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

Monday, August 10, 2015

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 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

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 

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

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

Short Stories Should Not Be Confusing

Deliberately puzzling or confusing a short story reader may keep him reading for a while, but at too great an expense. Even just an "aura" of mystery in a short story is usually just a lot of baloney. Who are these people? What are they up to? Provoking such questions from a reader can be a writer's way of deferring exposition until he feels the reader is ready for the explanation of it all. But more likely it's just fogging things up. A lot of beginning writers' fiction is like of beginners' poetry: deliberately unintelligible as to make the shallow seem deep.

Rust Hills

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Who Is Worthy of a Biography?

The short story writer, playwright, and novelist deal with private life. They deal with ordinary people and elevate these people into our consciousness. The nonfiction writer has traditionally dealt with people in public life, names that are known to us. [This is not always the case. For example, four of my nonfiction books are about ordinary, nonpublic people.]

Gay Talese who

The World's Most Stupid Book

Think of what a difficulty it would be if you couldn't use the most common letter in your writing. In 1937, Ernest Vincent Wright took the challenge head on and wrote a book called Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter "E." Wright literally tied down the e  key on his typewriter and spent 165 days writing without e's (the e-filled subtitle was added later by the publisher.) Not that Wright lived a life of ease from his e-less accomplishment. He died the day Gadsby was published. [The plot of this self-published book revolves around the dying fictional city of Hills that is revitalized thanks to the protagonist, John Gadsby and a youth group he organizes. The book, sought after by book collectors, entered the public domain in 1968.]

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo

The Value of Literary Storytelling

I think I function in the direct tradition of the early American novel, as a storyteller rather than a philosopher or a teacher; so I resent the school of criticism that rejects storytelling as superficial and looks on the novel as basically as examination of the interior life. The critics don't choose to examine how well you tell a story, and that's what I'm interested in.

Howard Fast 

Literary Style Over Substance

 I'm put off when I suspect that a writer is too aware of his own style or is more concerned with style than content and communication. It's a lot like a speaker who takes on a pompous speaker's voice when he's talking publicly. I consider this pretentious and phony. I prefer authors who don't recognize their own voices or, if they do, are clever enough to make their writing style appear naturally interesting and unique…

     There is a particularly dreadful style of writing, prose intended to sound lofty and important, found in a lot of promotional literature put out by colleges and universities. The thoughts and messages conveyed in this form are usually quite simple. An example of this style can be found in many college mission statements. In straightforward prose, one might write: "The goal of college is the education of its students." Because this is so obvious, to write it simply and directly makes it sound vacuous. But when the mission statement is puffed up with carefully selected words and high-minded phrases, the simplicity of the message is replaced by syntax intended to make it sound profound. This style of writing is pompous and false, and represents writing at its worst.

Jim Fisher

Getting Published in Children's Magazines

 Children's magazines are a great place for unpublished Children's writers and illustrators to break into the market. Writers, illustrators and photographers alike my find it easier to get book assignments if they have tearsheets from magazines. Having magazine work under your belt shows you're professional and have experience working with editors and art directors and meeting deadlines.

     But magazines aren't merely a breaking-in-point. Writing, illustration and photo assignments for magazines let you see your work in print quickly, and the magazine market can offer steady work and regular paychecks. Book authors and illustrators may have to wait a year or two before receiving royalties from a project. The magazine market is also a good place to use research material that didn't make it into a book project you're working on. You may even work on a magazine idea that blossoms into a book project.

Chuck Sambuchino 

Anthony Burgess on Writer's Block

I can't understand the American literary block--as in Ralph Ellison or J.D. Salinger--unless it means that the blocked man isn't forced economically to write (as the English writer, lacking campuses and grants, usually is) and hence can afford the luxury of fearing the critics' pounce on a new work not as good as the last (or the first).

Anthony Burgess

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Literary Fame

When I was young I longed to write a great novel that would win me fame. My first book, Mother Goose in Prose (1914) was written to amuse children. For, aside from my evident inability to do anything "great," I have learned to regard fame as the will-o-the-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession. But to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings it own reward.

L. Frank Baum 

The Insecure Novelist

I write a scene and I read it over and think it stinks. Three days later--having done nothing in between but stew--I reread it and think it is great. So there you are. You can't bank on me. I may be all washed up.

Raymond Chandler 

Autobiographies of Famous People

For though fame is a help in selling books, it is of small use in writing them. [That's why they have ghost writers.] And though a reader may be pleased to eavesdrop on the reminiscences of famous people, he will rarely come away from such volumes with more than a nodding acquaintance. The reason for this is that famous people are usually too sensitive of their image to write anything of themselves that may jeopardize it, such as they are bored, frightened, bewildered or hollow as the drums that acclaimed them. Famous people, when they take to autobiography, are chiefly full of tidings about their pedestals and how they got on them, and how modestly they occupy them, and how many other people on pedestals they know.

Ben Hecht, A Child of the Century, 1985 

Talent Is Not Enough

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow that talent to the dark place where it leads.

Erica Jong

You Want to Write a Novel?

In case no one's noticed, a novel is long. The prospect of writing four hundred pages about something yet undiscovered is daunting at best. The first page is as far as many writers get, frozen as they are into a solid block of ice.

Sheldon Russell 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Whodunit Mystery Novel

The tradition of the mystery or crime novel is an old and honored one, but it's quality has been debased. And possibly nothing has done more harm to the nature of mystery fiction than the notion that it should concern itself more with "whodunit" than why the deed was done. Chief among those responsible for this decline is Agatha Christie.

Thomas H. Cook

Novels for Young Adults

Novels for children and young adults are soothing and reaffirm the young reader's sense of worthiness. The child, who may have few friends, gathers around himself or herself an array of characters who are entertaining and forgiving and enlightening.

Jane Smiley

What Does a First Novel Say About the Writer's Future Work?

 First novels are unpredictable. For one author it's the best thing he will do in his career, something into which he empties so much of his heart and talent and experience that he's left with too little fuel to light much of a fire under future work.

     For another the first novel sets the course for an entire career: He's found the key in which his voice is most comfortable and he sticks to it.

     For some writers that first novel gives no hint as to what is to come. Every new work is a departure from the last.

F. Paul Wilson 

Stephen King on Literary Agents

Stephen King's First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don't need an agent until you're making enough money for someone to steal, and if you're making that much, you'll be able to take your pick of good agents.

Stephen King

Writing Ideas

Ask a profession writer about ideas…In all likelihood, he'll ask, "Which idea?" because he's got a million of them, and his biggest problem is choosing one.

Richard Curtis 

The Creative Person

Creativity is as natural to human beings as having blood and bone.

Julia Cameron

Unreadable Novels

The joy of being a [literary] writer today is that you can claim your work's flaws are all there by design. Plot doesn't add up? It was never meant to; you were playfully reworking the conventions of traditional narrative. Your philosophizing makes no sense? Well, we live in an incoherent age after all. The dialogue is implausible? Comedy often is. But half the jokes fall flat?  Ah! Those were the serious bits. Make sure then, that your readers can never put a finger on what you are trying to say at any point in the book. Let them create their own text--you're just the one who gets paid for it.

B. R. Myers

Literary Prizes

Goodreads.com lists over 6,000 [literary] prizes on its web site. The oldest, the Nobel Prize in Literature, was founded in 1901; the youngest was established yesterday. Ten more will certainly be announced tomorrow.

Amanda Foreman

Book Signings

My favorite book signing story is about Stephen King, who one time signed books in Seattle until his fingers cracked and started to bleed. The publicist who watched this says how she had to hold an ice pack to King's shoulder the whole time, and the moment he asked for a bandage, a fan in line shouted for some of King's blood on his books. The bandage never arrived, and after hours of bleeding, King left the event pale and flanked by bodyguards.

Chuck Palahniuk

The Death of the Short Story Genre

  If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

     If it persists, you probably ought to write a novel. Interestingly, most embryonic fiction writers accept the notion they ought to write a novel sooner or later. It's not terribly difficult to see that the world of short fiction is a world of limited opportunity. Both commercially and artistically, the short-story writer is quite strictly circumscribed.

     This has not always been the case. Half a century ago, the magazine story was important in a way it has never been since. During the twenties, a prominent writer typically earned several thousand dollars for the sale of a short story to a top slick [non-pulp] magazine. These stories were apt to be talked about at parties and social gatherings, and the reputation a writer might establish in this fashion helped gain attention for any novel he might ultimately publish.

     The change since those days has been remarkable. In virtually all areas, the short fiction market has shrunk in size and significance. Fewer magazines publish fiction, and every year they publish less of it. The handful of top markets pay less in today's dollars than they did in the much harder currency of fifty or sixty years ago. Pulp magazines have virtually disappeared as a market.

Lawrence Block

Monday, August 3, 2015

Do You Dream of Being a Novelist?

  You know the last thing in the world people want to hear from you, the very last thing they're interested in? The fact that you always wanted to write, that you cherish dreams of being a writer, that you wrote something and got rejected once, that you believe you have it in you--if only people around you would give you a chance--to write a very credible, if not great, American novel. They also don't want to hear that if you did start to write, there would be some things you just couldn't write about.

     Your parents don't want to hear it: They want you to grow up to be a descent person, find a way to make a good living, and not disgrace the family. Your girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse will put up with this writer-talk for weeks, months, or even years, but none of them will love you for it….Your kids, believe me, are not going to like the idea of your writing….

     So don't tell them. Don't tell them anything about it. Especially when you're thinking about beginning. Keep it to yourself. Be discreet. Be secretive. There's time enough--all the time in the world--to let them in on the secret, to let them know who and what you really are.

Carolyn See

Working Humor Into Your Writing

Humor can either be a genre in its own right, or an important ingredient in many other genres. Shakespeare wrote comedies, tragedies, and romances. Even in the most tragic of his tales, he knew the importance of inserting a humorous scene every so often to bring the audience some comic relief from all the death, deceit, and unrequited love in the rest of the play. While joke writing is a subsection of the genre, and a potentially lucrative one, it would be a mistake to confuse the ability to tell a joke with the ability to write humor.

Gordon Kirkland 

The Tell-All Novel

Many people have written thinly veiled tell-all books disguised as fiction. They're called romans a`clef. In the late 1970s, Truman Capote was working on one about Hollywood called Answered Prayers, and an excerpt was published in Esquire. Half of his friends disowned him because he'd told a lot of secrets about their lives. He uncovered a lot of dirt. His defense was pretty valid: His former friends told him these stories freely at parties, in the presence of others, knowing all along he was a writer. "What did they think I was?" he asked with a mixture of hurt and acidity, "the court jester?"

Robin Hemley

Dale Peck on Literary Fiction

As one reads contemporary novelists, one can't shake the feeling that they write for one another rather than for some more or less common reader. Their prose shares a showiness that speaks of solidarity and competition--the exaggerated panache with which teenaged boys shoot hoops in their driveways while pretending they don't notice their neighbor watching from across the street.

Dale Peck

The Writer in Hollywood

I knew her name--Madam Hollywood. I rose and said good-by to this strumpet in her bespangled red gown; good-by to her lavender-painted cheeks, her coarsened laugh, her straw-dyed hair, her wrinkled fingers bulging with gems. A wench with flaccid tits and sandpaper skin under her silks, shined up and whistling like a whore in a park; covered with stink like a railroad station pissery and swinging a dead ass in the moonlight.

Ben Hecht

On Being a Novelist

Novelists when they're writing live in a spooky, clamorous silence, a state somewhat like the advanced stages of prayer but without prayer's calming benefits. A writer turns his back on the day and the night and its large and little beauties, and tries to fashion other days and nights with words. It's absurd. Oh, it's silly, dangerous work indeed.

Joy Williams 

The First Big Scene in a Romance Novel

  One of the most critically important moments in the first section of your Romance novel is the first meeting of the hero and heroine. This moment may be the first time the two of them lay eyes on each other. Or it may be their first meeting after a long separation, if they've had a previous relationship. Or they may see each other regularly, but this is the first meeting that is significant to the plot and conflict--the first encounter connected with the event that is going to change their lives.

     This first meeting sets the stage for the interaction of the rest of the book. If the readers don't see it happening, they will feel cheated and left out, and won't likely be involved enough with the characters to want to continue reading.

     Yet many beginning writers tell about the first meeting, rather than show it as it happens. Or they include just a couple of lines of dialogue between hero and heroine, then jump to a scene hours later where the heroine is telling her best friend in five pages of dialogue how gorgeous the hero is. Or they have the hero think about how he reacted to the heroine.

Leigh Michaels

Conflict in the Romance Novel

In a romance novel, falling in love creates problems for both hero and heroine, but ultimately love's power provides the solution. During the romantic journey, characters must experience both internal and external conflict as they struggle to achieve their goals.

Vanessa Grant 

The Children's Horror Story

Exposing your children to horror-nuanced children's literature at an early age is a positive thing. And here's why: 1. It gets children interested--exhilarated--about reading. I remember that as a kid, I was fascinated by any book that dealt with monsters or ghosts or anything weird. It was thrilling to open up and experience some of these books. There was a sense that I was pushing the boundaries, exploring new territory, doing something that bordered on naughty. It was a little scary and a lot of fun. 2. By exploring the dark side of humanity and the nature of fear, kids learn more about themselves and hopefully become more empowered because of it. 3. There are life lessons to be learned. Don't take that shortcut through the cemetery. Staying out late and not telling your parents where you are can be dangerous. Walking into a forest late at night looking for a wayward pet is a bad idea. Don't take candy from strangers. 4. These children's horror stories create a broader knowledge of literature and history.

Paul Allen

Categories Within the Fantasy Genre

To name a few sub-fantasy genres: There's Epic Fantasy involving thick books and very long series; High Fantasy, usually very traditional and Tolkienesque; Dark Fantasy that mixes in horror or grim themes; Grimdark Fantasy employing a dystopian element in the world or plot; Steampunk, a mix of fantasy and old Victorian clockwork and steam elements; Arcanepunk, a blend of science fiction and fantasy; Historical Fantasy incorporating magic into historical fiction often mixed with the sword and sorcery sub-genre; and Urban Fantasy which blends the ideas of magic and myth with modern day worlds.

Joanna Penn

Charles Bukowski on Style

     I've always been a sucker for the simple, bare line because I've always had this feeling that Literature, that of now and the centuries, was largely a put-on, you know, like pro wrestling matches. Even those who have lasted the centuries (with few exceptions) gave me the odd feeling that they were screwing me over. Basically, I feel that with the bare line it could be harder to get the lie across; besides it reads easier, and what's easy is good and what's hard to read is a pain in the ass.

     So John Fante gave me the bare line with feeling; Hemingway the line that did not beg; Thurber the line that laughed at what the mind did and couldn't help doing; Saroyan the line that loved itself; Celine the line that cut the page like a knife; Sherwood Anderson the line that said beyond the line. I think I have borrowed from all of these writers and I am not ashamed to admit it. I only hope that I have added, what? If I knew what I were doing I could no longer do it.

Charles Bukowski

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Biased Biographer

I think the most biased biography I know of, almost viciously biased against the subject, was Lawrence Thompson's biography of Robert Frost. But Frost did not do the convenient things. Thompson took on the job of being Frost's biographer something like forty years before Frost died, and he was not allowed to publish the book until Frost was gone. That was their agreement. If Frost had died at sixty or seventy, instead of ninety, that would have been much nicer for Thompson. So there's that side of it. And Frost had some pretty unpleasant characteristics, along with tremendous charm. Thompson simply got turned off by him. There was a relationship with a woman that involved them both--they were rivals--there's nothing about that in the biography, of course. Thompson ends by attributing the worst possible motives to anything Frost did. The book is painful to read.

Scott Donaldson

Why Fantasy Stories Are So Appealing

From the earliest myths and legends, through different cultures, fantasy has been with us. Think of the Arabian Nights stories, the Arthurian Romances, Spenser's The Fairie Queen, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lord Byron's Manfred, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, and George MacDonald.

     Whether these stories are set in our world or a secondary world where magical creatures and/or people exist, they all share a common theme: the exploration of the human condition. Even the much maligned medieval/quest fantasies offer their readers the chance to vicariously explore a wondrous world, battle evil and restore justice. Even a lowly Hobbit can change the course of the world by destroying the Ring.

     That is the appeal of the tolkienesque fantasy. In our modern world where politicians prove corrupt, large corporations rip off customers and terrorists kill ordinary people going about their daily lives, the traditional quest fantasy provides an antidote to cynicism. Fantasy, deriving from the word fantastic, exercises our sense of wonder.

Rowena Cory Daniells

Science Fiction Writers, Lighten Up

"It's so easy to make money with science fiction stories that say civilization is garbage, our institutions will never be helpful, and your neighbors are all useless sheep who could never be counted on in a crisis," says David Brin, a science fiction writer who thinks we've gotten too fond of speculative technological bummers. Movies like "Blade Runner," "The Matrix," "Children of Men," and more recently "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent," all express some version of this dark world view.

     Neal Stephenson, the author of Cryponomicon, usually writes exactly those kinds of dystopian stories. In his fiction, he tends to explore the dark side of technology. But a couple of years ago he got a public wake up call.

     On stage at a writer's conference, Stephenson was complaining that there were no big scientific projects to inspire people these days. But Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, shot back, "You're the one slacking off." By "you", Crow meant science fiction writers.

Adam Wernick 

Romance Novel Protagonists

To be real, your romance novel characters have to be imperfect. They must have problems or no one will be interested in reading about them. But while heroes and heroines have almost certainly created some of their own problems, they can't have done so out of stupidity or shortsightedness, or readers will have trouble empathizing. There is usually a good motive--sometimes a noble one--for the actions that lead them into trouble. If for example, the heroine's credit cards are maxed, it's probably not because she has a closet full of clothes and shoes. She might, on the other hand, have been buying clothes and shoes for the occupants of a homeless shelter. If the hero's about to declare bankruptcy, it's not because he's been buying yachts and diamonds--but he might have been pouring money into a faltering business so his employees could continue to draw a paycheck. [Becoming poor to help the poor is stupid. Going broke and sticking creditors to keep people employed is not only stupid, it's unethical. In this example I don't like the hero or the heroine.]

Leigh Michaels

Can Novels Influence the Course of Events?

 The line between fiction and nonfiction is more blurry than many people like to admit. Sometimes, political writing that claims to be nonfiction is actually fiction. The political power of such fiction-as-nonfiction is undeniable…

     The power of fictions that admit to being fiction, such as novels, may seem to pale in comparison. There are exceptions, of course: In popular lure, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin is said to have led to slavery's abolition.

    Novels aren't directly credited with starting wars, yet fiction still instigates change. Fiction can say publicly what might otherwise appear unsayable, combating the coerced silence that is a favored weapon of those who have power…

     Does fiction affect politics? Yes, inevitably. So is all fiction political? To my mind, yes again. Fiction writers who claim their writing is not political are simply writers who seek to dissociate themselves from the politics furthered by their writing. Making up stories is an inherently political act. Like voting is. And like choosing not to vote is, too.

Mohsin Hamid

The Relationship Between Science and Science Fiction

There is a co-dependency between science and science fiction. Many scientists and engineers acknowledge that science fiction helped to spark their imagination of what was possible in science…

     Sometimes science fiction authors just make things up, but untutored imaginings tend not to make the best science fiction. As JBS Haldane put it: "the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." We need scientific input to sustain a rich science fictional imagination…

     Some science fiction writers are (or were until retirement) full-time scientists and academic researchers in their own right. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, who coined the term "Big Bang", claimed to write his science fiction in order to publish ideas that would not fit into scientific journals. Back in the 1960s, Fred Pohl edited The Expert Dreamers and Groff Conklin edited Great Science Fiction by Scientists, with stories by George Gamow, JBS Haldane, Fred Hoyle, Julian Huxley, Norbet Weiner, and others. Some authors who were originally researchers have been successful enough to quit the day job in favor of fiction…

     Not all science fiction writers have science PhDs. Many of the Golden Age writers had little formal education. James White, for example wanted to be a medical doctor, but couldn't afford the training; that didn't stop him writing the marvelous alien doctors in space series called Sector General. Many science fiction writers have arts and humanities backgrounds, yet manage to write good hard science-based science fiction.

Susan Stepney

Is Investigative Journalism In Its Golden Age?

The news about news is often grim. Newspapers are shrinking, folding up, or being cut loose by their parent companies. Layoffs are up and staffs are down. That investigative reporter who covered the state capitol--she's not there anymore. Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune have suffered from multiple rounds of layoffs over the years…But despite a long run of journalistic tough times, the loss of advertising dollars, and the challenge of the Internet, there's been a blossoming of investigative journalism across the globe from Honduras to Myanmar, New Zealand to Indonesia.

     Woodward and Bernstein may be a fading memory in this country, but journalist with names largely unknown in the U.S…are breaking one blockbuster story after another, exposing corrupt government officials and their crony corporate pals in Azerbaijan, Angola, and Costa Rica…

     "We are in a golden age of investigative journalism," says Sheila Coronel. And she should know. Now the academic dean at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, Coronel was the director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, whose coverage of the real estate holdings of former President Joseph Estrada--including identical houses built for his mistresses--contributed to his removal from office in 2001.

     There are, to take another example, the halcyon days for watchdog journalism in Brazil. In October 2013, at an investigative journalism conference there organized by the Global Journalism Investigative Network, there were 1,350 attendees.

Anya Schiffrin