November 30, 2010

Books for Writers - Part I

Every writer deserves at least one new book about the craft for the holidays.  This week, I'm offering a few suggestions for books about writing and publishing in general. Next week I'll share books geared toward the fantasy writer.

Editor Betsy Lerner brings an insider's perspective on what makes writers tick and then shows us how a publishing house really works. If you write, you want this book.
PART I deals with the writing psyche. Witty, insightful, and illuminating, sometimes painfully so.  
PART II covers the publication process, from the time you get an agent to the day your book comes into the world. Straightforward and sobering. 

You're probably wondering how this book ended up on a fantasy writer's shelf. Easy. Beinhart's no-nonsense advice crosses genres and covers everything from scene construction to narrative drive to the four methods of creating characters. Filled with examples from well-known mysteries. A must-have if you write whodunits, and an excellent resource for everyone else.

Written in the late '30s and still timely. Brenda Ueland, an author knighted by the king of Norway, believes everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say.  I especially like Chapter X: Why Women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing. Done!

I bought this book directly from the authors after their lively presentation at a local SCBWI conference.  Literary agent Arielle Eckstut and her co-author/husband, writer David Henry Sterry, have compiled an entertaining, comprehensive overview of how to become a successfully published author. One of the few books I've read that deals with the hard facts of contracts and royalties, as well as the reality of book launches and what it takes to keep a book "alive". Definitely worth adding to your collection.

NOTE: Per Mr. Sterry (see comments), there's a new, updated version of this above book, renamed THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED. Check it out!

And last, but not least, two others I've mentioned in previous posts:
  by Renni Browne & Dave King
  by Sandra Scofield

November 16, 2010

The Forest for the Trees

There's so much to like about this book, from editor/agent Betsy Lerner's wit to her generosity in pulling back the curtains on how publishing works. What I like best is her thoughts on what makes a writer.

There's the love-hate relationship with writing itself, the agony of self-doubt, the burning desire to put your story out there, the discipline. The need for solitude in a society that mistrusts loners. An ego big enough to pursue your dreams and strong enough to battle the demons that will rise to thwart you. And they will rise, oh, how they'll rise!

Frankly, the part about ego caught me by surprise. I thought anyone plagued by feelings of notworthiness (is there such a word?) lacked self-esteem. But that's exactly what keeps us going. We're convinced our stories need to be told, that no one else can tell them the way we can.  We brave the blank screen, we never give up. And perseverance, in Lerner's opinion, is the best predictor of success.

Whatever the catalyst (anger, pain, joy, curiosity, payback, obsession) writing is a way we prove ourselves to the world. Remember that mousy girl who hid in the back row at school? The one who blended with the walls in a crowd? Under that shy exterior, a writer lurked, watching and waiting. Now she's ready to share her stories.

So, how's your writing ego these days?

November 9, 2010

What Genre Chose You?

“Most writers have very little choice in what they write about. What is in evidence over and over again is a certain set of obsessions, a certain vocabulary, a way of approaching the page.” 

I’ve been reading Lerner’s marvelous book, which looks at the makeup of writers before delving into what actually goes on in publishing. Time after time, she astounds me with her insights, particularly when she addresses why writers write.

But it was the above claim that got me thinking about my genre in a new way. Did I really choose to write fantasy, or was it inevitable?

I’ve always been drawn to books that deal with the magical, the fantastic, the supernatural. You might say it’s an escape, but isn’t all literature just that, something that draws us out of the ordinary world into one the author creates?

When I decided to switch from journalism to fiction, it just seemed natural to write fantasy. Lerner puts it this way: “ . . . a writer gravitates toward a certain form or genre because, like a well-made jacket, it suits him.”

I love the analogy to tailoring. We start out with raw words, patch them together into designs best suited to our tale, fiddle around with alterations until we have a custom fit (call it voice, if you will), and –voila!–a book is born.

So, tell me, did you choose the genre or did the genre choose you?

November 2, 2010

Life is Sweet!

(Good thing I bought an extra bag of throat lozenges!)