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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 11:54 pm | Fair 52º


Susan Miles Gulbransen: Chupack, Corrigan, Marlowe and Ryan Lead Way as CALM Celebrity Authors

“I’ve always been curious when something happens so I decided to be a writer to make things happen.”

Those words sum up a common thread among writers: curiosity and imagination. Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, has both to the max. The children’s books, The Series of Unfortunate Series of Events (Snicket), and adult novels, We Are Pirates (Handler), among other 30 published works, demonstrate within a few pages use of lively storylines.

His recent UCSB Arts & Lectures audience, mostly college and high school students, seemed to relate when he said, “I was a curious child and read a lot. I’ll never love a book as much as I did at 10, but then I don’t hate them as much today. My attic room was perfect to throw books you don’t like against the walls.”

Handler said he looks for the unusual and unexpected.

“Take the scene of a man sitting alone in his kitchen table when he hears a noise upstairs. What if you change it to a 15-year-old girl sitting alone at the table when she hears a noise upstairs? Now it gets scarier.”

Handler also looks for different ways of looking at things, something he learned from his father, a refugee from Germany in 1939 escaping the Holocaust. He asked, “Don’t you think you were brave?” Like many parents his father answered with a rhetorical question. “Do you think I was braver than those who didn’t survive?”

So why the odd name? When young, he did an article requiring research with some radical, aggressive organizations. He did not want to be hounded by them afterward so gave his name as Lemony Snicket. Some claim he chose it to rhyme with Jiminy Cricket, but chalk that up to hearsay.

On an added note, he tours and meets thousands of kids who are ardent fans. He found their most common question: “Is the story real?” The most dreaded question came from fans who had met him at past events: “Do you remember me?”

                                                                  •        •        •

Doris Kearns Goodwin discovered in her last two biographies, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism, that Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were avid readers but for different reasons. She talked to a crowded room for the annual Westmont College President’s Breakfast.

Lincoln grew up in rural mid-America with a spotty education at best. Often pulled out of school, his classroom time totaled 12 months. Reading made up for lack of formal education. Throughout life he had one wish: to leave the world in a better place. He found solace and consolation that books make it possible for one to live on after leaving this world. His wish was accomplished.

Roosevelt also loved to read but came from a wealthy family. As a youngster, he spent so much time reading that his father told him he needed to get outside and build a strong body. He turned to daily activities like walking, horseback riding and boxing, which became lifelong habits.

Both men had much empathy and loved to tell stories. Roosevelt ended up publishing 40 books in spite of poor eyesight and not necessarily being a great writer.

Lincoln once said that storytelling with a group of friends was better than drink. Writing also helped him through problems. After a long, trying day, he would write in his diary or letters, often venting his frustrations. The next day he usually decided not send the letters but said, “I wake up in the morning a better person.”

Goodwin emphasized how important letters and diaries are for good research.

“We now have plenty of information on the Internet but it doesn’t have the emotional part of history,” she said.

She repeated to the audience my favorite advice for writers. At age 6, she and her father would go to Brooklyn Dodgers games together. When he worked, she listened to the games on the radio and waited for him to come home.

“I’d make my report but learned early on not to blurt out ‘The Dodgers won!’ or ‘They lost.’ I learned the art of drama and the importance of a beginning, middle and end in storytelling.”

                                                                  •        •        •

Another author/celebrity speaking in Santa Barbara the last two weeks, Norman Lear, shared secrets of his storytelling. He sat on stage at the Music Academy of the West for “Antioch University in Conversation” as a scholarship fundraiser. This major icon of television history cornered the family sitcom genre with huge hits such as All in the Family, Taxi and 100 more shows. At one time, nine of them topped the list of most popular TV shows.         

“The more the audience connects to the show,” he said, “the more they care and the more they’ll have good belly laughs.”

Wearing his signature hat with the brim turned up, the 92-year-old did not miss a beat.

“I wanted shows that dealt with what families talk about,” he said. “At home, we weren’t talking about the boss coming to dinner but about racism, abortion, class differences.”

He frequently based stories on his own family, admitting that Archie Bunker’s red leather chair in All in the Family was like his father’s chair.

“He’d sit in that chair and keep tuning channels. My father, much like Archie, was afraid of things moving too fast and feared the future.”

Lear summed up why good stories are often based on our own. “We all have experiences that other people take away. You have no idea what kind of mark you’ll leave with the other person, but you write it anyway.”

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Coming up Saturday is the popular annual CALM Celebrity Authors’ Luncheon. Each year, co-chairs Carolyn Gillio and Becky Cohn have to get top-notch authors and celebrities willing to donate their time and effort to raise funds for CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation).

“Once the luncheon is over,” Gillio said, “we are already thinking of next year’s authors. We first send out letters. Often they come back rejected. Famous authors are very much in demand and charge large fees. We can’t pay them. It seems we’re always signing the last author while running to the printer for the first mail out.”

CALM supplies airline tickets, usually donated by supporters. They also put authors up for two nights at their venue, The Fess Parker, which accommodated CALM through the years.

“Fortunately, many authors come from L.A. so it’s easy for them to get here,” she said. “Local authors also are great about helping. We try to keep expenses down and most authors understand that. Lucky for us, authors tend to tell other authors what fun they’ve had. That makes it easier to approach new writers.”

On the good news side, most show gratitude and generosity by donating a percentage of their book sales.

This year, Gillio can hardly wait to meet Andrew W. Marlowe. Or does she mean Richard Castle? Marlowe writes and produces the popular fictional TV series Castle, now in its seventh season, about Richard Castle, a mystery writer, who teams up with a female detective, Kate Beckett. Castle writes a series of novels, the latest Raging Heat (2014) about a detective named Nikki Heat who teams up with her journalist boyfriend Jameson Rook. The novel reached No. 6 as a New York Times Bestseller. Sound confusing? Curiously so for me.

“It’s my favorite show,” Gillio said. “I hope we’ll find out who really writes Castle’s books. Marlowe won’t say. Maybe his writer wife? I want to know.”

As Lemony Snicket says, “I decided to be a writer to make things happen.” Marlowe must have, too.

The weekend’s three other featured authors are Cindy Chupack (writer/producer of HBO’s Sex and the City), Kelly Corrigan (Glitter and Glue) and Hank Phillippi Ryan (investigative journalist for Boston’s NBC affiliate and mystery novel Truth Be Told).

Click here for more information about the luncheon and authors.

Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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