Sep. 21st, 2011

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Taken from the Writer's Almanac:  Three writers whose birthdays are coming in just under the Virgo wire:

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. Some of his ideas might have even helped inspire real-life innovation: In the '30s, he argued that there needed to be an encyclopedia that was constantly reviewed and updated and would be accessible to all people — something he might have recognized in the ethos of Wikipedia. And in 1914, his novel The World Set Free described bombs that would explode repeatedly, based on their radioactivity, an idea that inspired the conception and pursuit of the nuclear chain reaction.

Wells died just before his 80th birthday, having lived long enough to see much of the future he'd imagined. In the preface to the 1921 edition of The War in the Air, the book in which he'd predicted, in 1908, a world war and the use of modern warfare, he warned the reader to note how right he'd been. Twenty years later, in the 1941 edition, he followed up, writing, "Is there anything to add to that preface now? Nothing except my epitaph. That, when the time comes, will manifestly have to be: 'I told you so. You damned fools.'"

It's the birthday of horror writer Stephen King (books by this author), born in Portland, Maine (1947). King learned to write, he's said, after a satirical newspaper he wrote lampooning his high school teachers got him into trouble. The guidance counselor arranged for him to work at a local paper as a way to put his creativity to more productive use; it was there that he wrote a sports feature and realized, watching the editor mark up his copy with a big black pen, that he could really write ... and that he could learn to make his writing better. When he assured the editor that he wouldn't make the same mistakes again, the editor laughed, saying, "If that's true, you'll never have to work again. You can do this for a living."

King nearly proved the editor right. After graduating from college, he worked in an industrial laundry for a year, then got a job teaching high school English. It was only two years later that he learned that the sale of the paperback rights for his first novel, Carrie, was so big he could afford to write full-time.

Today, King is the author of more than 50 worldwide best sellers, including a nonfiction book about writing called On Writing. His most recent, Full Dark, No Stars, is a collection of four stories. This fall he will publish 11/22/63: A Novel, about Kennedy's assassination.

King said, "Alone. Yes, that's the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn't hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym."

And he said, "The road to hell is paved with adverbs."

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. Flagg remained an actress in the '60s and '70s until she screwed up the courage to try what she'd really always wanted to do: write.

She'd been afraid, she said, because her dyslexia embarrassed her, and she feared her poor spelling would be exposed. When she was in her late 30s, she wrote a short story from the viewpoint of an 11-year-old girl and submitted it to a writer's conference, hoping they would think her misspellings were intentional. The story won first prize, and Flagg decided to quit acting and pursue her dream. 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.

"I can remember when I was writing Fried Green Tomatoes," Flagg told CNN, "I stopped acting and I went through a bad financial period and I almost lost a house and I was living very close to the bone. And yet I found out I was happier than I'd ever been because my priorities were straight and I was doing something I loved."


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