Influences and Inspiration
• Authors are often asked who has most influenced their career. For Newbery Medal-winning children’s book author Lois Lowry, that person was a Czechoslovakian woman named Maria who took care of the children while Ms. Lowry wrote. (Before she hired a housekeeper, a well-traveled path existed between Ms. Lowry’s washing machine and her typewriter.)
• Journalist and author Andrew Mueller takes spelling, punctuation, and grammar seriously. He once discovered that a possible romantic companion did not know — or care — about the difference between your and you’re. She ceased to be a possible romantic companion for him. He once shouted an obscenity at people whose stall had a sign for toiletrie’s. And he routinely went four blocks out of his way to purchase groceries because the store across the street had a sign for tomatoe’s. All of us can applaud Mr. Mueller’s campaign for correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. (Oh, wait. He’s a Brit — his book I Wouldn’t Start From Here: The 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong is published in Britain — who wants Americans to use the spelling neighbours. In the opinion of this American writer, that makes him a radical who has gone too far.)
• African-American comedian Dick Gregory’s first memoir was titled Nigger, and it was written with the help of a man named Robert Lipsyte. For a long time, Mr. Lipsyte interviewed Mr. Gregory, then wrote sections of the book, and for a long time Mr. Gregory did not read any of what Mr. Lipsyte wrote. Finally, Mr. Lipsyte got Mr. Gregory to read a few chapters, then he waited, afraid that Mr. Gregory would reject the writing and the autobiography would never be published. Finally, Mr. Gregory looked up from the manuscript and said, “No, I can’t let this go through.” Mr. Lipsyte gasped, “What?” Mr. Gregory replied, “You’ve hyphenated ‘motherf**ker’ — it’s one word.” When the book was published, “motherf**ker” was one word.
• Chris Crutcher used profanity while he was growing up in Idaho, and profanity peppers some of his books for teenagers, such as Stotan! When his first book, Running Loose, was still in the editing stage, his agent suggested that a certain two-word phrase that was used frequently in the book might negatively affect sales, considering the audience for which the book was written. Mr. Crutcher agreed to remove the two-word phrase, and he jokes that by deleting the two-word phrase he turned a 300-page novel into a 200-page novel. During the time he spent editing the book, someone asked his mother where he was. She replied that she had not seen him for two weeks because he was busy “unf**king” his book.
• Some cultures are in touch with nature. Translator Burton Watson writes about being in Japan and hearing what he thought was the cry of a bird called uguisu (bush warbler). He later imitated the cry for a Japanese friend, who knew immediately what it was: “Uguisu no tani-watari.” Mr. Watson then learned from his friend that tani-watari meant “the cry the uguisu makes when he is crossing over from one valley to another.” This astonished Mr. Watson. How many cultures have a special word for one of the cries of one particular species of bird? Disbelieving, he looked in a Japanese-English dictionary and found tani-watari, which was defined as “The song of a bush warbler flying from valley to valley.”
• Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, wrote a story titled “The Bottle Imp,” about an imp who lived in a bottle and granted wishes. Mr. Stevenson lived on Samoa, and his story was translated into the Samoan language and printed in a missionary magazine. Later, he wished that he had not allowed the story to be translated, because many Samoans used to visit him and ask to see the imp.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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