Friday, July 31, 2015

The Second Novel

There might be some truth in the fact that writers whose first novels are autobiographical find it more difficult than other writers to write a second novel, but writers of any stripe have a difficult time following up a first novel. I've heard that as many as half of all first novelists never write a second.

Robin Hemley

Inserting Humor Into Your Nonfiction

Sociologists, linguists and biologists say that our ability to laugh and desire to do so isn't all fun and games, but actually serves two essential life functions: to bond with members of our "tribe," and to lesson tension and anxiety. Both of these are also excellent reasons to incorporate humor into your nonfiction. As a communications tool, effective use of humor an humanize you, cementing your bond with readers. It can also help your work stand out in a crowded market. And as advertising studies have shown, humor enhances how much we like what we're reading and how well we remember it afterward.

Anne Jasheway

Raymond Chandler On the Hard-Boiled Detective Novel Protagonist

"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean," Raymond Chandler wrote in his article "The Simple Art of Murder" which could be called the manifesto of the American hard-boiled detective novel. This man, the detective, "is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of and certainly not saying it."

     It's a worthy aesthetic, and Chandler was certainly the master of it, even back in 1944, when he wrote "The Simple Art of Murder." The essay was a repudiation of the English school of murder mystery--best represented by Agatha Christie--or, more specifically, the countless American knockoffs thereof, genteel, stilted puzzles set in "Miami hotels and Cape Cod summer colonies," rather than manor houses. Chandler held up Dashiell Hammett as the exemplar of what he referred to as the new "realist" school of crime fiction, yet Chandler was Hammett's equal, if not his superior in the style that would also become know as noir.

Laura Miller

When a Successful Novelist Calls it Quits

For public figures who walk away from the source of their fame, the question of what comes next may be treated lightly. A retired athlete can become a sportscaster or investor; the TV actor whose hit show comes to an end can mull over movie scripts. But when a successful novelist retires, it feels somehow different: writing novels is less a job one can leave than proof that one sees the world in a certain way. There's something that seems illogical about a writer declaring that he or she is done. Where, then, do all of the observations channeled into metaphor go?

Daniel D'Addario

Journalism and the Cult of Political 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 a single element of her article that 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

Learning to Write Through Nonfiction

A beginning writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable. For most people learning to write, that path is nonfiction. It enables them to write about what they know or can observe or can find out.

William Zinsser

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Future of Investigative Journalism

Investigative reporting in America did not begin with Watergate. But it became entrenched in American journalism--and has been spreading around the world--largely because of Watergate.

     Now, 40 years after Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote their first stories about the break-in at the Democratic Committee headquarters in Washington's Watergate office building, the future of investigative reporting is at risk in the chaotic digital reconstruction of journalism in the United States. Resource-intensive investigative reporting has become a burden for shrunken newspapers struggling to reinvent themselves and survive. Nonprofit start-ups seeking to fill the gap are financially fragile themselves, with their sustainability uncertain.

Leonard Downie Jr.

Good Science Fiction is Hard to Write

As a writer of science fiction and fantasy, and on behalf of all the variations and sub-genres such as urban fantasy, alternate history and steampunk which collectively make up "speculative fiction," I'd argue that genre fiction is different from literary fiction.

     Whether it's dealing with ray guns and rocket ships, swords, sorcery or fur and fangbangers, speculative fiction's unifying identifying characteristics is that it doesn't attempt to mimic real life in the way that literary fiction does. It stands apart from the world we know. It takes us away to an entirely secondary realm, be that Middle Earth of Westeros, or to an alternate present where vampires and werewolves really do exist and you ring 666 to report a supernatural crime…

   Speculative fiction can be considerably harder to write than literary fiction…When readers are paying close attention to every hint and clue, the writer needs to have internal logic, consistency of character and scene-setting absolutely nailed down. Readers have to be convinced that this familiar world is solidly real if they're ever going to suspend belief and accept the unreal, whether that's magic and dragons or faster-than-light travel.

Juliet McKenna

Keeping a Personal and Writer's Journal

If you have not been keeping a journal or diary, it is time to start one--or a couple of them. There is a personal journal where you write your innermost feelings about life, often in a spirited, free-writing, spontaneous fashion. Then there is a writer's journal, where you record your thoughts and ideas about your writing work. In a writer's journal you conduct an ongoing, spontaneous dialogue with yourself about writing, developing the subjects and ideas you intend to or are actually writing about. It is where the masterpiece begins.

Lee Gutkind

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Writing Groups

People want to know what I think about writing critique groups. I belonged to one briefly, but I didn't use it much. I prefer now to use the services of a cold reader when the book is done. But if you're going to belong to a group, check it out carefully before you commit yourself to joining. If there is someone there with an ax to grind, don't become a member. If the group isn't solution-oriented, just saying things like, "I have a problem with X" (your character, your plot, your scene or whatever) without proposing a solution to the problem or a way to approach developing a solution, just pass them by. If you don't feel good about the group dynamic, trust yourself and don't join up.

Elizabeth George 

Clarity in Nonfiction Writing

Any person who can speak English grammatically can learn to write nonfiction. Nonfiction writing is not difficult, though it is a technical skill. What you need for nonfiction writing is what you need for life in general: an orderly method of thinking. Writing is literally only the skill of putting down on paper a clear thought, in clear terms. Everything else, such as drama and "jazziness," is merely the trimmings. I once said that the three most important elements of fiction are plot, plot, and plot. The equivalent in nonfiction is: clarity, clarity, and clarity.

Ayn Rand

Getting a Nonfiction Book Published

A beginning writer has more going for him if he decides to write a nonfiction book…A beginner has just as good a chance to find a salable idea as a professional writer.

Doris Ricker Marston

On Being a Professional Writer

I have to drink and gamble to get away from this typewriter. Not that I don't love this old machine when it's working right. But knowing when to go to it and knowing to stay away from it, that's the trick. I really don't want to be a professional writer, I wanna write what I wanna write. Else, it's all been wasted…So did Hemingway, until he started talking about "discipline"; Pound also talked about doing one's "work." But I've been luckier that both of them because I've worked the factories and the slaughterhouses and I know that work and discipline are dirty words. I know that they meant, but for me it has to be a different game.

Charles Bukowski 

Are Unpublished Novelists Real Writers?

If you do not seek to publish what you have written, then you are not a novelist and never will be.

George V. Higgins.