Saturday, April 29, 2017

Writing Nonfiction Books

Among all the home businesses touted these days, I can think of none that is easier to get into, cheaper to start, or offers more potential for recognition, respect, and reward than nonfiction book writing. It is, in my opinion, the ultimate dream job.

Marc McCutcheon

Friday, April 28, 2017

Is The Writer of One Great Novel a Great Novelist?

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

Anthony Burgess 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Some Writers Outline, Others Don't

If you are writing longer pieces than Edgar Allan Poe tended to do, and you haven't outlined, you'll be marching boldly forward into the dark.

Ian Jackson

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Rough Time of Life For Writers

I believe that for many writers, the hardest time is that dead spot after college (where they're wonder-children, made much of) and before their first published work.

Anne Tyler

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Evolution of a Writer

When I first began writing, it was much more instinctive. Now, my work is much more thought out. I recognize the importance of a strong storyline in a way I didn't before.

Erica Jong

One Author's Attitude About Criticism

I've know writers who are absolutely destroyed by adverse opinion, and I think it's a lot of crap. You shouldn't allow that to happen to yourself, and if you do, then it's your fault.

James Dickey 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Can Creative Writing Be Taught?

But you can't teach writing, people tell me. And I say, "Who the hell are you, God's dean of admissions?"

Anne Lamott

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Writing With Readers in Mind

Too many male writers are writing for the critics. I don't write for men with pipes and leather on their elbows. I write for the public.

Jacqueline Susann (Author of Valley of the Dolls)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Who Needs A Literary Agent

  If your aim is to land a contract with one of the major book publishing houses, you probably will need an agent to represent your work. About 80 percent of the books these conglomerates publish are purchased through agents. Some of the largest houses won't even consider submissions from unrepresented writers; when they get manuscripts directly from the author, the author usually gets a short form note advising him to get an agent.

     The advantage to the big publishers in dealing only with agents is that agents know what editors are looking for and won't submit work that isn't salable. The agent's reputation, and therefore his ability to succeed as a agent, rides on submitting only the best--not just in terms of ideas, but also in terms of presentation and research--to only those editors who are appropriate for the project. The publisher saves enormous time and expense by allowing agents to do the work of shifting through submissions to find the real gems.

Meg Schneider and Barbara Doyen

Friday, April 21, 2017

Harsh Criticism As Well As Too Much Praise Can Hurt a Writer

Harsh criticism can harm our creative process, but so can a reliance upon praise. Praise is nice, of course. It feels good to get a positive response to our work. That ego stroking shouldn't be why you write, though. If you become dependent on praise, your creative flow gets displaced. You become removed from your own source.

Gayle Brandeis 

Is Autobiography Just Another Form of Fiction?

Since the 1950s literary critics have written hundreds of volumes about autobiography as a genre. The questions they ask come from literary theory. Is autobiography just another form of fiction? A bastard form of the novel or of biography? What sort of story can anyone tell about her or his life when its end is as yet unknown? Is it possible to translate the chaotic ebb and flow of experience into a narrative form with a beginning, a middle and an end? When so much of our consciousness is visual, or  nonverbal, how much of it can we convey through the limited medium of words? Can anyone be both subject and object of the same sentences--the speaker and the subject spoken about? Why is this drive to engage in scrutiny of one's own life so characteristic of the West?

Jill Ker Conway

Isaac Asimov On Humor

Humor is difficult. Other kinds of stories don't have to hit the bull's-eye. The outer rings have their rewards too. A story can be fairly suspenseful, moderately romantic, somewhat terrifying, and so on. This is not the case with humor. A story is either funny or it is not funny. Nothing in between. The humor target contains only a bull's-eye.

Isaac Asimov

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Historical Accuracy Versus Political Correctness in Regency and Georgian Period Romance Novels

The attitudes between men and women have to be politically correct even when you're writing Regency and Georgian period historical romance novels. You're going to alienate readers if you have terribly domineering men and very submissive women. That might be an historically accurate way to look at men and women, but you really can't get away with that in modern novels. You have to somehow skirt around that and make the heroes sensitive to women and respect them even while obviously they were more domineering than modern men would be. You have to do the corresponding thing with women. They have to be a little less submissive.

Mary Balogh

Stephen King's First Novel

I wrote my first novel when I was a freshman in college and submitted it to a first-novel competition--I believe it was the Bennett Cerf competition. I thought the book had an outside chance, and I was enormously proud to have fathered such a wonderful creation at the age of nineteen. It was rejected with a short "Dear contributor" note, and I was too crushed to show that book to any publisher in New York.

Stephen King

Serious Writers Who Sell Out To Hollywood

Referring to serious writers who sell out to Hollywood, a character in Rod Serling's play Velvet Alley says: "They give you a thousand dollars a week [1960s] until that's what you need to live on. And then every day you live after that, you're afraid they'll take it away from you. It's all very scientific. It's based on the psychological fact that a man is a grubbing, hungry little sleaze. In twenty-four hours you can develop a taste for caviar. In forty-eight hours fish eggs are no longer a luxury, they're a necessity."

Rod Serling 

Should All Books be Anonymously Authored?

A character in B. Traven's story "The Night Visitor," who has written several books he has chosen not to publish, contemplates literary fame: "What is fame, after all? It stinks to hell and heaven. Today I am famous. Today my name is printed on the front page of all the papers in the world. Tomorrow perhaps fifty people can still spell my name correctly. Day after tomorrow I may starve to death and nobody cares. That's what you call fame."

     B. Traven, the pen name of the mysterious author of dozens of novels--notably, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre--believed that all books should be published anonymously. He based this belief on the notion that readers, by knowing in advance who the author is, will expect and demand a certain kind of book. (If Agatha Christie, for example, had come out with a hard-boiled crime novel instead of one of her cozy mysteries, her fans would have gone nuts.)

Jim Fisher 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Young Adult Literature Boom

     These days, you don't have to be a parent to be familiar with popular teen book titles like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games or Twilight. These titles have sold millions of copies of books and spawned merchandise empires, been adopted into blockbuster films, and have permeated our pop-culture lives.

     Young adult literature is a booming business and has been one of the fastest growing book categories for publishers in recent years with more than 715 million books sold in 2013…Even though this genre is aimed at audiences 12 to 18, more non-teenagers are picking up these titles. In fact, a 2014 report showed that 77 percent of young adult literature buyers were actually adults, with the largest segment of buyers--43 percent, ages 18 to 29…And given the difficult economic climate the publishing industry has faced over the last few years, more young adult buyers has been a blessing…

Tracy Wholf

Isaac Asimov's Writing Habits

My only ritual is to sit close enough to the typewriter so that my fingers touch the keys.

Isaac Asimov

Is Writer's Block Just an American Phenomenon?

 The phrase "writer's block" was coined by an American, a psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler…In other ages and cultures, writers were not thought to be blocked but straightforwardly dried up. One literary critic pointed out that the concept of writer's block is peculiarly American in its optimism that we all have creativity just waiting to be unlocked. By contrast, Milton, when he could not write, felt that he was empty, that there was no creativity left untapped.

     If writer's block is more common in the United States, it would not be the first weakness that is peculiar to our culture. The modern American idea of the literary writer is so shaped by the towering images of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald struggling with every word, that there is a paradoxical sense in which suffering from writer's block is necessary to be an American novelist. Without block once in a while, if a writer is too prolific, he or she is suspected by other novelists as being a hack.

Alice W. Flaherty

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What is "Literary Fiction"?

     "Genre fiction" is a nasty phrase--when did genre turn into an adjective? But I object to the term for a different reason. It was clever marketing by publishers to set certain contemporary fiction apart and declare it Literature--and therefore important art and somehow better than genre writing.

     The term sneaks back into the past in an anachronistic way, so that, for example, Jane Austen's works are described as literary fiction. This is nonsense. Can anyone think for a moment that were she writing today she'd be published as literary fiction? No, and not because she'd end up under romance, but because she writes comedy, and literary fiction, with rare exception, does not include comedy. [Literary novels are humorless. Perhaps that's why they call it "serious fiction."]

     Jane Austen never for a moment imagined she was writing literature. Posterity decided that, not her. She wrote fiction to entertain and to make money which is what we novelists have been doing ever since. Perhaps in our serious and solemn way, we ask fiction to bear a burden it was never intended to carry.

Elizabeth Edmondson

True Crime Writers on Their Genre

I define a true crime book as one involving a murder. It's not about art theft, it's not about governmental cover-up. It's really a case involving a murder in which there's an investigation and usually a trial....The best of the true crimes give you some insight into characters, usually the character of the killer, and the situation that produced the crime.

Charles Spicer

...crime does pay--especially if you are a writer.

Tom Byrnes

The [true crime] market is women, and the ideal perpetrator is a white male serial sex killer, or conspiring white couple sex killers, or anyone who kills before, after, or during sex.

Burl Barer

The main audience for true crime works, according to publishing houses, is generally the middle class with more women than men buying the books. There is also a fairly strong teen market, and books of regional interest have specialized markets. For example, both Texas and the Pacific Northwest are strong locals for the true crime market.

Vicky Munro

All [true crime] stories must be post-trial, with the perpetrators convicted and sentenced at the conclusion....We also prefer that cases involve not more than three suspects....Do not pinpoint the guilty person too early in the story because it kills suspense...Use active writing, avoid passive constructions. Remember that detectives probe, unearth, dig up, ferret out, determine, deduce, seek out, ascertain, discover, hunt, root out, delve, uncover, track, trace, and inspect.

Jim Thompson

I prefer an unpublicized case in which I am the only person writing about it because the people involved are so much more willing to cooperate and be interviewed. Publishers, of course, want a story that's been splashed all over television, magazines, and newspapers.

Don Lasseter

I start every book with the idea that I want to explain how this seven or eight pounds of protoplasm went from his mommy's arms to become a serial rapist or serial killer. I think a crime book that doesn't do this is pure pornography.

Jack Olsen 

Children's Books Are Not Watered Down Adult Literature

Children's books are not watered down adult books. They demand certain abilities of their authors, not the least of which is that of being able to tap into the minds and souls of young people and to project the voice of those people to the reader. You, as an experienced adult, have to see things objectively and yet have the ability to recall feelings and attitudes and viewpoints of your early years to the point that you can write about children convincingly.

Barbara Seuling

John Steinbeck on Hemingway's Suicide

The first time we heard of Ernest Hemingway's death [1958] was a call from the London Daily Mail. I found it shocking. He had only one theme--only one. A man contends with the forces of the world, called fate, and meets them with courage. Surely a man has a right to remove his own life but you'll find no such possibility in any of Hemingway's heroes. The sad thing is that I think he would have hated accident much more than suicide. He was an incredibly vain man.

John Steinbeck 

Defending the Romance Novel

 The detractors of romance novels--usually people who haven't read any--often say the stories are simplistic and childish, and they contain no big words and very little plot--just a bunch of sex scenes separated by filler and fluff. A common view of romance is that there's only one story; all the authors do is change the characters' names and hair color and crank out another book.

     Critics of romance also accuse the stories--and their authors by extension--of presenting a world in which women are helpless. Romance, they say, encourages young readers to fantasize about Prince Charming riding to their rescue, to think their only important goal is to find a man to take care of them. The books are accused of limiting women by idealizing romantic relationships, making women unable to relate to real men because they're holding out for a wonderful Harlequin hero.

     In fact, rather than trailing behind the times, romance novels have actually been on the cutting edge of society. Long before divorce was common, for instance, romance novels explored the circumstances in which it might be better to dissolve a marriage than to continue it…

     Even early romances often featured working women and emphasized the importance of economic independence for women. While some heroines are indeed young, inexperienced, and in need of assistance, the usual romance heroine is perfectly competent. Finding her ideal man isn't a necessity; it's a bonus.

     Modern romance novels tell a young woman that she can be successful, useful, and valuable on her own; that there are men who will respect her and treat her well; and that such men are worth waiting for.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Schlemiel Story

The schlemiel story is a genre I always thought I'd avoid if I were an editor, for it has seemed to me that stories about losers, twerps, dullards, and schnooks would be of interest only to an audience of losers, twerps, dullards, and schnooks, at best, and no such people would be reading anything I edited.

Robert Silverberg

Writing Novels, For Most, Is a Vocation Rather Than a Profession

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

Margaret Atwood 

Overdone Novelistic Settings

Descriptions of the setting are easily overdone, often clumsy. Through a misplaced sense of obligation to describe a setting exhaustively, many young writers get into what I call the setting fallacy--that is, they start the story with a whole paragraph describing the sky, weather, or a city street as the protagonist walks into a bar.

David Madden

Writers Who Write Too Much

Most writers write too much. Some writers write way too much, gauged by the quality of their accumulated oeuvre.

Richard Ford 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Writing Talent

Talent is like murder--it will out.

Loretta Burrough 

For Purposes of Fiction, What is Plot?

An idea is not a story. A first draft is not a story. A moral is not a story. A character is not a story. A theme is not a story. A plot--now, that's a story! So where do I get me one? You might ask. At your writing desk. Because plots don't exist. They can't be shopped for or ordered on-line. They are coaxed into being. They develop. They grow in the course of the writing.

John Dufrsne 

Writing Conference Manuscript Critiques

Creative writing classes and workshops tend to be gentler than writer conferences, but in all of these situations you may find yourself sitting around a table with a number of other writers who feel morally and aesthetically compelled to rip your story to threads.

Ann Lamott

Exclamation Points in Literary Dialogue

Exclamation points in dialogue tend to make statements sound like lovesick teenage email. Try at all costs to avoid using them!

Allison Amend

Writers Need Confidence to Create Great Fiction

To reach the highest levels of the craft, above all you'll need confidence. Unshakable confidence to leap forcefully into the realm of creation.

Noah Lukeman 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Literature's Prize-Winning Drunks

William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are probably three of the most notorious falling-down drunks in the literary history of twentieth century America. There were followed by Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and John Cheever, whose drinking habits became well-known components of their literary lives.

Jim Fisher 

John Steinbeck on Writer's Block

When I can't write, I feel so empty.

John Steinbeck 

Erotica as a Literary Genre

One could argue that erotica is either a subgenre of "romance" or a separate literary category. Many romance authors sneak raw sex into their books without calling them "erotica" to avoid limiting the market for their titles.

Elaine Sciolino 

The Effect of M.F.A. Writers' Workshops on American Literature

Less than a lifetime ago, reputable American writers would occasionally start fistfights, sleep in ditches and even espouse communist doctrines. Such were the prerogatives and exigencies of the artist's existence, until M.F.A. [Masters of Fine Arts] programs arrived to impose discipline and provide livelihoods. Whether the professionalization of creative writing has been good for American literature has set off a lot of elegantly worded and soul-searching and well-mannered debate.

Timothy Aubry 

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Non-Writing Writer

The trail of literary history is littered with those writers who fell along the way because the anxiety of trying to write paralyzed their hand. Many non-writing writers are gifted. The best writers I know teach school and sell real estate. Some still plan to write "someday." Others have given up altogether. Their block lies not with their ability or skill but with their nerve.

Ralph Keyes 

Should Writers Be Critics As Well?

Every time a writer tells the truth about a manuscript (or book), to a friend-author, he loses that friend, or sees that friendship dim and fade away to a ghost of what it was formerly. Every time a writer tells the truth about a manuscript (or book), to a stranger-author, he makes an enemy. If the writer loves his friend and fears to lose him, he lies to his friend. But what's the good of straining himself to lie to a stranger? And, with like insistence, what's the good of making enemies anyway?

Jack London

The Creative Writing Student

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

Bonnie Friedman 

The Aging Novelist

If novelists keep writing fiction much past sixty, they usually become their own recycling unit, reworking, with less verve, veins already well explored. Self-repetition, if not self-parody, are the traps that await elderly novelists--yet few novelists voluntarily flip off the switch, either because they can't afford to financially or because they simply don't know what else to do with themselves. They grow old, they grow weak, they wear the bottoms of their trousers rolled, but they keep writing.

Larry McMurtry 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Overcoming Literary Rejection

I was trying to get my work published, first with poetry, then with articles and stories. But they got nowhere at all. There was a steady flow of rejection slips. Once in awhile, a handwritten word, "Sorry, thanks, try us again." The stories, two-hundred and fifty of them a week, were, with one exception, amazingly bad. But I thought, these people have made this effort. You can really only judge a writer by his best work. Maybe these are all just lapses. I wrote, "Sorry, try us again," on all of them. I had to stop writing the notes.

Louis L'Amour 

Characters in Novels Are Usually Drawn From Real Life

I should say that the practice of drawing characters from actual models is not only universal but necessary. I do not see why any writer should be ashamed to acknowledge it.

W. Somerset Maugham

How Many Writers Are Mentally Unhinged?

Unsurprisingly, a psychological survey of the Iowa Workshop showed that 80 percent of writers in the program reported evidence of manic depression, alcoholism, or other lonely additions in themselves or their immediate families. We're writers. Who ever claimed we were a tightly wrapped bunch?

Tom Grimes

Cliche`s in Pulp Fiction

The really popular books are full of cliche`s, people "flushing with anger" or "going pale with fear." Popular authors bring nothing new to their readers, and I have no wish to belong to that type of popular writer.

Graham Greene

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Need to Write

Writing is life. Writers need their writing; they need their imaginary worlds in order to find peace in, or make sense of, the real world.

Terry Brooks 

"Dry" Writing

We sometimes speak of academic writing, of courtroom transcripts, of material that does not compel our attention or elicit a strong desire to continue reading as dry. What we mean by "dry" is that it does not enable use to see what we read, it does not move us, and, most important, it does not stimulate our intellect with insight, its ostensible purpose.

Sol Stein 

Successful Novelists Ignored by the Manhattan Literary World

Isaac Asimov complained that none of his books were ever reviewed in The New Yorker, even though, as a well-known writer, he had been mentioned in the magazine many times. The reason: he was not taken seriously as a novelist because most of his writing was science fiction. Wallace Stegner, a brilliant novelist and nonfiction writer who lived in and wrote about the American West, was never reviewed in the New York Times even though his novels, Angle of Repose (1971) and Spectator Bird (l976), won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award respectively. Why did the Times ignore Wallace Stegner? He was not part of the Manhattan literary scene.

Jim Fisher 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Pressure of Following Up a Successful First Novel

No one is waiting for you to write your first novel. No one cares if you finish it. But after your first, if it goes well, everyone seems to be waiting. You go from having nothing to lose to having everything to lose, and that's what creates the panic.

Jeffrey Eugenides 

Are Extremely Creative Writers Mentally Unbalanced?

The writer possess a reality of a different order than that of the ordinary man. His ego is entirely identified with his creative processes which for him constitutes the entire meaning and purpose of his life. He is known to be emotionally unstable, neurotic, and often appears mentally unbalanced or even psychotic. Genius and madness have from time immemorial been associated, and the lives of the creative artists and geniuses in all fields do reveal an overwhelming preponderance for erratic conduct, emotional stress and irrational reactions with definite psychic disturbances manifested in conflict, struggle and mental disorder.

Dr. Beatrice Hinkle 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Pulp Writers of Old

I admire honest hacks, ghost writers and pulp novelists who make no claim to literary distinction, but are content selflessly to batter out reading matter for the semi-educated millions on an old typewriter, and raise large, happy families on the proceeds.

Robert Graves

Is The Ability to Write Well a "Gift"?

Writing is at the very least a knack, like drawing or being facile on the piano. Because everybody can speak and form letters, we mistakenly suppose that good, plain, writing is within everybody's power. Would we say this of good, straightforward, accurate drawing? Would we say this melodic sense and correct, fluent harmonizing at the keyboard? Surely not. We say these are "gifts." Well, so is writing, even if the writing is of a bread-and-butter note.

Jacques Barzun 

The Prolific Mr. Asimov

I keep to what amounts to a seventy-hour week, if you count all the ancillary jobs of proofreading, indexing, research and so on. In the past six years, I have averaged a book a month. I'm not sure if my work habits should be imitated. I don't have set hours for working. I just write whenever I feel like, but I feel like it all the time. I do very little research, because I have been reading avidly all my life and remember virtually everything I read. To back me up, however, I have developed a personal reference library in my office of some two thousand books or so in all fields.

Isaac Asimov 

Truman Capote on the Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize, to me, is a joke. They give it year after year to one absolutely nonexistent writer after another.

Truman Capote 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Academic Writing, A Blight on Literature

A friend of mine turned in a paper to a college course on behavior modification. She had tried to express in simple English some of her reservations about this increasingly popular approach to education. She received the paper back with the comment: "Please rewrite this in behavioral terms." It is little wonder that human beings have so much trouble saying what they feel, when they are told that there is a specialized vocabulary for saying what they think. The language of simplicity and spontaneity is forced to retreat behind the barricades of an official prose developed by a few experts who believe that jargon is the most precise means of communication.

Lawrence Langer 

Nonfiction is Always Stranger Than Fiction

When something extraordinary happens, we often say it's stranger than fiction. But reality routinely, every minute of every day, outdoes all realist fiction in its strangeness.

Vendela Vida 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Stephen King On Fear

How many things are we afraid of? We're afraid to turn off the lights when our hands are wet. We're afraid to stick a knife into the toaster to get the stuck English muffin without unplugging it first. We're afraid of what the doctor may tell us when the physical exam is over; when the airplane suddenly takes a great unearthly lurch in midair. We're afraid that the oil may run out, that the good air will run out, the good water, the good life. When the daughter promised to be in by eleven and it's now quarter past twelve and sleet is spatting against the window like dry sand, we sit and pretend to watch Johnny Carson and look occasionally at the mute telephone and we feel the emotion...that makes a stealthy ruin of the thinking process.

Stephen King

Do Book Writers Have Readers in Mind When They Write?

My own view is that if you write with an audience in mind, you are involved in useless speculation. I don't believe you should think about audience.

Susan Sontag

Friday, April 7, 2017

Writers On The Bottle

You usually can tell when a writer is going downhill by the size of his liquor bill.

James M. Cain 

How To Write a Bestselling Romance Novel

All eighteen of [romance novelist Nicholas Sparks'] novels are best sellers; eleven of them have been translated to the big screen. Sparks has continually served up exactly what Americans seem to crave: stories populated by perfect people who are never haunted by lingering questions or long-held doubts. All ambivalence is temporary, and by the end, the answers are crystal clear. Hard work get results. Goodness is recognized. Beauty is magical. Love fixes everything.

Heather Havrilesky