Wednesday, March 26, 2008


"The mere habit of writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write."

Gabriel Fielding

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Double Take

This morning I was flipping through Crimspree Magazine and came to an ad by Echelon Press.  I was stopped still when I saw the jacket of a novel by Robert Goldsborough.  Except for the cigarette in the woman’s mouth, it is the same jacket on the the large print edition of This Dame for Hire.  Clean Feet Design is credited for my book.  I wonder if Clean Feet knows they’ve been used at least twice.  I guess so. I hope they get paid for this.

I think somebody did an article, either on the Internet or in a magazine, about this practice.  I don’t know why but I keep thinking Sarah Weinman did it on Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.  Has anybody else come across this with a book they’ve written?

I got an email from someone I’d told that I was no longer writing. This is what he wrote to me in reply: “If you are genuinely happy without the writing, more power to you.  I don't seem to be able to shake the bug and am hard at work on a book about my father.”

The annoying thing about this is that this man self-publishes and seems to only write about himself and his family.  No fiction.   He’s retired.  He doesn’t take in that my writing was my career, my job.  And clearly doesn’t get that my life’s work had nothing to do with a bug.  Yes, I’m grouchy.  I would write him a scathing letter except that he’s married to my favorite cousin.

Which leads me to something I was thinking about yesterday.  I used to have this saying on my bulletin board:  “I think there’s truth in what you say.”  The late Edward (Ned) Stewart told me to say that, or a version of it, when talking to my agent or an editor.  This was because of my prickly personality.  I know this comes as a shock to some of you, but, yes, I did have an abrupt style once upon a time.  But all that isn’t my point.

Remembering that sign led me to the other sign I had on my bulletin board.  “Advance the Story” in big black letters. They are important words.  And I wrote by them.  Most of the time.

No matter what kind of novel you’re writing the main thing is to advance the story.  That should be your goal.  If it is, it will keep you from going off on tangents, doing set pieces, throwing in a dream that bores the hell out of readers, ruminating on the weather, the scenery, the silverware or any other thing that has no business being there.  Unless it’s a sentence or two, but even then if it doesn’t move the story along, drop it.

I want to read a well-written book, but I’m not interested in pyrotechnic writing.

I just finished Richard Price’s Lush Life.  He doesn’t waste a word.  There’s one dream the book could do without.  It didn’t tell me anything and didn’t advance the story.  It was slightly irritating because it was a page and a half long. But if you’re Richard Price you can get away with it.  Almost.

I suggest that you take a piece of white letter-sized paper, turn it so it’s horizontal and in black magic marker write ADVANCE THE STORY and pin it up where you can see it as you write.

Or don’t.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Disappearing Act

My Medialist disappeared around March 6th or 7th. This is where I listed my recommended books. The website has no new entries after March 8th. I think it’s over. I wish I could find another site that would allow me to do what I did with Medialist. If anyone knows of one I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know.

I’ve made my own recommendation list and I’m starting over because I don’t remember what was on there. It isn’t as pretty as the old one but I guess this list isn’t about pretty.

Obviously the Medialist came back since I wrote that.

And speaking of disappearing, I haven’t. I’m still around and still not feeling guilty about not writing. I’ve been following Laura Lippman's book tour and feeling happy for her and happy it’s not me. I could never do a tour like hers. The most I ever did was two weeks and I found it exhausting. I couldn’t even do two weeks now. Fortunately, no one is asking me to.

I had a short period in which I was unable to read. I found that awful. But now I can. I have a bunch of books lined up and you can see the one I finished on my jerry-rigged list.

When I read a wonderful novel like Lush Life I do feel a bit nostalgic for the act of writing. Not that I could write a book like Price’s. That’s not the point. But there’s a part of me that wants to be in that state…the state of creation. There’s no better state to be in, I think. Even when it’s not going well. Still, I’m not interested or ready to go back to my schedule.

Jess has suggested that I write about “plotting, characterization, making setting come alive--whatever.” I’m not a teacher but I might be able to do this if asked a specific question. I promise nothing.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


"Mere literary talent is common; what is rare is endurance, the continuing desire to work hard at writing."

Donald Hall

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Over and Over

I’ve decided it’s the routine that’s gotten to me.  It’s not unlike any job where you do the same thing over and over.

What I mean is this: going to bed by 10 P.M.; getting up to an alarm; having breakfast; getting to my desk by 9 A.M. and staying there until 12 or 1.

On the face of it it doesn’t look so terrible.  But I’ve been doing it for about 50 years with short breaks here and there.

Since I stopped writing ideas have come to me…not big ones, but little ones here and there.  I think to myself I should write that (a habit that doesn’t go away ever, I suspect) and then my mind goes immediately to the SCHEDULE.  And I know I can’t do it.

So change the schedule, you say.  Write in the afternoon.  Write at night. Use something other than a computer.  I can’t.  I’ve never used anything but a typewriter or a computer.  And I’ve always written in the morning. 

I’m a morning person.  I’d have no energy to write in the afternoon and night is for other things.  Like life.  Not to mention total lack of energy. Writing with pen and pad leaves me cold.  And I can’t write in cafes or libraries or anywhere but here.  I have to have total silence.  That’s one of the main reasons I left NYC.

I have no idea what to do about this.  Perhaps I’ll have to stay silent until the idea of a schedule doesn’t make me feel sick.