December 21, 2012
I love this time of year
(Image: National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
. I've pretty much given up making New Year's resolutions, but late December is when I'm allowed by custom—no, obligated—to kick back and think about making a good start in 2013.
Of course, given the date of this post—December 21, 2012—thinking about next year could be a (more…)
December 6, 2012
Robert K. Massie
Robert Massie: Storytellers have "three ingredients" to think about. (Photo © Alex Remnick)
, the journalist and historian whose gift for vivid narrative has made him the preeminent American biographer of Russian royals, makes his job sound easy. “I am a storyteller,” he explains modestly, adding that he writes biography because “telling stories about people in the past is important to everyone trying to understand (more…)
December 3, 2012
We often hear
that one of the most important things when writing a book is to establish a regular writing routine. That's true whether you teach, spend your days in an office, or work at home. But for most of us, it's one of the hardest things to learn how to do. (more…)
December 1, 2012
As my favorite literary parable suggests (see sidebar)
To stay on track, keep an eye on the red thread of your story. (Image via photos-public-domain.com)
, telling the story of a life is a lot like carving an elephant from a block of stone. The "elephant" is the story of someone else's life in potentia
, while the block of stone is the mass of unprocessed research in which the story is hiding. Here and in future posts, I want to discuss the creative process of rendering the elephant visible, not only to the eye of the reader but in the mind of the writer. (more…)
November 26, 2012
Usually on Sunday morning
Rorschach Inkblot No. 9 (Wikipedia)
I open the New York Times and go straight to the Styles section, where the "Social IQs" column is. "Social IQs" gives advice to the socially perplexed, and reading it gives me hope of becoming the polite, perspicacious, socially intelligent human being I imagine its author, Philip Galanes, to be. Yesterday, however, (more…)
November 19, 2012
, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday will publish Deirdre Bair's Saul Steinberg: A Biography, the first biography of the New York artist whose beloved, ferociously funny
New Yorker cartoons are now icons of American satire. (Think "View of the World from 9th Avenue," his famous 1976 map of the United States as seen by parochial New Yorkers.) I interviewed Bair for the monthly newsletter of Biographers International. An adapted version of that conversation appears here
November 17, 2012
This is the second of two posts
about setting up an online filing system to store primary research findings
In my last post
, I discussed how I organize Word folders for SARA AND ERSKINE, AN AMERICAN ROMANCE
on the principle of (mainly) the time period they cover. This post discusses the Word files
to contain entry notes, annotations, and excerpts from primary sources. I store these entry files in chronological subfolders inside the primary research files.
(Yes, I know what you're thinking. "Word
files? Dona, they now make actual filing software for this sort of thing." Having developed my own system and gotten pretty comfortable with it, (more…)
November 16, 2012
"WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?" invites published biographers and writers of nonfiction to discuss the ideas and insights that have been important to them or helped them solve one of the many challenges of writing, research, and the nonfiction writer's life. Has something helped you as a biographer or nonfiction writer? Send in a comment.
I think a lot (and by "a lot" I mean all the time) about the life of my subject
and how I'm telling her story. My friend Louise (Lucy) W. Knight
, who's written not one but two fine books about the great social worker Jane Addams, recently told me about an epiphany she once had about telling the story of a life, an epiphany that came from reading the first volume of Richard Holmes'
biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It both deepened her thinking about Jane Addams' life story and increased her confidence as a narrator. I've asked her to describe it here. —Dona Munker (more…)
November 13, 2012
Whether you're writing your first biography or your tenth, a simple yet flexible filing system
can make storing and accessing information simpler, help you remember things, and generally make writing a book a lot easier. This post is the first of two
about setting up a computer filing system for primary research in a biography. Or, as the Borg Queen on Star Trek
might say, it's about bringing order to chaos. (more…)
November 10, 2012
One of the occupational hazards of writing biography
is that you may develop an intense preoccupation with—well, with filing.
This is a sort of dirty professional secret akin to wanting to know about the inner workings of mechanical clocks. All any normal person who isn't a clockmaker really wants to know is (more…)
The disciple of a famous sculptor came upon his master carving an elephant from a huge, shapeless chunk of stone. "Master," cried the disciple, "What splendor! What realism! What insight! How do you do it?" "Simple," replied the sculptor. "You just cut away everything that isn't elephant."
This blog is about creating an elephant from a chunk of stone
. That's a metaphor for writing a biography, which is telling the story of a life by sifting the evidence the owner leaves behind.
Stalking the Elephant
, which I try to update twice a week, is also about the biographer's writing life (well, mine, anyway), as well as a work in progress, SARA AND ERSKINE, AN AMERICAN ROMANCE
, an intimate reconstruction of the life of SARA BARD FIELD
, a World War One-era minister's wife, suffragist, and poet, and her extraordinary affair with the outspoken attorney, philosophical anarchist, and Renaissance man CHARLES ERSKINE SCOTT WOOD
Subscribing is easy:
On the blog page
, click on the RSS button of your browser. (In Firefox
: Go to the Bookmarks menu and select "Subscribe to This Page.") The RSS feed will show in your browser toolbar and is an easy and anonymous way to be notified of updates.
Visit the RESOURCES
page and take advantage of a growing list of links, blogs, and books for anyone interested in biography and writing lives.
Credit: Elephant Country Web
Notice of Copyright:
All material on this website copyright © 2005-2012
by Dona Munker, except where expressly stated or contributed by others. Copying, altering, or reproducing this material in any form without written permission is prohibited by law and may be prosecuted regardless of the venue or purpose of the copying.
is about a search for love that turned a Baptist minister's wife into a nationally known suffragist and women's rights advocate, a California poet, and an "anarchist and free-lover" who risked everything to be with her remarkable soul-mate.
is a riveting account of the life and work of an extraordinary Iranian aristocrat and social reformer, Sattareh Farman Farmaian
, DAUGHTER OF PERSIA
is at once a memoir and a work of historical journalism that is still relevant today, opening a personal window on Iran and America's involvement in the six tumultuous decades that laid the foundations of the present-day crisis now facing the United States and the West.
The biographer's craft, what a story is, whether biography can ever be an art, and more.
A list of resources for anyone interested in biography and writing lives.