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Carol Shields

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I wanted to write a novel because I loved to read novels, and I wasn't finding in the '70s the kind of novels that had anything to do with my life or the sort of women that I knew. So I wanted to write the book that I couldn't find, as it were. So I sat down, when the kids were at school -- I was a stay-at-home mother, and I wrote while they were at school -- and put this novel together over a period of nine months. I always thought that was a sort of interesting length of time. Because at the end of nine months I had a novel. It was a short novel, and it seems to me today, when I look at that novel, a little bit on the spare side. But it was published. It was accepted on my 40th birthday, which made that birthday a much happier one than it might have been, and it won a prize in Canada, and I was sort of on my way. After that, I thought, well, this is something I love to do and maybe it's something I can do. So that's how my writing life evolved.
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Carol Shields

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Carol Shields: Of course we all draw on our own experiences when we write. There's nowhere else to draw from. But I think that for many of us we do not draw directly. This is the thing that's always hard to explain to people who do not write fiction, that it is not simply an account of life as we have seen it. It's an arm and leg of our experience perhaps, but then there is this whole other part of the recipe which is imaginative, the imagination, and that's the piece that's hard to explain. How do you get to that part? And you get to it -- I mean, a simple example, of course, is setting up one's own experience and then saying, "Well, what if " that important "what if." What if something else intervenes? And that's where somehow you can get to a place which is quite fully imagined, rather than experienced.
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Carol Shields

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Carol Shields: I develop as I go. I have a structure in mind, though. I always see the structure before I know what's going to be in the structure, and it's a very physical image that I can call up, just the way you would call up an image on your screen. For example, I'll just give you a simple example. It was this first novel I wrote, which is called Small Ceremonies. I couldn't imagine how you wrote a novel, how you kept track of all of these little pieces of it, and I thought, "I need some kind of a structure." So I took the academic year. The novel has nine chapters, and they are called "September, October, November," et cetera, very easy structure. And in my mind, those chapters looked like the cars of a freight train, and I just lined them up, nine of them, and I knew I would have to fill those freight cars, and that was the image, and it helped me keep things together a little bit. It was just for my own ease, I guess. But for each novel I've had rather a different structure, but it's been important for me to have that. But I don't know where it's going. I don't fully know the character of my main character when I start out. So that character opens for me exactly as it opens for the reader, piece by piece, layer by layer.
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Carol Shields

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I felt inordinately brave at that time in my life; I have no idea why. But I guess I felt I could set my own limits. People are always talking about "the novel is dead," and I think what they're really saying is the old novel form, as we once knew it, is dead, and we have to make these new forms or we have to usurp those older forms. And Swann is a kind of usurping of the detective novel, sort of bringing a torque to those old forms that we grew up with, the way we used to diagram it on the blackboard, that line of ascending action and then you would have the climax, and the denouement. There was one day when I was drawing that diagram on the blackboard, and it looked to me like nothing more than a bad coat hanger, and it was no more use to me anymore. And I abandoned that as a structure for the novels that I wanted to write.
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Donna Shirley

Mars Exploration Program

I always wanted to fly airplanes, from the time I was very small. And when I was six, a friend of mine, a girlfriend, and I had this plan. She was going to be a nurse and I was going to be a bush pilot and we were going to fly into the outback and rescue people. And that was our objective. So, I built model airplanes and hung them from the ceiling and had a lot of books about airplanes. And then, when I was 10, we went to my uncle's graduation from medical school and on the program it said, aeronautical engineering. I asked my mother what that was and she said, "Oh, that's people who build airplanes." I said, "That's what I want to be." And so, that's when I decided that I was going to be an aeronautic engineer.
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Donna Shirley

Mars Exploration Program

It's catch as catch can when you promote engineers to managers. And so, I was looking at the people I was working for and I was saying, "Hey, I can do at least a good a job as these guys do." So, I decided to be a manager because you have to make a decision as to whether to try to stay up with your technology, particularly when technology is changing so fast, or to go into management. And so, I decided I would go into management. So, I laid out a plan: and this is how fast I was going to try to progress and these were the kind of jobs I wanted, and this was the job progression. And, I laid it all out by the time that Laura graduated from college, this is where I'd be, 'cause I needed the money to get her into college, and so on, and laid it all out. And, I've been tracking along very well with that plan.
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Donna Shirley

Mars Exploration Program

Mars Observer was launched in '92 and it was a failure. But, in the meantime, we started thinking about, "Okay, life lives on earth in many places where we wouldn't have believed that it would have lived." So, scientifically, we found life at the bottom of the ocean, living off of just the gases coming out of vents. No light, but there it is. We found life down in the Columbia River basalts, several kilometers down, just living off of rock and heat - life in Antarctica, in frozen, frigid conditions, inside rocks. So, anywhere there's liquid water on earth, there's life. So, we said, "Gee, you know, maybe there's life on Mars."
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Alan Simpson

Statesman and Advocate

Some young person came up last night and said, "I heard you say something about you had to have a belief in a higher being, or you said God, didn't you?" "No," I said, "No, I said a higher being." "Well," she said, "I don't have a faith in any kind of higher being, so I'm a little offended by that." "Well," I said, "then you got a hell of a rough life ahead of you, because you're going to find that at some time -- and you can't miss this -- but you will find a time when you don't know where to turn. And then you find there's only one place to turn when you don't know where to turn, and that's some higher being. It might be the Great Eel, it might be a green jade thing. Whatever it is, it's something that's outside of you that's bigger than you are." I said, "It might be even a tree or a mountain." Well that got her. So I said, "If you don't have any of those things in your life, you're among the dead unkilled." She kind of staggered off. I thought I'd ruined her sight. But what the hell, you have to. You don't make it in life unless you have some faith, some belief in something outside of yourself which is bigger than you are. And a good place is right here. You could look out and see the Tetons and say, "I don't have any religion. I'm everything anti-everything, but that thing out there, I think, is bigger than I am and will be here longer than I will." So, those are things that you sort out. In Wyoming it's easy to do. You get up in the morning and you look a hundred miles, and you can see forever. So those are things that you grow up with. That's the vista of -- it clears your mind out here.
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