It was dumb luck I stumbled upon Jack Hart's book, A Writer's Coach (Pantheon Books 2006). I couldn't afford to hire an editor for my novel, but knewIt was dumb luck I stumbled upon Jack Hart's book, A Writer's Coach (Pantheon Books 2006). I couldn't afford to hire an editor for my novel, but knew it needed help. There are hundreds (thousands?) of self-help books on this topic, so how was I to pick the one that would work for me? I personally own over a dozen, including Lukeman's First Five Pages, several by Donald Maass and several more by James Frey. While I did want one that specialized in self-editing, I also have quite a few of those--including Writing From A to Z and Self-editing for Fiction Writers.
Truth, I don't know why I picked Jack Hart. Maybe because he's a well-respected editor who's helped four Pulitzer Prize-winning authors (though this isn't what I aspire to be). It's definitely not because of his quarter century as managing editor at The Oregonian, the Pacific Northwest’s largest newspaper--I'm not a fan of main stream media. I might have been influenced by his decade-long column for Editor & Publisher magazine called “The Writer’s Workshop".
Overall, I'm not sure, but I'm glad I did. The Writer's Coach is a nuts and bolts approach to fixing the problems endemic in first drafts. Though ten years old, Harts advice transcends trends and medium, delving into the problems and angst shared by all writers. Chapters include:
* Method * Process * Structure * Force * Brevity * Clarity * Rhythm * Humanity * Color * Voice * Mechanics * Mastery
The pithiness that colors the chapter titles flows throughout the book. Humanity? Have you ever seen that in a how-to-write book? Here is the publisher review of the book:
"Mystified over misplaced modifiers? In a trance from intransitive verbs? Paralyzed from using the passive voice? To aid writers, from beginners to professionals, legendary writing coach Jack Hart presents a comprehensive, practical, step-by-step approach to the writing process. He shares his techniques for composing and sustaining powerful writing and demonstrates how to overcome the most common obstacles such as procrastination, writer’s block, and excessive polishing."
Alliteration aside, I found a lot to love about this book. Here are several of my favorite quotes:
What's the first thing you do when facing a new writing assignment? I ask. "Get a cup of coffee," a journalist replied. The tendency to see the task ahead as overwhelming explains most keyboard anxiety. A problem visible at any one stage of the writing process usually results from something that happened at the immediately preceding stage. The best theme statements include a transitive verb... Transitive verbs require the "A causes B" brand of thinking that characterizes a true hypothesis. Stay lose through your first draft and write fast. You may even want to put your notes aside while you write, leaving blanks... Don't stall on the first line. The important thing is to get moving, not write the perfect opening... ...the parasites in the pond of prose [first said by E.B. White] ... needless qualifiers such as 'rather', 'somewhat', 'generally', 'virtually', 'pretty', 'slightly', 'a bit', and 'little'. Five ways to add Oomph to your writing: Find action verbs, avoid flabby suffixes, prefer the active voice, minimize expletives, and be bold.
The only downside of this book? Despite the fact it is touted as a writing coach for all writers, to me it reads more as a self-help for journalists than novel writers. You can see from the quotes above that the points are spot on, but the narrative supporting these excellent ideas often wandered into journalist/blogger/nonfiction weeds. Since I include all of those in my profile, that was fine with me. You may feel differently....more
After I finished Tony Hillerman's 18-book Joe Leaphorn series, stories soaked in the Indian culture of New Mexico, I went in search of another like itAfter I finished Tony Hillerman's 18-book Joe Leaphorn series, stories soaked in the Indian culture of New Mexico, I went in search of another like it. You know, with a down-to-earth character who doesn't know how to live life except by a rigid moral code in a backwater town. I found CJ Box's 16-book (and counting) Joe Pickett series, set in the gorgeous sometimes cold and desolate world of Wyoming, where nature is not only a setting, but a character, plot point, and the motivation for huge chunks of the action. Truly, I figured I'd never find another series like that.
And then Peter Bowen's "Bitter Creek" (Open Road 2015) showed up in my Amazon Vine queue, thirteenth in the Gabriel Du Pre series about a Meti fiddler who develops a local reputation for solving mysteries. In this latest addition to Bowen's atmospheric series, Gabriel's girlfriend's son's ex-commanding officer hears the voices of long-dead French-Indian murder victims (in a sweat lodge where he is drying out after a drinking binge) who can't pass on to their final rest until their murders are avenged. DuPre sets out to uncover the truth and bring justice.
An amateur crime solver--doesn't sound that unique, but a few characteristics set this one apart. First, the story is written in the French prairie patois native to these Montana residents--
"Amalie have my mother she is fifty almost, my mother is some surprise you bet."
Second, the author effectively slows the world down for readers with his writing voice. Actions are stretched out, time crawls, and readers feels their muscles unwind. Here's an example:
"The old woman stood up, turned, sat down. She put her feet on the little platform. She nodded to Du Pre..."
Every writer has been lectured about leaving out the unnecessary parts. In this case, 'break the rules' is better advice.
Another unusual characteristic of Bowen's writing style is that the story is written entirely in third person, in DuPre's point of view. Often, that happens in first person, but most authors use the third person to put readers into many heads, see the world through a wide variety of viewpoints. Not Bowen. It's all Du Pre, all the time.
And always, there's a wry humor underpinning thoughts, actions, motivations. Here's an example:
"When you started out as a cowboy," Father Van Den Heuvel said, "had the wheel been invented?"
"Saw the first one," said Booger Tom. "Didn't think much of it, tell you the truth. Speeded things up. Most of our troubles today come of speedin' things up..."
Now that I'm past the sadness of finishing both Tony Hillerman and CJ Box's series, I'm infatuated with this one. I just checked the other twelve out from my library (the librarian had to order them from other sites--she was quite patient with me)....more
I've reviewed several of Taylor Stevens' Vanessa Michael Munroe novels ('The Catch', 'The Doll', 'The Innocent'). I am always excited by how Munroe adI've reviewed several of Taylor Stevens' Vanessa Michael Munroe novels ('The Catch', 'The Doll', 'The Innocent'). I am always excited by how Munroe addresses problems, thinks ten steps ahead, and creatively solves them. With an androgynous name (because she can pass equally as male or female), her storied and violent past seems to be exactly the right cauldron for the troubles that stalk her wherever she goes. Steven's latest, 'The Mask' (Crown 2015) is another winner. In this, Vanessa is trying to forget the person she's become--where her predator instincts turn her into an often unwilling hunter--by living with her boyfriend and doing what most of the world considers 'normal'. Once again, it doesn't work and she is quickly embroiled in a daunting mystery that threatens to destroy her boyfriend, kill her, and change the world so valued by the people Vanessa aspires to be.
As always, Stevens writing is intelligent. Here, she describes Munroe's uncanny ability to learn languages in two-three weeks:
"Soon enough she would find rhythm in the language, prosody to key the aural lock."
As much as this is a thriller, it is character-driven--and you've never met a character like Munroe. She is completely unique--freakish fighting prowess blended with rabid intelligence. Think Xena, the Warrior Princess married to Sherlock Holmes. Read these four snippets--you'll see what I mean:
"She took turns at random [as she walked through Osaka], stopping to compare the quantity and quality of vending machines...; discovered the dichotomy of quiet temples, shrines, and hokora tucked in amid busy city streets; stepped into every shop and restaurant that drew her interest, touching and tasking and breathing and learning, until the evening came and she followed the trail of bread crumbs through Osaka's crowded footprint home."
"Want built tight inside her chest, her skin tingling, itching for the pain to follow and for the violence that would scratch the itch."
"...hurt ceased to exist because all that mattered from one heartbeat to the next was whatever it took to stay alive."
"There was that wobble again, the gravitational pull of the thing she'd not yet placed."
By page 53, she'd grabbed me--again--and I had to finish. Read at your own risk, when you have plenty of free time....more