Thursday, February 26, 2015

Notes For February 26th, 2015

This Day In Writing History

On February 26th, 1802, the legendary French writer Victor Hugo was born in Bensancon, France. He grew up during an important time in French history; when he was two years old, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor. By the time Hugo turned eighteen, the Bourbon Monarchy had been restored.

The opposing forces that shaped French history during this time were reflected in Hugo's parents. His father Joseph was an atheist and a high-ranking officer in Napoleon's army, while his mother Sophie was an extremely devout Catholic and Royalist.

Although Victor Hugo was close to his controlling mother, against her wishes, he married his childhood sweetheart, Adele Foucher. They had five children. Their first, Leopold, died in infancy. Hugo's eldest daughter, Leopoldine, died suddenly at the age of nineteen - shortly after her wedding.

Leopoldine and her husband were aboard a boat that capsized; she drowned, and her husband died trying to save her. Victor Hugo, traveling in the south of France with his mistress, was devastated when he read about Leopoldine's death in a newspaper. She had been his favorite daughter. He would write many poems about her life and death.

As a young writer, Victor Hugo's main influence was François-René de Chateaubriand, founder of the Romanticism movement in French literature. He vowed to be "Chateaubriand or nothing." Hugo's first book, a poetry collection titled Odes et Poésies Diverses, was published in 1822, when he was twenty years old.

It was well received and earned Hugo a royal pension from King Louis XVIII, but it was his 1826 poetry collection, Odes et Ballades, that established him as one of the greatest poets of his time.

Victor Hugo first made a name for himself as a novelist with his 1829 novella, Le Dernier jour d'un Condamné. (The Last Day of a Condemned Man). The story is narrated by a man condemned to death. He describes his life in prison and bears his soul to the reader.

He never identifies himself by name, nor does he reveal his crime, only hinting vaguely that he killed someone. On the day of his execution, he is reunited with his three-year-old daughter, but she doesn't recognize him. The novella would have a profound influence on great writers such as Albert Camus, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Two years after his novella Le Dernier jour d'un Condamné was published, Hugo released what would become his first classic full-length novel. Notre-Dame de Paris, best known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), was a huge critical and commercial success.

The tragic love story dealt with social injustice - the recurring theme in Hugo's prose. Set in late 15th century Paris, the novel tells the tale of Quasimodo, a deformed hunchback who lives in the Notre Dame cathedral, where he serves as the bell ringer.

The townspeople despise and shun him because of his deformities, and his adoptive father, a priest named Claude Frollo, mistreats him. Quasimodo soon falls in love with Esmeralda, a beautiful Gypsy dancer, who has captured the hearts of most men in town, including Claude Frollo.

Esmeralda's physical beauty is nothing compared to her inner beauty, as she is very kind and compassionate. When the lust-crazed priest sends Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda, he is caught, beaten, and ordered to remain out in the heat. Esmeralda brings him water.

When Esmeralda falls in love with Phoebus de Chateaupers, the captain of the King's Archers, the jealous Claude Frollo nearly murders him in a fit of rage, then frames Esmeralda for the crime. She is sentenced to be hanged, but Quasimodo saves her from the gallows and takes her to the cathedral.

There, she would be safe under the law of sanctuary, but then the King vetoes the law and commands his troops to take Esmeralda from the cathedral. Claude Frollo betrays her and hands her over to them, then watches her hang.

Quasimodo kills the evil priest, then goes to the graveyard, where he climbs into Esmeralda's grave and dies with her. A year later, the skeletons of Esmeralda and Quasimodo are found locked in an embrace.

Victor Hugo's greatest novel was his legendary masterpiece, Les Miserables (1862), a dazzling 1,200+ page epic novel that took the author 17 years to write. Originally published in five volumes, Les Miserables opens in Digne in 1815, as poor peasant Jean Valjean is released from prison.

He served nineteen years - five years for stealing bread to feed his starving sister, plus an additional fourteen years for his frequent escape attempts. Forced to carry a passport that identifies him as a convict, Valjean finds himself scorned by society.

He becomes so angry and bitter that when the kindhearted Bishop Myriel takes him in, he steals the man's silverware, and later, a young boy's silver coin. The Bishop saves Valjean from the police and inspires him to repent and make an honest man of himself.

Valjean decides to return the silver coin he stole, then finds that the theft has been reported. Another conviction would result in a life sentence, so he goes on the lam. Using the alias Monsieur Madeleine, Valjean follows the Bishop's advice and reinvents himself as an honest, productive citizen.

All the while, he is pursued relentlessly by police Inspector Javert. Later, Valjean reveals his true identity when Javert mistakenly arrests an innocent man named Champmathieu whom he thinks is Jean Valjean.

When Valjean has a chance to kill Javert and escape, he refuses to do so, and for the first time, the policeman recognizes the immorality of the law to which he has dedicated his life. It drives him to suicide.

In addition to the story of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, Les Miserables follows many other characters, who also face the specter of social injustice.

The novel, rightfully considered to be one of the greatest ever written, has been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, and television, the most famous adaptation being a celebrated Broadway musical. The most recent film adaptation, released in 2012, is an adaptation of the Broadway musical starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

Victor Hugo would become involved in politics, where he would fight the social injustices he had written about. In 1841, King Louis-Philippe elevated him to the peerage, and he entered the Higher Chamber as a pair de France, (nobleman) where he spoke out against the death penalty and other forms of social injustice. He advocated freedom of speech and a free press.

Hugo soon tired of the monarchy and became a supporter of the Republican form of government. Thus, when the Second Republic was formed in France following the 1848 Revolution, Hugo was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and the Legislative Assembly.

When Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) seized total power in 1851 and established an anti-parliamentary constitution, Hugo openly denounced him as a traitor to France. The writer went into exile, living in Brussels and Jersey before settling in with his family on the channel island of Guernsey, where he would live until 1870.

While in exile, Hugo used his influence to help fight social injustice in other countries. He also wrote and published his famous anti-Napoleon III pamphlets, which, although banned in France, made a huge impact there. When Hugo returned to France in 1870, he was elected to the National Assembly and the Senate and hailed as a national hero.

Victor Hugo's writings were also influenced by his religious views, which changed radically over the years. At first, he was a devout Catholic like his mother, but then he grew disenchanted with the Church, which he perceived as being indifferent to the plight of the poor and the oppression of the monarchy.

The fact that Hugo's novels made the Pope's official banned books list didn't help; he also noted over seven hundred attacks on Les Miserables by the Catholic press. Hugo developed a lifelong seething hatred of the Catholic Church.

When his sons died, they were buried without a crucifix or priest, and Hugo's will stipulated the same for his own death. Despite his deep hatred of the Church and religion in general, Hugo was known to be a very spiritual man who believed in the power of prayer.

His last great novel, Quatre-vignt-Treize (Ninety-Three) was published in 1874. He died in 1885 at the age of 83.

Quote Of The Day

"It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life." - Victor Hugo

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading of Volume 1, Part 1 of Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Miserables. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Notes For February 25th, 2015

This Day In Writing History

On February 25th, 1917, the legendary English writer and composer Anthony Burgess was born. He was born John Burgess Wilson in Manchester, England. His confirmation name, Anthony, would be added to his legal name.

The next year, in November of 1918, Burgess' eight-year-old sister Muriel died of Spanish Flu, which had become a pandemic. Four days after his sister's death, his mother died of the disease. His aunt Ann (his mother's sister) raised him while his father worked as a bookkeeper and part-time musician.

He would later say that he believed his father resented him for surviving the pandemic that killed his sister and mother. When his father remarried, he was raised by his stepmother.

As a young boy, Anthony Burgess was a loner, despised by other children because he liked to dress well and could read before he started elementary school. Although his father was a musician, Burgess didn't care about music until he heard a dazzling flute solo while listening to classical music on the radio.

After the piece ended, a voice announced that he had been listening to Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) by legendary French composer Claude Debussy. Awestruck, Burgess told his family that he wanted to be a composer.

Burgess' family refused to let him study music because there was no money in it. Music wasn't taught at his school, so when he was around fourteen, he taught himself to play the piano. Later, he enrolled at Victoria University of Manchester as a music major.

Unfortunately, the music department turned him down because of his poor grade in physics. So, he switched his major to English. While at university, Burgess met Llewela "Lynne" Isherwood Jones, whom he would marry after they graduated.

During World War II, Anthony Burgess served as a nursing orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was disliked for his practical joking and anti-authoritarian nature. Once, he knocked off a corporal's cap; another time, he rebelled by deliberately overpolishing a floor to make the other men slip and fall.

In 1942, he asked for a transfer to the Army Education Corps. He excelled as an instructor, and though he loathed authority, he was promoted to sergeant. He was stationed in Gibraltar, where his talent for languages came in handy.

Burgess debriefed Dutch expatriates and Free French for army intelligence. His anti-authoritarianism got him into trouble again while on leave in a nearby Spanish town: he was arrested for insulting the fascist leader Generalissimo Franco. He was soon released.

While he was serving in the Army, his pregnant wife Lynne was attacked during the blackout by four GI soldiers who had deserted. She lost the baby, and the Army denied Burgess' request for leave to see her.

When Burgess left the Army in 1946, he had attained the rank of sergeant-major. He spent the next four years as a lecturer in speech and drama, then took a job as a secondary school teacher.

In 1954, he joined the British Colonial Service as a teacher and education officer. He was first stationed in Malaya, an experience that would serve as the inspiration for his first three novels.

The first book in the trilogy, Time For A Tiger, was published in 1956. The novel is set at the Mansor School in Kuala Hantu, where British resident teacher Victor Crabbe determines to neutralize the threat posed by a young communist student who has been influencing his classmates and indoctrinating them to join in his cause.

The second book in the trilogy, The Enemy In The Blanket (1958), proved to be controversial for, of all things, its cover art. Burgess was shocked and appalled by his publishers' choice for the book's cover art.

They had chosen an illustration of a Sikh rickshaw driver pulling a white man and woman in his rickshaw. This was unheard of in Malaya, and considered extremely insulting. Burgess found himself falsely accused of racism.

In 1962, Anthony Burgess published what is considered his greatest novel - a bold, brilliant, experimental work of dystopic science fiction. A Clockwork Orange The title comes from the British slang expression, "queer as a clockwork orange."

The novel is set in a dystopic fascist England of the future. The novel is narrated by its main character, Alex, a brilliant but psychopathic teenager who leads a gang of "droogs" that includes his friends Pete, Georgie, and Dim.

Alex and his gang meet at a milk bar, where they drink drugged milk to get them ready "for a bit of the old ultra-violence." One night, while joyriding in a stolen car, the gang breaks into an isolated cottage. They terrorize the couple that lives there, beating the husband and raping his wife.

When he's not out with his gang, Alex passes the time in his dreary home, escaping his poor excuse for parents by blasting the works of his favorite composer, "Ludwig Van," (Beethoven) and masturbating to violent sexual fantasies.

Later, Georgie challenges Alex for leadership of the gang, but is beaten in their fight and Dim's hand is slashed open. After putting down the rebellion, Alex takes his gang out for drinks at the milk bar.

Georgie and Dim have had enough, but Alex demands that the gang follow through with Georgie's plan for a "man-sized" job and rob a rich old woman who lives alone. The robbery is botched when the old woman calls the police - but not before she is assaulted and knocked unconscious.

The gang then turns on Alex, attacking him and leaving him to take the fall when the police arrive. The old woman later dies of her injuries and Alex is charged with murder. He's sent to a brutal prison to serve his time.

After serving a couple years in prison, Alex becomes an involuntary participant in an experimental rehabilitation procedure called the Ludovico Technique, which, in two weeks, is supposed to remove all violent and criminal impulses from the human psyche.

The prison chaplain is opposed to the Ludovico Technique, arguing that conscious, willing moral choice is a necessary component of humanity. Nevertheless, Alex undergoes the procedure.

For two weeks, in a horrific kind of aversion therapy, Alex's eyes are wired open and he is forced to watch violent images on a screen while being given a drug that induces extreme nausea.

Unfortunately, the soundtrack to the violent film presentation includes works by Beethoven, and Alex begs the doctors to turn off the sound, telling them that's a sin to take away his love of music, and Beethoven never did anything wrong. They refuse.

After the procedure is completed, Alex is brought before an audience of prison and government officials and declared successfully rehabilitated. They demonstrate how Alex is unable to react with violence even in self defense, and is crippled by nausea whenever he becomes sexually aroused.

The outraged prison chaplain again protests the Ludovico Technique, accusing the state of taking away Alex's God-given ability to choose good over evil. "Padre," a government official replies, "There are subtleties. The point is that it works."

Alex is released from prison, but his life plunges into a downward spiral. He finds that the Ludovico Technique has rendered him physically unable to listen to his Beethoven and incapable of defending himself from attack.

First, he is beaten by a former victim, then when the police are called, they turn out to be Alex's old gang member Dim and rival gang member Billyboy. They beat him, too.

Later, Alex is befriended by a political activist who turns out to be the man whose wife Alex had raped during the home invasion. When he finally recognizes Alex as the gang leader, he tortures him with the classical music he once loved.

Alex attempts suicide, and a scandal erupts. The embarrassed government agrees to reverse the Ludovico Technique in order to quell all the bad publicity. They offer Alex a cushy job at a high salary, but he looks forward to returning to his life of ultra-violence.

He forms a new gang, but after watching them beat a stranger, he finds that he has tired of violence. Alex contemplates giving up gang life, becoming a productive citizen, and doing what he secretly always wanted to do - start a family of his own. He wonders if his children would inherit the violent tendencies he once had.

In the U.S. edition of the novel, the last chapter was omitted by the publisher, who wanted the story to end on a dark note (with Alex looking forward to resuming his life of violence) because he believed that the original UK edition ending (with Alex realizing the errors of his ways) was unrealistic.

When the legendary English filmmaker Stanley Kubrick adapted the novel as an acclaimed feature film in 1971, he felt the same way, and based his screenplay on the U.S. edition of the novel. It was a huge critical and commercial success.

Featuring Malcolm McDowell in the career making starring role as Alex, the film was rated X for its original theatrical release. Though controversial for its explicit sexual content and extreme violence, the film won numerous awards and was nominated for several Oscars.

In the UK, the movie was passed uncut, but a conservative outcry erupted over the film's negative influence on teenage boys and dark humored sexual violence. It resulted in Kubrick and his family receiving death threats.

Their home was also besieged by protesters, so Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from circulation in the UK, and it wouldn't be seen there again for nearly thirty years, until after the director's death.

Today, both editions of A Clockwork Orange are available in the U.S., and it remains a classic work of literature, famous for its dazzling experimental narrative, wherein Alex speaks a lyrical dialect that combines English with modified Slavic and Russian slang expressions and words specifically invented by the author.

Burgess would go on to write more great novels, including The Wanting Seed (1962), Tremor of Intent: An Eschatological Spy Novel (1966), M/F (1971), and The End of the World News: An Entertainment (1982).

As a playwright, he would adapt A Clockwork Orange as a stage play; as a screenwriter, he wrote the screenplays for the popular TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and A.D. (1985) and contributed to the screenplays of feature films.

As a composer, his classical pieces were broadcast on BBC Radio. He translated Bizet's Carmen into English, wrote an operetta based on James Joyce's Ulysses called Blooms of Dublin, and a new libretto for Weber's opera, Oberon. He also wrote the book for the 1973 Broadway musical, Cyrano, basing it on his own adaptation of the Rostand play.

Anthony Burgess' other literary works included poetry collections, children's books, and non-fiction works. He died of lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 76.

Quote Of The Day

"A work of fiction should be, for its author, a journey into the unknown, and the prose should convey the difficulties of the journey." - Anthony Burgess

Vanguard Video

Today's video features Anthony Burgess being interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. Enjoy!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Notes For February 24th, 2015

This Day In Writing History

On February 24th, 1786, the legendary German writer and folklorist Wilhelm Grimm was born in Hanau, Germany. As a boy, Wilhelm was strong and healthy, but over the years, he would suffer from an increasingly severe illness that left him weak. He and his older brother Jacob were inseparable.

In 1803, Wilhelm enrolled at the University of Marburg to study law, one year after Jacob began his studies there. Around 1807, Wilhelm and Jacob began collecting folktales.

They were inspired by The Youth's Magic Horn, a multi volume collection of German folk songs and poems edited by Ludwig Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. The first volume was published in 1805.

The Grimm brothers would invite storytellers to tell their tales, which the Grimms then transcribed and edited, adding their own distinctive touches to the stories.

By 1812, their first collection of folk tales was published as Kinder und Hausmärchen. (Children's and Household Tales) It contained 86 stories.

A second volume, containing 70 tales, was published in 1814. During the Grimm brothers' lifetime, five more editions of their story collections would be released, some containing new stories.

Since then, all 211 stories would be published in one volume as Grimms' Fairy Tales. Some scholars believe that the Grimm brothers, both devout Christians, cut the salacious elements from the stories they collected.

They did not, however, tone down the dark and violent elements of the stories, which led to complaints that the stories were inappropriate for children. Thus, since their initial publication, the Grimms' Fairy Tales have been softened and changed considerably by publishers.

The original, unaltered Grimms' Fairy Tales are still published, and parents who buy the book for their children are quite shocked by the content, as are other readers who remember the softer versions.

Classic tales as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as in all the Grimms' original stories, had different endings, with the villains often tortured horribly and / or put to death.

Little Red Riding Hood (her original name was Little Red-Cap) and her grandmother are saved when a huntsman cuts open the wolf's stomach. He later skins the dead wolf and keeps the skin as a souvenir.

In Cinderella, (Cinderella was her nickname; her real name was Ashputtel) the nasty stepsisters mutilate their feet to try and fit into the glass slipper. Later, they get their eyes pecked out by doves as punishment for their cruelty and vanity.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs originally ends with the Wicked Queen lured to Snow White and Prince Charming's wedding - where she's forced to wear hot iron shoes and dance until she dies.

Despite their dark and sometimes gruesome nature, the Grimms' Fairy Tales remain an all-time classic work of literature, inspiring generations of writers.

Though his older brother remained a lifelong bachelor, Wilhelm Grimm married his girlfriend, Henriette "Dortchen" Wild, in 1825. She bore him four children. Their firstborn son was named after his uncle Jacob.

In addition to the fairy tales he compiled with his brother, Wilhelm published three books under his own name, a collection of Danish folk songs, a study of German runes, and a study of German folk legends.

(The Grimms' Fairy Tales were also criticized as being "not German enough.")

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm later became professors at the University of Gottingen. They joined five of their colleagues and formed the "Gottingen Seven," an activist group that protested against Ernst August, the King of Hanover, over his abrogation of the constitution. The King fired them all from the university.

Wilhelm Grimm died of an infection in 1859. He was 73 years old.

Quote Of The Day

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." - Wilhelm Grimm

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a dramatization of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, performed by English actor-comedian Rik Mayall. Complete with the story's original ending, this one must be seen to be believed! Enjoy!

Monday, February 23, 2015

IWW Members' Publishing Successes

Jonathan Mitchell

An article about me is in Newsweek.

Joanna M. Weston

Four poems up at Here and Now: 7beats. Scroll on down. Many thanks to the Poetry List.

Behlor Santi

My article on making freelancing personal is up at Funds For Writers.

Theresa A. Cancro

My poem, “Winter Rose,” appears on Leaves of Ink for February 17th. Scroll down.

Mona Leeson Vanek

Joel Kimbell, the owner of Palouse Internet, and his wife came to have me transfer all the information I could from my North Palouse Washington e-Newscast for him because he plans to incorporate the links and news into his business. I stopped publishing the paper when we moved to Spokane Valley, Washington.

He'll pay the $10 domain fee for my website to stay live until 2016, while he works out how to best incorporate it. He believes that what I started was too valuable to the Palouse region to just let it die out. I'm flattered, and very pleased.

Guilie Castillo-Oriard

My flash, The Perfect Equilibrium of Rectangles, was accepted for publication in Pure Slush's fourth anniversary online issue, Four. This is one I'm particularly proud of :)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Notes For February 20th, 2015

This Day In Writing History

On February 20th, 1926, the famous American writer Richard Matheson was born in Allendale, New Jersey. Born to Norwegian immigrant parents, he would grow up in Brooklyn, New York.

In 1943, after graduating from high school, he joined the military and served as an infantry soldier during World War II. After the war ended, Matheson enrolled at the University of Missouri, where he earned a degree in journalism.

His first published short story, Born of Man and Woman, appeared in 1950, in an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The story is narrated in broken English by the grotesque mutant eight-year-old son of a normal couple.

The "normal" parents keep their son chained in the cellar and beat him frequently. When the mutant boy breaks the rules and sneaks upstairs to spy on his parents, he discovers that he has a normal little sister whom he never met or knew existed.

Encouraged by his first sale, Matheson moved to California, hoping to become a professional writer. There, he married his girlfriend, Ruth Ann Woodson. They had four children, three of whom (Chris, Ali, and Richard Christian Matheson) would become writers.

Richard Matheson's first novel, Someone is Bleeding, was published in 1953, but his third novel, I Am Legend (1954), made his name as a writer. In it, a man named Robert Neville finds that he is apparently the last man left on Earth.

A pandemic quickly wiped out the rest of the world's population, but Neville is immune for some reason. He soon discovers that he is not alone; the world is still inhabited by the infected - who have become vampires that crave his blood.

The disease has mutated and the vampires can now spend brief periods of time during the day. After overcoming alcoholism and depression, Neville tries to find a cure for the disease before the vampires become indestructible.

I Am Legend would be adapted three times as a feature film: The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (2007) starring Will Smith as Robert Neville.

Matheson's classic 1956 novel, The Shrinking Man, told the story of Scott Carey, a man exposed to radiation after accidentally ingesting an insecticide. The combination of the two alters Carey's biochemical structure, causing him to shrink in size a little every day.

Most of the story finds Carey at only seven inches tall. Ordinary small objects and creatures become terrifying. As he keeps shrinking, Carey soon realizes that he won't shrink to death, as he'd feared. Instead, he'll keep shrinking to the size of an atom.

The Shrinking Man is actually a scathing satire of 1950s white middle class manhood. When Scott Carey shrinks to doll size, he finds that he is no longer the man of the house. Now, his wife and children are intimidating him for a change - a huge blow to his ego.

The Shrinking Man would be adapted by the author himself as the cult classic film, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). It would also be adapted as The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), a comic fantasy satirizing the dangers of industrial chemicals.

In 1958, Matheson published A Stir of Echoes, a supernatural horror novel about a mild-mannered fellow, Tom Wallace, who is hypnotized at a party by his brother-in-law. Wallace doubts the effectiveness of hypnosis until a post-hypnotic suggestion unlocks formidable psychic powers within him.

Suddenly able to read minds and predict the future, Tom's life plunges into a downward spiral. Then, the spirit of a murder victim begins stalking him, desperately searching for closure. This memorable novel would be adapted as the horror film Stir of Echoes in 1999.

Richard Matheson's success as a novelist and short story writer got him noticed by television. He would write fourteen episodes of the classic TV series, The Twilight Zone (1959-64). His memorable episodes include the classic Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

In this episode, an aerophobic salesman (William Shatner) notices something terrifying during his flight - a gremlin clinging to the plane's wing, trying to destroy the aircraft. Is it real or all in his mind?

Another great Twilight Zone episode Matheson wrote was Little Girl Lost. In it, a little girl falls out of her bed in the middle of the night and tumbles through a gateway into another dimension. Her father must attempt a daring rescue before the door closes forever.

Matheson and his close friend, writer Charles Beaumont, who also wrote for The Twilight Zone, belonged to the Southern California Writing Group in the 1950s and 60s. Other members included Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, Jerry Sohl, and George Clayton Johnson.

In the 1970s, Matheson wrote the screenplays for two TV movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, which were based on a horror novel by Jeff Rice called The Kolchak Papers. The popular movies would spawn the short lived cult classic TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75).

The first of Matheson's TV movies, The Night Stalker, received record ratings for a TV movie. Darren McGavin starred as Carl Kolchak, a shrewd, obnoxious, wisecracking newspaper reporter covering a series of bizarre murders in Las Vegas.

All of the victims were completely drained of their blood. The police suspect a psychotic killer, but Kolchak's investigation leads him to something more terrifying - a vampire. After Kolchak destroys the vampire, the police launch a cover-up and run him out of town.

The sequel, The Night Stangler (1973) finds Kolchak in Seattle, uncovering another supernatural mystery - identical series of murders that have occurred every 21 years since 1931. The killer is on the prowl again, draining his victims of their blood.

This time, instead of a vampire, the culprit is a former Civil War surgeon who discovered an elixir of life that grants him immortality. The formula must be taken every 21 years and requires a quantity of human blood from unwilling donors.

Richard Matheson has written over two dozen novels, numerous short stories, film and TV screenplays. His latest novel, Generations, was published in 2012. He has won several awards and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010.

Quote Of The Day

"Life is a risk; so is writing. You have to love it." - Richard Matheson

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a Writers Guild Foundation interview with Richard Matheson. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Notes For February 19th, 2015

This Day In Writing History

On February 19th, 1917, the famous American writer Carson McCullers was born. She was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia. Her mother was the granddaughter of a Confederate war hero, her father a watchmaker and jeweler.

As a child, Carson McCullers was a musical prodigy. She began taking piano lessons at the age of ten. For her fifteenth birthday, her father gave her a typewriter. Nevertheless, she aspired to become a concert pianist.

In September of 1934, when she was seventeen years old, McCullers left home on a steamship bound for New York City, where she planned to study piano at Julliard. Unfortunately, she lost her tuition money and was unable to attend the school.

McCullers then worked menial jobs while she taking creative writing classes at both Columbia University and New York University. By 1936, at the age of nineteen, her first short story, Wunderkind, was published in Story magazine.

She'd found a new passion and decided to become a writer. A year later, in 1937, she married her husband, Reeves McCullers, an ex-soldier turned aspiring writer. They would separate in 1940. That year, Carson McCullers published her breakthrough debut novel, which established her as one of the greatest writers of her generation.

Set in the Depression-era American South, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter told the story of four ragtag misfits whose varied lives have several things in common - loneliness, isolation, and seemingly unattainable dreams.

Mick Kelly is a restless 14-year-old tomboy with androgynous looks and musical talent forced to be a mother to her siblings and go to work to support her family; Jake Blount is an alcoholic itinerant laborer whose socialist convictions get him into trouble.

Dr. Benedict Copeland, a black physician, suffers from both tuberculosis and his desire to help free his people from racist oppression. Biff Brannon is a married cafe owner whose masculine appearance masks his inner struggle with his bisexuality.

All four characters are connected by a mutual friend, John Singer, an intelligent deaf-mute who can write, sign, and read lips. They all find peace in Singer's kindness, wisdom, and willingness to listen to and understand them. What they don't know is that Singer is just like them, suffering in silence.

His companion of ten years - a big Greek man and fellow deaf-mute named Spiros Antonapoulos - became mentally ill and was institutionalized by a relative. While Singer was there to listen to other people's problems and comfort them, there is no one to listen to Singer and comfort him, which ultimately leads to tragedy.

All the characters in the novel are sad and intriguing, but there is nothing sentimental about their sadness. In fact, one of the novel's main themes is the selfish nature of loneliness and emotional detachment. The most intriguing characters are Mick Kelly and Biff Brannon, with their sexual ambiguity.

At first, Mick dresses like a boy and acts like one, too. But after experiencing her first romantic relationship with Harry, a Jewish neighbor boy, which results in her first sexual experience, Mick changes her appearance, dressing and acting more like a lady.

Biff Brannon, impotent and emotionally distant from his wife, finds himself sexually attracted to the boyish-looking Mick, but rather than act on his impulses, he keeps his emotional distance.

When Mick starts dressing and acting like a woman, Biff loses sexual interest in her, but warms up to her emotionally. After his wife Alice dies, Biff feels little grief - their marriage was loveless - but he starts wearing her clothes and perfume.

There is also a strong homoerotic tone to the relationship between John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos - in the beginning, the two deaf-mute men walk together arm in arm, and later, Singer longs for his institutionalized companion - but they are not specifically described as a gay couple.

Carson McCullers was only 23 years old when The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter was published. For such a young novelist to have crafted such a deep and profound novel is amazing. The book became an overnight success, receiving rave reviews.

Critics admired McCullers' handling of racial issues (Dr. Copeland is angry with his fellow blacks who refuse to stand up for their rights and choose to accept their unequal status in society with aplomb) and the evils of anti-communist hysteria.

Her novel would foreshadow the coming of both the civil rights movement and the anti-communist witch hunts that would take place a decade after its publication, conducted by Joseph McCarthy, the notorious and corrupt Republican Senator from Wisconsin.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter would be adapted as a feature film in 1968, (starring Alan Arkin as John Singer) and as a stage play in 2005.

In 1946, McCullers published another classic novel, The Member of the Wedding. It told the story of Frankie Addams, a lonely and alienated 12-year-old tomboy who dreams of running away to join her brother and his new wife on their honeymoon in Alaska.

The semi-autobiographical novel was based on McCullers' childhood. It explores the nature of racial and sexual identity, as Frankie is close to her family's black maid and wishes that people could "change back and forth from boys to girls." She would later adapt her novel as a Broadway play.

The issues of sexual identity raised in The Member of the Wedding came from the fact that McCullers was bisexual and had struggled with her own identity. Her volatile marriage didn't help matters.

After her separation, she moved in with George Davis, the editor of Harper's Bazaar, but ended up remarrying Reeves McCullers in 1945. Three years later, while suffering from depression, she attempted suicide.

Five years after that, in 1953, Reeves tried to convince Carson to commit suicide with him. She left him and he killed himself with an overdose of sleeping pills. Her 1957 play, The Square Root of Wonderful, was an attempt to come to terms with these painful experiences.

Carson McCullers was sickly throughout her life; she suffered strokes since childhood and contracted rheumatic fever when she was fifteen. By the time she was 31, strokes had paralyzed her left side completely.

She died of a brain hemorrhage in 1967 at the age of fifty. Her unfinished autobiography, Illumination and Night Glare, which she dictated during the last few months of her life, was published posthumously in 1999.

Quote Of The Day

"The thinking mind is best controlled by the imagination." - Carson McCullers

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a rare 1956 interview with Carson McCullers. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Notes For February 18th, 2015

This Day In Writing History

On February 18th, 1885, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the classic novel by the legendary American writer Mark Twain, was published. It was a sequel to his previous classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Set in the pre-Civil War South, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn finds Tom Sawyer's best friend Huck Finn on an adventure of his own. The novel opens with Huck under the guardianship of the Widow Douglas.

The widow, along with her sister Miss Watson, are attempting to "sivilize" Huck. While he appreciates their efforts, he feels stifled by civilized life. With help from his best friend Tom Sawyer, Huck sneaks out one night.

When Huck's shiftless father Pap, an abusive drunkard, suddenly appears, Huck wants no part of him. Unfortunately, Pap regains custody of Huck and they move to the backwoods, where Pap keeps Huck locked in his cabin. Huck escapes and runs away down the Mississippi River.

He soon meets up with Miss Watson's slave, Jim, who has also run away, after Miss Watson threatened to sell him downriver, where life for slaves is harsh. Although he's headed for Cairo, Illinois, Jim's final destination is Ohio, a free state.

He hopes to buy his family's freedom and move them there. At first, Huck is unsure about whether or not he should report Jim for running away. Throughout the novel, as Huck travels with Jim and talks with him, the two form a close friendship.

Huck begins to change his mind about slavery, people, and life in general. He comes to believe that Jim is an intelligent, compassionate man who deserves his freedom. One day, Huck and Jim find an entire house floating down the river. They enter it, hoping to find food and valuables.

Instead, in one room, Jim finds the body of Huck's father, Pap, who was apparently shot in the back while robbing the house. Jim won't let Huck see the dead man's face and doesn't tell him that it's Pap.

Later, to find out what's going on in the area, Huck dresses up in drag and passes himself off as a girl named Sarah Williams. He meets a woman and enters her house, hoping that she won't recognize him as a boy.

She tells him that there's a $300 bounty on Jim's head, as he is accused of killing Huckleberry Finn! The woman becomes suspicious of Huck's disguise. When she tricks him into revealing that he's a boy, Huck runs off. He warns Jim of the manhunt, then they pack up and flee.

As Huck and Jim continue their journey, they encounter more people and more trouble. First, they get caught in the middle of a blood feud between two families, the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons. Then they rescue two clever con men and get caught up in their schemes.

Huck is outraged when one of the grifters turns Jim in for the reward. Even though it's against the law and a sin, (it's considered theft) Huck helps Jim escape after rejecting the advice of his conscience and boldly declaring, "All right, then, I'll go to Hell!"

Around this time, Huck witnesses the attempted lynching of a Southern gentleman, Colonel Sherburn. The Colonel turns back the lynch mob with his rifle - and a long speech about the cowardly nature of "Southern justice."

Although Huck had helped Jim escape from custody, he is soon recaptured. Later, Huck learns that Miss Watson died, and in her will, she freed Jim. When Jim tells Huck that the dead man they found in the floating house was his father, he realizes that he can finally go home.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is rightfully considered an all-time classic work of American literature. Although geared toward young readers, the novel has become a favorite of readers of all ages. It has been adapted numerous times for the radio, stage, screen, and television.

A month after it was first published, a public library in Concord, Massachusetts, banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its shelves, calling the novel tawdry, coarse, and ignorant. It was the beginning of a controversy that continues to this day.

From its first publication through the early 1950s, bans and challenges to the novel were the result of its condemnations of slavery and lynching, and its depiction of a black slave who proves to be more intelligent and compassionate than the white Southerners who had enslaved him.

Since the late 1950s, (when the Civil Rights movement began to gain momentum) the novel has faced bans and challenges in classrooms and school libraries from black activists for its frequent use of the racial epithet nigger and for its allegedly racist stereotyping of blacks.

Twain scholars point out that in using the word nigger, the author criticizes his fellow Southerners' racism by letting them speak their own ugly language. Those who accuse the novel of racism fail to place it in its proper context.

Nevertheless, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains an all-time classic work of literature.

Quote Of The Day

"In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards." - Mark Twain

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Enjoy!

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