Sep. 21, 2013

Will there really be a 'Morning'?

by Emily Dickinson

Will there really be a "Morning"?
Is there such a thing as "Day"?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?

Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Man from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called "Morning" lies!

"Will there really be a 'Morning'?" by Emily Dickinson, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. © Back Bay Books, 1946. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer H.G. Wells (books by this author), born Herbert George Wells in Bromley, England (1866). Although popularly known as one of the fathers of modern science fiction, having published classics such as The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The War of the Worlds within the first few years of his writing career, Wells went on to publish dozens of novels, story collections, and books of nonfiction, most of which were not explicitly sci-fi. Most, however, dealt in some way with Wells' interest in biology, his strong belief in socialism, or his vision for the future of mankind. Indeed, much of what was fantastic and fictional when he conceived it came to pass, like his predictions that airplanes would someday be used to wage war and advanced transportation would lead to an explosion of suburbs.

It's the birthday of Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen, born in Montreal (1934) (books by this author). He started out as a poet, publishing a few well-received volumes in the 1950s and '60s, including Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956) and The Spice-Box of Earth (1961). He also wrote a couple of novels: The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). But he was disappointed that writing didn't pay better, so he moved to the United States to become a folk singer and songwriter. He wasn't happy with the arrangements on his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), but it became a cult favorite. His 1984 album, Various Positions, included one of his most popular songs, "Hallelujah." It's been covered by nearly 200 other singers in a variety of languages.

Cohen released his 12th studio album last year; it's called Old Ideas (2012).

It's the birthday of Southern novelist Fannie Flagg (books by this author), born Patricia Neal in Birmingham, Alabama (1941). Flagg took her pseudonym not as a pen name but as a stage name; there was already a famous actress with her name when Flagg began a career as a morning show host.

Her first novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, was a best-seller, and Flagg went on to write the Oscar-nominated screenplay for the film adaptation.

It's the birthday of fiction writer Stephen King (books by this author), born on this day in Portland, Maine (1947). He started in early on the business of writing, when he was six or seven years old, writing stories based on movies he had seen and then selling them to friends. One day, when he was 12 years old, he was exploring the attic above his aunt and uncle's garage, and he found a box full of paperback books, including a book of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft. He spent the next two days reading the book cover to cover, and he said that was "where that interior dowsing rod suddenly turned over, where the compass needle swung emphatically toward some mental true north." From that time on, horror fiction was his calling.

He was 26 years old, living in a trailer, when he published his first novel, Carrie (1974), about a bullied high schooler with telekinetic powers who goes on a killing spree. After he started writing it, he thought it was so bad that he threw it in the trash. His wife found it, smoothed out the wrinkles and wiped off the cigarette ashes, and convinced her husband that it was worth working on more. King still thought it was terrible, but he was out of ideas, so he spent the next two weeks turning it into a novel. Carrie was accepted by Doubleday, but King had gotten rid of his phone to save on expenses, so the publisher had to send a telegram. It promised a $2,500 advance, and ended: "Congrats, kid — the future lies ahead."

That was 40 years ago. Since then, King has published 50 novels, five nonfiction books, and 200 short stories. To keep up this rate, he writes 2,000 words — about 10 pages — every single day. He said: "On some days, those 10 pages come easily; I'm up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning, perky as a rat in liverwurst. More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day's work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I'm still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words."

It isn't just his productivity that has made King one of the top-earning authors in the world. He has been years ahead of other writers on technology — in 2000, he started publishing some of his work online only, at a time when e-books were virtually unknown. He routinely turns down big advances, but instead of royalties, he splits the profits from his books 50-50 with the publishers. And while most publishers purchase book rights for 70 years after the author's death, King allows them just 15 years after publication, which guarantees that the publishers work hard to sell his books, since he can find someone else if the deal isn't working.

King's novels include Salem's Lot (1975), The Shining (1977), Cujo (1981), Pet Sematary (1993), It (1986), The Green Mile (2000), the Dark Tower series (1982-2012), and published this month, Doctor Sleep (2013).

King said, "If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented."

And he said: "I just write about what scares me. When I was a kid, my mother used to say, 'Think of the worst thing that you can, and if you say it out loud then it won't come true.' And that's probably been the basis of my career."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
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