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Octavia Butler, 1947 - 2006

In a brief autobiography, Butler described herself simply: "I'm comfortably asocial - a hermit in the middle of a large city, a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty and drive."

At the age of 4 she created stories about a magical horse; she was the horse. As a 10-year-old, she was already putting those stories down on paper.
By the time an aunt told her "Honey, Negroes can't be writers," it was too late. At 13, Butler was already tapping out new worlds on a Remington portable...

Donna Oliver, a childhood friend, told The Times in 1998: "She wasn't the outgoing type. She was very, very shy and always seemed to be writing instead of playing."

> from obituary: Octavia Butler, 58; Author Opened the Galaxies of Science Fiction to Blacks. By Jocelyn Y. Stewart, Los Angeles Times February 28 2006

Octavia Butler’s 12th novel is Fledgling

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actor Michael Madsen : poet

Michael Madsen has been writing poetry since childhood... he says he was inspired to explore his different sides by a biography of James Cagney he read as a boy.

"He said that if you're playing an actor who's nefarious, you should find something noble in the character. And if you play someone who's honest, you should find a dark streak in that character because everyone has one. So, I guess, nobody is really all one thing. We have different shades on different days." ....

"It's hard for a man like Michael, who's very much a man's man, to reveal that he writes poetry," his sister Virginia Madsen said. ...

"His career's in line, he's much more fulfilled as a man than he's ever been. ... he's a lot more confident and maybe he's not so shy about revealing his sensitive, poetic side."

> from article Yeah, he's a poet -- you got a problem with that? By Irene Lacher, Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2005

> photo at left by Reuters/David W Cerny]

> book: The Complete Poetic Works of Michael Madsen,
Vol. I: 1995-2005

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Sue Monk Kidd on choosing
to be a writer at 30

Though she was raised a strict Southern Baptist, she describes herself now as "an orthodox eclectic."

Although the South, she notes, never leaves a writer, nor does a Southern Baptist childhood. ...

What hurt her most, she recalls, was how God seemed to "everywhere be male, and women were so far down at second place. But it was the kind of hurt girls just swallow and learn to live with, until it can't be lived with any longer," which gave rise to her own life crisis as she turned 30.

"I'd taken the traditional role," she sighs. "I wasn't brave enough to say I'm going to write for a living, so I studied nursing," working through part of her 20s in nursing — all while marrying and having two children.

"On my 30th birthday, I announced at breakfast to my husband and kids sitting in their highchairs that my life was going to change, and I was going to become a writer." She laughs at the thought. "But that was an important turning point for me even if no one else in the room had the slightest notion of what I was on about."

Popular as a nonfiction mainstream Christian writer for Guidepost magazine, Kidd also wrote the spiritual memoirs "God's Joyful Surprise," "When the Heart Waits" and "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter." They detail her inner transformation from dutiful patriarchal daughter and Confederate Gracious Lady to "loudmouthed feminist spiritual seeker." The last book, full of tender anger, is a journey toward embracing feminist theology and the Divine Feminine.

> from article A daughter of the South breaks free as a hit feminist novelist - By Janet Kinosian, LATimes May 24, 2005

> Kidd's new book is The Mermaid Chair

> photo from www.suemonkkidd.com

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Harley Jane Kozak on writing,
after acting

In my teens and twenties I was an avid letter-writer and diary-keeper, and then, upon graduating from NYU's graduate acting program, had an almost overpowering urge to have a baby and write a play.

I postponed the baby, wrote the play, workshopped it a bit, put it away, tried to write a screenplay, a novel, a musical, put them away, and then, 15 years later, took a short story class from a genius who teaches at Santa Monica College, Jim Krusoe. I lived for his class.

I can't adequately describe the feeling I got there, of being at home.

Of course, I've also felt at home on film sets and rehearsal studios, among actors, but this was different.

It was such joy to be with people who weren't concerned with our makeup or the impression we were making, but simply concerned with words, sentences, paragraphs on a page.

As I neared my 40's, the acting parts grew less interesting to me (going from Leading Lady to Mom of Leading Lady) and my writing grew more interesting to me.

Harley Jane Kozak

> from harleyjanekozak.com

> her book: Dating Is Murder : A Novel

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I certainly do not adore the writer's discipline. I have lost lovers, endangered friendships and blundered into eccentricity, impelled by a concentration which usually is to be found only in the minds of people about to be executed in the next half hour.

Maya Angelou  [in The Written Word list 2/20/04]

her new book: Amazing Peace : A Christmas Poem

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Lan Samantha Chang will take over as the fifth director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop in January (2006).

She wants to try to bring the workshop's fiction writers and poets together to feed off each other's skills. To Chang, the magic of the place transcends administrative policies.

When she arrived in Iowa City to write at the workshop in 1991, "it was like food and drink to a starving person," said the Appleton, Wis., native, whose parents emigrated to the United States after communists took over mainland China in 1949.

She had tried to satisfy the desires of her parents, who thought the way for a happy and secure life as the offspring of immigrants lay in the study of medicine. She considered dermatology "because I once had a rash," before giving up the idea to study public administration at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

"I was studying to get a job where I could wear pantyhose," she said. "If I could get that kind of job, my life would make sense.

"But I was surrounded by people whose goal was to solve problems. I discovered as a writer that I wanted to describe problems."

"Beginning to write was really about finding my voice," she said. "And my voice was tied to my identity as an Asian-American. As I get older I'm interested in other topics."

Lan Samantha Chang is author of Inheritance: A Novel - with a focus on recent Chinese history and how American immigrants link to it.

> from article: First female director hopes to grow legacy of Writer's Workshop = By Mike Kilen, The Des Moines Register, April 26, 2005 / photo by Elise Amendola, AP

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Hunter"Like Wallace Stegner," Wanda Coleman writes in her new book, "The Riot Inside Me," "I am in the 'universal' tradition of writers who concern themselves with The Truth -- never mind that it is apt to hurt someone, in some way, most likely me." ///

She was informed and inspired by an astounding range of reading material: Shakespeare, Roget's Thesaurus, her father's stash of back issues of Esquire, Knight and Playboy, as well as a cherished copy of "Heidi," which she "reread in desperation until I could quote chunks of the text, mentally squeezing it for what I imagined to be hidden underneath."

And she reveals that an illustrated one-volume edition of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass".. turned out to be the single most decisive influence on her poetry.

"Many have referred to Carroll's rhymes as nonsense," she writes, "but in my childhood world -- Los Angeles in the '50s -- they made perfect sense." ///

Coleman, a self-professed "poetry bigot, believing it the highest form of human dialogue," explores the accidental encounters and alchemical processes that go into the making of a poet in "Dancer on a Blade."

She also celebrates the role of John Martin and his Black Sparrow Press (now an imprint of her current publisher, David R. Godine) in the making of more than one important poet, including Coleman.

"After peaking at three thousand rejection slips by 1969, I had concluded that I was doing something very wrong no matter how closely I followed Writers' Digest," she tells us. "John Martin … forced me to begin examining this problem…."

The liveliest and most revealing episode in "The Riot Inside Me" begins with a 2002 book review that Coleman wrote for the Los Angeles Times. "Until I panned Maya Angelou's 'A Song Flung Up to Heaven,' " she writes, "I was just one more poet and writer struggling on the cultural margins of The West, a contender for a spot in a dubious pantheon."

When Coleman dared to criticize the work of an iconic black writer as "a sloppily written fake," she found herself "flung … into the gloppy core of a twenty-first-century literary maelstrom."

> from book review by Jonathan Kirsch, LA Times May 1, 2005 of
The Riot Inside Me: More Trials & Tremors by Wanda Coleman

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HunterErica Jong and Molly Jong-Fast
on being writers

[How did you decide to become a writer?]

Molly Jong-Fast : I originally wrote because I wanted to have something to talk to my parents about. It's the real truth. I felt that was something they would sort of be impressed by.

[How did you feel when Molly started to
express an interest in writing?]

Erica Jong : She never spoke about it. She just sat down at 19 and wrote Normal Girl [a novel]. What always amazed me, because I've done some guest teaching for some writers, is that the hardest thing for any young writer is to get her voice into her work, and Molly seemed to have that from the beginning. ...

I think being a writer is tough as a career, especially in America where you're required to reinvent yourself all the time, as I did with the first big success.

Then everybody wishes you dead for the next three books! It's not an easy profession. It requires a lot of grit, really, more than people think. You have to just keep at it. Whether you start small or start big the way I did, there are always problems. ///

Hunter[You're both big believers
in therapy, aren't you?]

Erica Jong : I'm committed, in a way, to knowing myself, and I think Molly has got that too. She's interested in understanding herself.

Molly Jong-Fast : I haven't had drugs or alcohol in seven years. So being clean shaped much of my formative experience.

The thing with that is, you can't really let anything go. If you don't deal with an issue, you'll just end up starting drugs again. Everything has to be dealt with.

> from article No Fear of Family by Andrea Sachs, Erica Jong,
Molly Jong-Fast, Time.com Apr. 04, 2005 -
linked from mollyjongfast.com

> book: The Sex Doctors in the Basement : True Stories from a Semi-Celebrity Childhood -- by Molly Jong-Fast

> related pages :...counseling.....addiction.....shadow self

~ ~ ~ ~

HunterHis writing did not go "gonzo" until 1970, when he found himself up against a deadline for a story on the Kentucky Derby...

"I'd blown my mind, couldn't work," Hunter S. Thompson recalled later in a Playboy interview.

"So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer.

"I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody."

The article.. was heralded as a breakthrough in journalism, and it brought the author a lasting epiphany.

"If I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times? It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids."

> New Journalism's Dark Prince, by Elaine Woo,
LATimes Feb 22, 2005 / photo: William J. Dibble


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doubt and ambivalence

interviewer : How do you come to your stories? How do you pick them up from points of pause?

Lisa Glatt : As someone who's written poetry in the past, those points of pause scared me in the beginning, and I wanted to get as much work on the page as possible in one sitting because I feared that I wouldn't be able to pick it up again, that I'd lose some of the intensity or momentum.

That's impossible with longer fiction, obviously, and I had to learn some lessons about sustaining a narrative and letting go of some of my own personal demands.

While writing the novel I often felt frustrated and unhappy with myself and my progress, but came to realize that so much of that doubt and ambivalence is part of the process, at least for me.

> small.spiral.notebook interview by Felicia C. Sullivan -
 posted on lisaglatt.com

> her novel : A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That

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Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it.

Gloria Anzaldua .. [1942-2004]

from This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color - by Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua

> quotes, photo from site : Voices from the Gaps : Women Writers of Color

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Pulp fiction has always been a male-dominated genre, the realm of the tough-guy writer, from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to more modern, "neo-noir" practitioners like Walter Mosley or James Ellroy. 

In such a landscape -- of fistfights and gin joints, gats and gams and smoky neon midnights -- women exist primarily as temptresses, as dangerous and unreliable femmes fatales.

This is as fundamental to the genre as its edge of moral ambiguity. 

As a result, perhaps, only a few women have ever cracked the pulp canon, among them Patricia Highsmith, whose Ripley books showcase a new kind of sociopath, and Leigh Brackett, who, with the publication of the 1944 L.A. noir novel "No Good From a Corpse," wrote her way into a 35-year screenwriting career ("The Big Sleep," co-written with William Faulkner; "The Empire Strikes Back").

Of course, when it comes to pulp, appearances can be deceiving. That's the idea behind "Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp," a new series from New York's Feminist Press that seeks to highlight the long-neglected contributions of female writers to the form.

"During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s," notes Livia Tenzer, the Press' editorial director, "women wrote not only romance, but science fiction, hard-boiled detective stories and other styles of pulp, which you wouldn't expect." 

Launched last fall with three titles -- Dorothy B. Hughes' "In a Lonely Place," Faith Baldwin's "Skyscraper" and Valerie Taylor's "The Girls in 3-B" -- "Femmes Fatales" is first and foremost a literary reclamation project, bringing lost pulp classics back into the cultural dialogue. //

"In the 1940s and 1950s," Tenzer explains, "pulp really operated below the radar of cultural censors, so it could deal with a lot of taboo subjects that mainstream literature could not."

Yet as true as this is for pulp in general, it's doubly so for female writers, who were invisible even within a throwaway form. 

"Because of that," Casella suggests, "you have women writing about lesbian relationships, interracial relationships or strong female characters who refuse to be defined by men."

from article Dames of letters - by David L. Ulin, 
LA Times April 11 2004

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Overcoming Writer's Block -
By Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

Let's say you desperately want to write more than anything in the world. You sit at your typewriter or computer day after day, but you can't write. You feel frustrated, depressed and life is unbearable, because you can't do the one thing you love to do most - WRITE. 

You stare at the blank page and panic. Where do you start? What o to write? A small voice whispers in your ear, "You don't have anything exciting to say." 

The voice gets louder as it laughs, "Look who's trying to write." Soon the laughter drowns out your thoughts and ideas and you aren't able to produce any words on the empty page. 

You are truly blocked! And when this happens you feel frustrated, lonely, angry, depressed, hopeless, and helpless.

No matter how negative you feel, there are ways that you can overcome this state. Let's look at some steps you can take to deal with your block. 

The first thing you want to do is identify the inner voice who talks to you all the time -- the voice that fills you with criticism, self doubt and negativity.

What can you do about it? How can you get rid of it?

Well, the next time you hear the voice try to recognize and discover whose voice is really talking to you. 

The first step to help you break through your block is to identify the voice! Whose voice is it? Your mother's, father's, teacher's, sister's? 

Is what it's saying about you true? Probably not. You've just been carrying around this critical voice all these years and now the time has arrived to let go. 

So the next time the "inner critic" starts whispering negative messages to you - IGNORE IT! Become aware of all the destructive things your critic tells you and realize how FALSE they really are.

from article : Overcoming Writer's Block - 
By Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

photo of Nicolas Cage from "Adaptation"
photo of Rachel Ballon from her website

....Breathing Life into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon

< more on self-limiting behavior

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E.L. Doctorow once said that "writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." 

You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.

....Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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