An icon of American Literature, Mark Twain was born Samuel Clemens in 1835. It would be his life experiences and the people he encountered that would inspire characters in his two most well-known novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Known for his wit and his unique perspective on life, Twain’s real life was filled with struggle and hardship as he navigated a world dominated by the Civil War, the Gilded Age, and the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. Twain would see a monumental amount of change during his life, even being one of the first subject of a new medium called moving pictures.
His writing career started at a newspaper, and evolved into writing about his travels, and finally into fiction. Twain’s life is a fascinating one, and one worth exploring to see how a man whose life began with a decade of childhood illness would go on to become one of the most-read authors in all of American Literature.
Check out more about his life from The History Channel.
You can also learn more about him at this link to The Mark Twain House and Museum.
Below are links to biographies, book chats, a TV movie, and interviews about Mark Twain. I also added a link the aforementioned moving picture featuring Twain that was filmed by Thomas Edison.
Back in two weeks with another great writer!
I always enjoy picking up a Stephen King novel. Did you know that King wrote four novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman? Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), and The Running Man (1982) were all titles released under the Bachman name. King planned to release Misery under Bachman’s name as well, but a snoopy bookstore clerk ferreted out the truth that Bachman was indeed Stephen King.
King killed off the Bachman name after that, and three of the four books have been released with “Writing as Richard Bachman” under King’s name on the covers (you can barely see it on the cover above). Rage – about a school shooter – has since been pulled and is no longer published.
King used his relationship with his alternate author identity as the basis for his novel, The Dark Half, which I’ll be posting my review for later this year.
My review of The Long Walk is below:
Another solid and riveting King/Bachman work, The Long Walk pulls you into its narrative and never lets up until the final pages. A story about determination, perseverance, and strength set in a dystopian world where 100 teen boys are pitted against each other for one ultimate prize.
Published in 1979, four years before King’s/Bachman’s Running Man (which has similar themes), The Long Walk is an early precursor to the fixation people now have on reality TV and sports competition shows. King/Bachman delivers a shrewd commentary on the public’s odd lusting for carnage as entertainment, and novels like The Hunger Games series show that this type of concept is far from extinct.
The Long Walk is a must-read for Stephen King fans, and one I highly recommend.
Have you read any of King’s books when he was using the name Richard Bachman? Which one was your favorite? Leave a comment and let me know!
Most of us go about our daily lives determined to avoid conflict. In the real world, it can be a real pain dealing with angry, disagreeable, and aggressive people, which can, in turn, negatively impact your day as a whole. If we find ourselves involved in a conflict, our primary goal is to end it or get away from it as fast as possible.
Obviously, there are those in the world that thrive on conflict and cause trouble for others, but for the most part, people like to have a semblance of peace in their day-to-day lives.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, Conflict equals Drama, and it’s true. Conflict is a must-have in the fictional world of a novel, a TV show, or a movie. Conflict helps drive the story forward, reveal character, and create an intense dialogue between those in conflict.
Suppose a story lacks a conflict for your protagonist. In that case, it can drag, feel aimless, and even cause the reader or viewer to lose interest. So, let’s talk about conflict and how to keep things alive in your story.
How Big Should the Conflict Be?
Not all conflict revolves around world-ending superhero movie stakes. A conflict can be as simple as a disagreement between the main character and another character. It can also be during the final showdown between the protagonist and antagonist. It’s something that puts a wrench in the protagonist’s day, and it’s something they have to work to overcome to get to their sense of normalcy once again.
Let’s look at story conflict on a scale of 1 to 5. One is the bare minimum. Maybe it’s a couple who can’t agree where to go to dinner or siblings who can’t decide whether to get a cat or a dog. Simple, low-stakes conflicts that will probably have an amicable resolution sooner than later.
A five is a relentless assault on the main character that has no clear end in sight, and the antagonist has the upper hand from the start. Horror movies are often a 10. Superhero movies can be up in the 10s. Disaster movies as well. High-stakes and a lot to lose if the main character is defeated.
In the middle are stakes and conflicts that can mirror real life, raise stakes, and create consequences for the main character. They aren’t easy to resolve but have some kernel of hope of a win nesting inside them.
Think about what you’re currently writing. What are the main conflicts the protagonist faces? Are they Ones? Fives? In the middle? Then ask yourself if the conflict is big enough for your main character to fight to defeat whatever the conflict is. Will the struggle? Will they suffer in some way? Have setbacks? Will these conflicts help them grow as a character?
Don’t Fear Conflict
It’s okay for your main character to argue with someone. It’s okay for the protagonist to disagree with other characters. If your protagonist gets their way from chapter one to the final page, it’s going to be a dull and predictable story.
Hallmark movies have conflict. As you read this, Hallmark Channel has started airing Christmas movies 24/7. Never seen one? Watch one and jot down the main conflicts that the main character faces throughout the story. On our scale, they are probably 1s and 2s (if you want 3-level conflict, flip over to Lifetime), but there is still conflict present.
When we hear the word Conflict, we think of shootouts, explosions, fistfights, and screaming matches. But conflict can take many forms rooted in a more realistic world than Batman versus The Joker.
Sitcoms can create a conflict out of a minor situation and expand upon it for 22 minutes. One of my favorite shows, Frasier, does this beautifully. From minor disagreements, misunderstandings, past rivalries, and more, these smaller conflicts can be a well-spring of material that can be used that don’t have to result in Metropolis or Gotham City being destroyed.
And just because your main character argues with someone doesn’t make them unlikeable. It makes them appear more human, which is a good thing.
External & Internal Conflict
What’s causing the conflict in the story? If it’s something outside the main character’s control, it’s an External Conflict. It disrupts the protagonist’s world that has to be resolved to return to their sense of normalcy.
Most stories revolve around External Conflicts. There’s a threat, a natural disaster, an antagonist creating chaos. Whatever it is, it’s outside the main character.
Internal Conflicts can be a direct result of an External Conflict. Still, these are things the main character is struggling to overcome that are causing issues within.
Maybe they were just served divorce papers. The divorce is an External Conflict, but the feelings the main character has are an Internal Conflict. The protagonist must resolve the External Conflict (why does the partner want a divorce? Where are they? How can we fix this problem?). At the same time, they must deal with the Internal Conflict (what did I do to lead up to this moment? How can I change and become better? Is there something wrong with me as a partner?).
All characters, like real people, need to have an External and Internal life, which assists in creating the External and Internal Conflicts that serve the story and help the character grow and change within and without.
As you work on your story, think about how the external events are affecting the main character internally. How are their thoughts, feelings, and fears impacting their ability to stop the External Conflict they’ve been thrown into?
Conflict as a Driving Force
Conflict creates problems for the protagonist. In turn, the active protagonist sets out to resolve and end the conflict. Other conflicts may pop up in the meantime that must be tamped down as the main character continues their pursuit toward their goal of ending the conflict.
The majority of main characters in mainstream entertainment want to end the conflict they’re dealing with and go back to their life before everything got out of control. Of course, in working to stop and resolve the conflict, they will grow as a person and learn from their experiences, which creates their Character Arc.
Viewing for Conflict
Grab a couple of your favorite movies, a few episodes of your favorite TV shows, a novel you’ve read before, a notebook and a pen, and analyze the conflicts in each. Make a note about the main conflict, how the main character sets out to resolve it, and how they evolve throughout the story to end the conflict.
Now, look at your story and see where conflict can be increased and the stakes raised for your main character. What is your protagonist’s goal? How do they initially plan to resolve the conflict that has presented itself and upturned their calm state of being? How will they change as they work to resolve the conflict? Will they become a better or worse person by the story’s end?
Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!
During the height of the pandemic lockdowns and closures last year, I decided to read about pandemics throughout history. The 1918 Pandemic was definitely one with significant parallels to the ongoing COVID pandemic. Below is my review of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry:
A fantastic and timely read, The Great Influenza shows – much like The Great Mortality did with the Black Plague – that when it comes to crises that affect millions that politicians, the media, and human beings pretty much have acted the same way for centuries.
While we may be more technologically advanced than in 1918, humans still act and react to pandemics in much the same way, especially if conflicting information is being given from the political higher-ups and the media they rely on for information.
The book gives us an in-depth look at the evolution of medicine in post-Civil War America, and also introduces us to the key medical players that tried their best to come up with a vaccine for a form of influenza that killed millions all over the world.
If you enjoy history, and are looking for some perspective on what’s going on in the world at this moment in time with COVID-19, I highly, highly recommend The Great Influenza.
Have you read any books about past pandemics or epidemics? Leave a comment with the title!
Jess Oppenheimer was not one to sit down for interviews. I couldn’t find any interviews with Oppenheimer with the Academy of Television, The Writers Guild Foundation, or even talk shows. However, he did give us a treasure trove of insight about his time on I Love Lucy in his book, Laughs, Luck…and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time.
Assembled by his son, Gregg Oppenheimer, the book gives readers plenty of insight into the behind-the-scenes drama, excitement, and pressure that goes into making a half-hour of TV in the 1950s.
Laughs, Luck…and Lucy delves into Jess Oppenheimer’s relationships with Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, his fellow Lucy writers, and others in the industry at the time. It also gives us a look at his upbringing and life before and after the series, showing how his life experiences shaped his comedy sensibilities and work ethic that made him a very popular and in-demand TV writer.
Along with his interpersonal relationships, the book discusses TV production of the 1950s and how I Love Lucy revolutionized the way shows were filmed, edited, and distributed.
There is a wealth of information included in the Appendices at the end of the book, including I Love Lucyscripts; a script from My Favorite Husband; an unperformed episode of I Love Lucy (the only script Lucy and Desi refused to do); and articles about the production of the series.
Laughs, Luck…and Lucy is a must-read for Lucy fans and a great historical document about the Golden Age of television.
Click HERE for interviews with others talking about working with Jess Oppenheimer from the Television Academy.
Other than I Love Lucy, what is your favorite TV series of the past? Leave a comment and let me know!
Writing team Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf joined the I Love Lucy writing staff during the fifth and sixths seasons, which saw the Ricardos and Mertzes wrapping up their trip to Hollywood, traveling to Europe, and moving to the country.
Before their work on Lucy, Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf worked in radio, writing their first script together for the Our Miss Brooks radio series. Their writing partnership would lead them to write for Make Room for Daddy, and The Bob Cummings Show, which would lead to their hiring on I Love Lucy.
If you’re familiar with the sitcoms of Norman Lear, the names Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf are frequently credited for their comedy writing, especially on the Bea Arthur series, Maude. They also were involved with All in the Family and its spin-off, Archie Bunker’s Place.
Fun fact: Fellow I Love Lucy writer, Jess Oppenheimer, was roommates with Bob Weiskopf in college 13 years before Oppenheimer hired Weiskopf and Schiller to work on the series.
Below is their interview with The Archive of American Television, where they discuss their career in TV (the clips were not numbered, so I organized them the best I could).
And as a bonus, here’s their interview with The Writers Guild Foundation:
Another day, another I Love Lucy writer. Stay tuned!
Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr. began their writing careers in radio, most notably on the comedy series, My Favorite Husband (1948-1951). On the show, their paths would cross with an actress, Lucille Ball, who – upon the radio series ending in 1951 – would be doing a TV series for CBS with her husband, Desi Arnaz. The series, I Love Lucy, would initially be staffed by three writers: Pugh Davis, Carroll, Jr., and Jess Oppenheimer.
Pugh Davis and Carroll would remain with I Love Lucy for its six-year run, moving on as a writing team on future series like The Lucy Show, The Mothers-In-Law, Alice, and Sanford & Son.
Below is the entire interview with Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr. conducted by The Archive of American Television, where they talk about their multi-decade careers.
And here’s a bonus interview with The Writers Guild Foundation:
Back with another set of interviews with two more I Love Lucy writers tomorrow! Stay tuned!
On October 15, 1951, a new sitcom premiered on CBS starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley. The series was I Love Lucy, a show that would forever change the way sitcoms are filmed and produced. It was the first sitcom to feature an interracial couple and to show a pregnant woman (GASP!) on TV.
Married in real life, Ball and Arnaz were looking for a project to keep them together instead of traveling around making films or doing concerts. When the idea for the series fell in their lap, they jumped at the opportunity, taking the initial concept on the road to see how it was received by audiences. Assured that they had a workable idea, the show was developed into I Love Lucy.
I Love Lucy was also the birth of Desilu Productions, which would produce many notable series, including The Lucy Show, Mission: Impossible, and Star Trek. Following Lucy and Desi’s divorce, Lucille Ball would take the reins of Desilu, becoming the first female studio president in Hollywood.
Seven decades after its premiere, Lucy is as popular as ever and is an ever-present staple in pop culture. Generations of families have sat down to enjoy the antics of Lucy Ricardo in black-and-white and in color; on small tube TVs and giant OLED screens; on DVD and streaming.
Lucille Ball was a comedic genius; her influence on other female comedians over the decades is a tribute to her skills and talents as a genuine comedienne. I Love Lucy was a vehicle to showcase Ball’s talents, but we can’t overlook the comic contributions of her three fantastic co-stars. Desi Arnaz, who doesn’t get enough credit for his role as Ricky, was a great straight man and a powerhouse behind the scenes. Vivian Vance, the world’s greatest second-banana, Ethel Mertz, was a talented woman who brought her comic and singing talents to the role. William Frawley, the cranky and cheap Fred Mertz, was a character actor that never missed an opportunity to deliver a one-liner.
Despite any off-camera drama that may have occurred over the show’s production, these four collectively created some of the most memorable moments in TV history. Their chemistry on-camera is undeniable, and it’s still evident 70 years later.
But Lucy Ricardo remains silent and with no crazy ideas without the geniuses who gave her and the other characters that populated I Love Lucy life. Throughout its six seasons and 180 episodes, five writers delivered the scripts that would be turned into comedy gold by Ball, Arnaz, Vance, and Frawley each week. We owe as much to these five writers as we do to the actors who brought I Love Lucy to life.
Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf are the writers whom Lucille Ball has credited many times for giving her comedy gold to work with throughout the series’ run. I can only imagine the pressure these five were under to create a fresh, creative, and funny script each week that would please Ball and Arnaz, who weren’t just the stars of the show but their employers as well. And they did it, creating comedy gold week after week, giving Lucy new motivations to get into Ricky’s show, taking the gang to Hollywood, Europe, and the country. One-liners, slapstick, physical gags, sight gags, big guest stars, and some of the best facial expressions in the business.
Lucille Ball had previously worked with Oppenheimer, Pugh, and Carroll, Jr. on her radio series, My Favorite Husband, where Ball played housewife Liz Cugat (later Cooper) for 124 episodes. Liz was a devoted, loving, and zany woman who got into comedic situations every week (sound familiar?). The series ended its run in March 1951, the same year I Love Lucy would hit the airwaves in October.
With Husband ending and Ball and Arnaz needing writers for their new series, it was common sense to use writers familiar with Ball’s comic sensibility and who came with a vast knowledge of the situation comedy formula. Obviously, bringing this trio along was a choice that helped keep I Love Lucy so widely known seven decades later.
Seasons one through four came from the creative minds of Oppenheimer, Pugh, and Carroll, Jr. Seasons five and six would see the addition of Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf, with Jess Oppenheimer leaving after season five. All five writers would continue to write in the sitcom genre for decades to come on series like Alice, All in the Family, Maude, The Carol Burnett Show, Here’s Lucy, and Get Smart.
Sadly, while these talented writers were nominated for Emmys for their work on I Love Lucy, they never won. However, I think the longevity of the series and the legacy of their work is an even greater reward.
Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of I Love Lucy. No matter what’s going on in the real world, the antics of Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel, always manage to bring a smile to my face and make me laugh even if I’ve seen the episode dozens of times. I’m sure they had no clue when director Marc Daniel yelled action seventy years ago that I Love Lucy would still be on the air today; on TVs worldwide, translated into dozens of languages, and still enjoyed by millions.
Thank you, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley; Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf; directors Marc Daniels and William Asher; and the hundreds of other people who brought I Love Lucy into homes in the 1950s so that we could still enjoy the show today. Your legacies, talents, and positive contribution to the world have not gone unnoticed.
Check back this weekend for a few more posts about the writers of I Love Lucy! Stay tuned!
What are your favorite episodes, moments, lines, or characters from I Love Lucy? Leave a comment and let me know!
The author of twenty-nine books, Judy Blume, is an author who is no stranger to writing about complex subjects that young adults encounter in their everyday lives. She surprisingly is also a member of the Banned Books Club. Like the late Beverley Cleary, Judy Blume’s books were a library staple when I was growing up. Her stories continue to engage and entertain readers today.
Blume was 27 when she began to think of writing as a career. After two years of rejections, she finally published her first novel, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, in 1969. Other books for children and young adults include: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972), Blubber (1974), Freckle Juice (1978), Superfudge (1980), and Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson (1993).
Blume has also written four adult-centered novels, collaborated on two short story collections, and authored three non-fiction books.
In the 1980s, Blume’s young adult novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, was targeted for censorship by schools due to its openness about mensuration and religion. The book has been on the American Library Association’s Top 100 most frequently challenged books since the 80s, ranking 60th. In 2000, the book almost made it off the list, dropping to 99th. The latest 2010-2019 list has Are You There God? off the top 100.
Check out the latest list to see if books you’ve read are on it, HERE.
Learn more about Judy Blume and her books at her OFFICIAL WEBSITE.
Below are a few interviews with Blume as she talks about her life, her writing, and dealing with censorship.
Back in two weeks with another great author!
It takes a special type of book to get me to drop everything when I get home from work and start reading. Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky was one of these books. The hardcover version is 705 pages, and I read it in five days.
I was hooked from the first chapter, and was driven by a need to know what would happen next, which is the hallmark of a solid suspense thriller. Imaginary Friend manages to keep you guessing and leaves you reading until 3 or 4 in the morning, desperately fighting sleep to finish the next chapter.
It’s on my list of books I want to read again.
Below is the review I wrote after I finished it last year:
Reading this book was an amazing experience. I bought it last year, having no idea what it was about, never reading the dust jacket (expect for a brief skim), and then picking it up off my bookshelf a week ago and diving in.
And I enjoyed every minute of reading this book.
Chbosky creates a world that envelopes you in its mystery and suspense. Imaginary Friend felt like a Stephen King novel (an author I love!), and I look forward to his next book in this genre.
I 100% won’t buy it and wait almost a year to read it. It’s buy it, read it next time!
If you’re a fan of Stephen King, suspense thrillers with the supernatural twist, and complex stories that deliver, I highly recommend Imaginary Friend.
What did you think of Imaginary Friend? Leave a comment and let me know!