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Old 03-13-2008, 03:52 AM
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I hate natural-born writers like Isak Dinesen. If I was a music composer, I could sympathize with how Salieri felt about Mozart.

I had to work so hard for so long to develop my writing skills (such as they are) that I turn green with envy when I read about Dinesen.

From an early age, she could make up a fascinating story on the spot if someone gave her the first line.

Who can do that? Certainly not me. For one thing, my speaking vocabulary lags far behind my writing vocabulary. And I have to think for a long time before I can weave my words into an interesting story.

I have a healthy imagination, but fiction writing is more than imagination. It's imagination shaped by the mysterious power of storytelling.

Dinesen had it in spades. So much so that when the normally boastful Ernest Hemingway won the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, he said he thought she deserved it more than himself. He called her "that beautiful Danish writer."

Dinesen was nominated again in 1957, losing to Albert Camus. She was always the bridesmaid rather than the bride when it came to the Nobel Committee.

Dinesen, whose real name was Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, was born to a wealthy Copenhagen family in 1885. After she married the baron, they moved to Kenya, Africa, and started a coffee farm.

Her experiences in Kenya were the basis of her most famous book, Out of Africa. She had written gothic novels and short stories before she turned to autobiographical writing -- a curious development that paralleled the writing career of another excellent woman writer, Marjorie Rawlings.

Rawlings was another born writer. Like Dinesen, she gave up comfortable city life to start a farm in a wilderness. She grew oranges in the central Florida bush of the 1920s.

After failing as a gothic novelist, Rawlings took the advice of her editor, Max Perkins, and began writing about her experiences in Florida. At one point Perkins suggested she write a book based on the pioneer families she met in Florida.

Rawlings asked Perkins in a letter: "Do you realize you're telling me to write a literary classic?"

He did and she wrote The Yearling, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

Like Dinesen, Rawlings felt a deep empathy for the plight of the locals and a knack for depicting small details that revealed the essence of their lives.

For Dinesen one example is the way she captured the culture of animism in the speech habits of Kikuyu tribesmen. After she dammed a stream to irrigate the coffee farm, an upset tribesman told her: "This water lives in Mombasa." He meant it couldn't go home to the sea.

Rawlings hired an impoverished young couple to help with her orange grove. They lived in a shack that, like the main house, was infested with insects. The wife complained about "ants in Tim's breakfast," referring to her husband's morning meal.

Rawlings wrote a short story about the couple that used the breakfast ants to characterize their difficult life.

My mother (who lived not far from the Rawlings' homestead in Florida) read the story and liked it, although she couldn't understand why the author had included the ants in her tale.

But I did. It was the talent of a born writer who knew how to portray the Big Picture in little things. I never would have thought of it myself because I wasn't born with a silver pen in my hand.

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Old 03-16-2008, 04:44 AM
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Very interesting Starrwriter - Thank you for sharing!

Do you read a lot of bio's? I tend to be very interested in this genre. I like knowing "what makes people tick."
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Old 03-16-2008, 12:33 PM
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Originally Posted by starrwriter View Post
I have a healthy imagination, but fiction writing is more than imagination. It's imagination shaped by the mysterious power of storytelling.
.....(snip).... I never would have thought of it myself because I wasn't born with a silver pen in my hand.
I think you can tell a story very well, but there is more of a focus on the tangible rather than the intangible in your writing. It might come from your years in the business of journalism, with your writing focus primarily on the 5 W's (who, what, when, where and why) for so long. It's second nature to a journalist to 'report,' and after a while it becomes an ingrained habit that shows up noticeably in their fictional work. If you feel that your writing needs a 'special something' that you noted Dinesen had, maybe look at your writing from a different angle - focusing more on the idea that led you to write a given story in the first place.

The reason I even mention this (or reply to this thread, since it's been here a while now) is due to a conversation I had with a friend who writes a column for a newspaper in Arizona. He complained about a fictional novel he'd been trying to publish getting nothing but rejections. He said, "I've been writing for over a quarter of a century, so this should be easy. I don't get it." Well, I told him to email me the first 3 chapters so I could take a look. The reply I sent back to him after reading it contained this: "Though your story idea is good, you're focusing too much on the character's actions rather than how their personality adds to the story." In other words, his story came off right away as being plot-driven rather than character-driven. Though his characters functioned well in the story to move the plot forward, there was nothing really interesting about them to make the reader empathize with their plight. He'd written it in too much of a 'reporter' fashion and hence he got rejections right and left. I'm not saying that's your problem, but maybe expanding on your theme and the ultimate message you're trying to get across to the reader might help. I offered a comment on one of your short pieces to back this up. Take it or leave it, though, for what it's worth. You've been writing a lot longer than I have.

best wishes,
Jillian
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Old 03-16-2008, 02:36 PM
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Originally Posted by OnceUponATime View Post
I think you can tell a story very well, but there is more of a focus on the tangible rather than the intangible in your writing. It might come from your years in the business of journalism, with your writing focus primarily on the 5 W's (who, what, when, where and why) for so long. It's second nature to a journalist to 'report,' and after a while it becomes an ingrained habit that shows up noticeably in their fictional work.
You hit the nail right on the head, Jillian. But to be perfectly honest, I always thought of this as helping to create my own unique voice as a fiction writer.

However, you might be right about becoming less journalistic in my fiction. I'm just not sure I have the tools to do that at age 63. Maybe in my next life as a writer.
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Old 03-19-2008, 05:30 PM
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Well, there was that lady who wrote her first novel at 80 - or was it 90? I think I saw an article on it posted here on this site somewhere. Way I see it, you're never too old to do what you want -- as long as you set your mind to it.
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