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 

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

Jacqueline Susann's "Vally of the Dolls"

[There was a time when editors like Maxwell Perkins of Scribner's and Sons played a hands-on role in getting a book ready for publication. Those days are long gone. In the 1960s, editor Don Preston had the almost impossible job of getting a glitzy, gossipy novel by an amateurish writer named Jacqueline Susann into publishable form. The manuscript, entitled Valley of the Dolls, became a national bestseller thanks in large part to Don Preston's editorial skills. This is Preston's evaluation of Susann's manuscript]:

     "...she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes that would not make the back pages of True Confessions, hauls out every terrible show biz cliche...lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly....I really don't think there is a page of this manuscript that can stand in present form. And after it is done, we will be left with a faster, slicker, more readable mediocrity." [Ouch.]

Don Preston 

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 Autobiography Versus The Memoir

 A memoir takes a certain amount of arrogance to write….One must think one's life is important or interesting enough to palm off on an unsuspecting public. At least fiction writers have the pretense that their work has more to do with their characters than with themselves. Still, I doubt you'd find much of a difference between a memoir writer and a fiction writer in the humility department.

     Or maybe memoir writers tend more toward exhibitionism, are more willing--eager, in fact--to slap their cards on the table and squawk, "Read 'em and weep." The fiction writer, cagier, plays his hand close to his vest, pretends he knows how to bluff.

     If you write your life down on the page, beginning with "I was born in…" and ending with, "As I pen these immortal words, I gasp my last breath," what you've probably got is a self-indulgent autobiography, not a memoir. A memoir usually deals with a portion of one's life--say, childhood--not the life in its entirety.



Robin Hemley

Novelists Criticizing Novelists

 Novelists are not remotely wary of criticizing one another's work in private; they do it all the time. Only when they're asked to commit their shoptalk to print do they grow reticent. A hardy few are prepared to engage tough-mindedly with the works of their peers….

     Most fiction writers end up deciding that discretion is the greater part of critical valor. Some recuse themselves from reviewing any contemporary fiction at all. Others review only those novels they can praise in good faith. Still others adopt a tactful, discursive reviewing style that allows them to write about books they don't rate without actually copping to an opinion.

     Before we rebuke these writers for their intellectual cowardice, we ought to acknowledge the genuine difficulty of the task they shirk. The literary world is tiny. The subgroup represented by novelists is even tinier. If you're an author who regularly reviews other authors, the chances of running into a person whose novel you have criticized are fairly high….It may not be the worst thing in the world to find yourself side by side at a cocktail party with the angry man whose work you described as mediocre in last Sunday's paper, but the threat of such encounter is not a great spur to critical honesty. [If you're interested in literary courage, read B. R. Myers' book Reader's Manifesto where he rips apart several so-called literary giants. A great book and a wonderful read.]

Zoe Heller

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

Why One Novelist Writes

There are many ways for people to obtain public recognition. For some of us--especially the bookish, unathletic, socially uneasy among us--writing novels is a natural path to this type of self-esteem. Writing lets us stay at home. It carries us away from what is unpleasant in everyday life, while at the same time instantly conferring upon us the mystical status of "novelist." Even if you have not published, your friends are sure to be impressed when you tell them you are working on a novel.

Donald Maass 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Happy Ending

As novelists we all know that the ending is the hardest part. Getting it right. If editors interfere, it is likely to be there, at the ending. If we are unsatisfied with a narrative it is likely to be there, at the ending. We wish for happy endings but sometimes we reject them as unrealistic, therefore trashy, and we feel cheated and pandered to. Stern, sadistic endings may not please us either.

Diane Johnson

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 

Isaac Asimov on Literary Critics

Criticism and writing are two different talents. I am a good writer but have no critical ability. I can't tell whether something I have written is good or bad, or just why it should be either. I can only say, "I like this story," or "It was easy to read," or other such trivial nonjudgmental remarks.

     The critic, if he can't write as I do, can nevertheless analyze what I write and point out flaws and virtues. In this way, he guides the writer and perhaps even helps the writer.

     Having said all that, I must remind you that I'm talking about critics of the first caliber. Most critics we encounter, alas, are fly-by-night pipsqueaks without any qualification for the job other than the rudimentary ability to read and write. It is their pleasure sometimes to tear down a book savagely, or to attack the author rather than the book. They use the review, sometimes, as a vehicle for displaying their own erudition or as an opportunity for safe sadism.

Isaac Asimov

Killing the Creative Impulse

How does the creative impulse die in us? The English teacher who wrote fiercely on the margin of your theme in blue pencil: "Trite, rewrite," helped kill it. Critics kill it, your family. Families are great murderers of the creative impulse, particularly husbands. Older brothers sneer at younger brothers and kill it. This is that American pastime known as "kidding"--with the result that everyone is ashamed and hang-dog about showing the slightest enthusiasm or passion or sincere feeling about anything.

Brenda Ueland

Finding Things to Write About

Ideas [for stories and books] are everywhere. There are enough ideas enough in any daily newspaper to keep a man writing for years. Ideas are all about us, in the people we meet, the way we live, they way we travel, and how we think about things.

Louis L'Amour

Who Needs Inspiration to Write?

The idea of "inspiration," as it is commonly understood, does a great deal of damage to writers. For one thing, it devalues craft, which I think is the most important part of writing. It also…reinforces the notion that the writer himself or herself is somehow not enough. That some special talent or knowledge or divine gift--something outside of the writer--is necessary.

Dennis Palumbo

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

The Nonfiction Writing Class

In your nonfiction writing class [the professor should] always be ready to "tie in" whatever you're talking about with its application out in the world. Undergrads are terribly conscious they they'll soon become human beings, and are delighted to know that some of the stuff they're learning may be useful after they leave this artificial hothouse called college. As a writing teacher you'll have more of an advantage in this regard than teachers of most of the other "humanities" courses.

Martin Russ

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

The Inspiration to Write

For the vast majority, the inspiration to write emerges from three formative stages in life: early childhood, early adolescence, and the first few years of young adulthood when a person leaves home, explores the world, or immerses oneself in education.

Mark Robert Waldman

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

Writing the Novel's Opening Line

My favorite struggling writer is the Billy Crystal character in the movie Throw Momma From the Train who spends much of the film trying to write the first line of the book that will free him from his crippling writer's block. "The night was," he writers over and over, never getting beyond those first three words. In the end, comic and harrowing events in his life cause him to throw away the line and just start writing. The lesson is, there is no magic opening line. The magic is what creates the line in the first place.

Loren D. Estleman

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 Perfect Crime Novel Detective

 Though [writer Roger Rosenblatt] studied at Harvard, and even taught there, his most important education came from popular fiction. Above all, detective fiction, starting with Sherlock Holmes.

     "I wanted to be Holmes, himself," he writes early in [his new book, The Boy Detective]. "The detective I concocted for myself was not exactly like him. What I imagined was a composite made up of Holmes's power of observation, Hercule Poirot's powers of deduction, Sam Spade's straight talk, Miss Marple's stick-to-itiveness, and Philip Marlowe's courage and sense of honor--he who traveled the 'mean streets,' like mine, and was 'neither tarnished nor afraid.' The fact that, as far as I could tell, I lacked every single one of these qualities, and saw no prospect of every achieving them, presented no discouragement."

From Pete Hamill

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

Charles Bukowski on Art

An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.

Charles Bukowski

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

Charles Bukowski's Fan Mail

I get many of my letters from people in madhouses and jails and some from strange people out of them. What they say, mainly, is that I have given them a reason for going on: "Since you are so screwed-up, Bukowski, and still around, there is a chance for me." But I don't write to save people; I dislike most of them. I feel best when I am totally alone. I've tried to answer most of my letters, especially from people in the madhouses but I found that an answer just brings another letter, a longer one and a stranger one.

Charles Bukowski

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

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Slipstream Fiction

The weaving of the real and the unreal is a fast-growing strain of fiction some call slipstream. The label slipstream encompasses writing that slips in and out of conventional genres, borrowing from science fiction, fantasy and horror. The approach, sometimes also called "fantastika," "interstitial" and "the new weird," often combines the unexpected with the ordinary.

Anna Russell 

Depression Era Horror Fiction

The Great Depression only enhanced America's interest in things supernatural and horrifying. A number of horror-themed radio shows sprung up including "The Shadow" (1930) and "The Spider" (1933). Both spawned successful spinoffs in the form of novellas and comic books. Yet the 1930's also marked the last decade of the pulp magazine. Publisher Henry Steeger visited the French Grand Guignol Theater for inspiration and returned to revive the Dime Mystery Novels series. He added Terror Tales and Horror Stories over the next two years. All these pulps survived until 1941. The very real horrors of World War II overshadowed fictional ones. It wasn't until the 1950s that the horror genre hit its stride.

Joan Acocella