Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Working with Tony Hillerman

Rosemary Herbert worked on two anthologies with the great Tony Hillerman. And she loves sharing her stories about him, and his insights on his craft. 'It may seem that his use of landscape was effortless, but one day, as Tony in typically trusting manner turned on his computer and revealed to me his then-current novel in progress, he told me about how he made sure to make his descriptions of landscape advance the plot, rather than serve as self-indulgent digressions. “What I want to do here is develop the character of these of these two by what they stop to look at…They’re going to cross the Hopi reservation,” Tony said, describing the work in progress. “Okay, from this road there you can see literally miles of sagebrush on this great flat [expanse] and the hills roll away, and you can see San Francisco Peaks sixty, seventy miles away. Not a tree, not a bush, not a shrub! It’s really pure sagebrush country. And on the fence there, somebody’s painted a real neat sign that said, ‘Woodcutting Prohibited'."' More...

Book buying

There's some books for sale you might be interested in. Hardcover—none of this electronic stuff. If I do the math correctly in translating from pounds to dollars, the cheaper of the two—the very first collected works of Shakespeare—is a steal at about $2,000,000. Link.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Writing advice from Mark Twain

Here's someone you can listen to when they tell you what to do with your writing. 'I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English -- it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them -- then the rest will be valuable.' More...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rejected Science Fiction and Fantasy

Rejected as in, what were these publishers thinking? Via HuffPo, the site io9 gives us the backstory on 15 classics that had a hard time getting started. For instance, there's Carrie: 'Stephen King's first published novel sold four million copies in paperback. And garnered 30 rejections from publishers. One of them wrote, "'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." Tired of rejection slips, King reportedly threw the manuscript into the garbage — but his wife fished it out again, and he decided to try one more time.' More...

Bad characters

Are we supposed to like all the characters we read about? I mean, we probably like to hiss the bad guys, but what about books where even the hero is a bad guy, or there's just nobody all that good? '"I didn't like any of the characters" is a complaint made frequently, everywhere from televised book clubs to reviews on blogs and online bookstores...Why bother to engage with difficult, demanding characters when we don't have to? This is a great shame: it's reductive, and antithetical to what literature is about.' More... (Via)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do it yourself

Make what you wish of this one. November is National Novel Writing Month. In other words, drop everything and start typing. Last year one of the students I work with in my night job (I moonlight as a high school debate coach) went around for weeks with her computer on her lap, novelizing for all she was worth. She seemed to enjoy every minute of it. You might too. Check out the website. (Via)

Moby-Dick in England

One of my favorite books (I admit it) is Moby-Dick. Most people, when I say that, go running in the other direction. Maybe they read the original British version. 'On October 18, 1851, Richard Bentley published Herman Melville’s sixth novel The Whale in London: 500 sets in a beautiful binding of brilliant sea-blue wavy-grain cloth covers with cream cloth spines, emblazoned in gold from top to bottom with diving right whales. Why America’s great American novel was published first in Great Britain under a different name is a tale of pirates and misadventure—and ends by having a considerable impact on the fate of the novel’s reception in America.' More...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Belva Plain

Belva Plain passed away a few days ago at the age of 95. She was a popular author with our readers, and she was working right up to the end. I remember her coming up to our offices in Pleasantville once and telling us how she'd never consider writing on a computer. She stuck to her guns. This is the obituary from the New York Times.

No adjectives!

Alexander McCall Smith has little to say about these 'useful, helpful, intensely descriptive words.' They don't do much to help the writer who is attempting to use the English language successfully. 'The real aim, of course, is conciseness. Concise prose knows what it wants to say, and says it. It does not embellish, except occasionally, and then for dramatic effect. It is sparing in its use of metaphor. And it is certainly careful in its use of adjectives.' More...

Short stories

Some masters of the form talk about the idea of stories, and even read some of their work. For starters, there's T. C. Boyle. ' The joy of the story is that you can respond to the moment and events of the moment. The drawback is that once you've completed a story, you must write another even though you find yourself bereft of talent or ideas. The joy of the novel is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow. The horror of the novel, however, is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow.' More...

A sequel to Huckleberry Finn

I had never heard about this. Twain not only considered a sequel, he began writing one. '“I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest,” said Huckleberry Finn, “because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it.” It’s one of the most memorable lines from the last chapter of Mark Twain’s classic 1885 novel... But as soon as Mark Twain published the book, he’d also started writing a sequel about dangerous new adventures in the great American wilderness.' More...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bill Bryson

For a travel writer, Bryson isn't very much of a traveler. 'Mr. Bryson's career as a travel writer was wholly unplanned; he is not, he insisted, the adventurous type. "I once met Colin Thubron," he said, referring to the celebrated British author of "Mirror to Damascus," "Jerusalem," "Istanbul" and "In Siberia." "He genuinely likes to go to places where he might get malaria. But I absolutely don't want to get malaria and I don't want to be uncomfortable. I don't want to sleep on anything hard, or worry that an alligator is going to come up and take my leg off."' More... (Via.)

Tess Gerritsen interview

HuffPo has a nice interview with Tess Gerritsen, covering both her writing and her home life. 'I was a writer first, and knew I'd be a storyteller at age seven. But since my parents are very practical, they urged me to go into a profession that would be far more secure so I went to medical school. But after practicing medicine for a few years, while raising two sons (with a husband who was also a doctor) I realized that combining medicine with motherhood was more of a challenge than I could handle. So I left medicine and stayed home. And that's when I once again picked up the pen and began to write.' More...

Monday, October 18, 2010


Sometimes the classics seem awfully musty. Other times, they are as vital as the morning newspaper. In a review of a new biography, we revisit the world of Michel de Montaigne, which doesn't have even a hint of mustiness. 'Montaigne invented the personal essay, that unpredictable and strangely addictive literary form devoted, as Bakewell puts it, to "re-creating a sequence of sensations as they felt from the inside, following them from instant to instant." Montaigne constantly revised and expanded "Essays" throughout his life; it was never really finished. "I do not portray being," he wrote, "I portray passing. Not the passing from one age to another ... but from day to day, from minute to minute." More...

Friday, October 15, 2010

A national digital library?

This seems like a great idea. Robert Darnton writes about it in The New York Review of Books. The bottom line? Knowledge is good, and the free access to knowledge is one of the foundations of our country. Sure, there's copyright, but there's also the need for ideas to spread to all who want them. 'Can we create a National Digital Library? ... Despite the complexities, the fundamental idea of a National Digital Library (or NDL) is, at its core, straightforward. The NDL would make the cultural patrimony of this country freely available to all of its citizens. It would be the digital equivalent of the Library of Congress, but instead of being confined to Capitol Hill, it would exist everywhere, bringing millions of books and other digitized material within clicking distance of public libraries, high schools, junior colleges, universities, retirement communities, and any person with access to the Internet.' More... (Via)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

National Book Awards finalists announced.

Check it out on MediaBistro.

Joe Hill on Elmore Leonard

Amazon provides a guest review of Leonard's new novel Djibouti by fellow author Joe Hill. Hill provides ten reasons why Leonard rules; it's a paean to craft. Here's reason number 6: 'The sound. Leonard famously said that if his sentences sound like writing, he rewrites them, but don’t be fooled. These sentences jump to their own dirty, hothouse jazz rhythm. There isn’t a better stylist anywhere in American letters.' More...

Betting on the literary prizes

In England, they bet on who will win the big prizes, like the Nobel Prize for literature. For a number of reasons, there doesn't seem to be the same urge to put your money where your reading glasses are in the US. Still, the concept is fun. 'For an industry dwarfed by the money showered on other forms of entertainment like movies, television and videogames, betting adds an enjoyable bit of competition to the mix, and makes the conversation about books both more serious and less serious.' More... (Via)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


On the Powells blog, Doug Brown goes into the past to look at a little Edgar Allan Poe. It's interesting what he finds back there. 'As part of my classics year project last year, I couldn't resist the opportunity to delve into some Poe. I had only ever read a couple of the stories, and of course "The Raven." I recommend the dive; most of the stories are only a few pages long and can be sipped in a short period. As would be expected, there are tales of the macabre, but more than that there are tales of psychology. Poe understood that the human mind imagining the supernatural is much scarier than the banality of actual supernatural events. What makes "The Tell-Tale Heart" such a great story is that the dead man's heart isn't actually beating; all we need is the murderer's conviction that he can hear it louder and louder.' More...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Philip Marlowe on the radio

The Internet Archive, which has a lot of really valuable material, now has old radio shows of Chandler's famous detective that were, in their day, quite popular. Check it out! (Via

Hey, kid! Stop reading books for fun!

The latest report is not promising: adults are pushing their kids away from picture books to serious books, apparently in aid of getting them into Ivy League colleges or something. Alex Palmer tracks the history of kid's books in his response to this on HuffPo. 'The big story on The New York Times today is that parents are again urging children to ditch children's books. Sure, Where the Wild Things Are and Green Eggs and Ham may be beloved by generations of kids, but many parents are concerned that colorful pictures and imaginative stories aren't going to give their 5-year-old a leg-up on their SATs...But beyond pros and cons, what's also interesting is that this recent push is not actually recent at all. Attempts to get kids reading books that are good for them, rather than what they want to read, go back centuries, and this is only the latest instance of adults trying to take the fun out of children's books.' More...

Mario Vargas Llosa interview

The Paris Review reminds us of an interview they conducted with the new Nobel laureate back in 1990.

''As far as I’m concerned, I believe the subject chooses the writer. I’ve always had the feeling that certain stories imposed themselves on me; I couldn’t ignore them, because in some obscure way, they related to some kind of fundamental experience—I can’t really say how. For example, the time I spent at the Leonico Prado Military School in Lima when I was still a young boy gave me a real need, an obsessive desire to write. It was an extremely traumatic experience which in many ways marked the end of my childhood—the rediscovery of my country as a violent society, filled with bitterness, made up of social, cultural, and racial factions in complete opposition and caught up in sometimes ferocious battle. I suppose the experience had an influence on me; one thing I’m sure of is that it gave rise to the great need in me to create, to invent.' More...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

David Sedaris

Sedaris has a new book out. The bio piece in the Washington Post is a solid introduction to the man and his unique work. 'He was an impoverished 30-something when public radio's Ira Glass heard him read some of his work at a Chicago bar. A few years later, around the holidays, Glass remembered the performance and phoned Sedaris to ask if he had any Christmas-themed essays. Sedaris sent him "SantaLand Diaries," about his work as a Macy's elf; Glass, then working for NPR's "Morning Edition," accepted based on the paper copy, not hearing the story out loud until Sedaris recorded it several days later. "He got to the part of the story where he sings like Billie Holiday," Glass recalls, "and I remember thinking, 'Oh, my, we have entered very unusual territory at this point.' " ' More...

The Joker

An awful lot of us were raised on comic books, and for that matter graphic novels are nothing more than comic books all grown up. And then there's the movies, which have drawn on comic books for inspiration since the very invention of comic books. A new book, covered in the NY Times, talks about artist Jerry Robinson and the invention of the Joker, one of the all-time great comic book villains. 'If a hero is only as good as his opponent, then the creation of the Joker cannot be underestimated. “Villains, I always thought, were more interesting,” Mr. Robinson said. He learned from his studies that some characters were built on their contradictions, so he decided that his evildoer would have a sense of humor. “I think the name came first: the Joker,” he said. “Then I thought of the playing card.”' More...

Monday, October 4, 2010

The history of the written word

A new exhibit covers the invention of writing. In fact, it was invented independently four times. Interesting. '[Exhibit curator Christopher] Wood said writing came about so bureaucracies and businesses could keep track of trades, herds of animals, production of beer and the labor pool for constructing large, monumental buildings. "Most people in those days worked for religious temples, so incomes had to be kept track of and paid, and the only way of keeping track of so many people and transactions was to record the information."' More...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Audrey Niffenegger interview

The Telegraph offers a nice portrait of the multifaceted author of The Time Traveler's Wife. Why, you may wonder, does she have those human skeletons in the house? 'When I moved in all the neighbours came round very kindly and they said, 'Do you have kids?’ and I said no, and they said, 'What does your husband do?’ And I said, well, I don’t really have one, and they said, 'Well, do you have dogs?’ and I said, no, I have cats, and so that was the end of me, you know.' More...

The Big Thrill

The October edition is live. We've mentioned this site before, but it's worth mentioning again. If you're a thriller fan, you should be on board with them. Check 'em out.