Book Reviews for Writers

 A collection of my book reviews (first published elsewhere)
of interest to writers and authors.

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese,

by Michael Paterniti

This is a book unlike any other you’ve read for it is a “tale of love, betrayal, revenge, and the world’s greatest piece of cheese.” When the author, Michael Paterniti learns of this unusual cheese, he decides to find out what could possibly be so special. What he learns is not just about a piece of cheese, but about the passion and commitment it would take to continue making such an unusual cheese, no matter the time and labor required.

As Paterniti discusses the story with his agent, he ventures to Guzman, Spain to become embroiled in the life of a passionate farmer. There he finds himself in a place and time when farming was divinity, not machines; when  traditional methods of raising animals meant caring for them out in the fields, talking to them, and seeing them through life.

The flight to Madrid and the journey to Guzman create a personal experience that leads Paterniti to ruminate on his father’s Italian family and surrendering to a feeling of true happiness, knowing he learned the value of tradition and time. The farm and surrounding properties included a cave where the cheese was stored, and in a centuries old custom, the cave, with a private “telling room” gave Paterniti the opportunity to learn the secrets of the town, the passions of farming, and to know Ambrosio, the farmer.

Especially of interest to writers and story tellers is the author’s effort to stop researching in awe, and start the actual writing. Knowing the book had to get a start and he had to tell a story, he realized it didn’t yield any actual writing yet, and book deadlines were missed year after year. Eventually, Ambrosio gives him the big metal key to the telling room, a key so big, “it seemed to be an artifact from Middle Earth.”  Now, could Paterniti write the book?

Once in the room, Paterniti spread out his notes, turned on his laptop, and had too much of Ambrosio’s homemade wine. After drinking enough to require a nap, he awoke with “a headache and only a bushel of horrible paragraphs.”  This additional element of the author trying to write a book while he experiences the live-changing events, and witnesses a drama of betrayal, makes this a sensational, award-winning work of nonfiction.   Back cove blurbs attest to this. One author says: “The list of writers I would read even if they were to write about a piece of cheese has always been short, but it includes Michael Paterniti. He has proved here that if you love something enough, and pay a passionate-enough attention to it, the whole world can become present in it.”

Not to give away any more details, the story belongs to Ambrosio Molinos, visionary cheesemaker, witchdoctor of human truths, and story teller extraordinaire,” according to Michael Paterniti, but the real hero is the man who knew how to find the story, and eventually knew how to tell it. This is a fantastic nonfiction story, not to be missed. 

____________________________________________ Spend an hour with Authorpreneur in Pajamas, by Geraldine Solon and learn how to market your next book. Solon is author of three novels, and taught herself how to build a platform for big sales volume. As an energetic entrepreneur, Solon has done your work for you. She had the determination to make sure her books had visibility and worked hard to increase sales. Now, with Authorpreneur in Pajamas, you can do the same to make your books a success.

Solon's writes about the power of online resources to create exposure. Use her book as a blueprint to your book marketing. This tiny volume, with very short chapters (i.e., two pages each) will show you how to build your platform, i.e.,your brand, from home in your PJs. Solon is very serious about the process that works for her and can work for other authors. She clarifies the "platform" concept by saying: "Platform is not about selling your books, but about being an authority in your field."

The book also teaches you how to track your online sales, and Solon uses her own books as examples, sharing her results based on the marketing activities she develops. She makes many solid points and stresses the reasons to participate in social media, cautioning that it should focus on generosity, not hard selling. Finally, the book includes serious resource lists and ideas about book trailers, ebooks, and cross-marketing with other authors. Seeing the author's efforts and her productivity, we can only find a small flaw in the editing, which could have used one more pass to catch final small errors. Her ideas are dynamite and can work for all authors in charge of their book marketing.


Read Still Writing: The Perils of a Creative Life, by Dani Shapiro, (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013)

Shapiro is a contributing editor at Travel & Leisure. Her brief essays exemplify good solid writing in each issue. She is the author of two memoirs and five novels, as well as numerous stories and essays that appear in Granta, The New Yorker, and Vogue, among other prestigious publications.

Now, in Still Writing: The Perils of a Creative Life, she writes for you. Every writer can admire Shapiro's swift skill stringing thoughts into words, but she also emboldens us.
em•bold•en, transitive verb: to make (someone) more confident

Shapiro transports readers who hear her views on the privilege of being a writer, and the relentless need to put in the time! Still Writing refers not only to keeping at our craft, but also still writing... being still, getting out of your own way, to become open and aware. 

“Everything I know about life, I learned from the daily practice of sitting down to write.”
                                                                                                                          -- Dani Shapiro 

Still Writing is a worthy read for all book lovers, as well as the story of a wife and mother making a career at home and on the road, either writing, or waiting for inspiration.

What writers will especially appreciate is Shapiro’s frank comments on the act of writing. She explores the value of composing material by hand, weighing in on the eternal pen vs. computer debate. To her, the screen can make our work look neat and tidy – finished – before it is. “We can swoop in, search and replace, cut and paste, highlight, delete, and all the while the screen absorbs the changes and still looks the same.”  You quickly get her point about computer-aided revision vs. the lovely mess we make once we print out our pages and edit by hand. Things get messy then, as they should. And that’s a process that is lost on the screen.”The evidence of the mind making the thing-made visible in the cross outs, the thick rewriting of words over other words, the fanciful sketches… This is work being made in real time. Work that reveals its scars.”

Writers, now you see why I want you to read
Still Writing:The Perils of a Creative Life, by Dani Shapiro.

Product DetailsMany of us recognize the name of Nick Bantock from the famous Griffin and Sabine trilogy he published in the 1990s. Those terrific books were on the New York Times best-seller list for two years. And many of us still have all three books proudly displayed in our homes. The author’s creativity and literary skills are now joined again in The Trickster’s Hat: A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity.

At the heart of The Trickster’s Hat is a collection of activities to loosen up the brain, thereby getting writers and artists to reach deeper into their craft. And, of course, our creativity is further spurred by Bantock’s lively illustrations, including his unique full-color collages.
The playful creativity starters include making lists, having fun, and loosening up enough to stop self-censorship. You’ll soon realize you are also relearning the art of play. Some exercises need common materials such as paper, scissors, and glue. You’ll enjoy the challenge of inventing words, sketching, and following writing prompts. None of the playful activities are computer-based, with a Delete key. Using simple tools that engage both sides of the brain help you maintain momentum and let your creativity take over.

While the process of creativity differs for everyone, Bantock opens up to it by simply beginning – just getting something down on paper without worrying about perfection. As he says:

“You can’t experiment and be flawless at the same time.”

It’s best to keep a notebook handy as you read, since you’ll be invited to work through writing prompts to loosen up and have fun. Bantock stresses there is no creativity without play.

In fact, while The Trickster’s Hat is enjoyable to read straight through, with Bantock’s personal conversational tone, you’ll get more out of the book by allowing time for the exercises. This gifted artist, known for his creative books, invites the reader to have fun with the ideas that will help spark individual creativity. And who knows where that creativity may lead.
If, as he says, “Art offers a path to our souls,” it is imperative for today’s writers to remember how to unplug, get quiet, and get creative. The lighthearted exercises will inspire your creativity and let you enjoy where it leads. Beyond fun, it may be the launch pad for your next poem, powerful essay, or your big next book idea.

Nick Bantock has written 25 books, including the Griffin and Sabine trilogy loved by millions of readers of all ages.

Need to get unstuck? Get the nudge you need with The Art of Getting Started, by Lee Crutchley

The Art of Getting Started 
This is a deceptively simple and almost joyful little book, with graphics and suggestions in wild fonts. And it works. If you write and draw as directed, Crutchley's method will shake you up enough that you will follow the prompts to see what step to take next.

We all know the feeling when you're faced with a task and are stuck on where and how to begin. The result is usually feeling rooted in frustration and getting nowhere. But open The Art of Getting Started to any page, and you're likely to feel creative again in a few moments. Since the author is a professional illustrator and designer, much of the book is fill-in or drawing, with list-making and humorous ways to recharge your thinking.

Procrastination can be overcome with the author's suggestions and ideas for unique tasks. One important one is to remember "procrastination kills free time." That should be a good motivator to get moving.

Crutchley's friendly style is straightforward and very energizing:

"Turning ideas into real things is NOT the easy part. It takes work, and delaying the work does one thing - It delays the work."

Fans of Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal will feel right at home. Let The Art of Getting Started help you find your focus for your next project. You're sure to have fun with the book along the way.

Whether you are staring at a blank page and a looming deadline, or too bored to be able to motivate yourself, you'll find a solution here, often after doing the drawing exercises.

Crutchley's intention is to shift your perspective and shine light on the way to get started. As he advises: "There are hundreds of ways to reach your goal. But the most important thing is always the next step."

One last quote from The Art of Getting Started to inspire you:

Remember, today was tomorrow yesterday.

[Review first published at by Helen Gallagher 9-30-2013]

Art Made From Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed will likely transform your appreciation of books … books as art objects.

This surprising anthology brims with charming, pure art, created by hands and tools. The spirit of magical realism is alive as characters are literally lifted out of books through delicate carving. Some are carved, some are books embellished with light, wire or glass. The stunning result is a recurring delight; and our appreciation grows each time we consider the delicate artistry and spirit in the objects.

There is unmistakable joy of the creation of these altered books; a fairly recent modern form of art. The process, known since the 18th century in England has become more appreciated today when outdated reference books can see new life as treasured, whimsical, works of art.

In the book’s Preface by artist Brian Dettmer, he speaks of his joy in cutting around a landscape in an old book and finding another image emerge a few pages down. To him, the carving was like reading; never knowing what would come next. And he was making something relevant out of discarded material.

 Throughout Art Made From Books, faces leap out in stunning portraits, especially intriguing when we realize the faces are carved into old telephone books! Page fragments, crimped, curled or scrolled, find new life in new forms.

The book’s Introduction, by Alyson Kuhn, reminds us that an original book structure can become a window, a frame or a stage. As artists reinterpret a book, its form changes, and in some newly created object from old books, she says: “The words we cannot read cast a petaled or plumaged shadow on the endpapers.”

Transforming a discarded book into a brilliant, permanent work of art is a dramatic display of skill, artistry and vision. It must be a thrilling labor of love for these talented artists.

 Admirers of both art and books will be inspired to get crafty with obsolete tomes or follow the whimsy of the 25 creative artists who expand the meaning and context of books with their enchanting visual creations. Seeing photos of some artist’s studios, tools and process details adds clarity and insight for those interested in trying this unique mixed media art form.

Chronicle Books is known for innovation and high quality. With Art Made From Books they have reached new heights for readers with this lovely volume celebrating the beauty, joy, and the passion of artistry. This book itself is a joy to hold, with a stitched binding and exposed spine. It is a work of art, manufactured on heavy paper, in full color, with museum quality photos. A book that most surely will inspire others to appreciate and create delightful altered books.

Travel Writing 2.0: Earning Money from your Travels in the New Media Landscape,

Tim Leffel is a writer I've followed for years on his news magazine site, I recently reread his 2010 Travel Writing 2.0 as an ebook, and find it just as motivating and powerful as it was in the original. His sincere interest is in helping other writers figure out how to enjoy the fun parts of travel, deal with the frustrations, and produce stellar writing, while someone else pays the bills.

Guidebook writing is a unique speciality and if that appeals to you, listen as Leffel levels with you. It is not a vacation, that's for sure.

Most travel writing is consists of about ten percent writing well. The rest is hard work: business, marketing and resources. One aspect of travel writing I recall learning on a reporting trip to New Orleans is that, as a writer, you learn to treat travel more as a journey, and see your destination differently than you would as a casual tourist.

Some of the most practical advice, if you've already decided that travel writing is your goal, includes how to write about a hotel without having it sound like reciprocity for a free night. Leffel also writes in great detail about how freelance travel writers make money. There is a big big difference between craft and making money. While travel writing, he says is "not as demanding as being a great novelist," he is honest about the "hyper-competitve, crowded, low-paying field with the deck stacked against you." Lastly, Travel Writing 2.0 includes advice from dozens of other successful travel writers who share their strategies for success.

Travel Writing 2.0 can be a roadmap to your future; a future that holds more depth and meaning for both your travels and your writing.

Now posted on New York Journal of Books... of special interest to artists & writers.




The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Nonfiction

"Beginning writer or pro, spend an hour with this book and learn lifelong strategies for a prolific writing career."  Helen Gallagher

If you’re writing nonfiction, or want to break in, you’ll be energized by the possibilities suggested for you in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Nonfiction.

The book encompasses the whole of nonfiction – not just essay, memoir, or journalism. Author Christina Boufis expands your horizons by opening a path throughout the entire genre. She is director of the San Francisco Art Institute’s writing program, has been teaching nonfiction writing at Stanford University since 1999, and her essays and articles are widely published.
Boufis presents a thorough explanation of various categories of nonfiction, and she emphasizes the importance of telling a good story, with a narrative arc in an essay, news report, or a book-length work. “While structure is important, nothing matters more than story."
Writing for a reader requires we deliver on these five ingredients to ensure you leave no holes in a story: character, conflict, setting, plot, and resolution. And yes, if you read nonfiction carefully, you’ll see it is indeed an element of every piece of good writing in magazines, newspapers, and books.

The chapter on finding ideas covers much of the same material we writers usually see, but here you’ll learn how your point-of-view can make ideas unique. Other chapters do such a good job of teaching craft, such as "Scene Setting," that they are of use to writers of both fiction and nonfiction.

Finding good markets for narrative nonfiction for writers today is aided by the proliferation of online markets as adjunct to print magazines, and Boufis covers the basics of getting started.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Nonfiction includes a huge section on research and interviewing, and a thorough discussion of immersion journalism. Chapters on long-form journalism, market analysis, and self-publishing round out this truly complete guide.

Article first published as Book Review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Nonfiction by Christina Boufis on


As much as we love the freedom of publishing in the 21st century, one truth remains: books don’t sell themselves.

According to Patricia Fry, the reality is that personality sells books. And here in Talk Up Your Book: How to Sell Your Book Through Public Speaking, Interviews, Signings, Festivals, Conferences, and More, she tells us exactly what that means. If you’re serious about successfully promoting yourself as an author, this is the book you’ve been missing.

Talk Up Your Book is a guide to what it really means to market your book. It is a wake-up call to authors who think their book will be discovered and sell well without effort. Marketing requires much more than book signings or store events. Fry, author of more than thirty books, gives you the tools you need to handle self-promotion, public speaking, interviews, and conferences. The book is filled with ideas and a blueprint for success with speaking skills, getting paid to deliver workshops, write press releases, and sell more books at festivals and events.

Fry has a unique first-hand perspective and helps the reader prepare to handle unexpected circumstances and conduct successful events, as she shows you how to pitch a conference, get paid for speaking, and become a pro at radio, television and social media. Her ideas work because she shares her first-hand strategies for critical skills, such as building rapport, with your audience.

I’ve never met the author, but I do know of Patricia Fry through her diligent work with writing organizations and know she is generous in sharing the route to success that works for her. And, Fry knows a lot! Her energy and marketing savvy nearly leap off each page. She is a well-known prolific writer and her success is proof that the promotional techniques she teaches us really do work.

Now, go Talk Up Your Book..

First published at by Helen Gallagher

Publish Like the Pros: A Brief Guide to Quality Self-Publishing and an Insider's Look at a Misunderstood IndustryThe book market is flooded with how-to books on getting published. The difference with Publish Like the Pros: A Brief Guide to Quality Self-Publishing is that the author, Michele DeFilippo, runs a book design company that helps authors succeed with a beautiful book. She offers a strategy to migrate toward self-publishing without the problems plaguing many first-time authors: Poor writing and bad covers. “What’s the point,” she says, “in creating a product that people aren’t going to want to purchase?” 

In the old day of publishing, your book would be considered a success based on the size of the publisher’s print-run. The number of copies printed were an indicator of your expected sales ranking among other books. Now, times are different, and all that matters is the quantity sold, since a one-time large print-run seems to be a thing of the past for all but the top best-selling authors.

Your goal is still to write a good book for your intended audience and then have a darn good plan for how to reach that audience.

Self-publishing requires you learn many elements of the business if you are your own book project manager, from pricing and distribution to the critical elements of title and cover. Publish Like the Pros explains your role in helping a book designer truly understand your project and your target audience in order to give you the product you envision; one that will appeal to your target reader.

DeFillippo explains the misunderstood publishing industry of today in this brief handbook, an essential tool for new authors. Her unique perspective includes offering you the best design information for a professional appearance, benefits of using a distributor for stronger sales, solid advice on a quality product, and an understanding that your book is your business.

The book concludes with a small but mighty section on book distribution, pricing and marketing, with rules that are true whether you’re starting on your first book or your fifth. DeFillippo gives it to you straight, including the reality most authors don’t want to hear: a) you have to convince people to let you sell your book through them, and b) you have to convince readers to buy it.

It is hard work to produce a quality book, but there’s never been a better time to do so, and to do it right.


Are you familiar with writers’ angst when marketing and promoting your book? Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer’s Guide to Marketing and Publicity puts a positive spin on the task of making your book sell. In addition to being an author, Rob Eagar is a marketing consultant so he offers a fresh perspective on the process, with loads of ideas for marketing and promotion.
Concepts covered include:

Kelly James-Enger is a recognized pro in freelance writing and book publishing. In Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success, you'll learn a great deal about her career path from beginner to successful full-time writer. She shares her experiences, both good and bad, as she describes the benefits of specializing as a writer. The book is packed with generous samples of her work, resources and templates.
Among the many powerful strategies you can put to use now are the seven techniques to keep work flowing, in the effort to “Beat the Feast or Famine Syndrome.”
If you’ve read James-Enger's previous bestseller, Six-Figure Freelancing, you’ll find the secrets in Writer for Hire to be a motivating companion. With this as a guide, your writing goals are attainable. Efficiency, marketing, relationship building, managing your business, and finding balance round out the major sections in this powerful handbook for writers.
 ... Continue reading here:


Sheree Bykofsky, a name you’ll likely recognize as a literary agent and co-author Jennifer Basye Sander, author or co-author of over thirty books have compiled the one-stop guide to sorting out the complex business of becoming an author.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published offers a fresh take on the basics: attracting an agent, becoming an expert and "acting like an author;" in which they remind you how to talk and think like one. No matter where you are in the publishing process, you can refine and update your knowledge of today's publishing process.

At almost 400 pages, the book is an excellent value, as it can help you achieve breakout success; the long-term goal of most writers. A trend in publishing today is to invest in authors with staying power. If you truly see yourself as a career author, you'll find there are a variety of ways to make money through your writing.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published includes a comprehensive descripton of special book categories, going beyond fiction and non-fiction because today more than ever, it is important to focus on your specific niche markets. So you’ll learn about new sub-genres, including Manga, Shtick Lit, and Urban Fantasy.

While the realities of getting published aren’t sugar-coated, the authors share their optimism, helping you see how to be one who succeeds. Having a good idea for a book won’t guarantee your success, but you can find the success factor with careful research on the market you're aiming for.

full review:


As we begin a frightfully early Halloween snowstorm across the east coast, enjoy my latest book review, of "Winter" by Adam Gopnik at New York Journal of Books.
(www. excerpt:

How does a season produced by the tilts of poles and the presence of climate cycles attach itself to our lives? There is a July on Venus, a spring on Mars, but no one there to witness it. But winter . . . love it or hate it, is indeed noticeable. Winter has the power to make the bittersweet and the bleak sublime.

Author and essayist, Adam Gopnik writes in Winter: Five Windows on the Season that many have “a mind for winter” and the feelings it invokes. Yet, too often in the 21st century, “the romance of winter is possible only when we have a warm, secure indoors to retreat to, and winter becomes a season to look at as much as one to live through.”

Gopnik's newest book "The Table Comes First," makes a perfect holiday gift for a family member.


The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, by Martha Alderson is a lovely writing companion from Adams Media.
Instead of drafting and redrafting your plot, characters, and story, get it right the first time by following the blueprint Alderson hands you in this concise collection of trade secrets to great writing.

Martha Alderson, based in California, leads workshops, retreats and has been consulting on plot for over fifteen years. Her advice is the best I’ve read, especially for fiction writers. As an example, here’s a helpful tip for those who worry over every word and sentence. “The first few drafts set the foundation. The time to fiddle with the details comes later.”

Once Alderson gets you motivated by her advice to just start writing whatever words come to you, turn to her five reasons to push through the middle of the story, which include your need to keep writing to find out how it will end, and of course, to accomplish what you set out to do.

Again and again. Alderson brings us back to the concept of the “universal story,” the structure upon which your words are formed. The Plot Whisperer is especially helpful with regard to plotting; not just the storyline but how it impacts the main character. Over time, you come to understand how each scene delivers more tension and conflict, building on the story’s depth, and leading you to an exceptional story.

The book thoughtfully includes graphs, charts, and original material you’ll return to again and again, such as the Resource Plot Planner and craft advice you won’t see elsewhere. Wise writers will take Alderson’s heartfelt advice and turn it into an action plan. 

If you want to get your story right the first time, read The Plot Whisperer and use the techniques to structure your story and develop characters rich with emotion. And remember “Mastery does not mean that you will always be strong and confident, that you will always show up consistently to write and believe in yourself as a writer. Mastery means that you know yourself well enough to use new strategies to pick yourself out of the muck more quickly and with fewer bruises."
This is a book you will wear out as you finish it, and surely you will become a better writer along the way

JustMyTypeJust My Type: A Book About Fonts provokes discussion on the fascinating world of fonts. Typefaces are about 560 years old and represent some of the most important and least-appreciated graphic design elements in our world. Fonts are critical to communication, not just in newspapers or window signs. We live in a world of information, but that information in conveyed via the global storefront of web designs, with fonts that convey urgency, or are grand designs on monuments or stylish like practiced penmanship.
 So how do you make a book about fonts interesting? Author Simon Garfield could have tried a dozen different approaches and Just My Type would still succeed with every chapter. This Gotham Books production includes photos, graphics, and all of the fonts discussed, with chapters weaving history and humor throughout, to entertain any word/print lover.

Garfield first takes us on a walk through Brooklyn and Manhattan pointing out just how much Helvetica typeface is used in signage we see every day. We learn why many people dislike Microsoft’s Comic Sans font, while others find the font to be fun. Its designer attests that it works “because it’s better than Times New Roman.” One of the funniest narratives in Just My Type concerns a man who tried to avoid seeing Helvetica typeface for an entire day. From restaurant menus to dollar bills and yogurt labels, Helvetica is hard to ignore. Yet you won’t see Helvetica in Microsoft’s Office suite. We learn they saved money by licensing Arial instead, which is a close match in appearance.

You’ll enjoy wandering through the history of fonts used for books, movies, and today, the massive array of fonts that spill across computer screens around the world. Garfield even spots egregious errors in film such as movies that use a typeface invented decades after the film’s time period.
We learn the appearance of letters can influence our ability to read and comprehend their message. We might wonder how a new font in our century could ever surpass prior letters on a page. Yet, there is both love and hate for new fonts released in software and in print publications that stir our passions.

There are fonts that succeed regardless of point size, weight, slant, or depth. As Garfield says, “The fonts that work best are the ones that allow us to read without ruining our eyes.” 

Just My Type proves fonts can be cool, modern, horrid, or mocked, but there’s a lot of life in them, and this book is a joy to read. As Chip Kidd says in the book’s Foreword, considering the English alphabet …  “Twenty-six purely abstract symbols that in and of themselves mean absolutely nothing, but when put together in the right combinations can introduce into the heads of readers an infinite variety of sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, places, people, characters, situations, feelings, ideas.”

 You’ll never look at an airport sign or the name on a football uniform the same way once you journey through this irreverent collection on the history and successful uses of fonts to convey information.

We Wanted To Be Writers is a fairly humble title for a book delving into the careers of some of best writers in 20th century America. It shares stories of the inspiration and frustration these writers experienced in their days at the legendary Iowa Writers’ Workshop, from 1974-1978.

As you wander through the book, reading details of the lives of the young T.C. Boyle, Sandra Cisneros, John Irving, Eric Olsen and Jane Smiley, you might be surprised to learn how rough it was for them to become the writers they are today. There were financial struggles as well as intense competition with no promise of a stellar writing career to support their efforts. You’ll read as much about the personal lives and challenges faced by these writers as you will about the creative process and their compelling stories along the road to success.

They and dozens of others are represented in these high-energy conversations in We Wanted To Be Writers. You’re sure to make new friends when you read the authors’ reflections, worries and insights. Allan Gurganus is one that resonates with me, who now, looking back, says he’s been waiting his whole life for the internet. Gurganus also describes the moment when you’re “sitting in the dark at the keyboard at 1:00 a.m., typing as fast as you can toward some new idea, with your eyes closed…” Only later, as many of us recognize, comes the moment when “You know you’re on to something you wouldn’t have snagged during a usual workday after your usual breakfast… .”

The stamina needed to be a good writer includes knowing it is okay to set writing aside for a while if it just isn’t working, or if something greater is calling. As Catherine Gammon says when she felt a pull toward a Zen life: “I had to set it aside to just be willing to walk on the planet without being a writer.” Creativity itself, though, is likely never lost. As Iowa Writers Workshop faculty member Marvin Bell notes, creativity is never lost. “For a writer, it only takes the need to write again, and then enough writing until the machine is sufficiently oiled. Creativity creates.” Bell was also Iowa’s first Poet Laureate.

We Wanted To Be Writers is rich with advice, humor, empathy and honesty, leaving you with an urge to try a little harder with your own writing. One thing’s for sure; you’ll know you’re not alone with the rejection battles writers face. The book reminds that good writers make it, no matter the path they choose, as Doug Unger says: “… by sticking to making their craft, surviving out in the cold, and getting lucky enough that readers find their work.” The book includes full biographies, author photos, bedside reading lists of the writers.

Article first published as Book Review: We Wanted to Be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers' Workshop by Eric Olsen and Glenn Schaeffer on Blogcritics.

Now in its fourth edition, How to Write a Book Proposal, by Michael Larsen, remains a hit.

This new edition lays the groundwork for writing a good proposal and finding an agent to sell your book. What’s new in this fourth edition is an update on the entire publishing industry, and loads of new resources.

Before the internet age, people didn’t think much about the afterlife a newly published book. The industry swept it up and it either thrived or died. But digital technology has changed all that, not only creating new viable sales channels for more books, but making it easier than ever for authors to do good research and promote their work.

Michael Larsen, a co-founder of the Larsen/Pomada Literary Agency in San Francisco, California, has 30-plus years in publishing. How to Write a Book Proposal lives up to its name, and more, since Larsen is generous in sharing his knowledge of the industry. His first-person experience makes the book useful for many other aspects of writing, not just book proposals.

Sections include information on ways to add value to your book, targeting your ideal reader, and building communities to support your writing career with the “Golden Triangle.” You’ll also learn about recent changes in the publishing industry, get updates on trends, view sample proposals, a completely updated resources section, and a new chapter on online promotion.

Going far beyond the promise of the book’s title, you’ll learn a great deal about author marketing and the sales process in the retail book trade. Why does this matter? Because whether you know it or not, you’re going to have to work at keeping your book visible and sustaining sales.

If you’re at the stage of finalizing your book’s title, buy How to Write a Book Proposal just for Larsen’s sage advice on gaining distance from your book to help you find the best title, and his 19 questions to ask yourself about the marketing power of a title.

Appendix material includes a rich collection of web resources ranging from article syndication to podcast directories, and insights on the value of a publicist and creative alliances.

With today’s wide self-publishing options, writers may choose to strike out on their own rather than wait a year or two for a publisher to turn your words into your life’s dream.

Even if you go it alone, How to Write a Book Proposal is still an extremely worthwhile guide to make certain your book is the best it can be, and to ensure you know how to reach your reader and keep your book alive.

Donald Maass, an agent for over thirty years, sees far too many manuscripts that are just not great, with no clue as to why. But then he sees many terrific novels and knows they will succeed. The Breakout Novelist is geared to writers who already know how to write a novel and are ready to take their skill to the level of mastery.

Reading The Breakout Novelist, you will finally understand the meaning of “universal theme,” and learn how to make sure your novel has impact, not just for you, but for your readers. Early on, Maass moves us into the work of building the premise for a truly breakout novel with a credible and original story. He provides a seminar’s worth of examples from well-know works of great authors.

Who better but this veteran agent to talk you through the four facets of a great novel? By example, Maass shows us how to find the keys to plausibility, inherent conflict, originality, and gut emotional appeal. He then explains precisely how to interpret and mold these traits into your writing.

You’ll be encouraged by these efforts when your act of discovery reveals what your novel is really about, and what it needs to hold an agent spellbound. “No breakout novel leaves us feeling neutral. A breakout novel rattles, confronts, and illuminates.”

When we think of successful fiction writers, we may not realize the distance they’ve traveled to become career novelists; people who can deliver one bestseller after another. With work, and using Maass as your coach, you can master the techniques to produce a flawless novel, and find a ready market too, despite trying times in the publishing industry.

The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.

The Nighttime Novelist helps you make the most of whatever creative moments you can grab in your day, night, lunch hour, or a Saturday at the library.

You’ll learn more about finding story ideas, building characters, getting over hurdles, and learn the elements of good description. The book includes a thorough and practical analysis of point of view (POV), with a helpful chart to help you decide on POV, one of a novelist's most difficult tasks.

The organization of The Nighttime Novelist runs from ideas and concepts to plot and pacing. The book's format — hardcover, with spiral binding and full-color text — is so inviting you can open the book to any page and be energized. Worksheets and exercises, tips and motivating suggestions keep you moving forward. The author also includes useful quotes and specific references to major works of fiction, both teaching and inspiring you to write like the best novelists.

Bates’ unusual approach includes explaining why “write what you know” isn’t enough. We connect with our characters and stories “by finding something familiar in their motivations and conflicts, something we’ve felt before that has a bearing on the work, then exploring that feeling in the context of your story, and this is how our readers begin to connect with our characters too.”

If you’re not a fiction writer, don't let the title mislead you. Whether you write by day or by night, you’ll increase your awareness of all the wasted moments in the dayor week that could be woven into good writing. Because of the book's layout and style, your spare moments can lead you right to the internal problem you need to solve, whether you write fiction, memoir or journalism.

The ultimate payoff comes when you take the time to really examine your book’s ending from the standpoint of reader satisfaction. You’ll know you’ve done your best when you finally tie up loose ends, but also when you achieve the “line-by-line pleasures of the text,” to end your journey. And that’s exactly what Joseph Bates does for us.

February 24, 2011
The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual,
by A. Victoria Mixon

You’ll be glad The Art & Craft of Fiction has such a gorgeous cover, because I expect you will want to keep this book by your side for a long time.

In three parts, the author walks you through:

I. Becoming a Writer, which deals with the conflicting advice writers hear about the details of agents, blogs and platform. Instead, she urges you pay attention to the writing. “Just write. You’re in this for the long haul.”

II. Writing, where Mixon covers developmental issues and the basics of plot, character, prose, "revising unto death.”

III. Being a Writer, because where you go from here is entirely up to you. But read and reread this short section to break your habit of “revising unto death” and learn from great writers who can’t stop writing because their manuscript is waiting.
Mixon helps us imagine ourselves as the earliest storytellers and reveals why we need stories.
“For just an hour in the darkest part of your day, when you can’t see beyond your tent and the lions are making dinner conversation back and forth over your head, you get to hide in this imaginary place. This is why humans began telling stories. It’s why they drew on the walls of caves, why they painted designs on their bodies…. To transcend the madness.” And, she says this is why we still tell stories, “… desperate for anything to satisfy the eternal longing to know everything, finally, ended okay.”’
As a realist, Mixon also recognizes the need to spend time promoting our books. The job of a writer is not that different than any other. Yet she also sets an optimistic tone regarding today’s literary market, with a wealth of opportunities online.
Both freelance writers and authors will benefit from Mixon’s advice on dealing with rejection and on the query process. But her advice as it relates to fiction is the most relevant and freshest advice you’ll find. The section on character development addresses the writer’s quest for advice and inspiration. You’ll also find lots of small chapters to snack on regarding characters, dialog and plot development 

November 30, 2010
The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates

Isn’t National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) the perfect time to pick up a new guidebook meant just for you, while you're banging out a great novel?

The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.
The Nighttime Novelist helps you make the most of whatever creative moments you can grab in your day, night, lunch hour, or a Saturday at the library.

You’ll learn more about finding story ideas, building characters, getting over hurdles, and learn the elements of good description. The book includes a thorough and practical analysis of point of view (POV), with a helpful chart to help you decide on POV, one of a novelist's most difficult tasks.

The organization of The Nighttime Novelist runs from ideas and concepts to plot and pacing. The book's format — hardcover, with spiral binding and full-color text — is so inviting you can open the book to any page and be energized. Worksheets and exercises, tips and motivating suggestions keep you moving forward. The author also includes useful quotes and specific references to major works of fiction, both teaching and inspiring you to write like the best novelists.
Bates’ unusual approach includes explaining why “write what you know” isn’t enough. We connect with our characters and stories “by finding something familiar in their motivations and conflicts, something we’ve felt before that has a bearing on the work, then exploring that feeling in the context of your story, and this is how our readers begin to connect with our characters too.”
If you’re not a fiction writer, don't let the title mislead you. Whether you write by day or by night, you’ll increase your awareness of all the wasted moments in the dayor week that could be woven into good writing. Because of the book's layout and style, your spare moments can lead you right to the internal problem you need to solve, whether you write fiction, memoir or journalism.
The ultimate payoff comes when you take the time to really examine your book’s ending from the standpoint of reader satisfaction. You’ll know you’ve done your best when you finally tie up loose ends, but also when you achieve the “line-by-line pleasures of the text,” to end your journey. And that’s exactly what Joseph Bates does for us.

September 7, 2010

Trapped on the Wheel by John Glavin

If you met the author today, you’d never know John Glavin lived in two worlds. Throughout Trapped on the Wheel, it is clear he lives and breathes the world of Chicago in 1893 in exquisite detail. His colorful novel blends fact and fiction with the drama and life we would see on a movie screen.

You’ll step into a period of Chicago life rarely portrayed so vividly. From the opening page, you accompany young Alessandra as she weighs the choices in her life, balancing tradition and a fierce sense of independence.

Trapped on the Wheel merges the exciting history of Chicago at the dawn of the 20th century and the tremendous adventure of the World’s Fair, and the high-society families whose names we still know today: Pullman, Porter-Palmer, Marshall Field, Armour and Glessner. Alessandra carries the story, as we are swept up in her role in society. The excitement of the fair mirrors her own story and the many turns her own life could take.

The World’s Fair brought us the Ferris Wheel, giving people the first glimpse of the world beyond their neighborhood, even one as fine as Chicago’s Astor Street. At the fair, maginations soar as people experience a flight to the moon, the Suez Canal, the Street of Cairo and the bright lights of the Algerian Village at night with snake charmers, harem girls and jugglers.

Glavin presents us with a gift of history, conveying the impact of the fair, a marvel for that time, with astonishing detail. These rich details and research make Trapped on the Wheel’s plot all the more endearing. It is a beautiful portrait of an era of opportunity, charm, innocence, and the independent spirit of Chicagoans.

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