Oct. 12, 2008


by Arthur Guiterman

The jackals prowl, the serpents hiss
In what was once Persepolis.
Proud Babylon is but a trace
Upon the desert's dusty face.
The topless towers of Ilium
Are ashes. Judah's harp is dumb.
The fleets of Ninevah and Tyre
Are down with Davy Jones, Esquire,
And all the oligarchies, kings,
And potentates that ruled these things
Are gone! But cheer up; don't be sad;
Think what a lovely time they had!

"Elegy" by Arthur Guiterman from The Lyric Baedeker: the Mirthful Lyre. © Harper and Brothers. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet John Mole, (books by this author) born in the village of Staplegrove, England, in 1941. He writes poetry for children and adults, and he's also a jazz clarinetist. In 1999, he was made the first official Poet for the City of London.

It was on this day in 1901 that Teddy Roosevelt officially dubbed the president's residence in Washington, D.C., "The White House." Before that it was called the Executive Mansion. Teddy Roosevelt also added the West Wing to the White House. He built it as a temporary office building, and now the West Wing is the center of the nation's political activity.

It's the birthday of Lester Dent, (books by this author) the American adventure and mystery novelist, born in La Plata, Missouri, in 1904. The Dents moved to a remote part of Wyoming when Lester was two years old. While he was a telegraph operator for the Associated Press, one of his co-workers published a story in a pulp magazine. Dent read it and thought that he could probably write a story that was at least as good, maybe even better. And since he had the graveyard shift, he started writing at work. His first story was accepted by a pulp magazine, so he and his family moved to New York, where he became a full-time writer of pulp fiction.

He's most famous for his many stories and novels about Doc Savage, a superhuman scientist and adventurer. With the money he made from writing, Lester Dent was able to do all the things that interested him. He earned an amateur radio license, a pilot license, and he passed both the electricians' and plumbers' trade exams. He loved mountain climbing and exploring deserts and the tropics. He spent three years sailing around the Caribbean on his yacht, diving for treasure during the day and writing Doc Savage stories at night.

Dent wrote more than a thousand pulp fiction stories, all with the same formula, which he detailed in an article that explained an exact formula for writing a 6,000-word pulp story.

Here is the formula for the first 1,500 words:

  1. First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved — something the hero has to cope with.
  2. The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
  3. Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
  4. Hero's endeavors land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1,500 words.
  5. Near the end of first 1,500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

It's the birthday of the poet Paul Engle, born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1908. He joined the faculty of the University of Iowa and in 1941 took over as director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the first program in the country to offer an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. He was the director for 24 years, and he shaped the program, raised millions of dollars, and made it into a model for similar M.F.A. programs. He convinced lots of famous writers to move to Iowa City and serve as faculty members, writers like Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Kurt Vonnegut. And he also convinced many bright young students to come, including Flannery O'Connor, Philip Levine, Donald Justice, and Robert Bly. He died in 1991 in an airport, on the way to accept an award for his work.

It's the birthday of the novelist Richard Price, (books by this author) born in the Bronx in New York in 1949. He published his first novel when he was 24, a novel called The Wanderers (1974), about a group of teenagers growing up in housing projects in the Bronx. His most recent novel, Lush Life, came out this year (2008).

He said, "If I can tell you the story from beginning to end in five minutes, I'm ready to start writing. Then it's a constant spreading out of that five minutes."

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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