“It all comes out of that first line.”– E.L. Doctorow, 1931-2015

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Writing advice and memories from prolific, revered literary American Novelist, E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime, The March, Billy Bathgate and more!)

From The New York Times (with video interview!)

By Emily B. Hager | Jul. 22, 2015 | 1:59

The acclaimed American novelist and playwright E. L. Doctorow gives some key writing tips. He died Tuesday in Manhattan at the age of 84 due to complications from lung cancer. Great video!

Posted in American Literature, American novels, Book Reviews, fiction, Literary Lions, Literature, New Yorl Times Book Review, NYTBR, publishing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Joyce Carol Oates on Writing – Advice from a Master

[Terrific interview on BuzzFeed with literary icon Joyce Carol Oates about “writing.”] joyce carol oats “It’s been 52 years since Joyce Carol Oates published her first book, a short story collection titled By the North Gate. Since then, Oates, now 77, has written over 40 novels and countless poems and short stories, and she has been honored with the National Book Award and even Pulitzer Prize nominations. BuzzFeed recently had the chance to speak with Oates about the art of writing. Since the author has seen great literary success that most writers aspire to achieve, we asked her for advice. Here’s what she had to say: WRITING ADVICE FROM JOYCE CAROL OATES

Posted in American Literature, Literature, New and Recent Books, novel | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Grim Realities Face Women in India Today: New Book Sensation

Margaret Jean Langstaff:

This re-blog is actually about a fine novel I just finished editing a little over a week ago!

Originally posted on cozybookbasics:

  • 51NicbHFmWL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_If you are not yet a fan of the young, award-winning writer, Fiza Pathan, her new novella Amina is a good place to start. I found it a compelling read.

Here is the description from the Amazon page of the Kindle edition, priced at only $2.99:

  • Amina: The Silent One brings vividly to life the grim realities facing women in India today, the grinding, filthy poverty, and debasement with which most Indian women must contend in their daily lives. This book will shock you and rip your eyes open. Through the magic of fiction, it tells an awful truth in human terms that cannot be told in any other way.
  • “The degradation of women in India is nearly universal, and ranges from their second-class status in society, often excluding them from educational and professional opportunities, to their frequent physical and psychological brutalization, often involving assault, rape, and sexual slavery.

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A List of Creative Writing Competitions in 2015

Originally posted on Nicholas C. Rossis:

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's booksStart reading Infinite Waters for free with Kindle Unlimited

You all know how much I love short stories, right? Well, enough to have published two collections so far, Infinite Waters being the latest one.

I recently entered a new short story of mine in a competition organized by Almond Press. While on their Dystopian Stories site, I noticed they have this great page with all sorts of short story competitions, with prizes up to $14,000. Naturally, I had to share.

And if you’re looking to get your short story published, check with my publisher friend Dan Dombrowski: he’s looking for stories to include in the next issue of his excellent Nonlocal Science Fiction Magazine.

Competition Country Closing Date Max Words Entry Fee Top Prize
The Pigeonhole Short Story Competition International August 3rd 5,000 Free Publication
The Reading Room Short Story Comp International October 20th 2,000 £3 £50 +…

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What’s the Big Idea?

falling-bookI was scratching my head yesterday at the astronomical number of new books on writing on the market today–most by people I’ve never heard of before with slim writing resumes and credentials.  If you take the time to examine enough of these, you quickly discover that they say nothing new; they all cover essentially the same ground and say the same yadda yadda. No big surprise there because the elements of a good story or work of non-fiction are universally acknowledged, as old as humankind and writing, and absolutely old hat to seasoned writers.

(Pulling off a masterpiece, actually writing one, nevertheless, never has been easy and never will be. I mean, I know how a bird flies.  It flaps its wings!  Does that mean I can fly? Uh, no. Not naturally, anyway.)

At any rate, these breathless books promising to turn the reader into not only a whiz-bang writer, but a bestselling one as well, owe their existence to the widespread naivete of the tsunami of wannabe authors, a creature of our time and the spawn of Amazon.  The books they pour over to acquire their writing skills do not contain stunning revelations, sure-fire gimmicks or heretofore closely guarded secrets on the “writing game.” Nope. And most are a rip.

But they are popping up all over the place because it seems everyone wants to be an “author” today, but few have  invested the time and energy necessary to master the craft of writing.  Sure, talent is important, but it’s not enough.  It takes time and effort, tons of reading and writing, re-writing, practice-practice-practice and revision. We’re talking years here, friend. And even then there are no guarantees.

Yes, but! you will say, what about all those instant bestselling ebooks by nobody writers?  What about them? Here today, gone tomorrow.  Do you remember what was on the bestseller lists ten years ago? I rest my case.

As both a writer and editor myself of many years, there are no truths I am more certain of than the “sweat factor” and the long learning curve that go into making a great writer.  Reading all the “how to” books on writing ever written does not a good writer make.

When I am introduced to someone for the first time, one of the most frequent questions I get, after my new friend has learned I’m a writer, is: “Wow.  Where do you get your ideas?” Now, you may think that sounds naive.  But it isn’t really.  All the great book ideas come from life, not from books about writing.  They come from watching and studying people, listening to them, wondering about them–and then asking yourself if so and so were in such and such a situation, what would this person do?

Voila: a believable plot is born, originating in character, and possibly resulting in an interesting book.

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Having said all this, I will now nevertheless offer humbly a short list of writing tutorials (click-click) worth your time and their weight in gold.

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“Omit needless words!”–William Strunk Jr.

elements of style

Patient blogging, book-loving followers, I have just finished editing a 385 page manuscript, and I am here to report that such a long editorial stint is corrosive to one’s own writing.

Many of you may be aware that I wear two bookish hats professionally: writer and editor.  Though related, they can be antithetical to each other if indulged in undiluted form for extended periods of time.

The best writing comes from a non-critical, spontaneous sense of play.  Revision and editing, on the other hand, require a slow, meticulous (grinding!) attention to detail in order to be effective and to improve a manuscript.

When the spirit is on an inspired writer, the writer can sometimes break the sound barrier, rent a tear in the universe, create a sonic boom, with the rapid fire flow of words.  Oh, what a feeling, eh?  We’ve all been there from time to time if we’ve been at the writing craft for a while. Writing under such muse-flogging conditions often produces some of one’s best work (although always subject to review and revision).

Any editor, however, that edited at the speed of light ought to be fired on the spot.  It can’t be done.

The title of this little lament of mine is taken from (you probably already guessed) The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White, perhaps the most famous guide to writing of all time and the only “grammar” rule book (to my knowledge)  to have made the bestseller lists. If I had to distill the heart and soul of good editing, I would, like Strunk, utter the battle cry, “Omit needless words” (p.23).

Of the hundreds of reference works on editing and writing I own, this slim volume, barely one hundred pages, is by far the most valuable and the best single reference for my struggling clients.  It is also the least likely to squelch one’s imagination and the free flow of image and idea in the writing process.

At this point, I suppose I’ve given you my lame excuse for my absence here (work!) and given you a little lagniappe (a reminder of Strunk and White) to enhance your own writing and writing times.

I’ll give the master the last word in this and I won’t again stay away for so long. Happy reading and writing!

William Strunk’s words to the wise:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

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Something to Argue About! The Ten Greatest Novels of All Time?

I ran across this short video recently and thought bloggers here might find it worth pondering. It is a kind of hasty overview of these great works, a little daffy at points, but in aggregate, it is a selection worth considering. The list has actually inspired me to re-read Anna Karenina and a few of the other titles mentioned, great books I haven’t even thought about in some time.

What do you think? Do you agree with the uppity choices?  What would you add? :)

Posted in Literary Classics, Literary Lions, Literature | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments