Friday, October 24, 2014

Notes For October 24th, 2014

This Day In Writing History

On October 24th, 1958, the legendary American mystery writer Raymond Chandler began work on his last novel, Poodle Springs, which would remain unfinished by him. It would feature the iconic character for which Chandler became famous.

That character was Philip Marlowe, a hard boiled private detective based in Los Angeles. Marlowe was different than the typical detective: intelligent (college educated) and complex, tough as nails yet sentimental at times, and semi-fluent in Spanish.

Marlowe had few friends and a passion for both classical music and the game of chess. If he suspected that a prospective client's job was unethical, he would refuse to take the case.

Chandler's writing style was hard-edged, fast moving, and peppered with clever and lyrical metaphors: "The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips." This distinctive style would be referred to as Chandleresque.

Philip Marlowe made his debut in Chandler's early short stories and became the star of his classic first novel, The Big Sleep (1939). Chandler's last novel, Poodle Springs, was begun in 1958, near the end of his life.

Four years earlier, Chandler lost his beloved wife, Pearl "Cissy" Pascal, to a long illness. Devastated, he plunged into a quagmire of heavy drinking and severe depression. He never got around to interring Cissy's ashes and they sat in a storage locker for over fifty years.

Left alone at the age of 66 after nearly thirty years of marriage, Chandler attempted suicide in 1955. Thankfully, he had called the police to warn them of his intentions. He went to England for a time to recover from his mental breakdown.

Back home in the United States, he continued to drink. By 1958, he decided to take up writing again and pen another Philip Marlowe novel. Poodle Springs was Chandler's nickname for Palm Springs, where "every third elegant creature you see has at least one poodle."

There, Marlowe settles down with his new wife, wealthy socialite Linda Loring. Marlowe and Loring began their affair in the classic novel, The Long Goodbye (1953). Chandler envisioned their married life as "a running fight interspersed with amorous interludes."

In The Long Goodbye, Philip Marlowe described Linda Loring this way:

...There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn't care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Room and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review.

There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can't lay a finger on her because in the first place you don't want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provencal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them...

After writing the first four chapters of Poodle Springs, Chandler lost interest in it, filed the manuscript away, and returned to his heavy drinking. He died several months later of alcoholism and kidney failure at the age of 70.

The first four chapters of Chandler's unfinished novel would be published as The Poodle Springs Story, included in Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962), a collection of letter excerpts and unpublished writings.

In 1988, to honor the author's 100th birthday, the Raymond Chandler estate hired crime writer Robert B. Parker to complete Chandler's unfinished novel. It was published as Poodle Springs in 1989.

Quote Of The Day

"Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say." - Raymond Chandler

Vanguard Video

Today's video features reading of Raymond Chandler's last novel Poodle Springs, performed by Elliott Gould. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Notes For October 23rd, 2014

This Day In Writing History

On October 23rd, 1942, the legendary American writer and filmmaker Michael Crichton was born. He was born John Michael Crichton in Chicago, Illinois, but grew up on Long Island, New York. His father was a journalist. He had a brother and two sisters.

Michael Crichton had an interest in writing from an early age. At the age of 14, he wrote a travel column for the New York Times. Crichton had always planned to become a writer, so in 1960, he entered Harvard University as an undergraduate student in literature.

When he came to believe that one of his professors was unfairly giving him low grades and harsh criticisms of his writing, Crichton conducted an experiment to prove it. After informing another professor of his plan, Crichton deliberately plagiarized a story by George Orwell and submitted it as his own to the suspect professor.

The story was returned with a B- grade. Despite this evidence of the professor's bias, Crichton was unable to resolve his issues with the English Department, so he switched his major to biological anthropology. He graduated summa cum laude in 1964.

Michael Crichton then enrolled in Harvard Medical School. While studying medicine, he continued to write and published several early novels under the pseudonyms John Lange, Jeffery Hudson, and Michael Douglas.

The first of these, Odds On (1966), introduced his trademark style of techno thriller. It told the story of an attempted robbery of an isolated hotel on Costa Brava. Unlike most robberies, this one has been planned scientifically through the use of critical path analysis computer software.

Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical School and obtained his M.D. in 1969. That same year, he published his first novel under his own name - a novel that would establish him as a bestselling writer. It was called The Andromeda Strain.

In this classic novel, a military satellite returns to Earth with a stowaway on board - a deadly alien microbe that infects humans and either kills them quickly or causes them to go insane and commit violent acts of suicide and / or murder.

A team of scientists is dispatched to stop the microbe before all mankind is wiped out. The novel would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1971, directed by Robert Wise. It would also be adapted as a TV miniseries in 2008.

Crichton's next novel published under his own name was The Terminal Man (1972). It told the story of Harry Benson, a man in his 30s who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy.

During his seizures, Benson blacks out and wakes up hours later with no memory of what he has done - even though during some of the seizure blackouts, he attacked people and beat them savagely.

Benson volunteers to undergo an unprecedented surgical procedure where forty electrodes and a minicomputer will be implanted in his brain to control his seizures. The surgeons are warned that Benson is dangerously psychotic.

They decide to go ahead with the procedure anyway. As man and machine become one, Benson becomes even more psychotic. He escapes from the hospital and goes on a murderous rampage.

The Terminal Man was adapted as a feature film in 1974, starring George Segal as Harry Benson. It was a critical and commercial failure at the time of its release, but has since become a cult classic and was finally released on DVD in 2009.

In addition to adapting his own works for the screen, in the 1970s and 80s, Michael Crichton wrote and directed original techno thriller films. His first feature film was the classic techno thriller Westworld (1973).

In the near future, tourists pay big money to visit an Old West theme park called Westworld. The park's feature attraction is a large cast of incredibly lifelike robots that the guests can interact with.

The guests can do everything from shooting it out with gunslinger robots in a ghost town to engaging in sexual encounters with the robot ladies at an Old Western brothel. All the robots are monitored by a staff of scientists and engineers in an elaborate underground control room.

The staff begins to notice that the robots are experiencing potentially dangerous malfunctions. They want to close the park, but the company executives won't let them. Soon, the robots go completely out of control and start hunting and killing the guests.

Most famous for Yul Brynner's chilling performance as a relentless, murderous gunslinger robot, Westworld became a huge hit. It was followed by a sequel, Futureworld (1976), that proved to be a critical and commercial flop, and a short lived TV series, Beyond Westworld, than ran for five episodes in 1980.

In 1981, Michael Crichton wrote and directed Looker, a techno thriller and scathing satire of the media, the advertising industry, and the unhealthy standards of beauty they promote.

Albert Finney stars as Dr. Larry Roberts, a plastic surgeon who is baffled when four women, all of them models who work in TV commercials, request cosmetic procedures so minor that they'd be completely unseen by the naked eye.

When the models start dying mysteriously, Roberts investigates and discovers that they were involved with Digital Matrix, a company that has developed the technology to scan models' bodies and create lifelike 3D computer animations of them for use in TV commercials.

As Roberts digs deeper into the mystery, he learns that Digital Matrix has also developed the technology to hypnotize people into buying the products that they see advertised in television commercials.

The 1990s would be Michael Crichton's greatest decade of success. In 1990, he published his most popular novel, Jurassic Park. Expanding on themes first addressed in Westworld, Jurassic Park was about an island where scientists have created a theme park populated by real live dinosaurs cloned from DNA found in fossils.

When the technology employed to control the dinosaurs fails due to a botched attempt at industrial espionage, the mighty reptiles escape confinement and go on a rampage. In 1993, an acclaimed movie adaptation, directed by film legend Steven Spielberg and co-written by Crichton, was released.

With its landmark use of computer animated special effects to create lifelike dinosaurs, the movie became a monster hit (no pun intended) that grossed nearly a billion dollars.

It would be followed by two sequels, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, based on Crichton's 1995 novel, The Lost World) and Jurassic Park III (2001).

In 1992, Crichton published Rising Sun, a departure from his usual techno thriller novels. Rising Sun is a murder mystery suspense thriller with a unique angle. It addressed the then rampant American prejudice against the Japanese for buying up struggling American businesses.

The novel opens with the murder of a high priced escort, which occurs at the Los Angeles headquarters of a fictional Japanese company, the Nakamoto corporation. The girl appears to have been killed following a violent sexual encounter.

Police detective Peter J. Smith is assigned to the case. Assisting him as a consultant is retired former police captain John Connor, who has lived in Japan and is an expert on Japanese culture. Rising Sun would be adapted as acclaimed feature film in 1993.

Crichton followed Rising Sun with another suspense thriller that looked at corporate culture. Disclosure (1994) tells the story of Tom Sanders, an executive for high-tech company DigiCom, whose ex-girlfriend, fellow DigiCom executive Meredith Johnson, receives a promotion that he thought would be his.

When Meredith tries to win him back, Tom spurns her sexual advances. She takes revenge by transferring him to another department and preventing him from receiving stock options that would have made him rich. She also files false sexual harassment charges against him.

Tom decides to countersue Meredith for sexual harassment, putting the company's pending merger and his own job in jeopardy. Tom builds his case against Meredith using virtual reality technology and the assistance of a mysterious ally known only as "A. Friend."

Tom learns an unforgettable lesson about sexual politics in the workplace and discovers that he has become a pawn in a much larger game of corporate intrigue. Disclosure was adapted as a feature film in the same year that it was published.

Also in 1994, Michael Crichton returned to television. His first attempt at creating a TV series (Beyond Westworld) was a flop. In his second attempt, he created one of the most acclaimed and popular TV series of all time - a medical drama called ER.

Taking place primarily in the emergency room of a fictional hospital - County General Hospital in Chicago - the series ran for 15 years, and Crichton served as creator, producer, and head writer.

Crichton continued to write techno thriller novels, including Airframe (1996), Timeline (1999), Prey (2002), State Of Fear (2004), and Next (2006), which would be his last.

In the spring of 2008, Crichton was diagnosed with lymphoma. While undergoing chemotherapy, he died unexpectedly of throat cancer on November 4th, 2008, at the age of 66. His assistant later discovered two unpublished manuscripts on one of his computers.

Pirate Latitudes, a complete novel, was a detail-rich adventure story about pirates in 17th century Jamaica who plan to commandeer a Spanish galleon and make off with a fortune in Spanish gold. The novel was published in 2009.

The other unpublished manuscript discovered by Michael Crichton's assistant was Micro, an unfinished techno thriller about a sinister corporation that has developed the technology to shrink humans down to half an inch in size.

Crichton's publisher hired writer Richard Preston to complete the novel. It was published in 2011.

Quote Of The Day

"In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought." - Michael Crichton

Vanguard Video

Today's video features Michael Crichton's appearance on the Charlie Rose Show in 1995. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Notes For October 22nd, 2014

This Day In Writing History

On October 22nd, 1964, the legendary French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre won the Nobel Prize for literature, which he declined. He was the first person to ever decline the award.

When Sartre learned that he was in contention to receive a Nobel Prize, he wrote to the Nobel Institute and asked that his name be removed from the list of candidates. The Swedish Academy had already made its decision to give him the prize.

Sartre didn't want to cause a scandal by refusing the Nobel Prize, nor did he want to offend the Swedish Academy, so he prepared a statement explaining that he always turned down "official distinctions."

He turned down such honors because "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in an honorable form."

Sartre believed that if a writer carried the authority of an institution along with his name, it wasn't fair to the reader, saying that "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner."

He had previously turned down both the French Legion of Honor - the highest award given by his country's government - and a tenured teaching position at the prestigious College de France.

Jean-Paul Sartre was not only a novelist; he was also a playwright, a screenwriter, and most famously, an existentialist philosopher and founding father of the existentialist movement in 20th century literature.

As a young man studying at the elite École Normale Supérieure from 1924 to 1929, Sartre met legendary writer Simone de Beauvoir, who would become his lifelong companion. They would spend hours in cafes, talking and writing. Sartre's first novel, Nausea, was published in 1938.

A year later, Sartre was drafted into the French Army. During World War II, he was captured and made a prisoner of war for almost a year.

After he was released and France fell to the Nazis, he became a fighter for the French Resistance. During the war years, he published his first major existentialist work, Being and Nothingness. (1943)

Sartre's most famous work was his classic 1945 novel, The Age of Reason, the first in a trilogy of existentialist novels called The Roads to Freedom. The other two novels in the trilogy were The Reprieve (1947) and Troubled Sleep (1949).

In the 1960s, Sartre became a political activist. A communist sympathizer, he sought to reconcile his existentialist philosophy and ideas of free will with communist principles. He went to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro, and also met the legendary revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Following Guevara's assassination, Sartre said of him, "[He was] not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age." Back in Paris, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir supported the radical student uprisings.

Jean-Paul Sartre died in 1980 at the age of 74.

Quote Of The Day

"Words are more treacherous and powerful than we think." - Jean-Paul Sartre

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a BBC documentary on Jean-Paul Sartre. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Notes For October 21st, 2014

This Day In Writing History

On October 21st, 1977, Bridge To Terabithia, the classic and controversial children's novel by the famous American writer Katherine Paterson, was published. It was inspired by a real life tragedy that affected the author and her son.

Katherine Paterson had already established herself as an acclaimed and popular children's author with her first two books, The Sign Of The Chrysanthemum (1973) and Of Nightingales That Weep (1974), when her eight-year-old son David lost his best and only friend.

Her name was Lisa Hill. She was a bright, vivacious, and imaginative little girl. While at the beach with her family, Lisa was struck by lightning and killed. David Paterson was devastated and traumatized by his sudden loss, and his mother was deeply affected by it as well.

After publishing her third novel, The Master Puppeteer (1975), Katherine Paterson and her son were still struggling to cope with Lisa Hill's death. So, for her next book, she decided to write a story about a close friendship between a young boy and girl cut short by tragedy.

The boy learns the value of friendship, then must use the inner strength his friend gave him as he struggles to cope with his loss. Paterson would later say that writing the book was a therapeutic exercise that helped her and her son make some sense out of a senseless tragedy.

Bridge To Terabithia is set in Lark Creek, a small town in rural Virginia. The novel opens with 10-year-old Jess Aarons, a poor farm boy, going out for a morning run before breakfast.

The introverted, artistically gifted Jess has no friends, but hopes to win his peers' admiration and respect when school starts by becoming the fastest boy in the fifth grade and winning the races held during recess.

When Jess returns from his practice run, we get a look at his bleak home life. The Aarons family is large and poor. His two older sisters, Brenda and Ellie, are cruel to him. His younger sisters, May Belle and Joyce Ann, adore him, but also annoy him, as he must share a bedroom with them.

His mother favors her daughters over her son and always yells at him. Jess' father lavishes affection on his younger daughters but is emotionally distant from his son and shows him no affection. He's often gruff and foul tempered, especially to Jess.

With money so tight that he has to commute over an hour each way to Washington, D.C. to work as a day laborer because farming doesn't pay enough to support the family, Mr. Aarons is rarely in a good mood.

At school, Jess' teacher is a nasty, foul-tempered, obese older woman named Mrs. Myers, nicknamed "Monster Mouth" by her students for obvious reasons. The music teacher, Miss Edmunds, is young and pretty, and the only human being who seems to care about Jess.

She admires his artistic talent and encourages him to keep drawing. She's a non-conformist like Jess - she wears jeans to class and no lipstick. She's also a hippie and plays folk songs on her guitar for the kids. Jess sees Miss Edmunds as a "diamond in the rough," and has a huge crush on her.

Jess's artistic talent is a source of consternation for his ignorant father, who worries that a passion for drawing poses a threat to his only son's masculinity:

He would like to show his drawings to his dad, but he didn't dare. When he was in first grade, he had told his dad that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He'd thought his dad would be pleased. He wasn't. "What are they teaching in that damn school?" he had asked. "Bunch of old ladies turning my only son into some kind of a..." He had stopped on the word, but Jess had gotten the message. It was one you didn't forget, even after four years.

Into Jess' bleak world comes a ray of sunshine in the form of a new girl who moves in next door. Leslie Burke is Jess' age. She's an intelligent, vivacious tomboy from the city whose parents are both writers.

The Burkes are wealthy, but don't own a TV set. They prefer that their daughter call them by their first names (Judy and Bill) instead of Mom and Dad. They're liberal and non-religious, whereas the Aaronses, like most people in Lark Creek, are Christian fundamentalists. But they only attend church once a year, on Easter Sunday, because Mrs. Aarons "got mad at the preacher."

Jess and Leslie don't become friends when they first meet. Leslie joins Mrs. Myers' class and then runs against the boys in the races at recess. Unfortunately, she beats Jess in the heat, eliminating him from the races and crushing his dream of being the fastest kid in the fifth grade.

Nevertheless, when Gary Fulcher, a bully, refuses to let Leslie run in the finals, Jess stands up for her. Fulcher lets her run, and she beats him. She outruns the other boys as well, humiliating them. That's no way to start a friendship, but soon, Jess and Leslie become inseparable.

Deciding that she and Jess need a place of their own, Leslie chooses a forest clearing on the other side of a creek bed near their homes. In order to reach their secret land, they swing across the creek bed on an old rope tied to a tree branch.

Leslie names their magic kingdom Terabithia. There, they rule as king and queen, though Jess, who is in awe of Leslie, feels unworthy of being her king. In Terabithia, Jess and Leslie grow closer as she draws him into her world of imagination.

There, no enemies - not the imaginary giants from Leslie's stories or their real-life foes can defeat them. Leslie builds up Jess's low self-esteem and makes him feel good about himself. Though nervous around them at first, Jess grows close to Leslie's parents as well, as they too introduce him to a world he never knew existed.

Together, there's nothing that Jess and Leslie can't do. When another bully, Janice Avery, steals food from Jess' little sister May Belle, he and Leslie get even by playing a brilliantly conceived and executed practical joke to humiliate Janice in front of the other kids.

Later, when Jess hears Janice crying in the girls' bathroom, he gets Leslie to reach out to her. They learn that she is being abused by her father - brutally beaten - which is why she became a bully.

Though Jess likes Leslie's parents, he's uncomfortable having her over at his house. His sisters tease him about his "girlfriend," his mother hates Leslie's boyish looks and clothes, and his father keeps "fretting that his only son did nothing but play with girls," and is "worried about what would become of it."

When Leslie asks if she can go to church with Jess and his family for Easter services, (she's never been to a church before) his mother grudgingly gives her permission. Leslie shows up for church nicely dressed and is well mannered.

On the way home, Leslie wonders why Jess, who is a Christian, hates church so much while she, a nonbeliever, thinks that the story of Jesus is beautiful. May Belle warns her that she has to believe in the Bible, or else God will send her to Hell when she dies. Leslie disagrees.

The closer Jess grows to Leslie, the less he thinks about Miss Edmunds, the music teacher he had a crush on. But one morning, Jess is stunned when she unexpectedly invites him out to an art gallery in Washington.

Thrilled to be able to spend time with Miss Edmunds outside of music class, he goes off with her, asking his sleeping mother for permission. He forgets to call Leslie and tell her that he won't be meeting her in Terabithia that day.

Jess loves the art gallery, and immediately chastises himself for not inviting Leslie along. It's just not the same without her. He promises himself that he will invite her next time. Sadly, there won't be a next time. When Jess returns home, he finds his family worried, his mother in tears.

His older sister Brenda breaks the news: Leslie is dead. His father explains that she had been swinging on the rope to Terabithia when it broke. She fell, struck her head, and drowned in the creek. The family thought that Jess had been killed, too.

Disbelieving them at first, the terrible realization hits Jess like a punch in the stomach and he takes off running - as if by running, he could keep Leslie alive. His father brings him home. Jess experiences all the stages of the bereaved: denial, anger, fear, guilt, and sorrow.

He and his parents go to the Burkes' house to pay respects. The experience is unreal to him. Afterward, Jess struggles to deal with his grief. The only way he can cope with his loss is to use all the inner strength that Leslie had given him.

He decides to repay her for her kindness by passing it along. He builds a bridge to Terabithia and brings his neglected little sister May Belle into the magical kingdom, making her the new queen.

Katherine Paterson's powerful, emotional story won the Newbery Award the year it was published. Over 30 years later, it continues to touch the hearts and minds of new generations of readers.

Surprisingly, Bridge To Terabithia holds the distinction of being the most banned and challenged children's book of all time, as it often appears on teachers' assigned reading lists for classroom study.

The novel still raises the ire of disgruntled parents and conservative groups who complain about the novel's bleakness, stark realism, themes of death and grief, dialectic use of mildly profane language, alleged ridiculing of authority figures and negative depictions of Christians and Christianity.

These criticisms are surprising, considering that the author is the wife of a Presbyterian minister. Religious themes are handled in an honest, realistic way. Due to the religious dogma he was raised to believe in, Jess's faith is no comfort to him at all in his greatest time of need.

On the contrary, he's terrified that God will send Leslie Burke to Hell for being a non-believer. His father assures him otherwise, telling him that "God don't send no little girls to Hell." But Jess still worries about Leslie's soul.

Bridge To Terabithia has been adapted into other media over the years. The first adaptation was an audio dramatization released by Newbery Award Records in 1979. Sold only to schools as a study aid, this dramatization is excellent, with great voice acting, music, and sound effects.

I got my copy of the record on eBay. The 50-minute recording would be edited down to almost half its length and used as the soundtrack for a 1981 Bridge To Terabithia filmstrip set, which I also have.

There were two unabridged audiobook releases of Bridge To Terabithia. The first, released by Recorded Books in 1996, is read by actor Tom Stechschulte, who gives one of the best audiobook performances I've ever heard, his rich baritone voice resonating the power of the story.

The second audiobook, released in 2004 by Harper Children's Audio, features a flat and uninspired reading by actor Robert Sean Leonard. The 2007 movie tie-in release of this audiobook features a bonus interview with Katherine and David Paterson, which is the only reason to buy it.

In 1996, Katherine Paterson co-wrote a musical stage play adaptation of Bridge To Terabithia which her son David would produce and perform at elementary schools. The play would also be performed around the world in various languages.

The musical soundtrack appears on the cassette-only release, Bridge To Terabithia and Other Musicals, which includes the musical soundtracks for two other plays based on novels by Katherine Paterson: The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks and The Great Gilly Hopkins.

I ordered my copy of the cassette from the only store that sold it - a children's bookstore in New York City called Books of Wonder. I also have a copy of the play script, which is sold by its publisher - Samuel French, Inc.

Bridge To Terabithia was filmed twice. It was first adapted in 1985 as an episode of the PBS TV series, Wonderworks - a zero-budget, horribly written, poorly acted episode of a series that usually produced quality adaptations of children's literature.

David Paterson, who grew up to become a playwright, described it as being "the crazy cousin that nobody talks about... no one on our side was either involved with it or happy with the final product."

Fans of the book, myself included, believed that it would never be adapted as a quality film because of its controversial nature. However, in 2007, Disney's Walden Media division produced a feature film version of Bridge To Terabithia.

With David Paterson serving as producer and co-writer, the movie turned out to be a faithful (albeit modernized) adaptation that beautifully captured all the emotion of the story. It was lovingly directed by animator Gabor Csupo in his first live-action film.

The movie featured stunning performances by young leads Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb as Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke. They're backed by a stellar supporting cast, including Robert Patrick as Mr. Aarons and Zooey Deschanel as Miss Edmunds.

Although the "Disneyfied" screenplay tones down the story (the book is much darker) and omits or waters down the most objectionable elements of the novel, the movie still ignited a firestorm of controversy due to deceitful marketing practices over which the filmmakers had no control.

Hoping to attract a large audience, Disney executives falsely advertised the film as a fantasy similar to The Chronicles Of Narnia. Parents and children unfamiliar with the book went to the movie expecting to see what was advertised.

Instead, they saw a deep and sad story that really had little to do with fantasy. The marketing also drove away fans of the book (like me) who believed that the story they loved so much had been butchered yet again.

The Bridge To Terabithia movie is currently available on standard and Blu-Ray DVD. I wholeheartedly recommend that you see it - after you read the book, which is a masterpiece of contemporary children's literature.

Quote Of The Day

"When people ask me what qualifies me to be a writer for children, I say I was once a child. But I was not only a child, I was better still, a weird little kid." - Katherine Paterson

Vanguard Video

Today's video features Katherine Paterson discussing the writing of Bridge To Terabithia on Author Visits. Enjoy!

Monday, October 20, 2014

IWW Members' Publishing Successes

Silvia Villalobos

My short story, “IOANA,” is up at Red Fez. This is the first story set in my native country of Romania - at least the only such story written in English. Big thanks, as always, to the Fiction list for all your help.

Bob Sanchez

My review of Alex's Wake, appears on the Internet Review of Books.

Wayne Scheer

My poem, “One More Journey,” is up at The Camel Saloon.

Literary Hatchet at Pear Tree Press has accepted my poem, “Cha Cha and Tai Chi,” for publication in their print magazine on December 15. This is a good publication. They pay for stories, poems and nonfiction works, and they pay promptly. Over the past few issues, they accepted most of what I've sent them, so the editor is my new best friend. See their submission guidelines for details. 

Sue Ellis

Thanks to Duotrope's listing, I entered a contest sponsored by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, and learned a few days ago that I am one of ten finalists in the non-fiction category. Winners will be announced Nov. 3. I don't expect to win, but I am glad to have my story posted where others can learn about chemical sensitivity. 

Patricia Johnson

A poem in Eclectica's autumn volume.

Ruth Zavitz

Flight to the Frontier is now a Kindle e-book. All reviews gratefully received.

Theresa A. Cancro

Two haiku of mine appear in Chrysanthemum, Issue #16, along with German translations (scroll down).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Notes For October 17th, 2014

This Day In Writing History

On October 17th, 1903, the famous American writer Nathanael West was born. He was born Nathan Weinstein in New York City. His parents were German-speaking Russian Jews who had emigrated from Lithuania.

Although his lifelong passions for reading and writing began in childhood, West had little interest in school. He dropped out of high school, then gained admission into Tufts College by forging his high school transcripts.

Expelled by Tufts, West got himself into Brown University by submitting the transcripts of another Tufts College student with the same name. He spent more time at the library than in the classroom, and read extensively.

Uninterested in contemporary American fiction, West became enamored with the French surrealists and English and Irish writers. The legendary Irish playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde was a huge influence.

West determined to become a writer himself, and began working on his first novel while studying at Brown. After barely graduating and obtaining his degree, he went to Paris and stayed there for a few months.

Disturbed by the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe (and America) in the mid 1920s, he changed his name to Nathanael West. After returning home to New York City, West completed the first draft of his novel.

The Dream Life of Balso Snell was published in 1931. An experimental, surrealist allegorical novel, it told the story of the title character, who happens upon the fabled Trojan Horse sitting in the grass around the city of Troy.

After he finds a way to get inside the giant wooden horse, Balso Snell enters the structure. Inside, he encounters a series of strange characters whom he realizes are "writers in search of an audience."

The characters also represent various religious, political, and artistic ideals. Snell listens to each of their stories and rejects them one by one in a nihilistic fashion. The novel is filled with juvenile and often scatological humor.

The Dream Life of Balso Snell received mostly negative reviews at the time of its publication and was commercially unsuccessful. Today, it's recognized as an important first work by a major talent. The best, however, was yet to come.

Unfazed by the reaction to his first novel, West began work on his second. He had taken a job as night manager of the Hotel Kenmore Hall in Manhattan, which provided him lots of downtime he could use for writing.

West's second novel would make his name as a writer. Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) is a surreal, expressionist black comedy. The main character is an unnamed male newspaper columnist known only as Miss Lonelyhearts because he writes the paper's advice column under that name.

Miss Lonelyhearts loathes his job. His co-workers consider him and his column a joke. Though he writes the column because he needs the money, he can't help feeling for his fellow New Yorkers who besiege him with their desperate and often disturbing letters.

Driven to drink and despair, Miss Lonelyhearts tries various means to cope with his miserable life. He takes up religion, takes his fiancee Betty out on trips to the countryside, and engages in affairs with unhappily married women. Nothing helps.

After Miss Lonelyhearts has an affair with Mrs. Doyle, he meets her poor, crippled husband. The Doyles invite him to dinner, where Mrs. Doyle grotesquely tries to seduce him again. He snaps and beats her, and she falsely accuses him of trying to rape her.

The novel ends with Mr. Doyle going to Miss Lonelyhearts' apartment to take revenge on him. He hides a gun inside a newspaper. After spending three days in bed sick, Miss Lonelyhearts recovers and awakens to have a religious epiphany.

When he sees Mr. Doyle, he runs over to embrace him. Doyle's gun goes off and both men tumble down a flight of stairs. Miss Lonelyhearts would be adapted as a feature film, a TV movie, a Broadway play, and an opera.

Nathanael West published his third novel, A Cool Million, in 1934. He bought a farm in Pennsylvania, then gave it up and moved to California when he got a job as a contract screenwriter for Columbia Pictures.

West would write or co-write over a dozen screenplays. The pay was good and he needed the money, as he had been barely scraping by on his novel royalties. By the time his fourth and final novel was published, he had been writing B movies for RKO Radio Pictures.

The Day of the Locust (1939) is considered by many to be West's masterpiece. This surreal black comedy about the dark side of 1930s Hollywood was inspired by the author's time spent working as a Hollywood screenwriter.

The characters include Tod Hackett, a talented young artist who has come to Hollywood to work as a set painter. He does this to support himself until he becomes a famous artist. Faye Greener is a beautiful young aspiring actress.

Faye's father, Harry Greener, is an aging, failed actor and former vaudeville comic who earns a meager living as a door to door salesman. Despite all the doors slammed in his face, Harry, the ultimate huckster, pushes on, oblivious to the effects of his job on his frail health.

Homer Simpson (yes, that's really his name) is a good natured oaf who's not very bright. Also a neurotic depressive, he has come to California for reasons of health. The poor, pathetic Simpson will become the most tragic character in this dark and grotesque story.

Other memorable characters include Abe Kusich, a conceited midget actor with a huge chip on his little shoulder, and Adore Loomis, an obnoxious aspiring child star with a talent for blues singing and a stage mother so ambitious (and demented) that she passes him off as a girl, hoping he'll become the next Shirley Temple.

The price of stardom - the depths one would sink to in Hollywood in order to reach the height of success - is one of the main themes of the novel. Another theme is the garishness of excess.

One film producer keeps a lifelike, life sized dead horse made of rubber at the bottom of his swimming pool. Mrs. Jenning, a retired silent film star, runs a brothel, where she also screens pornographic films for her guests.

Faye Greener is the catalyst for the tragic undercurrent of the story that drives it to a shocking and brutal conclusion. She's a thoroughly amoral young woman, a manipulative sociopath willing to do anything and use anyone to get what she wants.

Of course, Tod ends up falling in love with her, but grudgingly settles for friendship, recognizing her amoral nature. He fantasizes about raping Faye or physically harming her in other ways as both a subconscious attack on her immorality and an attempt to suppress his secret desire to be just like her.

Homer Simpson also falls in love with Faye, but unlike the more realistic Tod, the poor, deluded Homer actually dreams of marrying Faye, settling down, and starting a family with her. When he accidentally discovers Faye having casual sex with a would-be actor called Miguel the Mexican, his delusion is suddenly shattered.

Homer decides to return to his Iowa hometown, but in the novel's violent, surreal ending, he wanders the streets in a state of shock and happens upon a crowd gathering outside a theater for a major movie premiere. While he stares blankly at the crowd, Adore Loomis appears and teases him yet again.

Homer's mind finally snaps, and in the novel's most shocking scene, he literally stomps the child to death. When the crowd sees Homer attack Adore, they riot and descend on him like a plague of locusts, killing him. Tod tries to save Homer, but gets lost in the milling throng.

The Day of the Locust was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1975. Directed by John Schlesinger from a screenplay by Waldo Salt, the film starred William Atherton as Tod Hackett, Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson, and Karen Black as Faye Greener.

In 1940, Nathanael West married Eileen McKenney, sister of writer Ruth McKenney and the inspiration for Ruth's classic short story collection My Sister Eileen, which would be adapted as a Broadway play and a TV series.

Sadly, in December of 1940, while West and Eileen were driving home to Los Angeles from a hunting trip in Mexico, they ran a stop sign and collided with another car. They were both killed. West was 37 years old, his wife Eileen only 26.

Never a huge critical or commercial success as a writer during his short life, after his death Nathanael West would be rightfully recognized as one of the best American writers of the 1930s.

Quote Of The Day

"I have spent my life in books; literature has deeply dyed my brain its own color. This literary coloring is a protective one - like the brown of the rabbit or the checks of the quail - making it impossible for me to tell where literature ends and I begin.” - Nathanael West

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a photo essay on Nathanael West. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Notes For October 16th, 2014

This Day In Writing History

On October 16th, 1854, the legendary Irish writer Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a prominent ear and eye surgeon who wrote books on medicine, archaeology, and Irish folklore.

Wilde's mother, Jane, wrote poetry for the Young Irelanders revolutionary movement and was a lifelong Irish nationalist. As a boy, Oscar Wilde was home schooled until the age of nine, when he attended Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh.

After graduating from Portora, Wilde enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin, where he roomed with his brother Willie and became an outstanding student, winning the Berkley Gold Medal - the highest award a classics student could win at Trinity. He also won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford.

While studying at Magdalen, Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna, but he failed to win the Chancellor's English Essay Prize. However, the essay he entered, The Rise Of Historical Criticism, would be published posthumously in 1909.

Wilde graduated from Trinity with a double first (the UK equivalent of two 4.0 grade point averages) in classical moderations and literae humaniores. During his years at Magdalen, Oscar Wilde was involved with the aesthetic and decadent movements in Victorian art and literature.

He wore his hair long, openly expressed his disdain for "manly" sports, and decorated his room with objets d'art such as peacock feathers, sunflowers, and blue china. As a result, Wilde was greatly disliked by his fellow students.

They bullied him viciously, throwing their crockery at him and trashing his room. It was during this difficult time that Wilde first became a Freemason. He rose to the rank of Master Mason, which he retained until his death.

After he graduated from Magdalen, Wilde returned to Dublin. He met a woman, Florence Balcombe, and courted her, but she ended up marrying the legendary writer Bram Stoker. After hearing of their engagement, Wilde was heartbroken.

He wrote to Florence and told her that he was going to leave Ireland permanently. He would return just twice, for brief visits. After he left Ireland, he spent the next six years in London, Paris, and the U.S.

In London, Wilde met Constance Lloyd, whose father, Horace, was Queen's Counsel. Wilde married Constance in May of 1884. They would have two sons. Although a married father of two, Wilde was a bisexual who preferred men.

Biographer Neil McKenna theorized that Wilde became aware of his homosexuality at sixteen, when he experienced his first kiss with another boy. For a time, unhappy with his sexual orientation, he sought out female companionship, hoping that marriage would "cure" him. It didn't.

Wilde subsequently developed an interest in gay philosophy and law reform. Homosexuality was not only held in great contempt by Victorian society, it was also illegal under British law and punishable by imprisonment.

So, Wilde and some like-minded individuals formed a secret society called the Order of Chaeronea, which was dedicated to gay activism. In the summer of 1891, Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, a young undergraduate student and poet known as Bosie to his friends.

His father, John Sholto Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, was a brutal, hateful man who abhorred his son. He believed that the boy had been corrupted beyond repair by older homosexuals.

Bosie, who would become famous for his poem Two Loves, wherein he described homosexuality as "the love that dare not speak its name," was first Wilde's close friend, then his lover. They lived together openly in various places. Their relationship would lead to Wilde's downfall.

As a writer, Wilde was best known for his plays, which he infused with his famous, rapacious wit. His only novel was a masterpiece of Gothic horror called The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1890). Dorian Gray, a handsome young man, is the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward.

Hallward becomes smitten with him and believes that Dorian's beauty is responsible for a new phase in his art. He introduces Dorian to his friend, Lord Henry Watton, a hedonistic aristocrat whose philosophy enthralls Dorian.

Fearing that his beauty will fade with age, Dorian proclaims that he would sell his soul in exchange for eternal youth. Then something strange happens. While Dorian stays young and handsome, his portrait begins to age.

Over the next eighteen years, he embarks on a path of indulgence and debauchery, experimenting with every known vice and sin. When Basil Hallward arrives to question him about the rumors of his debauchery, Dorian shows him the portrait.

Dorian's painted likeness has become an aged, grotesque reflection of his sins. Blaming the artist for his fate, Dorian stabs Hallward to death. Shocked by what he's done, Dorian decides to give up his sinful ways.

He begins by not breaking the heart of a vicar's daughter whom he has come to love. Back at home, Dorian wonders if his portrait has changed, now that he has chosen to be good. Instead, it has become more hideous than ever, and he knows why - his change of heart was just another form of vanity and not genuine repentance.

Realizing that only a full confession will absolve him, but lacking the courage to confess to the killing of Hallward and fearing the consequences of doing so, Dorian is left with only one option.

In a rage, he plunges a knife into his portrait. Hearing a scream, his servants summon the police. They find Dorian's body, suddenly aged, withered and monstrous, a knife plunged into his heart.

The Picture Of Dorian Gray was decried as immoral upon its publication because of its homoerotic overtones and depictions of debauchery. It would become a classic of Gothic horror.

It would be Oscar Wilde's only novel, though a famous, anonymously published gay erotic novel Teleny, or The Reverse Of The Medal (1893) would also be attributed to him. Scholars believe that the book was in fact a collaborative effort written by his friends, with Wilde serving as editor.

Oscar Wilde's most famous play was The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895), a comedy that satirized the hypocrisy and foibles of Victorian society. The play is packed with Wilde's trademark witty dialogue.

In it, shallow and scheming aristocrats use the same alias (Earnest) in order to lead double lives. Considered to be Wilde's best play, it would also be his last. It closed after 83 performances because of a scandal that had ensnared him.

The hateful Marquess of Queensberry publicly accused him of being a "posing sodomite," so to avoid ruin, Wilde made a complaint of criminal libel against him. He was arrested and released on bail.

A team of detectives led Queensberry's lawyers to London's gay underground. Wilde's associations with transvestites, male prostitutes and gay brothels were uncovered and leaked to the press, which assailed him nonstop.

Queensberry's lawyers claimed that the alleged libel was done for the public good. He was acquitted and Wilde found himself arrested for "gross indecency" - a term for homosexual acts that were illegal under British law.

The jury in Wilde's first trial failed to reach a verdict. At his final trial, presided by Justice Sir Alfred Wills, Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to the maximum of two years imprisonment - a sentence that the judge believed was too lenient for the "crime" of homosexuality.

Wilde served his time at three different prisons. When he was released, prison life had left him in poor health. He spent his last years abroad in self-imposed exile, living under an assumed name.

He used the alias Sebastian Melmoth, a name based on Saint Sebastian and the main character of Melmoth The Wanderer, a Gothic novel written by Wilde's great uncle, Charles Robert Maturin.

Wilde was broke, so his wife, who refused to meet with him or let him see his children, sent him money when she could. He took up with his first lover, Robert Ross, and they spent the summer of 1897 together in Northern France, where Wilde wrote his famous poem, The Battle Of Reading Gaol.

Despite the objections of their families and friends, Wilde was later reunited with Bosie Douglas, and by late 1897, they were living together in Italy. They would break up again, this time for good.

Wilde moved to France and took up residence at the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris, where he enjoyed the open and uninhibited gay life that had been denied him in England. He died of cerebral meningitis on November 30th, 1900, at the age of 46.

Some have speculated that the meningitis was a complication of syphilis, but Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, has said that it was a complication of a surgical procedure, most likely a mastoidectomy. Wilde's own doctors blamed the meningitis on an old suppuration of the right ear.

Oscar Wilde remains to this day one of the world's great literary icons.

Quote Of The Day

"It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection." - Oscar Wilde

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a documentary on Oscar Wilde. Enjoy!

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