Friday, December 18, 2015

In Novels Setting is Important

I have always tried to keep the settings of my novels as far as possible within the confines of my own experience.

Ngaio Marsh 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Suicidal Writer

Many people ask why a writer commits suicide. But I think that people who ask don't know the vanity and the nothingness of writing. I think it is very usual and natural for a writer to commit suicide, because in order to keep on writing he must be a very strong person.

Abe Kobo

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Norman Mailer On Reading Reviews

I'd never dream of not reading reviews. It's like not looking at a naked woman if she happens to be standing in front of her open window.

Norman Mailer

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How Do You Feel After Finishing a Really Good Book?

I get slightly angry when I finish any good book--I'm miffed that I'm not reading it anymore, and that I'll never be able to read it again for the first time.

Daniel Handler

The Novel as an Evolving Genre

A remarkable thing about the novel is that it can incorporate almost anything--essays, short stories, mock memoirs, screenplays, emails--and remain a novel. The elasticity is also a sign that unlike, say, the epic or the ode, the novel is a living, evolving form. But if its outer limits are virtually nonexistent, the minimum requirement is generally that there be a narrative telling us something. In this way, any manner of book can find a way to justify calling itself a novel. But the label should not be worn lightly, since it invites scrutiny of the highest and most exacting kind.

Thad Ziolkowski

Friday, October 2, 2015

Choosing Your Novel's Setting

When you choose setting, you had better choose it wisely and well, because the very choice defines--and circumscribes--your story's possibilities.

Jack M. Bickham

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ernest Hemingway on Writing During the Summer

Summer is a discouraging time to work--you don't feel death coming on as the way it does in the fall when the boys really put pen to paper.

Ernest Hemingway 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Importance of a Novel's Characters

If you can't create characters that are vivid in the reader's imagination, you can't create a good novel. Characters are to a novelist what lumber is to a carpenter and what bricks are to a bricklayer. Characters are the stuff out of which a novel is constructed.

James N. Frey 

Monday, September 28, 2015

One Great Book Doesn't Make One A Great Writer

A man can write one book that can be great, but this doesn't make him a great writer--just the writer of a great book.

Anthony Burgess

Writing In The Morning

I write when I can and don't write when I can't; always in the morning or early part of the day. You get very gaudy ideas at night but they don't stand up.

Raymond Chandler 

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Role Of Revision In Writing

I write to find what i have to say. I edit to figure out how to say it right. There would be nothing to revise if the initial prose didn't exist. Without revision my work would be too ridiculous to bear, a pile of almost-good pages I'd rather burn than publish.

Cheryl Strayed 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Suicidal Writer

I often thought of killing myself but then I wanted lunch.

Paula Fox

The Manuscript Rejection Letter

My favorite rejection letter was from a literary agent who said, "We don't have time to take on new clients, and if we did, we would not take you." But I kept trying. My second book got published. The first one never did.

Lisa Scottoline

Writing School

When I went to writing school, I craved rules. I craved a mentor, and the revelation of secrets, and the permission to write, and most of all I craved the confirmation that I could write. In other words, I was like practically everyone else.

Bonnie Friedman 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Crime Novelist Helen Eustis

  On January 11, 2015, 98-year-old crime novelist Helen Eustis died at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. The Cincinnati native was best known for her novel The Horizontal Man, a story about a murdered English professor. The book, informed by her experience as a student at Smith College, won the Mystery Writer's of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1947 for best debut novel.

     Eustis wrote The Fool Killer, a mystery adapted into a 1965 film of the same name starring Anthony Perkins. She also wrote award-winning short stories and translated books by mystery writer Georges Simenon as well as other European crime novelists.

Jim Fisher

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Converting A Journal Into A Memoir

Teaching writers to record their life stories involves no small amount of hand-holding--and for good reason. Even after years of journaling or jotting down passing thoughts, the act of sharing your first-person stories with the world can feel like a kind of perversion, like sweating all over someone's couch or coughing into the clam dip at a cocktail party. On the wrong day, even popular writers' rallying cries--such as Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird or Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones--feel like gorgeously embossed invitations to spread your germs far and wide.

Heather Havrilesky 

Novels Preferred By Middle-Class Readers

Middle class readers choose novels that will offer strategies for understanding and managing their personal problems. [They prefer novels that] explore the psychological interior, and present familiar characters and conflicts that validate and confirm their sense of themselves as deep, complicated human beings.

Timothy Aubry 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What Kids 10 To 12 Like To Read

Children of both sexes in the 10 to 12 year age group predominantly read fiction, with the most popular genre amongst both boys and girls being adventure stories. Girls choose more romances, horror/ghost stories and poetry books. Boys choose more science fiction, comedy, sports and war/spy books.

Lyn Pritchard

Writing The How-To Article

Some kinds of writing are more debilitating than others, and it took me years to learn which, for me, is which. Instructional writing--the pure how-to article--is the worst.

John Jerome

The Power Of Narrative Nonfiction

I think narrative nonfiction is essentially a hybrid form, a marriage of the art of storytelling and the art of journalism--an attempt to make drama out of the observable world of real people, real places, and real events. It's a sophisticated form of nonfiction writing, possibly the highest form, that harnesses the power of facts to the techniques of fiction. It constructs a central narrative, setting scenes, depicting multidimensional characters and, most important, telling the story in a compelling voice that the reader will want to hear.

Robert Vare 

The Value Of Primary Documentation In Journalism

Secondary sources are most useful when they lead to primary documents. The legislative hearing transcript would be a primary document as would be a real estate deed, political candidate's campaign finance report, lawsuit, insurance policy, and discharge certificate from the military. Documents can be just like human sources because they are prepared by humans. However, unlike humans, documents do not talk back and do not claim to have been misquoted.

Steve Weinberg 

What Are Books In The "Humor" Section Of The Bookstore About?

The "humor section" is a meaningless bookseller's term. Think about it for a second. If you go into a bookstore and find yourself browsing the biography section, you know what you are going to get: biographies. Mystery section: mysteries. Sports: books about sports. But humor is something else entirely, conveying an intention rather than a subject. Rare is the humorous book about humor…Books filed under "humor" aren't about anything specific. Their subjects run the gamut from "Calvin and Hobbes" anthologies to comedic memoirs to pop culture parodies to the sort of gift books that are best read from the cozy confines of the commode. Their only commonality is their desire to amuse.

Michael Ian Black


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Stephen King: Literary Celebrity

Literary celebrity sounds like an oxymoron, but it does happen. Selling millions of books isn't enough; readers have to feel a profound personal connection to the writer. J. K. Rowling is definitely in the club. James Patterson is not. Or consider this story, one told to me 20 years ago by a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, the writer-rock band. (Now that may be an oxymoron.) The band stopped for breakfast at a small-town truck stop before the sun was up. This was pre-smartphone, pre-social media, practically pre-Internet. Yet by the time the band members returned to their bus, there were several people lined up, clutching copies of "The Strand," eager to meed the band's undisputed rock star, Stephen King.

Laura Lippman 

The Decline Of Literary Fiction?

In recent years, a number of talented novelists have experienced a sudden and alarming loss of faith in their chosen literary form. David Shields thinks most novels are boring and disconnected from reality. Nicole Krauss is "sick of plot and characters and scenes and climax and resolution." Rachel Cusk has decided conventional fiction is "fake and embarrassing." Karl Ove Knausgaard goes even further, dismissing the entire enterprise" "Fictional writing has no value."

     This distaste for the clunky machinery of traditional narrative fiction has spread quickly. Some of the most interesting "novels" of the past few years--Teju Cole's "Open City," Jenny Offill's "Dept. of Speculation," Ben Lerner's "Leaving the Atocha Station," not to mention Knausgaard's epic, "My Struggle"--are barely novels at all. They read more like memoirs, or a series of lightly fictionalized journal entries, recounting the mundane lives and off-kilter ruminations of their first-person narrators, who are either post-graduate students or blocked writers. There's a smallness to these books…

Tom Perrotta 

Children's Books Make Good Movies

Children's books typically make for better movies than anything made for adults.

Alice Gregory 

Writers Need To Tighten Up Their Prose

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

William Zinsser

What's Real In Fiction And Nonfiction?

 I have long been intrigued by how often readers of fiction want to know which parts really happened to the author, whereas readers of nonfiction want to know which parts are made up. In both cases...there is a vague implication that the authors are cheating.

     These seemingly paradoxical obsessions, I think, reflect a universal human desire to distinguish what's real, in order to make sense of potentially overwhelming sensory experience. The ultimate reality is that we can't truly distinguish what's "real" in our perceptions, any more than nonfiction authors can avoid shaping "reality" by the way they recount events or fiction writers can avoid drawing on personal experience when ostensibly making up stories.

Deborah Tannen

Humiliations Of The Writing Life

Humiliation is not, of course, unique to writers. However, the world of letters does seem to offer a near-perfect microclimate for embarrassment and shame. There is something about the conjunction of high-mindedness and low income that is inherently comic; something about the presentation of deeply private thoughts--carefully worked and honed into art over the years--to a public audience of strangers, that strays perilously close to tragedy. It is entirely possible, I believe, to reverse Auden's dictum that "art is born out of humiliation."

Robin Robertson

The Writer's Day Job

There's a difference between a vocation and a profession. A vocation is a calling--something you are called to. A profession is something that you practice...In the states, I think about 10 percent of the novel writers actually make a living out of their novel writing. The others have the vocation, but they can only partly have the profession, because they have to spend the rest of their time making money in order to keep themselves in their habit. They are word junkies. They've got to pay for their fix. I chose university teaching because there is a long summer vacation, and also because you could fake it.

Margaret Atwood

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Are Writers Prone To Suicide?

A good many writers are high-strung, strung-out emotional wrecks. A lot of them are really odd. Many slip into despair, some go mad, and a number get hooked on booze or drugs. More than a few have ended their lives with suicide.

     To writers who are more or less normal, there is nothing more morbidly fascinating than the tormented life and self-inflicted death of a fellow author. Ross Lockridge, Jr. is a case in point. In February 1949, about a year after the publication of his first book, Raintree County, a bestselling Book-of-the Month-Club selection, the 33-year-old writer gassed himself to death in his garage while seated in his newly purchased car.

     Journalist Nanette Kutner, who had interviewed Lockridge six months before his suicide, wrote this after his death: "He was no one-book author; he never would have been content to live as Margaret Mitchell [Gone With the Wind] lived. But he could not find a remedy for the letdown that invariably comes after completing a big job, the letdown [Anthony] Trollope understood so well he never submitted a novel until he was deep into the next."

     Do writers end their lives more often than people in other lines of work? There is no way to know if writers are particularly prone to suicide. Experts say that statistics on suicide by occupation are not clear on this issue because there is no national data base on line of work and suicide. Experts also believe that because occupation is not a major predictor of suicide, this aspect of life doesn't explain why people kill themselves. Since writing, for many authors, is more of a way of life than a profession, and is practiced by a lot of unstable people, it probably is a relevant variable.

     Well-known writers who have killed themselves include: John Berryman, Richard Brautigan, Hart Crane, John Gould Fletcher, Romain Gary, Ernest Hemingway, William Inge, Randall Jarrell, Jerry Kosinski, Primo Levi, Ross Lockridge, Jr., Vachel Lindsay, Jack London, Malcolm Lowry, Charlotte Mew, Cesare Pavese, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Kennedy Toole, and Virginia Woolf.

Jim Fisher

The Importance Of Plot

If you read interviews with many prominent authors...you will notice how many of them seem to turn up their noses at the mention of plot. "I never begin with plot," they say. "Characters (or situations or setting or thought) is where I begin my novels." What's the implication? Only bad authors begin with plot. Some of these writers don't just imply it, they say it: A well-plotted book isn't really "artistic." Books like that are for the great mass of dunderheads who read trash, not for us sophisticates who appreciate literature.

J. Madison Davis

The Coming-Of-Age Memoir

Coming-of-age is a literary term to describe the passage from childhood to adulthood, from a state of innocence to a state of experience. Most writing about the teenage years is about coming-of-age, for that is the point of those years. We slip free of the protection and constraints of childhood and step into the vulnerability and freedom of adulthood, and we know it.

Susan Carol Hauser

Issac Asimov On Writer's Block

 The most serious problem a writer can face is "writer's block." This is a serious disease and when a writer has it he finds himself staring at a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter (or blank screen on the word processor) and can't do anything to unblank it. The words don't come. Or if they do, they are clearly unsuitable and are quickly torn up or erased. What's more, the disease is progressive, for the longer the inability to write continues, the more certain it is that it will continue to continue....

     A writer can't put anything on paper when there's nothing left (at least temporarily) in his mind. It may be, therefore, that writer's block is unavoidable and that at best a writer must pause every once in a while, for a shorter or longer interval, to let his mind fill up again.

Isaac Asimov

     

Novelists Who Practice Law

I enjoy the dubious distinction of being known among lawyers as a writer, and among writers as a lawyer.

Arthur Train

[Other lawyers who became successful novelists include: Erle Stanley Gardner, Scott Turow, John Mortimer, Louis Auchincloss, John Grisham, and Richard North Patterson.] 

Your Book Is Published, Now What?

Examining the first copy of your book is a mixed experience. On the one hand, proof now rests in your hand that you indeed wrote a book. This exciting thought lasts for about six seconds then the mind turns elsewhere: couldn't my publisher have found a better typeface for the jacket? Next time, I'm going to hire a professional photographer to take a good author picture. I wonder how long it will take before my book shows up on remainder tables. I wonder if it's going to get panned. I wonder if anyone will read it at all.

Ralph Keyes

How Publishers Screen Manuscripts

Publishers will tell you...that every manuscript which reaches their office is faithfully read, but they are not to be believed. At least fifteen out of twenty manuscripts can be summarily rejected, usually with safety. There may be a masterpiece among them, but it is a thousand to one against.

Michael Joseph

The Emotionally Detached Journalist

A few days spent in someone else's world (however dismal, violent, pretty or even boring that world may be) is simply not enough to experience it as real. It is too tightly framed by one's own domestic normality. Wherever you are today, you know that next Monday you will be home, and from the perspective of home today will seem too exaggerated, too highly colored, too remote to take quite seriously. So the writer slips into a style of mechanical facetious irony as he deals with this wrong-end-of-the-telescope view of the world. The perfervid [phony passionate] similes that are the trademark of the hardened magazine writer betray him as he tries to make language itself mask and make up for the fundamental shallowness of his experience with its synthetic energy....Emotional disengagement, self-conscious observation, the capacity to quickly turn a muddle of not very deeply felt sensations into a neat and vidid piece, are part of the necessary equipment of the writer as journalist.

Janathan Raban

Monday, September 7, 2015

Writing Versus Talking On TV

Gore Vidal...once languidly told me that one should never miss a chance...to appear on television. My efforts to live up to this maxim have mainly resulted in my passing many unglamorous hours on off-peak cable TV....Almost every time I go to a TV studio, I feel faintly guilty. This is pre-eminently the "soft" world of dream and illusion and "perception": it has only a surrogate relationship to the "hard" world of printed words and written-down concepts to which I've tried to dedicate my life, and that surrogate relationship, while it, too, may be "verbal," consists of being glib rather than fluent, fast rather than quick, sharp rather than pointed. It means reveling in the fact that I have a meretricious, want-it-both ways side. My only excuse is to say that at least I do not pretend that this is not so.

Christopher Hitchens

Jimmy Breslin's Creative Nonfiction

   In the introduction to his breakthrough 1973 anthology, The New Journalism, Tom Wolfe writes about how Jimmy Breslin, a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, captured the realistic intimacy of experiences by noticing details that could act as metaphors for something larger and more all-encompassing that he wanted to say. Wolfe describes Breslin's coverage of the trial of Anthony Provenzano, a union boss charged with extortion. At the beginning, Breslin introduces the image of the bright morning sun bursting through the windows of the courtroom and reflecting off the large diamond ring on Provenzano's chubby pinky finger. Later, during a recess, Provenzano, flicking a silver cigarette holder, paces the halls, sparring with a friend who came to support him, the sun still glinting off the pinky ring.

     Wolfe writes: "The story went on in that vein with Provenzano's Jersey courtiers circling around him and fawning while the sun explodes off his pinky ring. Inside the courtroom itself, however, Provenzano starts getting his. The judge starts lecturing him and the sweat starts breaking out on Provenzano's upper lip. Then the judge sentences him to seven years, and Provenzano starts twisting his pinky finger with his right hand." The ring is a badge of Provenzano's ill-gotten labors, symbolic of his arrogance and his eventual vulnerability and resounding defeat.

Lee Gutkind

A Low Opinion Of The Literary Critic

Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They're there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can't do it themselves.

Brendan Behan 

Booze And Writing

I used alcohol as the magical conduit to fantasy and euphoria, and to the enhancement of the imagination. There is no need to either rue or apologize for my use of this soothing, often sublime agent, which had contributed greatly to my writing; although I never set down a line while under its influence....Alcohol was an invaluable senior partner of my intellect, besides being a friend whose ministrations I sought daily--sought also I now see, as a means to calm the anxiety and incipient dread that I had hidden away for so long in the dungeons of my spirit.

William Styron

The Shared Experiences Of Writers

Writers have helped me when members of my own family could not. Some writers have been closer than dear friends, even though I never have seen them in the flesh. For example, when I have read some of Somerset Maugham and his The Summing Up, the lucidity of his view of the writing profession illuminated dusky corners in my mind....I have been helped by other writers.

Margaret Culkin Banning

Isaac Asimov On The Writing Life

The writer's life is inherently an insecure one. Each project is a new start and may be a failure. The fact that a previous item has been successful is no guard against failure this time.

     What's more, as has often been pointed out, writing is a very lonely occupation. You can talk about what you write, and discuss it with family, friends, or editors, but when you sit down at that typewriter, you are alone with it and no one can possibly help. You must extract every word from you own suffering mind.

     It's no wonder writers so often turn misanthropic or are driven to drink to dull the agony. I've heard it said that alcoholism is an occupational disease with writers.

Isaac Asimov

Science Fiction Writer Philip K. Dick

As a result of our media's obsession with the alleged connection between artistic genius and madness, Phil Dick was introduced to mainstream America as a caricature: a disheveled prophet, a hack churning out boilerplate genre fiction, a speed-freak. None of these impressions of Phil, taken without awareness of the sensationalism that generated them, advances our understanding of his life and work. Today the myth of Philip K. Dick threatens to drown out what evidence remains of his turbulent life.

David Gill 

Joseph Wambaugh On Writing Narrative Nonfiction

When I write nonfiction, obviously I was not there when the events occurred. I write in a dramatic style--that is, I employ lots of dialogue. I describe feelings. I describe how the events must have taken place. I invent probable dialogue or a least possible dialogue based upon all of the research that I do.

Joseph Wambaugh 

The Whodunnit And Thriller Genre

The whodunit and the thriller are in their most typical manifestations deeply conventional and ideologically conservative literary forms, in which good triumphs over evil, law over anarchy, truth over lies.

David Lodge

Market Oriented Publishing

Trivia has swamped contemporary literary life and become, it seems, more important than the books. A book's blurb is more important than the book itself, the author's photograph on the book jacket is more important than its content, the author's appearance in wide-circulation newspapers and on TV is more important than what the author has actually written.

     Many writers feel increasingly uncomfortable in such a literary landscape, densely populated with publishers, editors, agents, distributors, brokers, publicity specialists, bookstore chains, "marketing people," television cameras, photographers. The writer and his reader--the two most important links in the chain--are more isolated than ever.

Dubravka Ugresic

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Reality Versus Perception Of Crime

Whether we live in a more violent age than did, for example, the Victorians is a question for statisticians and sociologists, but we certainly feel more threatened by crime and disorder than at any other time I remember in my long life. This constant awareness of the dark undercurrents of society and human personality is probably partly due to the modern media, when details of the most atrocious murders, of civil strife and violent protests, come daily into our living rooms from television screens and other forms of modern technology. Increasingly writers of crime novels and detective stories will reflect this tumultuous world in their work and deal with far greater realism than would have been possible in the Golden Age [of mystery fiction 1920-1940]. The solving of the mystery is still at the heart of a detective story but today it is no longer isolated from contemporary society. We know that the police are not invariably more virtuous and honest than the society from which they are recruited, and that corruption can stalk the corridors of power and lie at the very heart of government and the criminal justice system.

P. D. James

Some Reasons Why Nonfiction Writers Get Rejected

Nonfiction writers write too much about themselves and what they think without seeking a universal focus so that readers are properly and firmly engaged. Essays that are so personal that they omit the reader are essays that will never see the light of print. The overall objective of a writer should be to make the reader tune in, not out....The uninspired writer will tell the reader about a subject, place, or personality, but the creative nonfiction writer will show that subject, place, or personality in action.

Lee Gutkind

Detective Fiction As Literature

It may well be that when the historians of literature come to discourse upon the fiction produced by the English-speaking peoples in the first half of the twentieth century, they will pass somewhat lightly over the compositions of the "serious" novelists and turn their attention to the immense and varied achievement of the detective writers.

W. Somerset Maugham 

How To Get A Literary Agent

Choosing an agent is a lot like choosing a hairdresser. [I currently don't have an agent or a hairdresser.] If you know a bunch of writers and most writers do because who else is home all day?) ask the successful ones who represents them. [In reality, writers with agents hate to be asked this.] If you don't know any writers, look at books by authors you admire and see which agent the author thanked in the acknowledgements. Send five to ten of these agents a resume, cover letter, and proposal for what you're trying to sell (it's imperative that the prospective agent knows that you have a money-making project in mind). Interview the agents who respond positively and pick the one you like best. If no one responds positively, send your stuff to another five to ten agents. Don't take it personally. Think of it as practice in handling rejection. (Believe me, you'll need all the practice you can get.)

Margo Kaufman

Stephen King On Bad Writers

No matter how much I want to encourage the man or woman trying for the first time to write seriously, I can't lie and say there are no bad writers. Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers. Some are on-staff at your local newspaper, usually reviewing little-theater productions or pontificating about the local sports teams. Some have scribbled their way to homes in the Caribbean, leaving a trail of pulsing adverbs, wooden characters, and vile passive-voice constructions behind them. Others hold forth at open-mike poetry slams, wearing black turtlenecks and wrinkled khaki pants; they spout doggerel about "my angry lesbian breasts" and "the tilted alley where I cried my mother's name."...While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great one out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

Stephen King

The Book Tour

These days, publicity tours are very important. If you are asked to go one one, go. Not everyone is asked. I always feel honored when my publisher asks me to go on the road or appear on television chat shows. I've become very good at it. I know how to sell my book. If the conversation veers away to another topic, I have learned how to bring it back to the book. Nothing annoys me more than to hear writers in the various television green rooms around the country bitch and moan about how boring the book tours are, or how exhausting. Get into it. Have fun. Most of the people you meet are great. You're selling your books, and you're building your reputation. what's so bad about that?

Dominick Dunne 

Albert Camus On Lying Politicians

Every time I hear a political speech...I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people's anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble--yes gamble--with a whole part of their life and their so-called "vital interests."

Albert Camus


A Bad Review For "Catch-22"

Whitney Balliett reviewed a novel for The New Yorker in 1961, saying, "[The author] wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior that children fall into when they know they are losing our attention." The book was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark

Journalsim And The Cult Of Politically Correctness

Amity Schlaes, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article in The Spectator in January 1994, describing the white middle class' fear of blacks after Colin Ferguson murdered six whites on a Long Island commuter train, and after a jury in Brooklyn acquitted a young black despite powerful evidence that he had murdered a white. She wrote that whites were frightened because Ferguson's "manic hostility to whites is shared by many of the city's non madmen." When copies of the article were circulated among Schlaes' colleagues at the Journal, she became an outcast. A number of her co-workers would get out of the elevator when she got on. People who had eaten with her in the staff cafeteria refused to sit at the same table. A delegation went to the office of the chairman of the company that owns the Journal. It did not matter that Schlaes had pointed out that minorities were the greatest victims of minority crimes, or that nobody could show that a single element of her article was untrue or inaccurate. "Her crime," wrote the then editor of The Spectator, Dominic Lawson, "was greater than being merely wrong. She had written the truth, regardless of the offense it might cause. And in modern America, or at least in the mainstream media, that is simply not done."

Robert H. Bork

Having A Favorite Writer

There are writers you admire, for the skill or the art, for the inventiveness or for the professionalism of a career well spent. And there are writers--sometimes the same ones, sometimes not--to whom you are powerfully attracted, for reasons that may or may not have to do with literary values. They speak to you, or speak for you, sometimes with a voice that could almost be your own. Often there is one writer in particular who awakens you, who is the teacher they say you will meet when you are ready for the lesson.

James D. Houston 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Elements Of A Book Review

A good book review should do an evocative job of pointing out quality. "Look at this! Isn't this good?" should be the critic's basic attitude. Occasionally, however, you have to say, "Look at this! Isn't it awful?" In either case, it's important to quote from the book....Criticism has no real power, only influence.

Clive James

Erle Stanley Gardner: A Writing Machine

Erle Stanley Gardner is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the fastest author of this century. It was his habit to tape 3-by-5 inch index cards around his study. Each index card explained where and when certain key incidents would occur in each detective novel. He then dictated to a crew of secretaries some ten thousand words a day, on up to seven different [mystery] novels at a time.

James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark

The Slow Writer

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest comes out very easily.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

[If it takes a month to write the first paragraph, maybe this writer should be doing something else. Short of that, maybe she should start out with the second paragraph, then call it the first.] 

Headlines Over Content

An inescapable truism about journalism is that form dictates content. The form of journalism--gimme a headline, gimme a story in the next hour or two, and gimme it in 500 or 250 words--subverts the content. It's easy for someone who is allowed 20,000 words and months to report a New Yorker story to say this, but it's nevertheless true that most editors don't allow reporters enough time or space to get a story's facts and context right.

Ken Auletta

Gore Vidal On Being A Famous Writer

Recently, I observed to [an interviewer] that I was once a famous novelist. When assured, politely, that I was still known and read, I explained myself. I was speaking, I said, not of me but of a category to which I once belonged that no longer exists. I am still here, but my category is not. To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker, or speedboat designer.

Gore Vidal 

The Daunting Task Of Writing A Book

     Writing a book is a strange job

     "Here you go," a publisher says at the onset, handing you a salary of sorts, and a deadline, "we'll see you in two years." And there you go indeed, in a state of high alarm without any day-to-day ballast--no appointments, no tasks assigned each morning, no office colleagues to act as sounding boards, no clue as to what you are doing: equipped solely with a single idea, which you cling to like driftwood in a great, dark sea.

Patricia Pearson

What Is Libel?

 Here are two important tenets of libel law every writer should know: 1) If what you say is true, it cannot be libel, and 2) generally speaking, you can't libel a dead person.

     Libel is defined as a false and defamatory statement, in writing [or on radio or TV] that has been published to a third person....

     "Defamatory," in legal terms, means tending to harm the reputation of the person who is the subject of the statement. We're talking about a statement that is more than just embarrassing or annoying...it must be the kind of statement that would deter other people from associating with that person. [Subject that person to contempt, hatred or ridicule. It must also cost the libel plaintiff money, unless the defendant has accused the plaintiff of a crime, then it's called libel per se.]

 Lee Gutkind 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sportswriter Red Smith

The best sportswriters know this. They avoid the exhausted synonyms and strive for freshness elsewhere in their sentences. You can search the columns of Red Smith and never find a batsman bouncing into a twin killing. Smith wasn't afraid to let a batsman hit into a double play. But you will find hundreds of unusual words--good English words--chosen with precision and fitted into situations where no other sportswriter would put them. They please us because the writer cared about using fresh imagery in a journalistic form where his competitors settle for the same old stuff. That's why Red Smith was still king of his field after half a century of writing, and why his competitors had long since been sent--as they would be the first to say--to the showers.

William Zinsser

The Mystery Of Novel Writing

After twenty years and a hundred books, I...realize that I don't know how to write a novel, that nobody does, that is no right way to do it. Whatever method works--for you, for me, for whoever's sitting in the chair and poking away at the typewriter [now computer] keys--is the right way to do it.

Lawrence Block 

Crime Fiction's Police Procedural Genre

Like its first cousin, the mystery novel, the police procedural features a well-structured, fast-paced chronicle of crimes and punishments. Unlike the mystery, the police procedural stresses the step-by-step procedures followed by professional detectives in solving their cases: processing the crime scene to collect physical evidence; canvassing the neighborhood for witnesses or suspects; postmortem examination of the body to determine the cause and manner of death; identifying the victim; tracing the background of the victim; investigating associates of the victim; examining the method of operation of the perpetrator; and continuing with the follow-up investigation.

O'Neil DeNoux

John Gardner On Learning To Write

Books on writing tend to make much of how difficult it is to become a successful writer, but the truth is that, though the ability to write well is partly a gift--like the ability to play basketball well, or to outguess the stock market--writing ability is mainly a product of good teaching supported by a deep-down love of writing. Though learning to write takes time and a great deal of practice, writing up to the world's ordinary standards is fairly easy. As a matter of fact, most of the books one finds in drugstores, supermarkets, and even small-town libraries are not well written at all; a smart chimp with a good creative-writing teacher and a real love of sitting around banging a typewriter could have written books vastly more interesting and elegant. [This is like saying a human with a love for bananas could leap from tree to tree.] Most grown-up behavior, when you come right down to it, is decidedly second-class. People don't drive their cars as well, or wash their ears as well, or eat as well, or even play the harmonica well....This is not to say people are terrible and should be replaced by machines; people are excellent and admirable creatures; efficiency isn't everything. But for the serious young writer who wants to get published, it is encouraging to know that most of the professional writers out there are push-overs.

John Gardner

Good Journalistic Interview Subjects

I hate writing about anyone who is familiar with the press or has a "story." I like to write about people who don't necessarily see what their story is, or what my interest might be. I like subjects who really know how to enjoy life or are immersed in whatever they are doing fully.

Adrian Nicole Leblanc good 

E. M. Forster On The Literary Critic

[The literary critic's] constant reference to genius is a characteristic of the pseudo-scholar. He loves mentioning genius, because the sound of the word exempts him from trying to discover its meaning. Literature is written by geniuses. Novelists are geniuses....Everything [the critic] says may be accurate but all is useless because he is moving round books instead of through them. He either has not read them or cannot read them properly. Books have to be read...it is the only way of discovering what they contain....The reader must sit down alone and struggle with the writer, and this the pseudo-scholar will not do. He would rather relate a book to the history of its time, to events in the life of its author, or to the events it describes.

E. M. Forster

What Is Creative Writing?

 The term "creative writing" offends some people; they think it has something affected or precious about it. Actually it is an innocent phrase developed in American schools and colleges sometime between the two world wars [1920-1940] to designate that kind of writing course which is not Freshman English or Report Writing for Engineers. One suspects that "creative writing" courses grew up partly because ordinary courses in composition had got bogged down in "correctness," gentility, and the handbook-and-exercise method, and some means had to be found to free students for the development of their natural interest and delight in language.

     Creative writing means imaginative writing, writing as an art, what the French call belles lettres. It has nothing to do with information or the more routine forms of communication, though it uses the same skills...

     Like all other forms of creative writing, it is written to produce in its reader the pleasure of aesthetic experience, to offer him an imaginative recreation or reflection or imitation of action, thought, and feeling. It attempts to uncover form and meaning in the welter of love, hate, violence, tedium, habit, and brute fact that we flounder through from day to day.

Wallace Stegner

Norman Mailer On Novelists

One of the cruelest remarks in the language is: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. The parallel must be: Those who meet experience, learn to live; those who don't, write.

     The second remark has as much truth as the first--which is to say, some truth. Of course, many a young man has put himself in danger to pick up material for his writing, but as a matter to make one wistful, not one major American athlete, CEO, politician, engineer, trade-union official, surgeon, airline pilot, chess master, call girl, sea captain, teacher, bureaucrat, Mafioso, pimp, recidivist, physicist, rabbi, movie star, clergyman, or priest or nun has also emerged as a major novelist since the Second World War.

Norman Mailer

The Writing Life's Sad Reality

 I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived....

     My students do not want to hear this. Nor do they want to hear that it wasn't until my fourth book came out that I stopped being a starving artist. They do not want to hear that most of them probably won't get published and that even fewer will make enough to live on. But their fantasy of what it means to be published has very little to do with reality.

Anne Lamott
   

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Writing As A Process Of Discovery

Many people think that writers are wise men who can impart to them the truth or some profound philosophy of life. It is not so. A writer is a skilled craftsman who discovers things along with the reader, and what you do with a good writer is you share the search; you are not being imparted wisdom, or if you are being imparted wisdom, it's a wisdom that came to him just as it came to you reading it.

Shelby Foote

Should A Writer Discuss Work-In-Progress?

I find it helps a lot to talk to friends or editors immediately after I return from a reporting trip. It puts me in a storytelling mode. Even though I'm less preoccupied with producing a seamless narrative then I used to be, I do feel that narrative energy is crucial to distinguishing a story from a research report. When you are telling a story to a live human being [as apposed to a reader] you get a sense, immediately, of what people respond to. It gets you outside of your own head. And often people ask questions that I haven't thought of--questions that force me to look at the reporting in a new way.

Ron Rosenbaum

John Gardner On Plotting The Novel

The writer works out plot in one of three ways: by borrowing some traditional plot or an action from real life...by working his way back from his story's climax; or by groping his way forward from an initial situation....

     The writer who begins with a traditional story or some action drawn from life has part of his work done for him already. He knows what happened and, in general, why. The main work left to him is that of figuring out what part of the story (if not the whole) he wants to tell, what the most efficient way of telling it is, and why it interests him.

John Gardner

What's Keeping You From Writing?

 If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You're a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle....

     Writing is work, hard work, and its rewards are personal more than financial, which means most people have to do it after hours. But if writing is work, learning to write isn't necessarily painful. To the contrary, silence is pain that writing relieves.

Richard Rhodes

     

Wallace Stegner On "Serious Fiction"

 "Serious fiction" is not necessarily great and not even necessarily literature, because the talents of its practitioners may not be as dependable as their intentions. But a literature, including the great, will be written in this spirit.

     The difference between the writer of serious fiction and the writer of escape entertainment is the clear difference between the artist and the craftsman. The one has the privilege and the faculty of original design; the other does not. The man who works from blueprints is a thoroughly respectable character, but he is of another order from the man who makes the blueprints in the first place.

Wallace Stegner

Facing The Blank Page

Some people when they sit down to write and nothing special comes, no good ideas, are so frightened that they drink a lot of strong coffee to hurry them up, or smoke packages of cigarettes, or take drugs or get drunk. They do not know that good ideas come slowly, and that the more clear, tranquil and unstimulated you are, the slower the ideas come but the better they are.

Brenda Ueland

Why Do Writers Write?

Interviewers ask famous writers why they write, and it was the poet John Ashbery who answered, "Because I want to." Flannery O'Connor answered, "Because I'm good at it," and when the occasional interviewer asks me, I quote them both. Then I add that other than writing, I am completely unemployable. But really, secretly, when I'm not being smart-alecky, it's because I want to and I'm good at it.

Anne Lamott

Jon Krakauer On What Interests Him As A Journalist

I've been pegged as a writer whose beat is extreme ideas, extreme landscapes [mountain climbing], extreme individuals who take actions to their logical extreme. And there is some truth to that. I'm intrigued by fanatics--people who are seduced by the promise, or the illusion, of the absolute. People who believe that achieving some absolute goal, say, or embracing some absolute truth, will lead to happiness, or peace, or order, or whatever it is they most desire. Fanatics tend to be blind to moral ambiguity and complexity, and I've always had a fascination with individuals who deny the inherent contingency of existence--often at their peril, and at the peril of society.

Jon Krakauer

Does A Writer's Style Reveal His Personality?

The writer's personality and his personality on the page are not necessarily identical, but often there is a resemblance, not unlike that between an owner and his dog. A writer's work emanates from his personality, ego, sensitivities, and blind spots, his projections and unconscious wishes. All these contribute to what we eventually call style. Not everyone can arrive at a party and command the room; most writers are more inwardly focused. But even for those whose personal style attracts attention, the proof is always, finally, on the page. [This begs the question: can a reader tell if a novelist is a jerk by reading his fiction?]

Betsy Lerner

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Norman Mailer On Becoming A Writer

 I'm now eighty [2002], but some people still regard me as a wild man. Even at my peak, that was only five to ten percent of my nature. The rest was work. I remember Elia Kazan saying one day at Actors Studio, "Here, we're always talking about the work. We talk about it piously. We say the work. The work. Well, we do work here, and get it straight: Work is a blessing." He said this, glaring at every one of us. And I thought, He's right. That's what it is. A blessing.

     Of course, if you ask what work is dependent upon, the key word, an unhappy one, is stamina. It's as difficult to become a professional writer as a professional athlete. It often depends on the ability to keep faith in yourself. One must be willing to take risks and try again. And it does need an enormous amount of ongoing working practice to be good at it. Since you are affected by what you read as a child and adolescent, it also takes a while to unlearn all sorts of reading reflexes that have led you into bad prose.

Norman Mailer

Why Professors Avoid Clear Writing

According to Professor J. Scott Armstrong of the University of Pennsylvania, among academics, "obtuse writing...seems to yield higher prestige for the author." Armstrong has conducted a number of studies to test this hypothesis. In one, he asked twenty management professors to identify the more prestigious of two unidentified journals presented to them. The more readable journal (as determined by the Flesch Reading Ease Test) was judged the least prestigious. In another experiment, Armstrong rewrote the same journal article in two different forms. One he rated confusing and convoluted, the other concise and clear. A panel of thirty-two professors agreed that the confusing version reported a higher level of research. "Overall, the evidence is consistent with a common suspicion," concluded Armstrong. "Clear communication of one's research is not appreciated. Faculty are impressed by less readable articles." [Another reason for bad academic writing is that if the material is presented clearly, the true banality of its substance will be revealed.]

Ralph Keyes

The Book Dedication

A friend of mine spoke of books that are dedicated like this: "To my wife, by whose helpful criticism..." and so on. He said the dedication should really read: "To my wife. If it had not been for her continual criticism and persistent nagging doubt as to my ability, this book would have appeared in Harper's instead of The Hardware Age."

Brenda Ueland

The Ethical Dilemma Of Journalism

There's an ethical dilemma in almost all journalism. In taking someone else's story and making it your own, in describing them on your terms, in ways they may not agree with.

Ted Conover 

Being A Good Talker Versus Being A Good Writer

Those who tell stories better than they write them are the bane of editors. Editors dread wasting time on captivating talkers whose words lose their fizz on the page. Obviously, writing skills transcend conversational skills. But the drama and flair we bring to telling stories is too often lost once our words are nailed down on paper. Most of us converse better than we write because we feel so much less vulnerable when addressing a limited number of ears. While talking, we can alter material or adjust our delivery in response to cues from others. If things get out of hand, we can change the subject altogether. Even whey they bomb, spoken words float off toward Mars. They can always be denied. "That isn't what I said!" is a great court of last resort. But words we've committed to paper [or online] can be held in evidence against us as long as that paper exists. Is it any wonder that we're scared to make this commitment?

Ralph Keyes

The Benefits Of Writing Nonfiction

I find the possibility of life as a fiction writer horribly depressing. Nonfiction, meaning journalism, essays, scholarly work, etc. is far more important to me because I am attempting to have an actual impact on the culture, on politics, and on ideas in people's heads. Nonfiction provides a more direct line to all of those things than fiction, which is too often used as an escape or to console people about their lives. Oh, and nonfiction pays much better.

Nick Mamatas

The Book Editor-Writer Relationship

An editor does not add to a book. At best he serves as a handmaiden to an author. [Editors should never] get to feeling important about themselves, because an editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing. A writer's best work comes entirely from himself. If you [an editor] have a Mark Twain, don't try to make him into a Shakespeare or make a Shakespeare into a Mark Twain. Because in the end an editor can get only as much out of an author as the author has in him.

Maxwell Perkins 

The Style Of Writing Called "Breezy"

There is a kind of writing that sounds so relaxed that you think you hear the author talking to you. E. B. White was probably its best practitioner, though many other masters of the style--James Thurber, V. S. Pritchett, Lewis Thomas--come to mind. I'm partial to it because it's a style that I've always tried to write myself. The common assumption is that the style is effortless. In fact the opposite is true: the effortless style is achieved by strenuous effort and constant refining. The nails of grammar and syntax [word order] are in place and the English is as good as the writer can make it.

William Zinsser

Detective Fiction's Golden Age and "Trent's Last Case" By E. C. Bentley"

The well-known description "Golden Age" [of detective fiction] is commonly taken to cover the two decades between the First and Second Wars, but this limitation is unduly restrictive. One of the most famous detective stories regarded as falling within the Golden Age is Trent's Last Case by E. C. Bentley, published in 1913. The name of this novel is familiar to many readers who have never read it, and its importance is partly due to the respect with which it was regarded by practitioners of the time and its influence on the genre. Dorothy L. Sayers wrote that it "holds a very special place in the history of detective fiction, a tale of unusual brilliance and charm, startlingly original." Agatha Christie saw it as "one of the three best detective stories every written." Edgar Wallace described it as "a masterpiece of detective fiction," and G. K. Chesterton saw it as "the finest detective story of modern times." Today some of the tributes of his contemporaries seem excessive but the novel remains highly readable, if hardly as compelling as it was when first published, and its influence on the Golden Age is unquestionable.

P. D. James

Responding To A Publisher's Rejection

I've often suspected that part of the reason why editors take so long to decline on projects, apart from never having enough time to consider them, is linked to how uncomfortable we are rejecting and disappointing people, whether it's the agent who has submitted the work or the unknown soldier who wrote it. Plus, we've all seen enough books that have been notoriously and strenuously rejected throughout the industry that nevertheless go on to bestsellerdom or critical acclaim.

     Just as you shouldn't take a polite letter for an encouraging one, don't let a harsh letter do more damage than necessary….It's hard not to focus too deeply on a rejection letter, or any correspondence from an editor, because it's often the only feedback you have, but I beg you not to spend more time with rejection letters than the time it takes to read and file them away.

Betsy Lerner

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Pleasure Of Reading Good Dialogue

Good dialogue is such a pleasure to come across while reading, a complete change of pace from description and exposition and all that writing. Suddenly people are talking, and we find ourselves clipping along. And we have all the pleasures of voyeurism because the characters don't know we are listening. We get to feel privy to their inner workings without having to spend too much time listening to them think. I don't want them to think all the time on paper.

Anne Lamott

The Writer's Vocabulary

A huge vocabulary is not always an advantage. Simple language, for some kinds of fiction at least, can be more effective than complex language which can lead to stiltedness or suggest dishonesty or faulty education.

John Gardner

Choosing The Right Words For A Children's Book

As adults, we often forget that children can comprehend more than they can articulate, and we end up communicating to them below their level, leaving them bored. Or, the opposite can happen: children are growing up faster than we did and act very sophisticated although their vocabulary skills are underdeveloped. Striking the balance between writing below or above their level is tricky.

Alijandra Mogilner

Writing Out Of Revenge

[Some writers] insist that you should never write out of vengeance. I tell my students that they should always write out of vengeance, as long as they do so nicely. If someone has crossed them, if someone has treated them too roughly, I urge them to write about it.

Anne Lamott

Books About John F. Kennedy

 Bad books by celebrity authors shouldn't surprise us [Bill O'Reilly's Killing Kennedy], even when the subject is an American president. The true mystery in Kennedy's case is why, 50 years after his death, highly accomplished writers seen unable to fix him on the page.

     For some, the trouble has been idolatry. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who wrote three magisterial volumes on Franklin Roosevelt and the new deal, attempted a similar history in A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in The White House. Published in 1965, it has the virtues of immediacy, since Schlesinger, Kennedy's Harvard contemporary, had been on the White House staff, brought in as court historian. He witnessed many of the events he describes. But in his admiration for Kennedy, he became the chief architect of the Camelot myth and so failed, in the end, to give a persuasive account of the actual presidency.

     In 1993, the political journalist Richard Reeves did better. President Kennedy: Profile of Power is a minutely detailed chronicle of the Kennedy White House. As a primer on Kennedy's decision-making, like his handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis, the book is fascinating. What's missing is a picture of Kennedy's personal life, though Reeves includes a passing mention of Marilyn Monroe being sewn into the $5,000 flesh-colored, skintight dress she wore to celebrate the president's birthday at Madison Square Garden in 1962….

     Balancing out, or warring with, the Kennedy claque are the Kennedy haters, like Seymour M. Hersh and Garry Wills. In The Dark Side of Camelot, Hersh wildly posits connections between the Kennedys and the mob, while Wills, through he offers any number of brilliant insights into Kennedy and his circle of courtiers, fixates on the Kennedy brothers' (and father's) sexual escapades in The Kennedy Imprisonment.

     The sum total of this oddly polarized literature is a kind of void. Other presidents, good and bad, have been served well by biographers and historians. We have first-rate books on Jefferson on Lincoln, on Wilson, on both Roosevelts. Even unloved presidents have received major books: Johnson (Caro) and Richard Nixon (Wills, among others). Kennedy, the odd man out, still seeks his true biographer.

Jill Abramson

Sherlock Holmes: Arthur Conan Doyle's Gold Mine

In 1891] I made my first effort to live entirely by my pen. It soon became evident that I had been playing the game well within my powers and that I should have no difficulty in providing a sufficient income…The difficulty of the Sherlock Holmes work was that every story really needed as clear-cut and original a plot as a longish book would do. One cannot without effort spin plots at such a rate. They are apt to become too thin or break. I was determined, now that I had no longer the excuse of absolute pecuniary [financial] pressure, never again to write anything which was not as good as I could possibly make it, and therefore I would not write a Holmes story without a worthy plot and without a problem which interested my own mind, for that is the first requisite before you can interest anyone else.

Arthur Conan Doyle 

Killing The Desire To Write

We start out in our lives as little children, full of light and the clearest vision…Then we go to school and then comes on the great Army of school teachers with their critical pencils, and parents and older brothers (the greatest sneerers of all) and cantankerous friends, and finally that Great Murderer of the Imagination--a world of unceasing, unkind, dinky, prissy Criticalness.

Brenda Ueland

Writing Project False Starts And Failures

  In the past two or three years I've had perhaps half a dozen ideas for novels that got no further than the first chapter. I've written three novels that got no further than the first chapter. I've written novels that died after I'd written over a hundred pages; they repose in my file cabinet at this very moment, like out-of-gas cars on a highway, waiting for someone to start them up again. I very much doubt they'll ever be completed.

     That's not all. During that same stretch of time I've seen two novels through to completion and succeeded only in producing books that no one has wanted to publish--and, I've come to believe, for good and sufficient reason. Both were books I probably shouldn't have tried writing in the first place. Both failures constituted learning experiences that will almost certainly prove beneficial in future work. While I could by no means afford the time spent on these books, neither can I properly write that time off as altogether wasted.

     But how could an established professional [author] write an unpublishable book? If he's written a dozen or two dozen or five dozen publishable ones in a row, wouldn't you think he'd have the formula down pat?

     The answer, of course, is that there's no such thing as a formula. Except in the genuinely rare instances of writers who tend to write the same book over and over, every novel is a wholly new experience.

Lawrence Block

Science And Technical Writing

     Take a class of writing students in a liberal arts college and assign them to write about some aspect of science, and a pitiful moan will go around the room. "No! Not science!" the moan says. The students have a common affliction: fear of science. They were told at an early age by a chemistry or a physics teacher that they don't have "a head for science."

     Take an adult chemist or physicist or engineer and ask him or her to write a report, and you'll see something close to panic. "No! Don't make us write!" they say. They also have a common affliction: fear of writing. They were told at an early age by an English teacher that they don't have "a gift or words."

William Zinsser

Scenes As The Building Blocks Of Creative Nonfiction

  Scenes (vignettes, episodes, slices of reality, and so forth) are the building blocks of creative nonfiction--the primary factor that separates and defines literary and/or creative nonfiction from traditional journalism and ordinary lifeless prose.

     The uninspired writer will tell the reader about a subject place, or personality but the creative nonfiction writer will show that subject, place, or personality in action.

Lee Gutkind

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Norman Mailer On Responding to Letters

 An author [who is well-known] will receive as many as several hundred letters a year from strangers. [Today it's emails.] Usually they want something: will you read their works, or listen to a life-story and write it.

     There are happy paradoxes to being successful as a writer. For one thing, you don't have much opportunity to read good books (it's too demoralizing when you're at sea on your own work) and you also come to dread letter-writting. Perhaps ten times a year, a couple of days are lost catching up on mail, and there's little pleasure in it. You are spending time that could have been given to more dedicated writing, and there are so many letters to answer! Few writers encourage correspondents. My reply to a good, thoughtful, even generous communication from someone I do not know is often short and apologetic.

Norman Mailer

There's A National Novel Writing Month?

We're now past the halfway point of National Novel Writing Month [November]--or, as it's inelegantly shortened online, NaNoWriMo--when aspiring authors aim to produce 50,000 words during November. More than 277,000 writers signed up for the sprint this year. Erin Morgenstern, whose best-selling novel The Night Circus originated as part of the exercise, once advised: "Don't delete anything. Just keep writing. And if you don't want to look at it, change the font to white."

     Communal support is an important part of the endeavor, with participants sharing daily word counts and inspirational exhortations on Twitter and Facebook. The forums on the project's official website offer a cascade of advice. One writer asked the crowd: "How old must a child be to survive in the Nordic forest?" Another solicited "favorite literary quotes that a guy might not mind having as a tattoo."

John Williams

The Printed Book Is Here To Stay

For a while there, after the 2008 crash, it seemed possible that publishing would follow the music and journalism businesses into meltdown. The best literary news of 2013 is that…books have not succumbed to the downward-spiraling revenue trend. Sales of book in all formats actually grew by almost $2 billion in the last five years, and e-books have turned out to complement printed books without replacing them.

Adam Kirsch

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Getting Your Novel Published

  Even if you've published short stories or a nonfiction book or two, you'll have to have a complete manuscript before you try to market your novel. Agents and editors generally insist on this, sometimes even for your second and third novel. This is because too many of them have signed contracts with new novelists, only to discover that the writer can't finish the work. In your query, remember to include an exact word count for your manuscript; a phrase like "approximately 125,000 words" will make an agent or editor think that you haven't finished the novel….

     When you get a request for more material, many agents and editors won't ask for the full manuscript. Instead, they'll ask for a synopsis and perhaps the first fifty pages or the first two or three chapters. Only when they've had a chance to review these will they ask to see the entire manuscript.

Meg Schneider and Barbar Doyen

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Most Erudite Cities

 For the third straight year, Alexandria, Virginia has topped Amazon.com's list of the best-read cities. The online retailer announced that Alexandria, where many government workers from nearby Washington reside, ranks Number 1 for sales of books, newspapers and magazines in cities of 100,000 or more. Miami was second, with residents there eager for books and magazines on self-help, health and mind, and body topics. Knoxville, Tennessee, was third; followed by Amazon's home city, Seattle; and Orlando, Florida. Rounding out the top 10 were many college towns: Ann Arbor, Michigan; Berkeley, California; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Cincinnati; and Columbia, South Carolina.

Associated Press

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Clubs

I love book clubs. I love reading for them, I love talking to them, and if I had my choice I'd probably do nothing but visit them to promote my books. Where else do you find people who have already made a commitment to read your book, and to read it closely enough to discuss it in a knowledgeable fashion with their friends? The best insights I've ever been offered about my work have come from book club members. In a world full of readings attended by the inevitable, random 5 to10 bookstore browsers and 20-year-old assistant night managers who consistently mangle the title of your book, book clubs are an oasis of intelligent thought and discussion.

Kevin Baker

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Ideal Children's Chapter Book

Most chapter books (ages 7-10) are 1,500 to 10,000 words long or forty to eighty pages. These books, divided into eight to ten short chapters, are written for kids who can read and who can handle reasonably complicated plots and simple subplots. Written with a lot of dialogue, the vocabulary in chapter books is challenging, and words can often be understood in the context of the sentence. Most chapters are self-contained with a beginning, middle and end. But some chapters move the plot forward by means of cliffhanger endings.

Nancy Lamb

The Newspaper Copy Editor

 When a copy editor gets to work on an article for The New York Times, it doesn't matter what section its for, the guiding principal is the same one that doctors embrace when they take the Hipocratic Oath: First do no harm.

     If I were an editor looking at the opening sentence of this piece,…I'd start with the glaring factual mistake: "First do no harm" is nowhere to be found in the oath. The ancient Greek physician may have written those words, or something like them, but he did not put them in the oath, despite what is commonly believed.

     And while we're at it, that "its" should be "it's." That "principal" should be "principle." And it should be "Hippocratic," with two "Ps." And isn't the whole thing a little long? And maybe a cliche? And--sorry to be a stickler--but isn't the reference to "ancient Greek physician" in the second paragraph an example of what The New York Times stylebook frowns on as indirection ("sidling into facts as if the reader already knew them")?…

     Fortunately, most of the stories that have come across my desk in my 15 years at The Times are in a lot better shape than that.

     Copy editors are basically one of the last lines of defense before articles are posted on the web or put in the paper. We try to make sure that a story is factually accurate, balanced, and grammatical. We're also responsible for making sure it complies with The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. And we write headlines and captions….

Eric Nagourney

Monday, August 17, 2015

Teaching Dead Male Writers

I don't love women writers enough to teach them. If you want women writers go down the hall [to another class]. What I teach is guys. [Elmore Leonard, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Leo Tolstoy, Henry Miller, and Philip Roth.]

 David Gilmour, novelist and professor at the University of Toronto

A Phony Memoir

 Jason Biggs' wife, Jenny Mollen, recently pubished her memoir, I Like You Just The Way I Am: Stories About Me and Some Other People in which she recounts a story about buying a hooker for Jason to have sex with while she watched. [One of these people is a celebrity. If you want to know which one, you will have to google them. I couldn't muster the interest.] Mollen appeared on "The View" on June 17, 2014 to promote her book. However, she shied away from the hooker story. Guest host Candace Cameron Bure [no idea] said she wasn't a fan [of hiring prostitutes for one's husband].

     "How is hiring a hooker for your husband's birthday, how is having threesomes…celebrated? I have a sense of humor, but I have a hard time finding humor in that." Bure said she felt Mollen wasn't being genuine. [Wow, a celebrity memoir that is full of crap. What a surprise!]...

     "This is not a habitual thing on our part," Jason Biggs said. "We don't have a group of prostitutes who come in and out of our house on a regular basis….My wife found the whole thing to be quite hysterical even while it was happening. She was actually on the bed, watching, eating a bag of potato chips, laughing. So you can imagine, I wasn't really performing to the best of my abilities. Also, said prostitute wasn't engaging with my wife the way I hoped she would so it all kind of fell apart, and the rest is in the book." [As far as I'm concerned it can stay in the book.]

Seth Richardson

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Modern Nonfiction Bestseller

 The most popular nonfiction authors of our day might be characterized by a certain overconfident swagger, the modern prerequisite for mattering in a mixed-up, insecure world. More often than not, these "authors"aren't authors at all, in the strict sense of carefully pondering their ideas and diction and lovingly crafting an argument sturdy yet supple enough to carry their work over to a mass readership. In place of the William Whytes, Vance Packards, and Betty Friedans of earlier, more confident chapters of our national bestsellerdom, we have promoted a generation of alternately jumpy and anxious shouters. Generally these public figures fall into one of two categories: television personalities who have hired hands to cobble together their sound bites; and middling non-writers suffering from extended delusions of grandeur. When it comes to hardcover nonfiction, a realm in which books are physical objects, plunked down on coffee tables as signifiers or comfort totems, Americans don't seem to be looking for authors or writers or artists so much as lifestyle brands in human form: placeholder thinkers whose outrage, sense of irony, or general dystopian worldview matches their own, whether it is Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, or Chelsa Handler.

      It's a glum corollary of such market forces that these very popular nonfiction books aren't books in the traditional sense of the word so much as aspirational impulse buys. They imbue their owners with a feeling of achievement and well-being upon purchase, a feeling that crucially does not require the purchaser to actually sit and read the book in question. Substantive, thoughtful books might pervade other lists (e-book, trade paperback, etc.), but when it comes to the top position on the hardcover nonfiction roster, accessory books by high-profile bloviators typically dominate from Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot to Ann Coulter's Godless to Edward Klein's The Amateur to Dinesh D'Souza's America. 

Heather Havrilesk

Friday, August 14, 2015

Story Endings For Middle-Grade Readers

  When writing for nine-to twelve-year-olds, the endings don't have to be happy. But they do have to be satisfying in some fundamental way. In younger books, stories deal primarily with situations and feelings the child might encounter. In middle-grade stories the endings grow out of the characters, their internal changes, and their ability to understand and cope with the world around them. As a consequence, the endings of these books are more complex.

     For instance, sometimes life doesn't turn out the way the hero wants it to. Yet she does get some of what she needs--an understanding of how the world works, perhaps, or a new-found ability to cope with a confusing and challenging event. She might have to accept adverse circumstances or even mourn a deep loss. But in all of these situations, the hero learns something. She changes, grows and begins to get a firmer grasp on the complexity of the world around her.

Nancy Lamb

The Children's Book Reviewer

In essence, a children's book reviewer reads and writes with two audiences in mind: (1) adults who read reviews to help them select books for children and (2) the children themselves. It is important to remember that most books for children are created with the best intentions in mind. No one sets out to produce a crummy book that kids will hate. If this is your initial assessment of a book you're reviewing, it would be unfair and unwise to let it stand as your final assessment without a great deal of further consideration.

Kathleen T. Horning

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Writing Books For Middle-Grade Children

Middle-grade fiction (ages 9-13) is perhaps the most satisfying category for a writer. Children are still children, but their curiosity if unbounded and the writer who can enthrall them will be cherished. Statistics have shown that this age is also known for having the most readers as a group. To satisfy these voracious and varied readers, think about writing thrillers, literary novels, fantasy and science fiction, gripping historical fiction, humor, and books about contemporary problems.

Olga Litowinsky

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Do We Need Any More Children's Books?

A child only reads 600 books in the course of his childhood, and all of those 600 have already been written. There are hundreds of contemporary books for children--many of them first class. There are also the classics. So what need is there for you to write another children's book? You should enter this literary field because you have a strong urge to tell the kind of story that you think children will enjoy. And preferably, because there is some particular story that is clamoring to be let out of your mind.

Joan Aiken 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Children Take What They Read Literally

While some young readers can think abstractly, most children understand fiction quite literally. This means you have to be careful about what you suggest to them. Perhaps you have a story idea about a little girl who is lonely. Suddenly, a magical man arrives and takes her away on a fantastic adventure. That may be a solid story idea, but your young reader might also take that story line literally, and the repercussions of that in today's world could be very dangerous.

Tracy E. Dils

The Effect of Political Correctness on Humor

Humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What's uproariously funny to one person may leave another cold. What's funny today may seem insensitive tomorrow. This is certainly true with Leo Rosten's 1937 book The Education of Hyman Kaplan, which describes the very funny struggles of a group of adult immigrants learning English. Many readers may find Rosten's book patronizing at best and offensive at worst. Issues of political correctness--the death knell for humor--arise, too

Nancy Pearl

The Romantic Plot in Memoirs by Women

All of us live with a life history in our mind, and very few of us subject it to critical analysis. But we are storytelling creatures. So it's very important to examine your own story and make sure that the plot is one you really want. When I give talks as a historian about the dominance of the romantic plot in women's telling of their life histories, I'm amused to see women investment bankers and corporate lawyers giving a wry smile, as if to say, "It's true--that's how I do see my life." As a young person it's important to scrutinize the plot you've internalized and find out whether it accurately represents what you want to be, because we tend to act out those life plots unless we think about them. I'm impatient with the postmodern effort to obfuscate the validity of narrative. We are time-bound creatures. We experience life along a time continuum; things happen sequentially in our lives, and we need to understand the causation. But we never really do understand it until we sit down and try to tell the story.

Jill Ker Conway

Monday, August 10, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut on the Male Novelists of His Time

Male novelists don't slug and insult each other the way they used to, since they aren't a bunch of drunks any more. They would be drinking less even if it weren't for the sudden humorlessness of the judiciary with respect to driving while under the influence. Not just male writers, but male artists of every sort, are no longer pressured to prove that they are real men, even though they have artistic sensibilities. As I've said elsewhere, my father was a gun nut like Ernest Hemingway, mainly to prove that he wasn't effeminate, even though he was an architect and a painter. He didn't get drunk and slug people. Shooting animals was enough. But male American artists don't even bother to shoot off guns anymore. This is good.

Kurt Vonnegut

    

William Gibson on Science Fiction

It seemed to me that midcentury mainstream American science fiction had often been triumphalist and militaristic, a sort of folk propaganda for American exceptionalism. I was tired of America-is-the-future, the world as a white monoculture, the protagonist as a good guy from the middle class or above. I wanted more elbow room. I wanted to make room for antiheroes.

William Gibson

Reviewing a Friend's Novel

It is extremely painful to write just what you think about your contemporaries' work, when you are meeting them every day at the club, or at some party. Where personal relations are involved, it is almost impossible to be impartial, because being disagreeably "fair" about the work of a friend does give one a feeling of betrayal. Sooner or later one decides never to review the works of one's friends.

Stephen Spender

Children's Book Illustrators' Blogs

For aspiring children's picture book illustrators, a blog is the best free tool you have to break into children's book publishing today. With proper blogging, you can demonstrate that you have the skills, knowledge, and a desire to illustrate picture books. Blogs are unique in that they allow art directors, editors, and agents the opportunity to see your work. The art you post lets visitors see what and how you illustrate--but it is the writing that gives insight on your thought process, your personality, and ultimately a peek into the kinds of projects you would like to work on in the future.

Teresa Kietlinski 

The Classic Short Story

There is something about the pace of the short story that catches the tempo of this country. If it is written with sincerity and skill it portrays a mood, a character, a background, or a situation. Sometimes it is not only typically American, it is universal in its feeling; sometimes its inherent truth is not a thing of the month, but of the years. When this is true, that short story is genuinely a classic as any novel or play.

Edna Ferber

Nora Roberts on Literary Humor

Any good story will have some humor somewhere, whether it's in the situation, the dialogue, the action. But if I want laugh-out-loud funny, I'm going to grab anything by Carl Hiaasen, and I know I'm going to get a good story with memorably quirky characters along with the laughs.

Nora Roberts

When Literary Novelists Try to Crank Out Genre Fiction

I'm reminded of a few serious novelists I know who have consciously set out to write best-sellers, often under pseudonyms. They've become veritable students of commercial fiction, reading everything by Danielle Steele or Tom Clancy, but when they actually write such a book themselves, it almost never works. The novel is rejected by publishers who say that the manuscript is lacking something basic, although they can't put their finger on what it is. I think what these novels are lacking is conviction. The difference between a writer of literary fiction attempting one of those books and Danielle Steele doing so is that Danielle Steele actually believes in her stories and her characters.

Meg Wolitzer

The Vampire in Romance Fiction

There is a place in romance, in my own fantasies, for the laconic cowboy, for the over-civilized power broker, for the gentle prince and the burned-out spy. They all have their appeal, their merits, their stories to tell. But the vampire myth strikes deep in my soul. Deep in my heart I want more than just a man. I want a fallen angel, someone who would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven, a creature of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate. A creature of life and death. The threat that kind of hero offers is essential to his appeal.

Anne Stuart Krentz 

The Novelist's Fear of Failure

American novelists, more than others, are haunted by the fear of failure, because it's such a common pattern in America. The ghost of Fitzgerald, dying in Hollywood, with his comeback book unfinished, and his best book, Tender Is The Night, scorned. His ghost hangs over every American novelist's typewriter.

Irwin Shaw

A Good Editor Can't Save a Bad Novel

Maxwell Perkins, dead these many years after he by Herculean effort transformed Thomas Wolfe's undisciplined outpourings into actual novels, did a disservice to novelists today who believe in the notion that all they need to do is get something on paper and some editor somewhere, most likely wearing a green eyeshade, will toil upon the novel until it is fit to print. They are mistaken,

George V. Higgins

The First Novel Letdown

I believed, before I sold my first novel, that the publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem. This did not happen for me. As a result, I try to warn writers who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

Anne Lamott

Tom Clancy on Writing a Novel

Writing a novel is an endurance contest and a war fought against yourself, because writing is beastly hard work which one would just as soon not do. It's also a job, however, and if you want to get paid, you have to work. Life is cruel that way.

Tom Clancy

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Narrative Journalism Versus Traditional Reportage

Creative nonfiction differs from fiction because it is necessarily and scrupulously accurate….Creative nonfiction differs from traditional reportage because balance is unnecessary and subjectivity is not only permitted but encouraged.

Lee Gutkind

The Birth of Narrative Journalism

The dominance of the realistic novel in the nineteenth century created a bridge between literature and journalism, and the era's narrative masters routinely crossed it. Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Stephen Crane all wrote for newspapers…

     Richard Harding Davis, a newspaper journalist largely forgotten in the twentieth century but celebrated in the nineteenth, was the son of an accomplished short-story writer. Polished, mass-market narrative technique powered not only his fiction, but also the wartime dispatches that made him famous. World War I, his last great campaign, gave him the material for his most frequently quoted narrative lede: "The entrance of the German army into Brussels has lost the human quality." 

Jack Hart 

The Conceit of the Biographer

Biography is a vain and foolhardy undertaking: Its essential conceit, that the unimaginable distance between two human beings can be crossed, is unsupportable; each of us is inherently unknowable. The biographer may be able to locate his subject in place and time--to describe the clothes he wore, the food he ate, the jobs he held, the opinions he expressed--but the subject's inner essence, by its very nature, is forever inaccessible.

Jonathan Yardley

The Thrill of Being Published is Fleeting

Examining the first copy of your novel is a mixed experience. On the one hand, proof now rests in your hand that you indeed wrote a book. This exciting thought lasts for about six seconds then the mind turns elsewhere: couldn't my publisher have found a better typeface for the jacket? Next time, I'm going to hire a professional photographer to take a good author picture. I wonder how long it will take before my novel shows up on remainder tables. I wonder if it's going to get panned. I wonder if anyone will read it at all.

Ralph Keyes

The Bad-Boy Romance Hero

I think there are several dynamics that attract us to bad boy heroes who are mad, bad, and dangerous to know--at least in novels and movies. They're hot, hunky, and irreverent. I think a lot of us have the fantasy of meeting a bad boy with snake-charmer eyes, a wicked smile, and a smooth tongue. We are caught up in the overwhelming desire for such a man and we just can't fight it.

Rachael Gibson

Novels Are Harder to Write Than Short Stories

Short-story writing, as I saw it, was estimable. One required skill and cleverness to carry it off. But to have written a novel was to have achieved something of substance. You could swing a short story on a cute idea backed up by a modicum of verbal agility. You could, when the creative juices were flowing, knock it off start-to-finish on a slow afternoon.

     A novel, on the other hand, took real work. You had to spend months on the thing, fighting it out in the trenches, line by line and page by page and chapter by chapter. It had to have plot and characters of sufficient depth and complexity to support a structure of sixty or a hundred thousand words. It wasn't an anecdote, or a finger exercise, or a trip to the moon on gossamer wings. It was a book. 

     The short-story writer, as I saw it, was a sprinter; he deserved praise to the extent that his stories were meritorious. But the novelist was a long-distant runner, and you don't have to come in first in a marathon in order to deserve the plaudits of the crowd. It is enough merely to have finished on one's feet.

Lawrence Block

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Psychological Crime Novel

Although it's widely acknowledged that the human capacity for self-delusion is boundless, it can often be difficult to get through psychological crime novels of the "How well do you know your husband/wife/best friend?" variety without becoming so irritated by the protagonist's willful obtuseness that you end up wanted to give him, or more usually her, a good shake.

Laura Wilson

The Biographer's Relationship With His Subject

The most important thing that you as a biographer can do is to write from the heart. Write only about someone you have deep feelings for. If you care deeply about your subject, either positively or negatively, so will your readers. If you take on a biography about someone you couldn't care less about, possibly for the money, or because you have received a good publishing contract, the readers won't care about your subject either, and probably won't finish reading your book.

Brian Klems

Charles Bukowski on Raymond Carver

I met Raymond Carver one time, long ago. We drank all night. In the morning we went out for breakfast and he couldn't eat. I ate his breakfast and mine. I remember him telling me, "I'm going to be famous now. A friend of mine has just been appointed editor of Esquire and he's going to publish everything I send him." I never got much out of Carver and still can't quite see what the fuss is all about. You asked, so I told you.

Charles Bukowski 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Writing is Thinking

Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Reasons Not To Write

There are dozens of reasons not to write: We are too old or too young. We don't have enough education, experience or talent. We have no ideas. Our spelling is atrocious. If only we didn't have jobs, if we didn't have children, if we weren't so tired, if we lived on the beach or in the mountains. It will do no good to decide we're going to write if we don't first ask ourselves why we haven't been doing it all along.

Rebecca McClanahan