Writer’s Desk: Never Too Late

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grass-sheri-tepperThe incredibly prolific, frequently short-listed, and well-loved science-fiction author Sheri S. Tepper (Grass) passed away on October 22 at the age of 87. Tepper had a full non-writing life which included being executive director of Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood in Colorado, yet still managed to publish dozens of novels late in life.

John Scalzi noted that Tepper came to writing late in life:

Aside from her considerable talents as an author, Tepper stands as a reminder that it’s never too late to write. Tepper didn’t publish her first novel until 1983, when she was in her 54th year of life; she wrote something like 40 total, the most recent published in 2014. It’s never too late to write; it’s never too late to write a classic novel; it’s never too late to be a great writer, whether or not the genre has entirely caught up with you yet.

So remember that if you ever start thinking it’s too late to begin writing. As long as your fingers can find the pen or keyboard, or your voice can make it to the dictation program, it ain’t over.

(h/t: Shelf Awareness)

Weekend Reading: November 18, 2016

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Screening Room: ‘Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened’

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In 1981, Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince were the kings of Broadway. After a decade of shows from Company to Sweeney Todd that reinvented the American musical form, they were embarking on another venture: Merrily We Roll Along. Things didn’t go as planned.

Directed by Lonny Price, one of the original cast members, Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened is the up-close account of one of Broadway’s most infamous flops. It’s opening this week in limited release and will probably show up on PBS soon. My review from the New York Film Festival is at PopMatters:

At first, Price makes Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened something of a personal essay, describing with enthusiastic panache his obsessive love of the form in general and these practitioners in specific. Then he broadens the circle, marrying rehearsal footage of other cast members like Tonya Pinkins and Jason Alexander (eight years before he won a Tony and nine before appearing in Seinfeld) with new interviews. One actor remembers, “You felt like you were witnessing history.” That about sums up the type of enthusiasm that Price delivers here…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘All Governments Lie’

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Yallgovernmentslie1ou would imagine from the title of the new documentary All Governments Lie, that it’s an investigation of, well, government corruption. But that’s only a sideline in this barn-burner about corporate media’s apparent inability to hold those lying politicians to account.

All Governments Lie is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

If you take everything in Fred Peabody’s screed All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone at face value, then you might as well cancel your New York Times subscription. Don’t read the Washington Post either. PBS’ “Frontline” and CBS’ “60 Minutes”? Garbage, the lot of them! That’s the takeaway from this narrowcast documentary, which takes a valid critique of the deadening effect corporate-government synergy can have on mainstream media’s ability to truly afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted and undercuts it with poor logic and simplistic argument…

Writer’s Desk: This, Too, Shall Pass

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chandler1Raymond Chandler was not the happiest soul; something that you can tell all too well from his sardonic and deeply cynical novels.

He also was ever the outsider, too literary for the world of pulp crime, and too pulpy for the literary world (at least back then). So he lashed out at the “literary life” and what “repels” him about it:

…all this desperate building of castles on cobwebs, the long-drawn acrimonious struggle to make something important which we all know will be gone forever in a few years.

He was bitter, to be sure, but also right. Something to keep in mind for those few of us who make it to a place where such worries are even a concern.

Screening Room: ’13th’ and Trump

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Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th lays out in stark terms the history of black oppression in America after emancipation, from Klan terrorism to the modern carceral state. It also places this history in very current terms, tying the reactionary racism of Donald Trump’s movement to the segregationist battle against the civil rights movement.

13th is playing in some theaters and is also available on Netflix. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

Slavery was outlawed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Even though America spent its early centuries underpinning its economy with slavery in the South (captive labor) and the North (trading in both those slaves and the goods they produced), after the nations bloodiest conflict, it finally listened to Lincolns better angels and made forced labor a thing of the past. That remains true except, as Ava Duvernay’s spring-coiled and crucial documentary 13th makes painfully clear, for one exception…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: November 11, 2016

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Quote of the Day: Looking Forward

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And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

That was Hillary Rodham Clinton, winner of the popular vote to become the 45th President of the United States of America.

Weekday Reading: 2016 Election Day Special Edition

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Writer’s Desk: How Speechwriters Do It

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With the election, and (who knows?) maybe a gut-punch to democracy itself, just around the corner, it seems like the right time to get some writing advice from people who have to churn out a lot of words on demand at high velocity and with extreme precision: Speechwriters.

Scholastic gathered together a bunch of them, from Paul Begala to Bob Shrum, and boiled down their advice to a few points, explained at length here. Here’s the upshot:

  • Get to the Point — Quick!
  • Make It Look Easy
  • Make ’em Laugh
  • Get Them on Your Side
  • The Meat and Potatoes (what you actually are there to say)

There’s no writer out there who couldn’t stand to get to the point quickly and effectively while making it seem effortless. And the occasional gag never hurt anybody.