Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Which Writer's Career Would You Like To Emulate, Why? (05/15/04)



Featured writer: Jane Merryman



Contributors this month:
Chuck Kensler
Betty Winslow
D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards
Jan Cusick
Jane Merryman
Marlene Cullen
Susan Bono


An Author to Emulate

by Jane Merryman

Back in the sixties, I read in a magazine a young reporter's interview of the even-then legendary writer Isak Dinesen. I had never heard of Dinesen, but I learned "he" was a she—Karen von Blixen, a Dane who had spent years in Africa on a coffee plantation. I was intrigued and dashed out to the library and found two collections of her short stories, which I devoured. Reading her opening lines transforms me into a child snuggled next to my dad in the warm, golden light of evening as he opens the book and begins . . . "Once upon a time. . . ." The world is all expectation and promise.

Dinesen's stories are odd. They are never conventional, trite, sentimental, predictable. And they always exude her unique voice.

In the film Out of Africa Meryl Streep sits down after dinner with the two men and they ask her to tell them a story. She begins, "On the street of the house of the blue lantern . . . ." The scene segues to the end of the story. I want to stop the film and demand to hear the whole tale.

Babette's Feast is another Dinesen story brought to the screen, one of the best food films ever made. The economy of the voice-over narration—now that's storytelling at its best. Who wouldn't want to write like that.

Jane Merryman, Petaluma, CA

Chuck Kensler



From: A desk at the Daily Planet

Subject: Which writer's work would you emulate, and why?

Chick Young comes to mind. Then Chester Gould. Maybe Hank Ketcham. But my favorite by far was Bob Kane. After my first Kane story, I've never been able to pass up a Batman comic book. Batman was awesome in his gray long johns, batwing boots and spiky batwing gloves. And a menacing dark cowl with pointed bat ears, a bat mask with small bat-slit eyeholes, and his bat-ribbed cape folded over his shoulders. When he opened this blue-black cape, it cast a looming silhouetted shadow as large as a skyscraper. Compared to Batman's cape, Superman's cape looked like a red towel flapping on a clothesline. Don't get me wrong . . . Superman's okay . . . if it wasn't for that green kryptonite stuff.

Batman is the secret identity of square-jawed Bruce Wayne, just a regular human. He was a poor orphan who grew up and studied law, criminology, and worked out to develop a body armored with washboard muscles. As tough as he was, enemies and villains still challenged him—sometimes he won the fight, sometimes he lost. You know, it's hard to change into all those bat clothes and still have enough energy left to punch out underworld characters who have the same first names . . . The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and The Catwoman.

Kane not only brought Batman to life with pen, ink, and color, but he also wrote the bat tales. Like any good, solid writing, the stories had a beginning, middle, and end. Because Batman didn't have the DNA genes for Krypton muscles, he often had to use his brain and his cultured tongue to talk his way out of tough spots. [Damn, he knew a lot of words!] He thought and talked like a detective, helped crippled shoe-shine boys, and outwitted low-life hoodlums.

I read my first words in those Kane speech bubbles. Most of them were kid-sized words—or at least words a kid could grow into. Good writing. Lasting writing. Writing good enough to be in the comics, on the radio and television, and at the movies.

The drawings were awesome and each important word exploded off the page in jagged Kaawpowws! and mighty Kkkrracks!! and Skrrunnchs!!! and long-screaming roller coaster Eeeyoowies!!!! All this for 10 cents.

Star Reporter Clark Kent, a.k.a. Chuck Kensler of Sebastopol, CA.

Betty Winslow



Well, I'd love to emulate the writers of the Bible. As I see it, their work has made more of an impact on the world than anything else ever written, has never gone out of print, is filled with music and strong images and great emotion, and has formed the basis of much of our western culture. How can you beat that? Too bad the job is not open anymore.

Honestly? I hesitate to answer this, for fear it may sound a bit conceited, but really, I don't want to emulate anyone else. No matter how much I respect the works of other writers, I'd be a second-rate C. S. Lewis or Dee Henderson or Madeleine L'Engle. That's their job. Mine is to be the best Betty Winslow I can be and write what is given to me to write. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some writing to do..

Betty Winslow, busy in Bowling Green, Ohio, not emulating anyone else.

OUT OF THE MELANGE, SHE COMES

  by D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards

Since there is no one person who has all the attributes of the writer whose career I would like to emulate, I would like to introduce to you a figment of my imagination I call Francine. I have christened her Francine de Sales, in honor of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers. Her persona is a composite of the melding together of some of the capabilities of each of three extraordinary women.

I attribute one-third of Francine to Helen Gurley Brown, admired for her business acumen, and her ability to be in the forefront of the new mores. Another one-third is embodied in Michele Anna Jordan, noted for her ingrained sense of the visual, tactile, and sensuous characteristics of the foods she writes about, and prepares so skillfully. And the third one-third is from Margaret Bourke-White, the globe-trotting photojournalist.

Helen Gurley Brown was only about two years younger than I, so we lived through the same times. At the period in my life which corresponds to her "break-away" years, I was too shy and introverted ever to consider using her as a role model. Now, of course, I am awed by the way she was able to flaunt custom in the 60's with her book, "Sex And The Single Girl." And my background in business piques my curiosity about the methods she used to catapult Cosmopolitan Magazine to the top.

Ms. Jordan is the writer of a weekly newspaper column, The Jaded Palate, for the Sonoma County (California) Press Democrat, the author of numerous cookbooks, and also holds forth on "Mouthful with Michele Anna Jordan," broadcast on local radio on Sunday evenings. She contributes to the persona of Francine a laid-back quality as though time has stopped, and we are experiencing the growing, buying, preparation, and consumption of foods the way our ancestors did--and the way peoples in other parts of the world still do.

Margaret Bourke-White, a most gutsy lady, used the probing lens of her always-present camera to give the people of the United States an eyeful of the world in peace and at war. I'm not sure we Americans realized she was taking the pulse of our country as well. The insightful captions for her photos, her pioneering photo essays, and the books she left for us, are proof that the "journalist" in her was as important a part of her as the photographer.

I am sure all three of them would join me in a toast to Francine....Francine de Sales, the multi-faceted mentor of my dreams, and her melange of a career!

D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards, Santa Rosa, Calif., djayhne@ev1.net. D.Jayhne is interested in hearing from Sonoma County folks who would like to start a writing group.

Jan Cusick



Regarding the question, "What writer do you emulate," I guess it comes down to which one you admire most. That's hard. I admire, am stunned by actually, all of them. We are so lucky that they exist and that there are such an impressive number of them, when you think of how very hard it is. It seems the more you learn the more you become self-conscious, and therefore tongue-tied.

Jan Cusick, Santa Rosa, CA

An Author to Emulate

  by Jane Merryman

Back in the sixties, I read in a magazine a young reporter's interview of the even-then legendary writer Isak Dinesen. I had never heard of Dinesen, but I learned "he" was a she—Karen von Blixen, a Dane who had spent years in Africa on a coffee plantation. I was intrigued and dashed out to the library and found two collections of her short stories, which I devoured. Reading her opening lines transforms me into a child snuggled next to my dad in the warm, golden light of evening as he opens the book and begins . . . "Once upon a time. . . ." The world is all expectation and promise.

Dinesen's stories are odd. They are never conventional, trite, sentimental, predictable. And they always exude her unique voice.

In the film Out of Africa Meryl Streep sits down after dinner with the two men and they ask her to tell them a story. She begins, "On the street of the house of the blue lantern . . . ." The scene segues to the end of the story. I want to stop the film and demand to hear the whole tale.

Babette's Feast is another Dinesen story brought to the screen, one of the best food films ever made. The economy of the voice-over narration—now that's storytelling at its best. Who wouldn't want to write like that.

Jane Merryman, Petaluma, CA

Marlene Cullen



There are two writers I would most like to emulate, okay, maybe more. The first one is Ayelet Waldman. I met Ayelet a few months ago at a Copperfield's literary luncheon.* I had never heard of her! She is down to earth, funny, adorable, talented, intelligent, and witty. And then I checked out her books. She is an incredible author. Her main character seems much like her own persona --- delightful, smart, clever, and amusing. Ayelet knows how to capture an audience, both in person and in her books. I could not put her books down until I had read to the end and then I wanted more. That's the kind of author I aspire to be.

The other writer I most want to be like is Carrie Bradshaw, comfortably ensconced in my New York apartment, writing my weekly column, Sex in the City. I sit near an open window, hoping for a breeze. I'm in my skimpy halter top, inhaling on a cigarette. I exhale and lean back languorously, while I extol profound wisdom on my laptop for my column. And then, cough, cough, sputter, back to reality, I would have to give up the smoking part. But I would love to write like Candace Bushnell, who created Sex in the City (also 4 Blondes and a New York Observer columnist). I love how she discusses, analyzes and questions relationships. I love her witty style and repartees. Oh, yes, to walk in Carrie's shoes would be divine!

As I think about emulating Ayelet and Carrie and Candace, I think of other writers whom I admire. Jordan who gets right to the heart of the matter. Liz who is so eloquent that I am transported to Listener's Heaven when she reads her work. I think of the other women in our writing group. Christine's ability to write from a deeply honest place causes me to hold my breath, and exhale feeling fully satisfied. And Dear Claudia, who amazes me and dazzles me with her variety of nuances that dance across my mind. Marcella often surprises me with her knowledge and ability to take mere words and transport them into other worldly images. Barbara brings insight in the most kind and gentle manner. And Susan, with her poignancy and clarity, brings sweet tears to my eyelids and a catch in my throat.

I would also like to acknowledge the contributors to Searchlights. Thank you for your trust and your openness. I always enjoy reading what you have to say. Thank you for sharing your stories.

*For more information about Copperfield's literary events, go to: www.copperfields.net

Marlene Cullen writes sincerely, from her heart, in Sonoma County, California

Susan Bono



I don't know much about their careers, but once the name of one beloved author enters my mind, a host of others crowd in. Thomas Hardy brings Henry James and Edith Wharton to mind. Heavens, what a ponderous trio! But their mastery of the intricate sentence, the nuanced gesture (that, of course, is James' genius) and their capacity for unrelenting tragedy (Hardy, you are my hero!), take my breath away. But do I really want to be stuck in the 19th century?

Margaret Atwood—now there's a writer I admire on a good day, envy on most others. Smart, prolific, darkly humorous.

Annie Dillard—her talent for the ecstatic—how does one open that wide to the Divine and live to write about it?

But you know, I could easily say that I most want to emulate Danielle Steele, Stephen King, or some other scribe often accused of being a hack (which puts me in mind of some favorite hacks like Raymond Chandler and Nathaniel West!). Because they manage to actually write!

All I really want is what the writers whose names survive for any length of time have in common: discipline. That way, maybe I could write long enough to finish something, at least learn to recognize the sound of my own voice.

Susan Bono is looking for backbone in Petaluma, CA

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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