrain from sharing further my thoughts on the buckets of funny stuff emerging in these last few years. Because, even with humor, that is just a depressing place to go. Instead, I’ll share that A House for Mr Biswas has been added to my ever-growing to read list.

You can learn more about Sir V.S. Naipaul here.


Photo credit JackNL under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.  Quote from brainyquotes.com