Joanna M. Weston
Two poems up at Jellyfish Whispers, with many thanks to the Poetry List for their help with these.
My flash fiction, "Melody's Fire" just went up at Penny Shorts. They are a paying site based here in the UK. Readers pay a few coins for short stories, and authors get royalties and a discount on the site.
Their editors respond to submissions rather quickly and have been great to work with if any of you feel like giving them a whirl. Thank you, Fiction group for once again helping me to clean up my work before sending it out into the world.
My story, "Larry and Susan Make a Life," is up at Crack the Spine Literary Magazine. This story has my favorite ending of all my stories.
I have a humorous essay, "Magic," up at Clever Magazine. This is almost autobiographical.
Finally, I take this as a real writer's compliment. The editors of Fabula Argentea read a story of mine published in 2006 and asked if they could reprint it. It is scheduled for their April issue. What's more, they are a paying magazine.
My short story "Where There's a Will There's a Way" lost out on Canadian Stories 2015 Short Story Contest but has been published in the current issue of Canadian Stories Magazine.
I am pleased to announce that my creative writing website just won literary blog of the year at the Nigerian Writers Awards. It's the first time I have ever won,a trophy. I'm so excited.
Thanks to Judith and Charles for their contributions as guest bloggers. I am open to contributions (mostly writing advice) for the blog. Thanks once again.
Monday, February 8, 2016
Friday, February 5, 2016
This Day In Writing History
On February 5th, 1914, the legendary American writer William S. Burroughs was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He was born into a wealthy and prominent family; his grandfather, whom he was named after, invented the adding machine and founded the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.
It would later became the famous, international Burroughs Office Machine Corporation. Bill's parents sold their stake in the company shortly before the 1929 stock market crash. His father owned and ran an antique store and gift shop.
Though he had protected the family from the crash, Mortimer Burroughs Sr. had also prevented them from sharing in the wealth when the company returned to prominence following the Great Depression.
William S. Burroughs had an older brother, Mortimer Burroughs Jr. Their mother, Laura Lee Burroughs, was a descendant of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. She was into astrology and spiritualism and kindled young Bill's interest in the occult.
At fifteen, Bill was sent to the Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, a boarding school for boys "where the spindly sons of the rich could be transformed into manly specimens."
Burroughs hated Los Alamos. He kept to himself and enjoyed going for solitary hunting, fishing, and hiking trips. He avoided team activities and became a chronic malingerer.
Two important things happened to Burroughs during his time at Los Alamos: he became aware of his homosexuality and he conducted his first experiment with drugs. He fell in love with another boy, but kept it a secret, expressing his feelings only in his journals.
Though he had gotten caught taking chloral hydrate, he wasn't expelled for it, as some claim. He left voluntarily after persuading his parents to let him come home.
When he got home, Burroughs realized that some of his belongings were missing, including his telltale journals. The school had agreed to send the rest of his personal effects to him later. They did. Everything was sent back, including his journals.
Still, Burroughs was terrified that someone had read them. He destroyed his journals and vowed never to write again, a vow he would keep until middle age, even though as a child he longed to be a writer.
At the age of eight, Burroughs had written his first short story, Autobiography Of A Wolf. When asked if he meant biography, he said no. He meant autobiography. The year he attended Los Alamos, he had an essay, Personal Magnetism, published in the John Burroughs Review. (No relation.)
When he was twelve, he read You Can't Win, the celebrated autobiography of Jack Black, a hobo who rode the rails and drifted through the seedy underworld of late 19th century America and Canada, becoming a professional thief and opium addict.
To the young, alienated Burroughs, the book was a revelation in its depiction of the Johnson Family, a community of thieves, bums, and hobos who proved to be more honorable and compassionate than the so-called proper society of late 19th century America.
After graduating high school in 1932, Burroughs enrolled at Harvard University, majoring in liberal arts. During the summers, he worked as a cub reporter and covered the police docket. He hated the work and refused to cover events he considered distasteful, like the drowning of a child.
Around this time, although he was gay, he hung out at an East St. Louis brothel and lost his virginity to a female prostitute whom he would frequently patronize. After graduating from Harvard, Burroughs went to Europe to study medicine at a school in Vienna.
While living there, he enjoyed the city's open and active gay community. He met a Jewish woman named Ilse Klapper and married her so she could escape the Nazis and emigrate to the United States. As the Nazis were about to take over Austria, Burroughs himself left the country and returned to the U.S.
Back home, he worked a series of menial jobs and fell into a deep depression. To impress a man he had become infatuated with, Burroughs cut off his left pinky finger at the knuckle. He would later base a story on it called The Finger. After the Pearl Harbor attack led the U.S. into World War II, Burroughs joined the Army.
He was disappointed by his classification of 1-A Infantry; he wanted to be an officer. His mother got him a disability discharge due to his mental instability, but he would remain in limbo, living in the barracks for five months before the discharge went through.
Burroughs moved to Chicago and worked at several jobs including as an exterminator, an experience that found its way into his writing. When his friends Lucien Carr and David Kammerer moved to New York City, Burroughs followed suit.
By 1944, he was sharing an apartment with new friend Jack Kerouac, his wife Edie, and a young poet and college student named Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs, who had taken up writing again, collaborated with Kerouac on a novel, And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks. It would be published posthumously in 2008.
The novel was based on the fate of their friends Lucien Carr and David Kammerer. Carr had been stalked by the lovesick Kammerer, who was gay. Carr was straight and had tried unsuccessfully to convince Kammerer that they couldn't be anything more than friends.
He wouldn't take no for an answer and Carr ended up killing him in self-defense. A panicked Carr then asked Jack Kerouac to help him. Together, they covered up the crime, dumping Kammerer's body in the Hudson River.
After living in fear of being caught, they took Burroughs' advice and turned themselves in. Carr served a brief sentence for covering up the crime. Kerouac was acquitted of wrongdoing.
As for Burroughs, he made another friend - Herbert Huncke. He was the quintessential Times Square hustler - a petty crook, junky, drug dealer, con man, and occasional male prostitute (though he wasn't gay) who also happened to be a writer.
After Burroughs' failed attempts at romance with Allen Ginsberg put a strain on their friendship, Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac decided to find someone else for Burroughs. That person turned out to be a woman named Joan Vollmer.
A divorcee and single mother of a six-year-old daughter, Joan was a libertine who possessed an intellect equal to Burroughs. She moved into the apartment and they got along famously.
Joan also possessed Burroughs' taste for narcotics; while he indulged in his morphine habit, she became addicted to benzedrine, an amphetamine legally sold over the counter in an inhaler.
She huffed so much benzedrine that she became delusional and had to be hospitalized following a severe psychotic episode. Meanwhile, to support his habit, Burroughs sold heroin and engaged in petty thievery such as rolling drunks in the subway.
While Joan languished in Bellevue, Burroughs was arrested for forging a drug prescription. He completed his "house arrest" in St. Louis, returned to New York, released Joan from the psychiatric ward, and moved with her to Texas.
There, she bore him a son, William S. "Billy" Burroughs, Jr. Billy was born addicted to benzedrine and couldn't be breastfed because his mother's milk was loaded with the drug. A year later, Burroughs, Joan, and their friends moved to New Orleans.
In New Orleans, police searched Burroughs' house and found letters to and from Allen Ginsberg that mentioned a delivery of marijuana they were planning to sell. To avoid a prison term at Angola, Burroughs fled to Mexico to wait out the statute of limitations on his charges.
He enrolled at Mexico City College in 1950, where he studied Spanish, Aztec codices, and the Mayan language. A year later, while partying with their friends at home, Burroughs and Joan, both very drunk, decided to play a game of William Tell.
Joan put her highball glass on top of her head and told Bill to shoot it off with his pistol. Sober, Burroughs was a skilled marksman; drunk, he missed the glass and shot Joan in the forehead, killing her.
Burroughs' brother arrived and bribed Mexican officials to let Bill out on bail while he awaited trial on a charge of negligent homicide. He hired a prominent Mexican attorney who bribed ballistics experts to support Bill's story that the gun had gone off accidentally.
Bill's parents took care of his son and Julie (Joan's daughter from a previous marriage) went to her mother's parents. After Bill's lawyer fled to escape his own legal troubles, he decided to do the same and returned to the States.
In the Mexican court, he was convicted in absentia and given a two-year suspended sentence. The death of Joan would haunt Burroughs the rest of his life and, ironically, inspire him to finally become a serious writer.
After drifting around South America for a few months in a fruitless search for yage - an elusive drug allegedly used by Mayan shamans to experience visions and develop psychic abilities - Burroughs took off for Tangier, Morocco.
Tangier was then an "international zone" controlled by several different countries. Drugs were plentiful, homosexuals lived openly, and the police rarely bothered people because there were few laws to enforce. The city was a haven for smugglers, artists, writers, and other expatriates.
Before Joan died, Burroughs had completed his first published novel. Junky (1953) a semi-autobiographical, straightforward tale of one man's experiences as a drug addict and hustler, told in a detached, non-judgmental narrative, was published as a pulp novel by Ace Books, with some help from Allen Ginsberg.
Burroughs had also written Queer, a groundbreaking novel (also semi-autobiographical) about an American writer living in Mexico who comes to terms with his homosexuality and embarks on a love affair with another man that is doomed from the start. Queer would not be published until 1985.
In Tangier, Burroughs found a new boyfriend - Kiki, a sweet-natured Spanish rent boy who prostituted himself to foreign tourists. He and Bill spent the days getting high and making love.
After Kiki helped him kick a heroin habit, Burroughs regained his health and began writing what would become one of the most celebrated and controversial novels of the 20th century.
Naked Lunch (1959) was an experimental, loosely connected collection of what Burroughs called "routines." They were basically short stories and sketches edited together in the format of a novel. Surreal in nature with non-linear narratives, the routines were blistering satires of 1950s American life.
They contained profane language, drug use, explicit straight and gay sex, and extremely graphic albeit comic violence - all of which were alien and shocking to 1950s readers. It was Swiftian satire at finest, aimed at the banal and hypocritical heart of Eisenhower's America.
One particular passage, a satire of capital punishment in the tradition of Jonathan Swift's classic essay A Modest Proposal, begins as a humorous parody of a stag film, with a woman and two men - Mary, Mark, and Johnny - having a bisexual three-way encounter that turns into a surreal nightmare.
After engaging in sexual acts that become increasingly more bizarre, the menage a trois descends into Dante-like madness that includes cannibalism and climaxes (pun intended) with all three of the lovers hanged. Then they come back to life and take a bow. It was all just a show.
When Jack Kerouac came to Tangier to help Burroughs type up the manuscript, the writing literally gave him nightmares: "I had nightmares of great long baloneys coming out of my mouth. I had nightmares typing that manuscript."
Allen Ginsberg later arrived in Tangier to help Bill with the manuscript, along with his new boyfriend, Peter Orlovsky. Eventually, Ginsberg and Orlovsky settled in Paris at what came to be called the Beat Hotel, and Burroughs joined them there.
Naked Lunch was submitted for publication to Maurice Girodias, whose Olympia Press publishing house was known for publishing both celebrated, controversial works of literature and pornographic novels. Girodias rejected Naked Lunch as disorganized and confused.
After Ginsberg helped Burroughs edit and organize the manuscript, they sent excerpts to the Chicago Review - a literary magazine published by the University of Chicago. The editor, Irving Rosenthal, published the excerpts in the spring and autumn 1958 issues of the magazine.
Not long afterward, a local conservative columnist devoted one of his columns to attacking the Chicago Review's editorial policies for publishing what he considered obscene material. News of the column reached the Dean's office, and he demanded to see the galleys for the winter issue.
He was appalled not only by the Burroughs material, but also by the writings of Jack Kerouac and other authors who appeared in the magazine. The Dean suppressed the entire contents of the winter issue.
Rosenthal resigned as editor in protest. He founded his own literary magazine, Big Table, and republished the Naked Lunch excerpts and the other material that the Dean had kept out of the Chicago Review.
The censorship controversy and the ensuing media coverage caught Maurice Girodias' attention. After he read the excerpts in Big Table, he agreed to publish Naked Lunch. Unfortunately, Girodias was a lousy businessman, and Burroughs saw little money from his novel.
Then, legendary publisher Barney Rosset of Grove Press published the book in the U.S. in 1962, which resulted in a landmark obscenity trial in Boston where Naked Lunch was ruled to be not legally obscene. The republication made Burroughs' name as a writer.
While living at the Beat Hotel, Burroughs made another friend - an important friend who would take him into the next phase of his literary career. Brion Gysin was a gay bohemian artist of Swiss-Canadian descent. He and Burroughs never became lovers, but they did become lifelong friends and collaborators.
One day, while working on collages, Gysin pasted together parts of different newspaper articles. Combined, they produced hilarious results, and Gysin would laugh hysterically at them. Burroughs saw lots of literary potential in what Gysin had done. It reminded him of the works of Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara, whom he had met.
Burroughs began creating what he called "cut-ups" - pieces of writing made by cutting up two different texts and putting them together. Gregory Corso, the young Beat poet and a friend of Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac, was appalled. He considered literary cut-ups too random to be of any real artistic value.
Burroughs argued that the randomness was offset by the fact that producing a coherent whole out of two different halves required a lot of editing. He would take cut-ups even further by creating entire cut-up novels. He bought himself a tape recorder and experimented with audio cut-ups, splicing together various recordings.
In the early 1960s, Burroughs wrote and published his amazing "cut-up trilogy" of novels, The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket That Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1964).
These novels used both straightforward narratives and surreal tapestries of cut-up texts to tell the story of Nova Police Inspector Lee's pursuit of the Nova Mob. Lee must destroy their word and image machine, with which they control reality as we know it.
In this bold new vision, language becomes a virus, and the word hoard must be rubbed out. Burroughs' cut-up novels are considered to be the very first works of cyberpunk science fiction. They also contain some of the most dazzling prose poetry ever written.
By 1966, Burroughs left Paris and moved to London to kick another heroin habit, taking the cure once again from Dr. Dent, a British physician who had invented a painless heroin withdrawal treatment using an electronic box attached to the patient's temple. After kicking, Burroughs remained in London for several years.
He visited the U.S. occasionally to help his son Billy, who had been arrested for forging prescriptions in Florida. Billy had become a writer and published two noted novels, Speed and Kentucky Ham, but he was a hopeless drug addict and alcoholic who ultimately drank himself to death - after receiving a liver transplant.
While in London, Burroughs collaborated with celebrated British underground filmmaker Antony Balch and made several experimental short films, the best of which was Towers Open Fire. It featured footage of the "dream machine" invented by Brion Gysin.
In the early 1970s, Burroughs wrote two more novels, The Wild Boys (1971) and Port Of Saints (1973), where he returned to mostly straightforward narratives. In need of money, he returned to the U.S. and taught creative writing at several colleges.
He settled in New York City, in a basement apartment on the Lower East Side. He called it "the Bunker." It was part of an old YMCA building that had been renovated. It included lockers and communal showers.
The punk rock scene that exploded in England had reached the U.S., and Burroughs found himself the idol of not just punk rockers, but other rock musicians as well. His new secretary and occasional lover, James Grauerholz, was a 21-year-old bookseller and rock musician.
Burroughs became a columnist for the pop culture magazine Crawdaddy. When his punk rocker friends got him hooked on heroin again, James helped Burroughs kick the habit and launched him on a new career path - that of a traveling performer.
Burroughs performed live readings from his works everywhere, from universities to punk rock clubs, with James acting as his agent and tour manager. He even read on an episode of Saturday Night Live. The money was good, but soon, a huge rent increase and the ever present temptation of heroin drove him out of the Bunker.
He settled in Lawrence, Kansas, and began work on his last great trilogy of novels: Cities Of The Red Night (1981), The Place Of Dead Roads (1983), and The Western Lands (1987).
Burroughs had a memorable co-starring role in director Gus Van Sant's classic 1989 film, Drugstore Cowboy, where he played Father Tom, the junky priest and friend of the main character, Bob, (Matt Dillon) a junky who robs drugstores to score his fixes.
In the 1990s, Burroughs recorded several new albums of readings, the background music provided by his rock musician friends. His 1993 album, Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales, featured music by hip-hop group The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
The album included a reading of Burroughs' classic short story The Junky's Christmas, which appeared in his 1987 short story collection, Interzone. Francis Ford Coppola directed a short claymation film adaptation of the story, featuring live action footage of Burroughs.
In 1992, the legendary film director David Cronenberg made a feature film adaptation of Naked Lunch. It was praised by critics, but received mixed reviews from Burroughs fans because it wasn't really an adaptation of the novel - it was a hodgepodge of elements from the novel and events from Burroughs' life.
Still, it makes for a strange and surreal viewing experience. I enjoyed it. Cronenberg said that it would be impossible to faithfully adapt the novel for the screen because it would cost many millions of dollars to make and no one would want to see it. I disagree.
During his final years, Burroughs took up painting and developed an unusual technique for creating abstracts: shooting cans of spray paint placed in front of canvasses. His final film appearance was in a music video for Last Night On Earth by Irish rock band U2. He died in 1997 of complications following a heart attack at the age of 83.
Quote Of The Day
“A writer does not own words any more than a painter owns colors. So lets dispense with this originality fetish. Look, listen, and transcribe and forget about being original.” - William S. Burroughs
Today's video features a rare 1982 BBC radio interview with William S. Burroughs. Enjoy!
Thursday, February 4, 2016
This Day In Writing History
On February 4th, 1826, The Last of the Mohicans, the classic novel by the legendary American writer James Fenimore Cooper, was first published in the United States.
The second novel in Cooper's celebrated Leatherstocking Tales series, The Last of the Mohicans is set in 1757, during the Seven Years' War, also known as the French and Indian War.
In this conflict, fought from 1754-1763, the British government and its American colonial allies fought the French and their Native American (Indian) allies over disputed territory in North America and control of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.
The story opens in the upstate New York wilderness as two young women, Cora and Alice, are being escorted to a fort where their father, Colonel Munro, is the commander. Escorting the ladies are Major Duncan Heyward (a young officer from the fort) and David Gamut, a traveling musician.
The group's guide is Magua, a Huron tribesman. He has them take a short cut to save time. What the group doesn't know is that Magua is setting them up for an ambush. The white travelers are suddenly attacked by a band of hostile Iroquois Indians.
Frontier scout and master woodsman Natty "Hawkeye" Bumppo and his Mohican friends (Chingachcook and his son Uncas) come to the group's rescue, but unfortunately, the treacherous Magua escapes into the forest.
Later, Hawkeye takes Heyward, Gamut, and the women to some sheltered caves to spend the night. They don't get much sleep. Early the next morning, the group is attacked again, this time by Iroquois braves on horseback.
Gamut is hurt and the women hide in the caves while Hawkeye and Heyward plan a counterattack. They engage the Iroquois in a bloody battle, but run out of ammunition. So, while Hawkeye and the Mohicans head for the fort to get help, Heyward stays behind to guard the women.
Unfortunately, they are captured by the Iroquois before help can arrive. Heyward tries to trick Magua into returning the ladies to their father for a reward, but Magua doesn't want a reward - he wants to take revenge on Colonel Munro by marrying his daughter, Cora.
Hawkeye returns, and since the Iroquois are terrified of him, they release their captives. Magua escapes again, and Hawkeye and the others resume their journey. They reach the fort, which is under attack by the French.
Although Colonel Munro is forced to surrender his fort to the French, that's the least of his troubles, as the evil Magua kidnaps his daughters yet again. Munro, Major Heyward, Hawkeye, and the Mohicans set out to rescue them...
The Last of the Mohicans is rightfully considered a classic work of American literature. It has been adapted numerous times for the radio, screen, and television. The first Hollywood feature film adaptation of the novel was a silent picture released in 1920.
The silent film adaptation is most famous for an uncredited appearance by future horror film superstars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff as Indians. Lugosi played Chingachcook, the noble Mohican, in a German film released that same year.
The most recent film adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans was released in 1992. It was praised by critics, but loudly panned by fans of the novel, because the screenplay had almost nothing to do with the book.
Daniel Day-Lewis played Hawkeye - whose name was changed from Natty Bumppo to Nathaniel Poe! The movie was directed by Michael Mann, who admitted that he had never read the novel.
James Fenimore Cooper, would go on to write more great novels, including The Pioneers (1823), The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841).
Quote Of The Day
"America owes most of its social prejudices to the exaggerated religious opinions of the different sects which were so instrumental in establishing the colonies." - James Fenimore Cooper
Today's video features a complete reading of James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel, The Last of the Mohicans. Enjoy!
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
This Day In Writing History
On February 3rd, 1907, the famous American writer James Michener was born. His birth date is a guesstimate; he knew neither who his parents were nor exactly when and where he was born. He was raised by his adoptive mother, Mabel Michener, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The Micheners were Quakers.
In 1929, James Michener graduated summa cum laude from Swarthmore College, earning a Master's degree in English and psychology. He spent the next two years traveling through and studying in Europe, then took a job as an English teacher at Hill High School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
From there, he taught English at George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania, then attended Colorado State Teachers College, (now known as the University of Northern Colorado) earned a Master's degree, and taught there for several years.
After a one-year teaching stint at Harvard from 1939-40, Michener left his teaching career to become a social studies education editor for Macmillan Publishers. When World War II broke out, he enlisted and became a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.
Stationed in the South Pacific and assigned as a naval historian, he would use the experience to begin a writing career after the war ended. His first book was published in 1947. He was 40 years old at the time.
Tales of the South Pacific was a collection of related short stories set on the Solomon Islands in the Coral Sea during World War II. Though the stories deal with the Navy, most of the action takes place on shore.
The book was a huge success and made James Michener's name as a writer. It won him a Pulitzer Prize and was later adapted as the hit Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical, South Pacific. A classic feature film adaptation of the musical was later released.
The extremely prolific Michener wrote numerous epic novels. His detail rich prose reflected his meticulous research. Some of his most memorable works include The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1953), a tale of American fighter pilots in action during the Korean War.
The novel was adapted as a feature film in 1954 - just one year after it was published. Hawaii (1959) traced the history of the Hawaiian Islands from prehistoric times through the 1950s. It would be adapted as a feature film in 1966.
Centennial (1974) explored the history of the northeast Colorado plains from prehistoric times through the 1970s. It would be adapted as a TV miniseries in 1978.
Space (1982) was an epic, fictionalized history of the American space program that began with the work of Nazi rocket scientists during the war. It would be adapted as an Emmy Award winning TV miniseries in 1985.
Texas (1985) traced the history of the Lone Star State, featuring both fictional and real historical characters, including explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. It was adapted as a TV movie in 1994.
In 1960, James Michener got involved with politics, becoming chairman of the Bucks County, Pennsylvania committee to elect John F. Kennedy. Two years later, he ran as a Democratic candidate for Congress.
He would consider his foray into politics a mistake, saying "My mistake was to run in 1962 as a Democrat candidate for Congress. [My wife] kept saying, 'Don't do it, don't do it.' I lost and went back to writing books."
During Michener's lifetime, his novels sold an estimated 75,000,000 copies. He made a great deal of money, which he used for philanthropic endeavors, giving away more than one hundred million dollars to universities, museums, libraries, and other charitable causes.
In 1989, he donated all of his royalties from the Canadian edition of his novel Journey (which is set in the Canadian Yukon during the Gold Rush) and created the Journey Prize, which is awarded annually for the year's best short story published by an up-and-coming Canadian writer. The prize is worth $10,000 Canadian.
In his later years, James Michener suffered from kidney failure and required daily dialysis. In October of 1997, after suffering through four years of treatments, he decided to end them. He died soon afterward of kidney failure at the age of 91.
Quote Of The Day
"I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions." - James Michener
Today's video features our writer introducing the 1978 TV miniseries adaptation of his classic novel, Centennial. Enjoy!
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
This Day In Writing History
On February 2nd, 1923, the famous American writer James Dickey was born in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1942, after graduating from high school, Dickey enrolled at the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, where he played on the football team as a tailback.
After his first semester ended, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served in the night fighter squadrons during World War II.
After the war ended, Dickey enrolled at Vanderbilt University, where he earned degrees in English and philosophy. He taught first at the University of Florida, then at Rice University in Houston.
While teaching freshman composition at Rice, he re-enlisted in the military, this time in the Air Force, for a two-year tour of duty in Korea. After that, he returned to Rice and taught a course in the Literature of the American South.
James Dickey soon left teaching to work as an ad copy writer, directing the creative work on advertising campaigns for Coca-Cola and Lay's Potato Chips.
He would later say that he only took up a career in advertising to support himself while he wrote poetry: "I was selling my soul to the devil all day... and trying to buy it back at night."
In 1960, Dickey's first book was published. It was a poetry collection titled Into the Stone and Other Poems. His second poetry collection, Drowning with Others (1962), won him a Guggenheim fellowship, and in 1965, his poetry collection Buckdancer's Choice won him the National Book Award.
After the Library of Congress named him a poetry consultant, Dickey published Poems 1957-67 in 1967. Considered to be a collection of the poet's best work, it led the University of South Carolina at Columbia to offer him a position as professor of English and writer-in-residence.
Although he was primarily a poet, James Dickey published three novels during his lifetime. His first, published in 1970, made him world famous and earned him a place in pop culture history.
This was thanks to the acclaimed feature film adaptation of his classic debut novel, released two years later in 1972. The novel would also leave an unflattering impression of the author's birth state on the American psyche that continues to this day.
Deliverance (1970) told the story of four middle-aged city men from Atlanta who embark on a weekend hunting and canoeing trip in the north Georgia wilderness that turns into a nightmare.
Friends Ed Gentry, Bobby Trippe, Drew Ballinger, and Lewis Medlock (the outdoorsman leading the trip) arrive at a gas station in the mountains where Drew meets Lonnie, a mentally handicapped, inbred hillbilly with an uncanny talent for playing the banjo. Drew takes out his guitar and joins him in a duet.
Later, the four friends begin their canoe trip and shoot the rapids. Ed begins to reflect ominously on just how isolated they are in the middle of the wilderness. Their attempt at male bonding goes awry when first Ed, then Bobby becomes irritated by Lewis' survivalist mentality.
To get away from Lewis, Ed and Bobby go canoeing. Later that day, they are accosted by two hillbilly mountain men, one of them carrying a shotgun.
In the novel's (and the movie's) most famous scene, the hillbillies tie Ed to a tree, then one of them brutally rapes Bobby and the other forces Ed to perform oral sex on him. The twang of a bow rings out as Lewis, who happened upon the scene, shoots one of the hillbillies and kills him. Then Ed wrestles the shotgun away from the other.
The four friends must now decide what to do with the dead hillbilly. Over Drew's objections, the others side with Lewis and bury the body, for fear of being put in front of a jury likely comprised of the dead man's friends and relatives.
Soon, the four friends find themselves fighting for their lives in a different way when more hillbillies attack them. When Drew is murdered by the hillbillies, Lewis, Ed, and Bobby hide his body as well. The trio manages to survive their battle with the vicious, depraved hillbillies.
Though the sheriff is suspicious of them, (one of the dead hillbillies was his deputy's brother-in-law) he lets them go due to lack of evidence and warns them not to come back. They return home safe but shattered from the experience.
The 1972 feature film adaptation of Deliverance was directed by John Boorman, working from a screenplay by James Dickey. It starred Jon Voight as Ed, Ned Beatty as Bobby, Ronny Cox as Drew, and Burt Reynolds as Lewis. James Dickey had a small co-starring role as the Sheriff.
The film earned several Academy Award nominations. The famous line where one of the hillbillies tells Bobby to "squeal like a pig" was not in the novel. It had been conceived by Ned Beatty while he was improvising the scene with Bill McKinney, who played the hillbilly. The movie was also famous for turning the instrumental piece Dueling Banjos into a horror theme.
James Dickey's two other novels were Alnilam (1987) and To The White Sea (1994). Alnilam was a 682-page epic novel set during World War II.
It's 1943, and Frank Cahill, a middle-aged man who lost his sight to diabetes, gets a chance to go up in an Air Corps training plane. Later, Cahill learns that his son Joel, an Air Force cadet whom he never knew, crashed his plane while flying over a brush fire. His body wasn't found, but he's presumed dead.
Cahill goes to Joel's base and talks to officials and his son's fellow cadets. Joel's flying experience was legendary, and he was the leader of Alnilam - a secret group of cadets who were into mysticism. Skeptical, Cahill nonetheless plunges himself into the mystery of his son's life, disappearance, and alleged death in a plane crash.
To The White Sea was a World War II adventure about an American gunner pilot who is shot down during a mission. To save himself, he must parachute into Tokyo just days before a scheduled Allied firebombing raid.
James Dickey continued to write and to teach at the University of South Carolina. In 1977, he was invited to read his poem The Strength of Fields at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter - a fellow Georgian.
In his later years, Dickey suffered from various health problems, including alcoholism, liver disease, and lung disease. In January of 1997, six days after teaching his last class at the university, he died at the age of 73.
A year after James Dickey's death, his son, writer and journalist Christopher Dickey, published Summer of Deliverance, a memoir of his sometimes troubled relationship with his father.
Quote Of The Day
"A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning." - James Dickey
Today's video features a rare 1970 interview with James Dickey, who discusses his classic novel, Deliverance. Enjoy!
Monday, February 1, 2016
Joanna M. Weston
Three poems up at Napalm and Novocain. Great way to start the week!
My novel, Standing Stones, is now available on Amazon.
My review of Rain Dogs: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel by Adrian McKinty, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
Friday, January 29, 2016
This Day In Writing History
On January 29th, 1860, the legendary Russian writer Anton Chekhov was born in Taganrog, Russia. His father, Pavel, was a devout Orthodox Christian and choir director. Physically abusive to his wife and children, he made their lives hell and served as a model of hypocrisy and tyranny for his son's writings.
As a boy, Anton Chekhov attended a school for Greek boys and the Taganrog Gymnasium, which is now known as the Chekhov Gymnasium. In 1876, Chekhov's father mismanaged his finances while building a new house and bankrupted himself.
To avoid debtor's prison, the family fled to Moscow, where oldest sons Alexander and Nikolai were attending university. Anton was left behind in Taganrog to finish his schooling and work to support the family. His mother was devastated, both emotionally and physically drained.
To earn money, Anton did various odd jobs; he worked as a tutor, caught birds and sold them as pets, and took up writing, selling short stories to newspapers. He sent all the money he could spare to his family, along with humorous letters to cheer them up.
He became a voracious reader, delving into the works of Cervantes, Turgenev, Goncharov, Schopenhauer, and others. He also wrote his first play, a comic drama called Fatherless. He had many love affairs, including one with his teacher's wife.
In 1879, Chekhov completed his primary education, rejoined his family, and enrolled in medical school at Moscow University. He obtained his medical degree and became a doctor, but made little money as a physician, treating mostly poor people for free.
Not long after he began his practice, he started coughing up blood. By 1886, the attacks worsened, but he wouldn't admit to his family and friends that he had tuberculosis.
Chekhov returned to writing, and wrote prolifically, publishing many short stories in weekly newspapers and magazines, which earned him enough money to move his impoverished family into better housing.
He made a name for himself as a writer and was invited to write exclusively for the Novoye Vremya (New Times), one of the most popular papers in St. Petersburg.
It was owned and edited by millionaire newspaper magnate Alexey Suvorin, who was known to pay his writers generously. Suvorin and Chekhov would become lifelong friends.
After reading Chekhov's short story The Huntsman, 64-year-old Dmitry Grigorovich, a celebrated writer of the time, wrote to Chekhov, telling him "You have real talent - a talent which places you in the front rank among writers in the new generation." He advised Chekhov to slow down and concentrate on the quality of his writing instead of the quantity.
Chekhov wrote back that the letter had struck him "like a thunderbolt," saying "I have written my stories the way reporters write up their notes about fires—mechanically, half-consciously, caring nothing about either the reader or myself." Actually, he often wrote with extreme care, and continually revised his work.
In 1887, with a little help from Grigorovich, Chekhov's short story collection At Dusk won him the Pushkin Prize. That same year, a theater owner named Korsh commissioned him to write a play. The play, Ivanov, was written in two weeks and premiered in November.
Chekhov found the whole experience "sickening," and in a letter to his brother Alexander, he humorously described the chaotic production. To Chekhov's amazement, the play was a hit with both critics and theatergoers. Two years later, in 1889, Chekhov's brother Nikolai died of tuberculosis, plunging him into a depression and influencing the writing of his short story, A Dreary Story.
Searching for a purpose in his own life, Chekhov took up the issue of prison reform. In 1890, he made an arduous journey by train, carriage, and river steamer to the penal colony on Sakhalin Island in the far east of Russia. The letters he wrote during the two and a half month journey are among his best.
What Chekhov saw on Sakhalin shocked and disgusted him; prisoners were being flogged, supplies embezzled, and women forced into prostitution. "There were times," he wrote, when "I felt that I saw before me the extreme limits of man's degradation." He was especially moved by the plight of the children who lived with their parents in the penal colony:
On the Amur steamer going to Sakhalin, there was a convict with fetters on his legs who had murdered his wife. His daughter, a little girl of six, was with him. I noticed wherever the convict moved the little girl scrambled after him, holding on to his fetters. At night the child slept with the convicts and soldiers all in a heap together.
Chekhov concluded that charity wasn't the answer - the government had a duty to finance humane treatment of prisoners. He published his findings in a non-fiction work of social science called Ostrov Sakhalin (Island of Sakhalin) (1893-1894).
In 1892, Chekhov bought Melikhovo, a small country estate 40 miles south of Moscow, and settled there with his family. He joked that "it's nice to be a lord," but took his responsibilities as a landlord seriously and helped the local peasants.
He organized relief for the victims of the famine and cholera outbreaks, built three schools, a fire station, and a free clinic where he treated peasants from miles around - even though his tuberculosis attacks increased.
Chekhov began writing his play The Seagull in 1894. It premiered two years later at the Alexandrinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. The production was a disaster and Chehkov was so incensed that he renounced the theater and vowed never to write another play.
Theater director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko was impressed by The Seagull and convinced a colleague, Constantin Stanislavski, to direct a production for the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898. Stanislavski's brilliant, innovative production was a hit.
His faith in the theater restored, Chekhov returned to play writing when the Art Theatre commissioned him to write more plays. The great Uncle Vanya, which Chekhov wrote in 1896, premiered at the Art Theatre in 1899.
In 1897, Chekhov had suffered a major hemorrhage of the lungs, so he finally went to a clinic, where his tuberculosis, located in the tops of his lungs, was diagnosed. The doctors advised him to make a major change in his lifestyle, so the following year, he bought land in Yalta and built a home there.
When it was completed, he moved in along with his mother and sister. In Yalta, Chekhov planted trees and flowers, kept dogs and tamed cranes as pets, and entertained his friends and fellow writers, including Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky. He also wrote more plays for the Art Theatre.
Chekov really hated living in Yalta, which he described as a "hot Siberia," so he often visited Moscow or traveled abroad to get away from it. In May of 1901, at the age of 41, Chekhov married his girlfriend, Olga Knipper.
His marriage came as a surprise to many, because he had been called "Russia's most elusive literary bachelor" and preferred casual relationships and brothels to marriage.
His attitude is reflected in his classic short story, The Lady With The Dog, which told the tale of Dmitry, an unhappily married Moscow banker who believes that women are only good for one thing. So he engages in many meaningless affairs.
Then one day, while vacationing in Yalta, he meets Anna, a young woman who is walking her dog along the seafront. Smitten, he introduces himself. Soon, Dmitry and Anna begin a passionate affair which lasts until he returns to Moscow.
Back home and back in his daily routine, Dmitry finds himself haunted by his memories of Anna and determines to find her. Using business as a ruse, he goes to St. Petersburg and finds out where she lives. Afraid that she's found someone else, he returns to his hotel.
Later, he goes to see a production of the musical play The Geisha, thinking that Anna might be in attendance. He sees her with her husband. When the man steps out for a smoke, Dmitry greets Anna. Startled, she runs off, and he follows her.
When Dmitry finally confronts Anna, she tells him that she never stopped thinking about him, but begs him to leave, promising to visit him in Moscow. She keeps her promise, and Dmitry realizes that he has fallen in love for the first time in his life. The story ends with Dmitry and Anna trying to plan for a life together.
By 1904, Anton Chekhov was dying of tuberculosis. In June, he and Olga went to the German spa town of Badenweiler, where he wrote cheerful letters to his mother and sister telling them that he was getting better. He was really getting worse. He died on July 15th at the age of 44. This is how Olga described his death:
Anton sat up unusually straight and said loudly and clearly (although he knew almost no German): Ich sterbe ('I'm dying'). The doctor calmed him, took a syringe, gave him an injection of camphor, and ordered champagne. Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: 'It's a long time since I drank champagne.' He drained it, lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping peacefully as a child...
Quote Of The Day
"The task of a writer is not to solve the problem but to state the problem correctly." - Anton Chekhov
Today's video features the BBC production of Anton Chekhov's classic play, Uncle Vanya - starring Sir Anthony Hopkins! Enjoy!