Literary America: Ten Places to Visit for National Author’s Day

Mark your calendars and make some plans!  November 1st is National Author’s Day.  In 1929, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs created the day to honor America’s writers; in 1949, the day was officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Congress. The resolution states, in part, that “[b]y celebrating author’s day as a nation, we would not only show patriotism, loyalty and appreciation of the men and women who have made American literature possible but would also encourage and inspire others to give of themselves in making a better America.”

Most of these historic places are privately staffed or state-run, meaning that even if the government shutdown continues, you should be able to visit these homes, museums, and locations:

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1. Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond, VA

Called “America’s Shakespeare,” Edgar Allan Poe created or mastered the short story, detective fiction, science fiction, lyric poetry and the horror story. His dark genius has invited children and adults to read and love literature for over 150 years.

Mark Twain Study sepia

2.  Mark Twain Study, Elmira, New York 

Built by Twain’s father-in-law, Twain called this retreat “The Cozy Nest.”  It is located on the campus of Elmira College.  Twain’s grave is also located in the town of Elmira.

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Top Ten Summer Readings for 2013

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Ahhhh, summer! Finally, some time for a bit of pleasure reading. Got a gift certificate you’ve been hanging on to? (Ha. Mine are gone minutes after they hit my hands.) Or maybe you are just overwhelmed with choices and don’t want to waste precious free time on something that isn’t so great. Well, we at eNotes want to help you get the most out of your summer reading

Here are ten suggestions offered by my very well-read friends who occasionally hang up their tweed jackets and loosen their professorial buns (no, not hair).  Here you will find a combination of new and older works, both fiction and non-fiction, serious and comedic.  So pick a few and let us know what YOU think!

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1.  Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue by Jane Maas

Are you a fan of AMC’s Mad Men and Peggy and Joan in particular? Curious about what life was really like on Madison Avenue in the ’60s? Then you will enjoy Maas’s exploration of life in the ad game in the 1960s and beyond .

confessions

2.  Confessions of an Ex-Girlfriend by Lynda Curnyn

A good beach read by a first time novelist. A friend says it is “the only romance novel I’ve ever finished.”

“Suddenly single when her aspiring screenwriter boyfriend takes off for a hot job in L.A., bridal magazine editor Emma Carter is forced to reassess her appearance, her job, and her prospects-and take action. A diverse cast of engaging, occasionally offbeat characters, the hilarious sayings attributed to them, and a fast-paced style facilitated by Emma’s pithy sound-bite “confessions” add to the fun in a lively Manhattan-set story that, while not a true romance, leaves the heroine happily pursuing her dreams and involved in a satisfying romantic relationship. This work may appeal to those who enjoy Bridget Jones-type books and like their stories urban, trendy, and slightly ambiguous. Curnyn is a fiction editor and lives in New York. This is her first novel. ” – Library Journal

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Ten Cocktails for You, From Literature

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If you’ve ever hosted or been to a book club meeting, you know that you will discuss the book in question for approximately ten to fifteen minutes before the conversation turns to sex. Why not at least attempt to keep things on a literary bent (and bender) and try something besides chardonnay. Here are ten cocktails that characters were drinking in novels, links to their recipes, and some quotes to make you sound super smart, especially to that one snotty chick nobody likes but always brings good food so we keep our mouths shut.

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1.  Gin Gimlet – Philip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

“You talk too damn much and too damn much of it is about you.”

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2.  Singapore Sling,  Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

“We can’t stop here, this is bat country!”

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Nothing good gets away: Advice from John Steinbeck on Love

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John Steinbeck adored his two sons, Thom, the eldest, and John (better known by his nickname, “Catbird”).  After a tumultuous divorce with his second wife, Gwyn, the mother of the boys, and a long and usually loving marriage but also difficult relationship with his first wife, Carol, Steinbeck had found true love with his third wife, Elaine. The two were married until his death, from 1949 to 1968.

My dissertation is on Steinbeck and in my research, I have spent months perusing his vast collection of personal letters, most of which are housed in the Special Collections at Stanford University. In addition to the disciplined daily composition of his novels, Steinbeck typically wrote six to eight letters a day: to friends, family, and colleagues. Almost everyone kept the letters.

I got to know the relationship between Steinbeck and his sons very well through those letters. He was a marvelous father. When he saw traveling could offer his boys a better education than traditional schooling, he took Thom and Catbird with him and Elaine to Europe and elsewhere. Their tutor was the very young playwright, Terrance McNally.

Here is a letter that fourteen-year-old Thom received from his dad, before those traveling years, when Thom was at boarding school in Connecticut and was just beginning to be interested in girls.  It has been widely published before, but it is such a beautiful thing…everyone should read it.

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Love,

Fa

There are many things I love about the letter: he is to expect a response from Elaine, as a woman’s point of view will also be helpful; that he is wise enough to know to not dismiss Thom’s feelings, just because he is young; that he can tell him in language a boy of that age can understand, and really, speaks plainly to anyone of any age, about the types of love.  There is not just one kind; some are negative and destructive, some are positive and constructive.

And in closing, he does not forget the object of Thom’s affection. He acknowledges her by name and welcomes her.

Here is a recent picture of Thom Steinbeck, who, like his father, also became a writer (The Silver Lotus, Down to a Soundless Seaand favors John in many ways.

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Writer’s Spaces, Places, and Advice About Writing

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“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”  ~ Stephen King, On Writing

Pictured above is Stephen King’s own attic writing space at his home in Bangor, Maine.  In contrast to his statement above, his desk does appear to be in the middle of his room, but surely he means “corner” to be taken metaphorically; that is, any place that is quiet, that is yours; the place where you sit to write your work.  While there are some writers who purportedly can write in the midst of chaos, most of us require a place of retreat. I believe it was J.K. Rowling who said that she cleared out a walk-in closet, put a desk and a lamp in there, and sealed herself off from the rest of the family while she was composing her first Harry Potter novel.

Here are ten intriguing places where writer’s write, along with some advice for all who write:

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1.  Neil Gaiman‘s Gazebo/Cabin

8 Good Writing Practices

  1. Write.
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you somethings wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But its definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

wharton_desk

2.  Edith Wharton‘s view from “The Mount” in Lennox, Massachusetts

“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.”

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3. Dylan Thomas‘s Boathouse at Laugharne, Wales

“Go on thinking that you don’t need to be read and you’ll find that it may become quite true: no one will feel the need to read it because it is written for yourself alone; and the public won’t feel any impulse to gate crash such a private party.”

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4.  Ernest Hemingway‘s Home in Key West, Florida

“Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done.”

“There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

“Ordinarily I never read anything before I write in the morning to try and bite on the old nail with no help, no influence and no one giving you a wonderful example or sitting looking over your shoulder.”

kipling_desk

5. Rudyard Kipling: Dummerston, Vermont

“I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

“I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.”

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

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6. Ian Fleming‘s home, GoldenEye, in Jamaica

“All the greatest men are maniacs. They are possessed by a mania which drives them forward towards their goal. The great scientists, the philosophers, the religious leaders – all maniacs. What else but a blind singleness of purpose could have given focus to their genius, would have kept them in the groove of purpose. Mania … is as priceless as genius.”

mailer_desk

7.  Norman Mailer‘s Fourth Floor Apartment, Brooklyn Heights, New York

“I’ve written at times about the spooky element in writing. You go in each morning, and there’s a blank page. Maybe it takes five minutes, maybe it takes an hour. Sooner or later you start writing, and then the words begin to flow. Where does that come from? You can’t pinpoint it. You always wonder, “Will it all stop tomorrow?” In that sense it’s spooky. In other words, you’re relying on a phenomenon that’s not necessarily dependable. ” (“Norman Mailer Interview,” The Academy of Achievement, June 12, 2004)

“Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.”

woolf_desk

8.  Virginia Woolf‘s Writing Desk at “Monk’s House,” Sussex, England

“Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.”

“To write weekly, to write daily, to write shortly, to write for busy people catching trains in the morning or for tired people coming home in the evening, is a heartbreaking task for men who know good writing from bad. They do it, but instinctively draw out of harm’s way anything precious that might be damaged by contact with the public, or anything sharp that might irritate its skin.”

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”

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9. John Steinbeck‘s Summer Home in Sag Harbor, Maine

“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true. “

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. “

“The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.”

“In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. “

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10.  Roald Dahl‘s “The Gipsy House,” Buckinghamshire, England

Dahl’s Advice on Writing

1.  You should have a lively imagination

2. You should be able to write well.  By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader’s mind.  Not everybody has this ability.  It is a gift, and you either have it or you don’t.

3.  You must have stamina.  In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month.

4.  You must be a perfectionist.  That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.

5.  You must have strong self-discipline.  You are working alone.  No one is employing you.  No one is around to fire you if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick you off is you start slacking.

6.  It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humor.  This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it’s vital.

7.  You must have a degree of humility.  The writer who thinks that his work is marvelous is heading for trouble.


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