ORB: Composition & Creative Writing - Fiction

List of great Composition & Creative Writing - Fiction - books for sale

ORB Index

Read the Fiction works of Jack M. Bickham, author of several Creative Writing books listed below.

Scene and Structure (The Elements of Fiction Writing) ~ Usually ships in 24 hours

Jack M. Bickham, Jack Bickham / Hardcover / Published 1993

Setting/How to Create and Sustain a Sharp Sense of Time and Place in Your Fiction (The Elements of Fiction Writing) ~ Usually ships in 24 hours

Jack M. Bickham / Hardcover / Published 1994

Writing Novels That Sell

Jack M. Bickham / Published 1989

Writing and Selling Your Novel ~ Ships in 2-3 days

Jack M. Bickham, Jack M. Brickham / Hardcover / Published 1996

Writing the Short Story : A Hands-On Program ~ Usually ships in 24 hours

Jack M. Bickham, Jack Bickham / Hardcover / Published 1994

We all make mistakes. Our good fortune is that errors in writing are subject to revision. Books here by Jack Bickham and Syd Field tackle issues in fiction- and screenwriting respectively. Sandwiched between these problem-solving bookends are a personal guide to creative nonfiction, a paean to the printed word, and, well, a complete idiot's guide to getting published.

  • "The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)" ~ Ships in 2-3 days
    Jack M. Bickham / Paperback / Published 1997

  • "Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature" by Bill Roorbach

    Bill Roorbach is a chummy writer: his instruction is chatty, colloquial, abounding in parenthetical remarks and jokey asides. But Roorbach ("Summers with Juliet") seems able to inspire even the most recalcitrant writers to uncover memories and ideas they didn't know they had and turn them into something the rest of us would want to read. An early exercise in "Writing Life Stories" involves making a map of the earliest neighborhood you can remember: "Where did the weird people live?" Roorbach asks. "Where were the off- limits places?" And then, "Tell us a story from your map." Many of the book's subsequent assignments are equally enticing.

    Roorbach alights on the many elements involved in writing creative nonfiction, including memory, scene setting, ideation, character development, and research. He eschews introductions and conclusions (scaffolding, he says, is for building purposes only) and, "at least in a first draft," embraces truth-telling. "Those places where you catch yourself changing the facts," he warns, "should be alarms, grand signals, signposts saying here's the place to examine most closely for meaning."

    Though his writing may be casual, Roorbach is a great believer in precision. "Every person you mention," he says, "should get a quick, sharp, devastatingly exact sketch" (for examples, he refers to the minor characters in books by Paul Theroux, Joan Didion, and John McPhee). Ambiguity, he says, is anathema: "Do what it takes to properly name a tree, a piece of hardware, a street, a town, a school, a neighbor." And finally, be wary of polishing: "You can spend days adjusting sentences in a first paragraph that ought to be cut altogether." But make sure every paragraph in your memoir or essay is as good as, has as much "urgency" as, the first one. "How much can you get into a sentence?" he asks. "How much can you get into *every* sentence?"

  • "Bookworms: Great Writers and Readers Celebrate Reading" edited by Laura Furman and Elinore Standard

    "Reading," say the editors of "Bookworms," "may be the last private act of our lives." Maybe so. But in this book they have taken this very private act public. Any helplessly addicted bookworm (do unruly stacks grow in unlikely places? do you feel naked without a book along?) will find much to embrace here. Included are many fine and wonderfully rendered pieces on the thrill of first experiencing the written word, the greatness of "Paradise Lost" and its kin, and the "joy," as Katherine Mansfield says, of "find[ing] a new book" and "know[ing] that it will remain with you while life lasts."

    But it is the less orthodox memories and thoughts on reading that stand out. Michael Holroyd reminisces that his cautious aunt "would lightly roast the [public library] books in our oven for the sake of the germs." Eva Hoffman, who was born in Krakow, discusses her wholly un-American reaction to "The Catcher in the Rye": "Holden Caulfield's immaturity... strikes me, and I write a paper upbraiding him for his false and coy naivete--my old, Polish terms of opprobrium." Don Fowler, in a section devoted to the future of books in an electronic age, reminds us of books' many uses. "There is nothing more natural about reading a book to find out the population of Zambia," he says, "than using it to impress a friend, seduce a lover, or prop up a table." And Harold Laski, in a letter to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., has a stinging description of meeting Virginia Woolf. "It was like watching someone organising her immortality," he writes. "Now and again, when she said something a little out of the ordinary, she wrote it down herself in a notebook."

    Finally, if you are the type for whom reading is a sort of worship, your bookshelves a precious shrine, perhaps you best heed Emerson: "What are books?" he writes. "They can have no permanent value.... Literature is made up of a heap of nouns and verbs enclosing an intuition or two."

  • "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published" by Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander

    Okay, so maybe you aren't a "complete idiot." But if the publishing industry's mysterious ways leave you feeling considerably ignorant, this easy-to-read volume (hey--it's written for idiots) can turn you into a competent insider in no time. If "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published" were reduced to one sentence, it would read: The book business is a business--so be businesslike. Don't send a query letter on pink stationery. Don't stalk your editor. Don't bribe the sales reps. That's obvious, but there's more. Between them Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander have sold, publicized, written, packaged, acquired, edited, agented, and published books. They know whence they speak, and they freely impart their well-earned knowledge here.

    The first step to being businesslike is learning the business. While Bykofsky and Sander include the usual stuff about query letters, book proposals, agents, and contracts, they also offer assistance on settling on a subject, information on how manuscripts become books and how books get into stores, and advice on keeping your book in the stores once it gets there. They augment their own publishing wisdom with that of their colleagues. When choosing a topic, don't be put off by a seemingly saturated market; Ben Dominitz of Prima Publishing claims that two of the best reasons to publish a book are "one, because no one has published a book on that topic, and two, because everyone has published a book on that topic." Never settle for a first offer from a publisher; says author and former lawyer Tim Perrin, "You should always say, 'Oh? Is that all?'... It's never failed for me." And lastly, how does one land that coveted appearance on "Oprah"? "All you have to do," says La Jolla-based publicist Arielle Ford, "is call... the number for the Prayer Line." Scoff if you dare, but two of Ford's clients got booked after leaving prayers. The book provides the phone number, as well as other useful ones.

  • "The Screenwriter's Problem Solver: How to Recognize, Identify, and Define Screenwriting Problems" by Syd Field

    Can't get your characters to shut up? Is the bit player in Act II more compelling than your protagonist? Do your scenes drag on f-o-r-e-v-e-r? Whatever your problem, screenwriting guru Syd Field can help. He's written four previous books on screenwriting, teaches worldwide, and is "involved in the reading and writing of about a thousand screenplays a year." Screenplays bog down in vague and mysterious ways, says Field; identifying a screenwriting problem is half the battle. Fixing a screenplay that seems dazed and confused might seem like mission: impossible, but you've got to have courage under fire. By identifying symptoms in the writing, Field isolates about 20 different screenwriting problems, each related to plot, character, or structure (after all, what else is there?). His fixes generally involve getting to know your characters or story better, through the use of automatic writing, biographical sketches, and the like. For examples of spectacular screenwriting, he offers excerpts from the screenplays for "Thelma and Louise," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Pulp Fiction," "Apollo 13," and "Silence of the Lambs." Field is a man of many mantras: "Writing is rewriting," "Film is behavior," "Drama is conflict," "Action is character." But his advice is so useful that you'll forgive him his facile phrasemaking. And you'll thank him for convincing you that, yes, "a problem is an opportunity, a challenge that will allow you to ultimately improve your craft."

    So much of what can be learned about writing comes from absorbing the thoughts and wisdom of other writers. This month, we have listened at the feet of masters: five contemporary writers on the subject of revision; Scott Russell Sanders about the relationship of writing to home and community; Maurice Sendak and his cohorts on the art of writing for children; and the dozens of writers who wind their way in and out of Naomi Epel's "Observation Deck." Also included here is the new edition of Jeff Herman's enormous annual "Writer's Guide."

  • "A Piece of Work: Five Writers Discuss Their Revisions" edited by Jay Woodruff

    Writing is a process, and revising is less a separate activity from writing than a part of that process. True, there are those writers who claim that revision, for them, is a matter of dotting i's and crossing t's. But for most writers, it is the revising of a piece of work that is the most considered aspect of their art. In "A Piece of Work," Jay Woodruff has interviewed five writers--Robert Coles, Tess Gallagher, Donald Hall, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tobias Wolff--about their revision processes. Included with each "interview" (I use quotes because the interviews themselves were subjected to the scrutiny of revision) is an example of the author's work--be it fiction, essay, or poetry--and copies of the drafts that preceded it. "I hoped," writes Woodruff in the book's introduction, "that focusing a lengthy discussion on a single piece of work might provide not only a sense of a given writer's general aesthetic but also a greater incidence of the specific examples that enable the reader to see how good writing becomes better."

    Joyce Carol Oates claims to love revising, but she clearly doesn't love to talk about it; still, her many drafts offer great insight into her process. Tobias Wolff doesn't save his drafts ("They embarrass me"), but he is happy to talk about them, while Tess Gallagher is not at all self- conscious about the path to a finished piece: "We start out in these very awkward ways, and we do look a little stupid as we draft," she says, "and that's all right." Implicit in this book is the arrival, some time, at a finished work, but there isn't always such a thing. "Every draft is a final draft, after a while," says Donald Hall. "But I know from experience that I will probably keep on tinkering."

  • "Writing from the Center" by Scott Russell Sanders

    Exile is a romantic notion for many American writers; those who don't make it to Paris or Tokyo gravitate to New York or Los Angeles, as if pulled by some sort of undertow to the country's edge. Scott Russell Sanders spent some time abroad, but he found that he answered less to the lure of foreign soil than the gentle tug of his native Midwest. Just as Sanders is nourished by living in the landscape that he most considers home, so is the reader nourished by the writing that grows out of that experience. "Any landscape is made up of particulars--sweet ferns and wheatstacks, this creek and that meadow," writes Sanders, "and writers who imagine the land with most authority honor the details." Sanders honors the details, whether pondering a canoe trip with his daughter, a kitchen renovation, or the place of the writer in the academy, and his authority is evident from the book's first page. It is with great pleasure that one reads these 12 evocative essays, which somehow manage to detail the devastation we humans wreak on nature and on one another and yet still affirms all that is good about home, the land, community, and honest hard work. For Sanders's father, that work involved carpentry and farming; Sanders's trade is writing, and he sees it as no more or less grueling than such manual labor. "Writing is work, and it can leave you gray with exhaustion, can devour your days, can break your heart," he writes. "But the same is true of all the real work that humans do, the planting of crops and nursing of babies, the building of houses and baking of bread."

  • "The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers" by Naomi Epel

    "The Observation Deck" is kind of like an "I Ching" for writers. At an impasse in your essay or novel? Looking for a new approach or even merely a warm-up exercise? Simply pluck a card from the deck, refer to the appropriate section in the accompanying book, and go with it. Each card--there are 50--is accompanied by a meditation on its subject by Naomi Epel, whose own warm wisdom is supplemented by that of the hundreds of writers she has met in her role as a book- tour escort in San Francisco. For the card labeled "Get specific," for example, Epel calls upon eight writers in the space of a two-and-a-half-page rally against the vague and superficial. Among them is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who advises, "If you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants in the sky, people probably will believe you."

  • "Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children" edited by William Zinsser

    "No kind of writing lodges itself so deeply in our memory," writes William Zinsser in his introduction to "Worlds of Childhood," "as the books that we met in our childhood." Reproduced here are essays by six celebrated children's book authors that came into being as a series of talks at the New York Public Library in 1989. Children's book writing is often deceptively simple, and perhaps the one overriding theme here is the seriousness with which these writers approach their work. "Writing for very young children is the most difficult discipline I know," says Rosemary Wells, whose Max and Ruby books were the first board books. (Does Wells find it so difficult in part because, as she says, "all really good picture books are written to be read five hundred times"?) Poet Jack Prelutsky, inventor of the "gloopy gloppers" and the "addle-pated paddlepuss," says he never condescends when he writes for children. And Maurice Sendak, best known for his fantastically fuzzy wild things, says he's "never spent less than two years on the text of one of my picture books, even though each of them is approximately 380 words long. Only when the text is finished ... do I begin the pictures."

  • "Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents 1999-2000: Who They Are! What They Want! And How to Win Them Over!" by Jeff Herman

    There are those who assume that Jeff Herman's "Writer's Guide" is interchangeable with Kirsten C. Holm's "Writer's Market." The two resource books are similar in size, heft, and appearance, but they are actually quite different beasts indeed. While "Writer's Market" includes listings for publishers, magazines, journals (trade, technical, and professional), and scriptwriting markets, "Writer's Guide" focuses exclusively on book publishers and literary agents (Writer's Digest, publisher of "Writer's Market"--confused yet?--puts out a separate book for literary agents, conveniently called "Guide to Literary Agents"). Whether you prefer one or the other depends on what you're looking for.

    Because his focus is narrower, Herman--a literary agent himself--is able to give his listings more depth and a larger point size. He's got room for a nice-sized entry for each publisher, describing the company and what it publishes, and listing its top acquisitions editors. In addition, Herman's listings of members of the Association of Author Representatives and a few well-chosen other agents are both thorough and personal; one gets a sense not only of what an agent does and doesn't look for in a client but also of what he or she likes to do after work. (Also available in a CD-ROM edition.)

    There are times when we want to focus on one specific subject or book, and there are times when we prefer to have five books going at once, dipping in and out of them as we please. This eclectic selection--comprising interviews with short story writers, a book on getting published, essays about memoir writing, and a celebration of our weird and wacky language--fits the latter, more fitful mood. And when you can't bring yourself to read at all? Jill Krementz's portraits of Jewish writers open up new ways of thinking about writing altogether.

  • "The Jewish Writer" by Jill Krementz Jill Krementz has made a career of photographing writers. "The Jewish Writer" features her portraits of 78 "people of the book," among them Saul Bellow, Hannah Arendt, Maurice Sendak, and David Mamet. Some of these portraits are contemplative; others are joyous. What distinguishes them is Krementz's ability to capture the essence of a moment that is at once exquisite and mundane, be it playwright Wendy Wasserstein rolling up her sleeves at her computer or an elfin Stanley Kunitz half-hiding in the blooms of his Provincetown garden. A mischievous Bruce Jay Friedman dashes around Southampton in a spiffy convertible; a bearded, bandana'd, and bespectacled Allen Ginsberg appears at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. (Though some of these photographs date from the early '70s, most are much more recent.) Each portrait is accompanied by a description of the author's life and work, and the relationship of each to Judaism, or, more accurately, Jewishness. "The Jewish Writer" is a spirited testament to the enormous and diverse contributions Jewish writers have made to our literary landscape.

  • "Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir" edited by William Zinsser

    Every time "Inventing the Truth" appears in a new edition, editor William Zinsser can't help but add to it. The first edition (1987) evolved from a series of New York Public Library talks, for which the mandate was not to lecture about the genre of the memoir but to explain how a specific memoir came to be written. In the book's 1995 edition, Russell Baker, Annie Dillard, Alfred Kazin, and Toni Morrison were joined by Jill Ker Conway, Eileen Simpson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Ian Frazier. This time around, Zinsser has added a rich and charming reminiscence by Frank McCourt ("Angela's Ashes"). The authors do stick to their assignment: Russell Baker credits his huge family with helping him "learn a lot about humanity from close-up observation"; Jill Ker Conway talks about her desire to write a female memoir that was not a romantic happily-ever-after story; and Henry Louis Gates Jr. discusses "want[ing] to write a book that imitated the specialness of black culture when no white people are around." But there is also plenty of advice for writers here, and some general thoughts about the genre. Conway addresses the difficulty of "going back as a historian" and trying to understand "all the things you took as a given when you were a child." Gates warns us to "be prepared for the revelation of things you don't even dream are going to come up." And Annie Dillard contemplates the strangeness of spending "more time writing about [a scene or an event] than you did living it."

  • "How to Get Happily Published" by Judith Appelbaum

    According to Judith Appelbaum, author of "How to Get Happily Published," "it is largely within your power to determine whether your work will get published and whether the public will buy it once it's released." Anyone who has had a manuscript boomerang back from every publisher who sees it (or a book remaindered mere months after publication) may view this assertion with some amount of skepticism. But, as Appelbaum says, "hardly anybody treats getting published as if it were a rational, manageable activity," and it's hard to argue with that.

    In addition to providing a mini-course on editors and agents and submissions and funding--peppered with revealing anecdotes from the front lines--Appelbaum offers information less frequently found in books of this sort. For one, she emphasizes the importance of taking publicity for your book or article into your own hands (and she has savvy advice on how to do so without alienating your publisher's publicity department). She also makes a very strong case for self- publishing--not to be confused with using a vanity press-- and then tells you how to go about it. And finally, her annotated resource guide to books, Web sites, periodicals, courses, organizations, and more--stretching to over 120 pages--is astounding. That's right. Astounding.

  • "Crazy English: The Ultimate Joy Ride Through Our Language" by Richard Lederer

    One of the most unforgettable moments of my youth was learning the word "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis." I was in third grade. So what if Richard Lederer has come up with a chemical compound that consists of 1,913 letters? Owning a word like "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" is empowering at any age. If you have ever been completely wowed by the power you can have over language, or its power over you, Richard Lederer is your patron saint. His oft- reprinted introduction to "Crazy English," which was originally published in 1989, claims that English is "the most loopy and wiggy of all tongues." And then he demonstrates: "In what other language do people drive in a parkway and park in a driveway? ... Why do they call them apartments when they're all together?" And so on. Lederer's pace is frenetic. He alights on oxymorons ("pretty ugly," "computer jock"), redundancies, confusing words (are you sure you know the meaning of "enormity"?), phobias, contronyms, heteronyms, retroactive terms ("acoustic guitar," "rotary phone"), and a host of other linguistic delights.

    Though English may be one of the crazier languages--Lederer claims that about 80 percent of our words are not spelled phonetically--they are all, he says, a little crazy. "That's because language is invented ... by boys and girls and men and women, not computers. As such, language reflects the creative and fearful asymmetry of the human race, which, of course, isn't really a race at all."

  • "Passion and Craft: Conversations With Notable Writers" edited by Bonnie Lyons and Bill Oliver

    These probing interviews with 12 contemporary writers--all masters of the short story--originally appeared in such places as "The Literary Review" and "Contemporary Literature." There is no fluff here. "We have tried," say the editors, "to go beyond the usual chatting about career and craft, beyond the autobiographical as well." Instead, their goal involved "shedding light on some of the motives behind literary creativity." The questions they pose to the authors arise from an intimate familiarity with the work; the payoff for such preparedness is that the authors answer their questions deliberately and thoughtfully.

    Certainly, the interviews also address less specific aspects of the authors' work. When asked if he could write from a female viewpoint, Richard Ford, considered to be a very male writer, replies in the affirmative: "I would never ... say to myself, 'What would a woman say?' Rather, I'd think, Given the circumstances of this person's life, what would this person say? Or do?" T. Coraghessan Boyle discusses the reasons he shies away from happy endings: "First of all, because they tend to be sentimental. But also because there aren't happy endings--we all die." Jayne Anne Phillips compares her unwritten fiction to "a whisper that you can't quite make out.... There's a sense that the book is already there, whole, and I am trying ... to find out what it is and move into it and inhabit it." And Thom Jones rails against the typical magazine short story. "Why do stories have to be boring?" he asks. "Why do we always have to read about some angst-laden, upper-level executive driving around Cape Cod in a Volvo?"

    This month's selection most resembles one of those holiday grab bags at the office. Some meticulous person in accounting must be responsible for the incredibly thorough "1999 Writer's Market," while that guy who's always posting cartoons and newspaper tidbits on his door must have brought "Nitty-Gritty Grammar" and "The Word Circus." Perhaps that pensive intern contributed "Native Writers on Writing." And "Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day"? Must be the receptionist: she's a perennial night student.

  • "1999 Writer's Market" by Kirsten C. Holm

    Editors are so accustomed to receiving inappropriate queries that they "rejoice," according to a "Writer's Market" tip from the University of Arizona Press, "in receiving material that is clearly targeted to [them]." So, please, do not send your article about porcelain-doll collecting to "Sport Fishing" magazine. Put your postage toward this updated edition of the "Writer's Market," instead. This book might not seem to change much from year to year, but it does. Editors move, publishing houses are gobbled up by one another, and magazines open and fold like Japanese fans. And where else can you learn both that Focal Press is publishing fewer photography books, and that Ide House is inaugurating a poetry branch?

    Given the unbelievable variety and sheer number of publishers listed here--1,170 book publishers, 1,534 consumer magazines, 464 trade magazines, 250 script buyers, plus book producers, syndicates, and greeting-card publishers--it's almost hard to imagine a writer *not* finding a publisher. This year there are large icons indicating new listings, a limited section on literary agents, and a chart showing the owners and imprints of the major book publishers. In addition to the standard articles about query letters, book proposals, and freelance rates are profiles of authors, including nature writer and prisoner Ken Lamberton; Sebastian Junger ("The Perfect Storm"); and Anna Quindlen ("Black and Blue"), who says that "Writing is like anything else. You fall, you pick yourself up, and you try again. When you're discouraged, you eat ice cream."

  • "Nitty-Gritty Grammar: A Not-So-Serious Guide to Clear Communication" by Edith H. Fine and Judith P. Josephson

    This is a good, solid guide to basic grammar by two women who claim to be "nutty enough to have 'liked' diagramming in school." Their book is clear. It is not boring. It even compares punctuation marks to traffic signals (a period is a stop sign, a comma a flashing yellow light). But its crowning glory are nearly 30 cartoons--from "Sally Forth," "Beetle Bailey," "The Far Side," and others--on the subject of grammar that are sure to delight anyone who is nutty enough to have liked diagramming in school. In our favorite, Hobbes tries to persuade Calvin that a pronoun is "a noun that lost its amateur status." Calvin, after pondering for a moment, writes it down. "Maybe I can get a point for originality," he says.

  • "Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis" by Joan Bolker

    "Sometimes writing a dissertation is a bit like having a serious, but not mortal, illness," writes Joan Bolker in "Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day." "It takes enormous energy to sustain life [and] you have to take very good care of yourself so you don't collapse." Bolker, a psychologist who specializes in helping blocked writers (she's worked with thousands of students), is just the soul to sooth the frenzied thesis writer. Despite her book's title, Bolker doesn't *really* promise that you'll complete your dissertation in a mere 15 minutes a day; but her approach involves writing for at least 15 minutes every single day (beginning even before you've settled on a thesis topic) and setting realistic, achievable goals. The writing process she proposes comes in two parts: "A first, 'cooking,' making-a-mess-part; and a second, compulsive, clean-up-the-mess part." The more revising you have to do, the better. "You can't usually write a decent dissertation," she says, "without doing at least as much work revising as you did composing your original draft."

    In addition to her fine writing advice, which is applicable to students in the sciences and the humanities equally (as well as to writers not trying to complete a thesis), Bolker also offers counsel on the politics of choosing a topic, an advisor, and a thesis committee; communicating with your advisor; and setting up a thesis support group. Her final chapter is addressed to thesis advisors. "The fundamental principle of dealing with students in the midst of their dissertations," she reminds them, "is to assume paranoia"-- a paranoia that Bolker, who worked on two dissertations of her own (but completed only one), knows all too well. "I used to put a copy of my dissertation in the freezer, in a waterproof Ziploc bag, before I left my house overnight--in case of fire or burglary."

  • "Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing" by Simon J. Ortiz

    Whether reared in Amarillo, Texas, or on the Six Nations Reserve in southern Ontario, the nine Native writers anthologized here cite amazingly similar influences. Each claims a deep connection to the land. The urge to tell stories, they say, stems from being raised in a culture that is rich in storytelling--that has relied, in fact, on storytelling. "The ancient Pueblo people," writes Leslie Marmon Silko in the book's opening essay, "depended upon collective memory through successive generations to maintain and transmit an entire culture."

    Now, though, they find themselves writing in a language that is not culturally their own. In fact, it is the language of the colonialist. Unlike Okanagan, says Jeannette C. Armstrong, which, having never been written down, is "devised solely for use by the human voice and the human body," English "is deaf to music and only chances on it through the diligent work of writers." Many of these writers feel an obligation both to protect and promote their Native culture, and to educate the outside world about that culture. "I consider it a moral responsibility of the Native writer," says Victor D. Montejo, a Mayan from Guatemala, "to be a voice for the people and to let the world know about not only the achievements of his or her people but also the crimes committed against them." And finally there is the conflict of audience (is one writing for Natives, or for other readers?) and the feeling sometimes that one is less a member of one's community than a spokesperson for or interpreter of it. "Once," says Elizabeth Woody, a Yakama- Warm Springs-Wasco-Navajo Indian, "a friend tried to coax me into going to a distant powwow with her by saying, 'Why read and write about Indians when you could just be one for a while?'"

  • "The Word Circus: A Letter-Perfect Book" by Richard Lederer; illustrations by Dave Morice

    Richard Lederer gets a greater charge out of the English language than a kid gets from a Volkswagen full of clowns. His playful examination of "the most tintinnabulating of the world's tongues" in "The Word Circus" is more fun than a barrel of monkeys (however fun that is), and Dave Morice's illustrations are no sideshow: they are as clever and charming as the text they accompany.

    There's a lot going on in Lederer's big tent. Words are beheaded in one ring (the "devil" becomes "evil") and curtailed in another (watch this priest become someone who pries). Over there, they're being cut right in two (does he bewilder? Be wilder!). Step right up, barks our emcee at the homophone (ewe/u/yew/you), and watch me juggle one phrase to make another: hand me the nudist colony and I'll show you no untidy clothes. Palindromes, like push-me-pull-yous, parade to and fro. And, oh, the verbal freaks you'll meet: grammagrams, heteronyms, vowelless things; consonant packs (catchphrase) and silent strings (Brougham).

    According to Lederer, the late poet James Merrill once commented that, "We speak wistfully of sounding the depths of language, but language has its shallows too, and we can drown in those just as easily as in the raptures of the former." Lederer certainly does. Let his circus begin!

    Our desire to start the new year feeding both left brain and right led us to an odd assortment of books this month. For inspiration and rumination we called upon the fiction writers in "Why I Write," and on bell hooks. For attention to craft we looked toward two writing teachers. And to guide us through the legal quagmire that accompanies the writing life, there is no better reference than "The Writer's Legal Companion."

  • "Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction" edited by Will Blythe

    With the enormous quantity of books on the market purporting to teach us how to write, it is with some relief that someone has thought to pull one together on why writers write. Will Blythe, a contributing editor to Harper's and Mirabella and formerly the literary editor at Esquire, has assembled a fine cast of 26 contemporary fiction writers to muse on his assigned topic "Why I write." The reasons, boiled down, range from "Because I can't do anything else" to "Because I can't not write." Ho-hum. But these are fiction writers, don't forget, and fiction writers can spin yarns.

    Thom Jones's ("The Pugilist at Rest," "Cold Snap") formation as a writer began, perhaps, during lunch hours spent drawing sharp-witted comics in the principal's office at a Lutheran elementary school. A promising start at the Iowa writing program dead-ended, seemingly, with drunken night shifts as a school janitor. Only an epiphany involving Wile E. Coyote drew him back to writing. Before long, he'd sold three stories in one afternoon, to Harper's, Esquire, and the New Yorker. "Fiction writers often mature at a glacial pace,' says Jones. "I was slower than most."

    With apparent effortlessness, Elizabeth Gilbert ("Pilgrims") weaves together tales of a cursing cowboy, her grade-school diary, a gawky teenager who aspired to be a magician, and a man whose neighbors had stolen his cat. "Sometimes," says Gilbert modestly, "when we are trying to find a calling, it is helpful to confirm that we are not really very good at anything else." Gilbert, it is clear, has found her calling. And Mark Richard ("The Ice at the Bottom of the World," "Fishboy") tells a sprawling minisaga about a "special child" whose life is so full of the elements of good fiction (a scorpion-infested sandbox, a homesick mother, a father who accidentally lit a borrowed bulldozer on fire, a mean tomcat named Mr. Priss, a family friend who got shredded in a silage bin) that you can't imagine him not becoming a fiction writer. Also: Lee Smith, Pat Conroy, David Foster Wallace, Tom Chiarella, Jayne Anne Phillips, and others.

  • "The Writer's Legal Companion: The Complete Handbook for the Working Writer" by Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren

    This is a fantastic reference for any writer interested in legal issues concerning contracts, collaboration, agents, defamation, copyright, taxes, and high-tech publishing--and everyone should be. Authors Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren have written this guide with such style and clarity that you might find yourself just reading it rather than just consulting it. But that's okay: you can't help but feel empowered by having read such a thorough and, when appropriate, opinionated text. Consider, for instance, the book's first chapter, "The Publishing Contract." Contrary to what publishers tell you, Bunnin writes (Beren contributed the chapter on "The Author and the Business of Publishing"), there is no such thing as a standard book contract. In fact, he says, "Virtually without exception, publishers willingly change contracts at the author's request." Bunnin proceeds to lead his readers, line by line over 63 pages, through every single element of a publishing contract, including the grants-of-rights clause; warranties and indemnities; royalties, revisions, and remainders; and "all that incomprehensible, apparently unimportant stuff at the back of the contract." Whether or not you've retained a literary lawyer to work on your behalf, you'll want a book such as this on your shelf, to refer to when you need advice on avoiding defamatory statements, protecting yourself against copyright infringement, or even knowing which home-office expenditures you may deduct come tax time.

  • "Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work" by bell hooks

    African American women writers, being both black and female, face challenges that the rest of us might never have even considered. While this essay collection is ultimately a celebration of the writing life and of the writers whom author bell hooks (who signs her name in lower-case letters) cites as inspirational, it also illuminates the issues she and other black women writers have to contend with in their careers. Hooks has been criticized for, among other things, being incredibly prolific (she has been called "the Joyce Carol Oates of black feminist writing") and for her scope: "Black writers," says hooks, "always have difficulty gaining recognition for a body of work if anything we do is eclectic." Though hooks does take her critics to task, she is more concerned with confronting a system that seems determined to work against black women--and other minority-- writers. She is critical of publishers for throwing the largest advances and promotional efforts at white male authors. She complains that "when writers from marginalized groups do work that is truly marvelous," the literary establishment is likely to see that work as a "rare exception." And she even rails against black women writers themselves, saying that "Nothing diminishes our efforts to gain a greater hearing for nonfiction by black women more than the severe dismissals of this work by black women."

    Autobiography is one form of writing that hooks feels is particularly difficult for black women writers, most of whom come from families that never previously "had to think about whether a relative would write something about their lives." In fact, she says, autobiographical writing is troublesome for any writer who does not "come from class backgrounds where there are rituals of public confession like psychoanalysis." As a child, says hooks, "talking openly outside the family about any aspect of family life was considered a form of treason." Now, though her family is proud of her and pleased that she has not forsaken her origins, she says, "writing about my life has created an emotional distance between me and my parents. An intimacy we once shared is gone."

  • "Writing Without Teachers" by Peter Elbow

    If Peter Elbow's "Writing Without Teachers" seems to have come into being at the same time as the early-'70s encounter groups, that's because it did. First published in 1975, "Writing Without Teachers" advocates improving your writing via freewriting and the "teacherless writing class." Freewriting, according to Elbow, is a terrific way to get things onto the page that you never knew you had in you: "Never stop ... to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing." Only after you have finished writing should you contemplate editing. And though much of what you produce when freewriting will be real garbage, Elbow promises that the best parts will be far better than anything you could have written otherwise. "You will use up more paper," he warns, "but chew up fewer pencils."

    The teacherless writing class is Elbow's other key to unlocking the writer within. Elbow prefers these groups to those with teachers, because a teacher, he says, "usually isn't in a position where he can be genuinely affected by your words." In a teacherless group, the other participants "give you better evidence of what is unclear in your writing." Elbow insists that members of a writing group disregard conventional theories of "good" and "bad" writing, urging instead that they react to one another's work in a more subjective manner. The ultimate goal, he says, is for the group process to help each writer improve his or her ability to decide "which parts of [one's] own writing to keep and which to throw away."

  • "Feminine Wiles: Creative Techniques for Writing Women's Feature Stories That Sell" by Donna Elizabeth Boetig

    Designed to look like a women's magazine, "Feminine Wiles" lacks gloss but makes up for it in know-how. Donna Elizabeth Boetig writes for such magazines as McCall's, Women's Day, and Family Circle. When she isn't writing about Christa McAuliffe's mother or a couple whose adopted Korean child had ambiguous genitalia, she's teaching workshops on doing so. "Feminine Wiles" is a great resource for writers yearning specifically to write for the Seven Sisters magazines, as their "rules" for publication really do differ from those for other types of publications. For starters, says Boetig, "When you write to an editor proposing a story idea, write a love letter.... Focus on passion, emotion, a sense of urgency, even a bit of breathlessness." If your subject is photogenic, say so. Give your piece a title that uses words like "you, new, latest, health, happiness, quiz, sex or any superlatives." Editors and readers love sidebars, Boetig confides, and they adore quizzes and lists. Using the intimate tone of a women's magazine, Boetig guides her readers through the complete article-publishing process, from submitting story ideas to interviewing subjects (confide in them, and they'll confide in you) to writing, editing, and fact-checking.

    Writing, no matter the genre, is nearly always about story. Whether you are writing a feature article, a book about a hard-to-crack subculture, fantasy fiction, or traditional fiction, you want to get the story right. Each of the books here--even the collection of interviews with authors who divulge their own stories--can help you home in on the story you want to write.

  • "Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction" by James B. Stewart

    Forget everything you thought you knew about journalism. James B. Stewart shuns pyramid style and all its accoutrements for a more creative type of nonfiction, nonfiction that tells a compelling story. Stewart's ideas about nonfiction stem directly from his experience as a writer and editor of the Wall Street Journal's lengthy page 1 feature stories, which explore subjects, as Stewart says, "in depth, with style, and often ... with wit." "Good writing," Stewart says in "Follow the Story," "is rooted not in knowledge, but in curiosity." Curiosity too, says Stewart, "is what makes readers read the stories that result." Using examples from his own writing (for the Journal, the New Yorker, and SmartMoney, and also from his books "Blood Sport" and "Den of Thieves"), the Pulitzer Prize-winning Stewart shows how to turn your curiosity into ideas, story proposals, and then the stories themselves. Each part of the writing process--cultivating sources, gathering information, writing the lead and the transition, structuring your piece, and then concluding it--is discussed with authority and demonstrated masterfully. Stewart also includes chapters on how to use (but not overuse) description, dialogue, anecdotes, humor, and pathos to strengthen your work.

  • "At the Field's End: Interviews with 22 Pacific Northwest Writers" by Nicholas O'Connell

    Nicholas O'Connell's interviews are of that most delectable variety: so casual they could be taking place at the adjoining coffeehouse table, and yet so engaging that it'd be a shame if the espresso machine kicked in at an inopportune moment and obscured one's ability to eavesdrop. "At the Field's End" was originally published in 1987; this edition adds a new preface, updated biographical information, and interviews with Denise Levertov and John Haines. O'Connell is interested in regional identity, and "stories," he says, "represent one of the strongest elements of regional identity." While each of these interviews covers a particular literary territory--how couldn't they, with the likes of Raymond Carver, Ivan Doig, Charles Johnson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Levertov, and Tom Robbins as their subjects--it is amazing how much a place can govern its writers and its literature. For many of the writers O'Connell speaks with, landscape is no mere backdrop, in life or work. "It wants me here," says Tess Gallagher of the place she calls home; "I have to obey." "Landscape," says James Welch, "is almost the main character in anything I write." It is the rain that appeals to Robbins, as "It allows for prolonged periods of intimacy.... It keeps you inside where you can turn inward." Gary Snyder feels an affinity more for a particular spot than for the region or its weather. "Every person," he says, "should be the product of a specific place, like a coho salmon or a rhododendron bush."

  • "The Slang of Sin" by Tom Dalzell

    "Sin in all of its manifestations," writes Tom Dalzell in his introduction to "The Slang of Sin," "excites linguistic creativity." And so it does. Dalzell seems to have infiltrated all variety of subcultures to assemble this dazzling collection of sinful slang. And with Dalzell's help, you too can talk body piercing ("poking holes"), the numbers racket ("the Kentucky lottery"), safecracking ("knocking a peter"), drug dealing ("layin' down the hustle"), and prison sex ("jailhouse rock") with the best of 'em. Dalzell defines sin as those activities that "have been at times considered by society to be vices." So alongside "red chicken" (heroin), "plumbing the bones" (loading the dice), and "woodsman" (a male porn star who reliably achieves and maintains erection until the appropriate moment) in this language guide are a "lady's friend" (contraception), "housewives special" (daytime bingo), and "night nurse" (a cigarette smoked in the middle of the night).

  • "The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference" introduction by Terry Brooks

    The fantasy writer has a lot to keep track of: fantasy cultures and races, magic, mythological creatures, unusual punishments, castles and fortifications, and more. Plus, though fantasy writing "must be grounded in both truth and life experience if it is to work" says Terry Brooks ("A Knight of the Word") in his introduction here, it must also be "as inventive and creative as the writer can make it." Find your groundedness elsewhere. This is the place to turn for all the other stuff. Need a refresher on the difference between "aleuromancy" (fortune cookies) and "alomancy" (fortune-telling by salt)? Can't remember the term for starting a new witches' coven ("hiving off")? Need a glossary of particularly gruesome punishments from the Middle Ages? It's all here, and more. With illustrations of architectural structures, Maori weapons, and various types of dress and armor; and references to many more sources, should you crave even greater detail.

  • "Writing Fiction Step by Step" by Josip Novakovich

    Many writers pooh-pooh the concept of writing exercises. Exercises seem perhaps an unnatural way to approach a seemingly organic process, and it can be hard to see them amounting to anything more than, well, exercises. While the great writers of the past may not have bothered with writing exercises, says Josip Novakovich in his introduction to "Writing Fiction Step by Step," "they exercised by writing letters and by keeping journals and jotting down sketches." In other words, the telephone has made us lazy, and someone has to prod us into shape. So Novakovich proposes an "exercise plan" sure to stretch every fiction-writing muscle you've got. His 200-plus exercises are arranged by fictional element--starting with ideas, character, and plot moving through scene, dialogue, image, etc., and landing, finally, on "putting it all together." Each assignment is accompanied by a description of its purpose, a handful of writing tips, and a sort of teacher's checklist (about the ocean, for instance, he asks, "Where is the salt in your description?"). The exercises are playful, unusual, and meant to make your imaginative noodle dance. And don't worry--Novakovich doesn't want you to toil for naught; throughout the book he suggests ways in which you can combine various exercises to get something like a real piece of fiction going. In fact, he says, connecting the exercises might stimulate your fiction in surprising ways. After all, "putting different images together is the basic element of imagination."

    It's time to bring out the beach books. No, not bodice rippers and potboilers, but books that take a playful and surprising approach to working with words. Constance Hale discovers the sin in syntax, Gail Sher exalts in the Zen of writing, Mary Oliver dwells out of doors, and Christine Ammer explains the "dog days" of summer. Finally, for the few who have managed to be productive while the rest of us succumbed to spring fever, the new edition of Writer's Digest's "Guide to Literary Agents" can help you find a home for your newly polished prose.

  • "Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose" by Constance Hale

    You gotta love a grammar guide that calls verbs "moody little suckers" and adverbs "promiscuous." Constance Hale ("Wired Style") relishes prose that is deliberate, beautiful, and bold. Go ahead and break the rules, she says; just know the rules first, and know why you are breaking them. In "Sin and Syntax," Hale examines the elements of grammar from four angles: the "bones" (the grammar lesson), the "flesh" (the writing lesson), "cardinal sins" (what she calls "true transgressions"), and "carnal pleasures" (the beauty that results from either "hew[ing] exquisitely to the underlying codes of language," or not).

    For illustration, Hale hauls in Joan Didion to make a case for writing in the first person, Mark Twain to promote the killing of adjectives, C.S. Lewis to advocate showing rather than telling, and Loudon Wainwright III to lament the abuse of the word "like." But Hale has no problem making her own points. "Euphemisms," she says, "are for wimps." Even other grammarians don't escape her derision: "Get a grip," Hale says. "'Hopefully' as a sentence adverb is here to stay." But what distinguishes "Sin and Syntax" most is its enthusiasm for prose that takes risks. "Even if you have to check with a lawyer," says Hale, "isn't a kick-ass piece of writing worth the effort?"

  • "One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers" by Gail Sher

    In "One Continuous Mistake," Gail Sher applies the teachings of Zen Buddhism to the creative-writing process. Though there are a few writing exercises here, this is less a workbook than a series of meditations on how to be a writer. "When you read Zen literature," says Sher, "you must read each sentence with a fresh mind." And so should you write. "The real work of writing is, day after day, to discover how to maintain freshness." To do so, Sher advises (among other things) a single-minded focus, a daily writing period, sitting with a straight spine, and "letting words fall freely, without editing or censuring." By doing so, says Sher, your body "gives birth ... to what you never expected, predicted, could have thought up." Only then, adds Sher, should you revise. And when you do, revise boldly. "As Suzuki-roshi used to say about getting up when the alarm rings," she says, "'Never make the same decision twice.'"

  • "Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems" by Mary Oliver

    Poet Mary Oliver wants us to consider the many disparate elements of "Winter Hours" as "a long and slowly arriving letter--somewhat disorderly, natural in expression, and happily unfinished." And what a welcome letter it is. Oliver touches on the building of houses and the laying of turtle eggs. She ponders the work of Frost ("Everything is all right, say the meter and the rhyme; everything is not all right, say the words"), Poe, Whitman, and Hopkins. She includes some of her own poems and prose poems. And she speaks beautifully of the work of poem-building.

    Perhaps more than any other poet writing today, Oliver is an inhabitant and deep observer of the natural world, a place without which, she says, she could not be a poet. All of her poems have been "if not finished at least started--somewhere out-of-doors," and her appreciation of the out-of-doors is all-encompassing, defiant of standard classifications. Oliver so embraces the outdoors that one feels terrible for her that "the labor of writing poems" is so antithetical to being in nature. It is our good fortune that she makes the sacrifice, so that we can experience "the nudge, the prick of the instant, the flame of appreciation that shoots from my heels to my head when compass grass bends its frilled branches and draws a perfect circle on the cold sand."

  • "Cool Cats, Top Dogs, and Other Beastly Expressions" by Christine Ammer

    Jiminy cricket! Bookworms of all stripes will have a whale of a time wolfing down these short essays examining 1,200 animal-related expressions. Christine Ammer must have worked like a busy little bee hunting down derivations; while some of her toil resulted in wild goose chases ("why a mixed drink [cocktail] should resemble a rooster's hind feathers is anyone's guess"), any linguistic night owl is sure to take to the lion's share of this book like a duck to water. It's more fun than a barrel of monkeys. And Cathy Bobak's illustrations are the cat's meow.

  • "1999 Guide to Literary Agents" Edited by Donya Dickerson

    It is increasingly difficult, these days, to get an editor to look at an "unagented" manuscript. The right agent can provide entree to the right editors, and Writer's Digest's "Annual Guide to Literary Agents" will help you determine just who those right agents are. The 550 agencies listed are divided by type (non-fee-charging, fee-charging, and script agents) and cross-referenced by specialty, location, and "openness to submissions." While this guide's primary value is in its listings, the articles are worth noting, as well. Aside from the usual pieces on queries, rights, and agents from hell, this year's edition features a discussion with two agents about the effect of the conglomeration of the publishing business on writers.

    For the best insight into an agency, check out the "Tips" section at the end of its listing. While one recommends you "sell yourself like a product," another "will ignore the adjectives you may choose to describe your own work." The Linda Roghaar Literary Agency advises unappetizingly that "the process of finding the right agent is like eating an elephant--you do it one bite at a time." And agent Malaga Baldi once again provides the best description of the many roles an agent may play in a writer's life. "To one author I may serve as a nudge," she says, "to another a confidante, and to many simply as a supportive friend. I am also a critic, researcher, legal expert, messenger, diplomat, listener, counselor, and source of publishing information and gossip."

    There's something about spring that makes it hard to focus one's attention for long, especially in matters of work. Rather than fight the fever, let your mind wander, from thoughts of screenwriters and surprising words, on through scholarly publishing and spiritual writing, to notions of poetry and endless, balmy afternoons.

  • "Why We Write: Personal Statements and Photographic Portraits of 25 Top Screenwriters" edited by Lorain Tamara Elbert

    Pity the poor screenwriter. Once he or she has finished work, it is churned like butter by the great Hollywood system, rewritten and reworked at will. If a movie is successful, the director gets the credit; if it bombs, the screenplay is to blame. "Few people are as essential to a film's success as its screenwriters," says Kenneth Turan in his introduction to "Why We Write," "and few are as invisible." What a pleasure, then, to be able to look into the eyes and minds of 25 of today's top screenwriters. In these pages, Michael Ferris ("The Net") and Daniel Waters ("Heathers") lament the Hollywoodization of their endings. John Briley ("Gandhi") and Mark Rosenthal ("The Jewel of the Nile") warn against script gurus and film courses. There is plenty of complaining about Hollywood's propensity for producing formula pictures, and about the industry's abuse of its writers. But it is the screenwriters' humor, passion, and, finally, love for what they do that are so appealing here.

  • "The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Ultimate Opinionated Guide for the Careful Speaker" by Charles Harrington Elster

    "When it comes to pronunciation," says Charles Harrington Elster, "there are two types of people: Those who don't give the subject a second thought and those who do. This book is for those who do." Those who don't will likely dismiss it as a conglomeration of minutiae (mi-N[Y]oo-shee-ee). Elster's "Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations" combines and expands upon his two previous books on the subject, offering historical pronunciations, authoritative opinions (his own and others'), and meandering explanations. This book is more entertaining than a game of badminton (don't say, "BAD- mitten," as "this is sloppy") and more lasting than a daiquiri (that's "DY-kuh-ree"). And best of all, you'll tighten up that flaccid ("FLAK-sid") pronunciation. Kudos (KOO-dahs) to Elster for setting us straight. For now, anyway--there's a neologism (nee-AHL-uh-jiz'm) born every day.

  • "An Author's Guide to Scholarly Publishing" by Robin Derricourt

    In "An Author's Guide to Scholarly Publishing," Robin Derricourt divides his energy between informing potential authors about the ins and outs of scholarly publishing and training them to be the kinds of writers scholarly publishers enjoy working with. For 12 years the publishing director for Cambridge University Press and a published academician himself, Derricourt brings a tremendous amount of knowledge to his subject. Academic publishing is a world unto itself, in which publishing's accepted elements-- agents, enigmatic titles, attention-getting design, publication parties--do not matter.

    Derricourt is a hand-holder of the best kind: blunt ("the likelihood is that any particular book will not suit us"), funny (the chapter discussing peer review is addressed, "Dear Judy Cation"), and very helpful. Ever so gently, Derricourt enumerates the qualities that make some academic authors so stellar, such as stylish writing, organization, and copyeditor appreciation. Within these pages, Derricourt advises on the creation of bibliographies, tables, edited volumes, indexes, and so many other elements of the publishing process. One chapter even offers a detailed explanation of how publishers calculate a book's price. Surprise: there's a formula; publishers don't "just invent the highest price they think they can get away with."

  • "Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds" by Deena Metzger

    "Writing for Your Life" is an inspiring companion for any writer who views writing as a spiritual act. Early chapters on creativity and story would appeal to anyone interested in breaking through self-imposed boundaries. Metzger encourages you to "set yourself the task to write not only what you know but more especially what you don't know." You've all heard this before, but Deena Metzger provides such resonant anecdotes and enticing exercises that it begins to seem not only achievable but fun. Later chapters help writers access their inner worlds through meditation, spirit guides, mythology, tarot cards, the muse, visions, nature, and dreams. "Maintaining a spiritual practice is an ordeal like climbing a mountain," Metzger warns, "and it demands the same of us: commitment, discipline, endurance, focus, and awareness. There at the top is the sky and, perhaps, the large vision, but ultimately the meaning is in the climbing."

  • "Twenty Questions" by J.D. McClatchy

    J.D. McClatchy is that rare essayist who is concerned both with the intellect and with the emotions. The essays gathered in "Twenty Questions" are learned and engaging inquiries into his life, poetry in general, and the work of poets both ignored and renowned. McClatchy's attention is democratic, as likely to scoop up a quote for his commonplace book (excerpted here) from Coco Chanel as Gertrude Stein, Alfred Hitchcock as W.H. Auden. Equal attention is given to the lives and work of Jean Garrigue and Stephen Sondheim as to those of Elizabeth Bishop and James Merrill. McClatchy somehow manages to address the oeuvre of Seamus Heaney in under seven pages and not seem to give short shrift. His writing is as direct as poems can be oblique, avoiding altogether any hint of academic jargon or critical posturing.

    There are so many ways to light a creative fire, from learning to approach the writing process with greater personal power to incorporating it more fully into one's daily life. Reading helps, especially when it involves books that inspire and are admired by some of our finest contemporary writers. Sometimes it makes sense to embark on a new genre altogether, or merely to face the heft of a writer's-market guide: with all those publishers out there, how dare you not buckle down and produce!

  • "For the Love of Books: 115 Celebrated Writers on the Books They Love Most" edited by Ronald B. Shwartz

    William Faulkner. Marcel Proust. Mark Twain. Virginia Woolf. They all show up repeatedly in "For the Love of Books," for which 115 writers were asked to discuss the three to six books that have influenced them most. But the Hardy Boys are here, too, and Archie comics; the Bobbsey Twins; and "Harold and the Purple Crayon." We are most susceptible to the effect of literature when we are in our 20s and younger, it seems, and several of the authors included here focus their attention on those early influences, and on how well they hold up over time.

    Narrowing down one's favorite books to a mere half-dozen would daunt any reader, but it must be particularly arduous for those who eat and breathe books. While D.M. Thomas believes that "there are just a few books that, once you've read them, flow in your bloodstream," Neil Simon complains that "pin[ning] down the three or even six books that have left the greatest impression on me... denies the four or five hundred great books that have imperceptibly changed my outlook on life." What a great pleasure it is to see the great and the not great, the humbling and the inspiring, gathered under one literary roof. And what a terrific task it would be to follow all the tendrils growing here, shooting off toward so many sources of light, each a promise from a renowned contemporary writer that some kind of delicious reading can be found there.

  • "Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process" by Peter Elbow

    Whatever your writing task or goals, Peter Elbow has a "recipe" to guide you. A longtime proponent of freewriting (writing without stopping for a preset amount of time), Elbow incorporates its use in a variety of ways. Have a limited amount of time? Spend half of it freewriting and half of it cleaning up your prose. Got all the time in the world (and only a vague sense of what you want to say)? Freewrite, then focus, then freewrite, then focus, repeatedly, until you get "a trustworthy vision of your final piece of writing." Elbow offers a plethora of prompts for priming the creative pump, as well as several ways to revise the piece of writing that results: thorough revising, revising with feedback, cutting and pasting, proofreading, and the like. He pays close attention to the ways in which focusing on an audience can assist or interfere in the writing process--including a terrific chapter on the strangeness of writing for teachers, in which "your task is usually to explain what you are still engaged in trying to understand to someone who understands it better." And he provides an excellent section on how to solicit the kind of feedback you want. Though it is a new edition of a 1981 book, there is nothing tired about "Writing with Power": it provides many tools to help a writer feel empowered throughout the writing process.

  • "1999 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market" edited by Barbara Kuroff

    For writers of fiction intent on publishing, there is no better resource than the annual "Novel & Short Story Writer's Market." Each update of the guide, which lists over 2,000 places to publish fiction (including magazines literary and otherwise, zines, and book publishers large and small), acts as a kind of annual industry checkup. What publications are out there? What are they publishing? Which kinds of fiction are hot, and not? This year's edition tells us that freshness, short shorts, originality, neatness, simple fonts, risk taking, good endings, and humor are all in. Workshop writing, thinly veiled autobiography, gimmickry, splatter fiction, and grammatical errors are not. Still, the best, and perhaps most often repeated advice throughout is "To thine own self be true." Write what you want or feel compelled to write, and worry about publication later. While contact information, payment terms, and the like provide the backbone of the listings, it is the advice from the publishers that makes this book so eminently browsable. And don't forget: "If an editor says, 'Try again,'" remind the editors of Acorn Whistle, "try again ... and again!"

  • "Writing Bestselling True Crime and Suspense: Break into the Exciting and Profitable Field of Book, Screenplay, and Television Crime Writing" by Tom Byrnes

    True-crime writing is at a crossroads. Ever since Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" (published in 1966), there has been a market for deeply researched, literary true-crime hardcovers that are usually several years in the making. But due to the proliferation of tabloid television and "insta- books," it is increasingly difficult to whet the appetite of an already saturated readership. This primer on writing true crime, by Tom Byrnes ("Madame Foreman: A Rush to Judgment"), reflects just that schism: while the book focuses on the writing of lengthy, novelistic true crime, the editors interviewed lean decidedly toward those books written and published seemingly overnight. Still, "Writing Bestselling True Crime and Suspense" is a fine introduction to the genre, with advice strewn throughout from the likes of Ann Rule, Harry MacLean, and Jack Olsen. True crime takes a certain type of writer: one willing to face years of research, hundreds of interviews (some with, well, killers), hours of tedious testimony, and possible death threats (but, hey, they're usually from people already on death row). And the writing itself is complicated. "No matter how bad the crime was or how bad the criminal was," says author Jay Fletcher ("A Perfect Gentleman"), "describing the crime itself only takes four pages. So what do you do with the other four hundred?" If you can figure that out, you'll find, as Byrnes says, that "crime *does* pay--especially if you are a writer."

  • "The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life" by Julia Cameron

    Writing, for Julia Cameron, is neither solely vocation nor avocation: it is a way of life. It comes first thing in the morning, while the horses are waiting to be fed; it happens at the kitchen counter, while the onions are sauteing; it takes place on "dates" at cafe tables shared with like- minded friends; it unfurls in the mind as the '65 pickup "bucks over the rutted dirt roads like a stiff-legged bronco." The 40-plus brief personal essays that make up "The Right to Write" are an unyielding affirmation of the writing life and a denigration of all that gets in the way: busy schedules, procrastination, insecurity, lack of writing space, a day job--you get the point. Cameron's commonsense advice is freeing to anyone who has felt hampered by making a big deal out of writing (this "tends to make writing difficult. Keeping writing casual tends to keep it possible"), by not having the time to write ("Get aggressive. Steal time"), or the like. If you seek a spirit that compares writing to revelation, prayer, and Zen pursuits, that might just attribute misguided communication to Mercury retrograde simpatico, then you will find much to embrace here. And you will never, never again dream of waiting for that commitment-free sabbatical in the south of France to get your writing project under way.

    The best scoop, whatever the industry, always comes from those in the know. This month, we rely on insiders to take us deep into various aspects of the writing trade. Frederick Busch rounds up a posse of fiction writers; Gary Allen cooks up a smorgasbord of information for food writers; John F. Baker unveils the secret lives of literary agents; Alice Pope has got the picture on children's publishing; and Meg Wolitzer zooms in on screenwriting.

  • "Letters to a Fiction Writer" by Frederick Busch

    "As a writer," says Andre Dubus, "you are constantly in training. Day after day, alone at your desk, with no one watching you or even depending on you, you take your position on the playing field." "Letters to a Fiction Writer," which was inspired by Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet," is a reminder that there is actually a whole community out there sharing your Sisyphean task. These 33 letters are written by authors such as Ann Beattie, John Gardner, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tobias Wolff. Lee K. Abbott ("Living After Midnight") addresses the obligation of the fiction writer to "write it all goddamn down." Raymond Carver ponders the relationship between writing and alcoholism. David Bradley discusses the difficulty of being an as-yet-unpublished writer: "Most professions," he says, "pay bright prospects to develop their skills.... There are no such positions in writing."

    Trying to make it as a writer is discouraging, yes. "If you can stop," recommends Reynolds Price, "you probably should. Try cabinet-making." But if you're all thumbs with a band saw, clasp this book to your breast and don't let go. For in it there are words of wisdom, wit, encouragement, and enticement that are sure to help you through that "strange and particular torture" that comes, according to Nicholas Delbanco, "after four hours of sitting with a paragraph you know to be poor."

  • "The Resource Guide for Food Writers" by Gary Allen

    Whether you're writing about medieval food or salt, radishes or Balinese cooking, you'll find an organization, publication, Web site, or other aid for your research sandwiched between the covers of Gary Allen's "Resource Guide for Food Writers." Allen's book is divided into three sections. The first lists sources, including food-related library collections, organizations, Internet newsgroups, 33 pages worth of periodicals (among them, Food Insects Newsletter, Garlic Times, and Hive Lights), and even more of food-related Web sites. From there Allen moves on to interview techniques (hint: "writers should be quiet during interviews"), culinary reference works, writing guides, recipe formatting, and food-writing courses and conferences. The book's final section lights on book proposals, markets, self--and Web publishing, agents, copyrights--even stock photography. One longs sometimes for some critical evaluation of the resources listed, but what the book lacks in assessment it makes up for in sheer volume of information.

  • "Literary Agents: A Writer's Introduction" by John F. Baker

    In these days of high-stakes publishing mergers and acquisitions, it is the literary agents, not the editors, who seem to be having all the fun. It used to be editors who discovered and nurtured new writers, edited their books, and helped map out their careers; now, as editors have less and less control over their lists and ever-increasing bottom-line pressures, these pleasures fall to agents. For "Literary Agents: A Writer's Introduction," Publishers Weekly editorial director John F. Baker has compiled 44 profiles of agents, many of whom moved to agenting from publishing and editing specifically because they craved closer contact with authors. While editors have to answer to both writers and publishers, says agent Dominick Abel, "I wanted to be answerable to authors alone." Unlike agents, adds Loretta Barrett, "editors these days are often powerless on their [authors'] behalf."

    Most agents, unlike most editors, are still willing to wade through the slush pile, though very few, admittedly, add to their lists many writers who don't come with some form of recommendation or invitation. "Literary Agents" provides a nice sense of the agent's life, as well as a rare glimpse into the minds of a good number of individual agents. The profiles are a bit formulaic--most start with a brief physical description of their subjects, moving on through a discussion of background history and client lists to end with a (usually pessimistic) comment on the state of publishing--but there is much to be gleaned here, nonetheless.

  • "1999 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market" edited by Alice Pope

    The big news accompanying this year's "Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market" is its increased emphasis on illustration. "Artist's & Graphic Designer's Market" editor Mary Cox reveals what art directors at children's publishers are looking for; Lowell House Juvenile discloses that there are never enough illustrations of junior-high-age kids; and Joe Lacey, whose characters appear in coloring books, kids' magazines, and on Silly Putty packages, divulges that much of his success can be attributed to his sending frequent mailings "to all my clients regardless of how steady the work is from them."

    But, writers, don't despair. There's just as much for you here as ever, starting, of course, with the invaluable listings--everything from publishers to contests. The tips from industry insiders continue to discourage alphabet books, anthropomorphism, and preachiness; those same sources seek books concerning multiculturalism, the mentally and physically challenged, and emotional intelligence. Katie Davis ("Who Hops?") tells how best to submit a picture book, and Kathleen Krull ("Lives of the Presidents") recommends nonfiction as the best way to "get one's writing 'foot' into the publishing 'door.'" As always, we are cautioned not to write down to young adults and children. And writers are counseled not to neglect the rich resources of the local public library. "Immerse yourself in the best children's literature," recommends Richard C. Owen Publishers. "Cultivate the company of librarians," adds Kathleen Krull; they "will tell you the many subject areas where they can't fill requests."

  • "Fitzgerald Did It: The Writer's Guide to Mastering the Screenplay" by Meg Wolitzer

    Unlike the many screenwriting guidebooks geared toward Hollywood wannabes with little writing experience, this one is intended for writers--particularly fiction writers and journalists--eager to make the leap to screenwriting. Blessedly absent are the tedious lessons about how to write; in their stead is an explanation, almost, in unlearning how to write. "Writers' initial screenplays tend to be talky, static, interior and structurally shaky," says author Meg Wolitzer ("Surrender, Dorothy"). The screenplay form, Wolitzer maintains, "is more often about architecture and imagery and movement than it is about language."

    Wolitzer's fine primer on the craft of screenwriting emphasizes visual drama, action, structure, and, most of all, overstatement. "In movies," Wolitzer says, "art exaggerates life. Life becomes bigger, bolder, more brilliantly hued, as well as funnier, more tragic, more action-packed, more filled with coincidence." In "Fitzgerald Did It," Wolitzer addresses such issues such as treatments, collaboration, the adapting of fiction to film, the differences between literary and film agents, and scriptwriting no-nos. Though it's nearly impossible not to think about what Hollywood directors and producers are looking for while you write your script, don't try writing something you don't care about, warns Wolitzer. "It's not that you'll hate yourself in the morning, as you wake up in your new L.A. mansion--but that you probably won't be waking up in a mansion, because your script will lack authenticity and vigor."

    The ABC's of Writing Fiction ~ Usually ships in 24 hours

    Ann Copeland / Hardcover / Published 1996

    Adventure, Mystery, and Romance : Formula Stories As Art and Popular Culture ~ Usually ships in 24 hours

    John G. Cawelti, John Cawelti / Paperback / Published 1977

    Aliens and Alien Societies (Science Fiction Writing Series) ~ Usually ships in 24 hours

    Stanley Schmidt, Stan Schmidt / Hardcover / Published 1996
    Published by Writers Digest Books
    Publication date: March 1, 1996
    Dimensions (in inches): 9.33 x 6.20 x 0.90
    ISBN: 0898797063 (You can always remove it later...)

    Check out these titles! Readers who bought Aliens and Alien Societies (Science Fiction Writing Series) also bought:

  • World-Building (Science Fiction Writing Series); Stephen L. Gillett, Ben Bova
  • Space Travel (Science Fiction Writing Series); Ben Bova, et al
  • Time Travel (Science Fiction Writing Series); Paul J. Nahin Card catalog description

    Stanley Schmidt guides you toward a better understanding of our universe to create beings who will live in your science fiction. Aliens and Alien Societies explains science to help you make your fiction plausible. You'll avoid bringing characters from solar systems unlikely to support life. Discover the galaxy's vastness and imagine the technology needed to cross it. Put biochemistry on your side to put viable creatures on your pages. Learn how engineering shapes life and why this suggests that intelligent inhabitants of other planets might have similarities to humans. Develop well-founded cultures and logical languages. Introduce aliens to people or other aliens. Portray them as individuals, true to their species.

    Customer Comments
    jagracia@ix.netcom.com , 09/06/96, rating=10:
    Fascinating guide to help any science fiction writer.
    Excellent review of important considerations that every science fiction writer should think about before creating aliens and their societies. The book provides guidelines to ensure the the writer's creations conform to known science and tips on how to "create" pausible science to support the science fiction writer's intentions. Included is a biography of fiction and non-fiction to support the author's points and provide the reader with background research.

    Table of Contents
  • Ch. 1. Why Write About Aliens?
  • Ch. 2. What Is Plausible?
  • Ch. 3. Astronomical Basics
  • Ch. 4. Biochemical Basics
  • Ch. 5. Engineering Organisms: Alien Bodies and Minds
  • Ch. 6. Creating Alien Societies
  • Ch. 7. Alien Language
  • Ch. 8. Interaction With Humans
  • Ch. 9. Writing About Aliens: Showing Alien Character and Motivations
  • Ch. 10. Case Studies
  • Ch. 11. Farther Out: Life Not As We Know It
  • A Xenologist's Bookshelf: References, Including Journals and Software
  • A Glossary of Selected Terms Index
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    Fall signals the end of the growing season, but we've all spent enough time in classrooms to also see it as a kind of beginning. This month's reading list can help you buckle down and learn something new: the first book introduces obsolete words we really ought not lose, while the last offers a primer of critical and literary terms. In between, there's advice on forming writers' groups, musing about the writing life, and for those of us--we're making an assumption here--bold enough to write beyond what we know, a writer's guide to homicide.

    "The Endangered English Dictionary: Bodacious Words Your Dictionary Forgot" by David Grambs

    Sometimes it seems that there are as many collections of archaic words as there are archaic words. Most of them are amusing in their own esoteric sort of way, but few aim for more than entertainment value. David Grambs watches over words gone (or going) by in the same way that the National Wildlife Federation watches over grizzly bears and timber wolves. He would like his readers to think of his "Endangered English Dictionary" as "a constant reminder of the words that could have been, that fell through the cracks. Or--" he challenges, "if you and enough others make imaginative use of this book--that still could become part of our everyday usage." Toward this goal, Grambs has chosen "common-use, nontechnical words," and he has arranged his book as a two-way dictionary.

    So if you are looking for a compact way to describe something--a flower, say--that smells strongest at night, try "noctuolucent." If you were a delicate blossom, or even a whole "tuzzymuzzy" (a bunch of flowers), you too might wish to avoid the "sizzard" (unbearably humid heat) of summer days.

    "Writing Together: How to Transform Your Writing in a Writing Group" by Dawn Denham Haines, Susan Newcomer, and JacquelineRaphael

    Writing may be a solitary art, but most writers still crave some sort of community. Thus the proliferation of the writing group, a source of camaraderie, encouragement, criticism, inspiration, and calorie-rich munchies. Unfortunately, many such well-intentioned writing groups disintegrate after a time, due to lack of attendance, squabbles, other commitments, or plain-old inertia.

    In "Writing Together," Dawn Denham Haines, Susan Newcomer, and Jacqueline Raphael--members of a writing group in Tucson, Arizona--offer lots of fine advice on how to form a group and keep it together. What separates their writing group from most is that rather than solely critiquing finished pieces, the group emphasizes "generative writing" by writing together from a "prompt" (a word, group of words, or sentence that gets them started). Thus the group nourishes both the creative product and the creative process. Doing so, the authors say, "encourages, enlivens, and emboldens each of us in ways we never anticipated." Still, they do not belittle the benefits of group critiques, and they present some useful guidelines in that direction. They also devote quite a few pages to keeping the spark alive: they have found that occasional group writing on the subject of the group itself (what is working, what isn't) and overnight retreats work wonders.

    "Murder One: A Writer's Guide to Homicide" by Mauro V. Corvasce and Joseph R. Paglino

    "Murder One" is not written with the verve of some of the other books in Writer's Digest's Howdunit series, but if you need to know what kind of car serial killers prefer to drive (Volkswagens) or what happens to the contents of a human skull when subjected to intense heat (they "boil and explode much like a hard-boiling egg that is left unattended"), this is the place to turn. Mauro V. Corvasce and Joseph R. Paglino, investigators for the Monmouth County, New Jersey, prosecutor's office, provide the inside scoop on murders involving narcotics, gangs, organized crime, families, strangers, crimes of passion, lust, sex, and more.

    "The Writing Life" by Annie Dillard

    Annie Dillard has spent a lot of time in remote, bare-bones shelters doing something she claims to hate: writing. Slender though it is, "The Writing Life" richly conveys the torturous, tortuous, and in rare moments, transcendent existence of the writer. Even for Dillard, whose prose is so mellifluous as to seem effortless, the act of writing can seem a Sisyphean task: "When you write," she says, "you lay out a line of words.... Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow or this time next year." Amid moving accounts of her own writing (and life) experiences, Dillard also manages to impart wisdom to other writers, wisdom having to do with passion and commitment and taking the work seriously. "One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place.... Something more will arise for later, something better." And, if that is not enough, "Assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients," she says. "That is, after all, the case.... What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?"

    This all makes "The Writing Life" seem a dense, tough read, but that is not the case at all. Dillard is, after all, human, just like the rest of us. During one particularly frantic moment, four cups of coffee and not much writing down, Dillard comes to a realization: "Many fine people were out there living, people whose consciences permitted them to sleep at night despite their not having written a decent sentence that day, or ever."

    "The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms" by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray

    "The Bedford Glossary" includes lengthy (and easy-to-follow) discussions of ideas including such biggies as cultural studies, deconstruction, feminist criticism, gender criticism, irony, Marxist criticism, the new historicism, poststructuralism, psychological criticism and psychoanalytic criticism, and reader-response criticism. More obscure terms--"anagnorisis," "epithalamium," "Menippean satire," "kenning"--receive shorter but equally careful treatment. This is a clear and comprehensive reference for academics, intellectuals, and anyone else who wants to hold forth intelligently on subjects literary and critical.

    Whether creative writing is something that can be taught or not is open to debate. But the value of a good writing workshop is a certainty. At the very least, a workshop will get you off your duff (or on it, as the case may be when writing is concerned) and inspire you to write. The following five books--two writing guides, a study of narrative design, a discussion about teaching creative writing, and a sourcebook on funding for writers--all concern workshop writing, at one level or another. Most of them can be used to simulate a workshop experience, either by an individual or by a writing group. And they are all fine kindling for sparking a writing fire.

    "On the Teaching of Creative Writing: Responses to a Series of Questions" by Wallace Stegner

    This tiny little volume evolved from a series of discussions with Wallace Stegner during his two-month residency at Dartmouth College in the summer of 1980. Stegner (author of "Angle of Repose" and "The Spectator Bird") was among the first students in the U.S. to receive a master's degree in creative writing; he also founded and directed for 25 years Stanford University's creative writing program. Thus, he is unusually qualified to address the issue of teaching writing. Stegner calls to task those instructors who use their classrooms to create a coterie of copiers, as well as those indulgent professors who rhapsodize about their students' work without warrant. "Young writers should be encouraged to write," he says, "and discouraged from thinking they are writers," as the process of becoming a writer is a "long, long apprenticeship." Instead, a writing instructor need have "sympathy, empathy, [and] a capacity to enter into another mind without dominating it." Finally, he says, it is by way of the Socratic method that writers should be educated. "Talent can't be taught, but it can be awakened.... All a teacher can do is set high goals for students--or get them to set them for themselves--and, then, try to help them reach those goals."

    "Narrative Design: A Writer's Guide to Structure" by Madison Smartt Bell

    Rare it is to find an examination of the workings of the short story so diligent and loving as Madison Smartt Bell's in "Narrative Design." According to Bell--a creative writing instructor and very fine fiction writer--"form or structure ... is of first *and* final importance to any work of fiction." Here, Bell scrutinizes the underlying architecture of 12 short stories--some by his students, others by the likes of Mary Gaitskill and William T. Vollmann. Bell is unstoppable, his discussion of the stories usually longer than the stories themselves. Every structural twist and turn is inspected, so that by tale's end we're reminded of those poor little frogs pinned for sixth-grade dissection, no bone left unturned. Bell's anatomy lessons are as eye opening as those of our youth (and a lot less gruesome), though I do recommend reading each story first in its entirety, only then backtracking for the bone by bone.

    Were it not for Bell's insights regarding the fiction writer's juggling of craft and inspiration, a short-story writer might come away from this book completely paralyzed. Don't worry. Bell is well aware that the way in which a story comes into being is often as much of a mystery to the writer as to the reader. Though the stories included all demonstrate a strong structural logic, their writers, says Bell, "didn't plan it all. Probably could not have done so. At least not deliberately--not consciously." Instead, he writes, "Within the mind of every imaginative writer ... the faculty of conscious craftsmanship engages with the inexplicable choices and decisions of the unconscious mind. One of the writer's projects is always to try, somehow, to turn this engagement into less of a battle, more of a partnership." "Money for Writers" edited by Diane Billot

    Whether you've already written your masterpiece and feel it's award worthy or you just can't seem to find the time or place to get those words on paper, Diane Billot's "Money for Writers" is invaluable. Billot lists hundreds of writing grants, contests, prizes, and such, from the Senior Poet Laureate Competition's $50 prize (plus publication and chapbook) for a U.S. poet over the age of 50 to the $250,000 awards in Health Policy Research. In addition to the more commonplace categories, there is money to be had for writing about cats ($500) and dogs (two awards, one for $500, the other for $2,450), biblical position papers on current world issues ($10,000), and stories about bowling ($3,800). Many of the prizes are regional--there are at least 10 prizes for Texans alone. Billot also includes sections on Internet sites, conferences, organizations, and books for writers.

    "Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew" by Ursula K. Le Guin

    Ursula K. Le Guin's extraordinary writing primer is full of charm, wit, and opinion. Le Guin likens writing to "steering a craft," and as one reads through this volume, one has the sense of floating down a river, with the waves of Le Guin's words lapping at one's craft. Le Guin veers sharply from the mainstream of contemporary writing manuals by challenging their very definition of story. While it is common to "conflate story with conflict," Le Guin writes, she finds that limiting. "Story is change," she says. While that change may be the result of conflict, it is just as likely to evolve from "relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, [or] parting." Le Guin demonstrates this complexity with well-hewn excerpts from the works of such writers as Jane Austen, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charlotte Bronte, and especially Virginia Woolf. The many aspects of fine fiction writing Le Guin addresses here include the role of the narrative sentence (its "chief duty [is] to lead to the next sentence--to keep the story going"); avoiding exposition doldrums ("break up the information, grind it fine, and make it into bricks to build the story with"); and the concept of "crowding and leaping." While prose should be "crowded with sensations, meanings, and implications," don't forget that "what you leave out is infinitely more than what you leave in."

    Accompanying Le Guin's text is a handful of clever writing exercises, each as enticing as its name. Among them are "I am Garcia Marquez," which requires writing with no punctuation; "Chastity," which challenges one to write without adjectives or adverbs; and "A Terrible Thing to Do," which proposes taking an earlier exercise and cutting it--by half.

    "Guide to Writing Magazine Nonfiction" by Michael J. Bugeja

    Rare is the writing workbook that won't let you write. But "the goal of this book," says author Michael J. Bugeja, "is to help you envision a manuscript *before* you write it." By the time you get to the writing stage, in the book's penultimate lesson, you've done so much thinking about writing that your story is begging to write itself. There are many institutions across the United States at which one can hone one's journalism skills, but magazine-writing programs are few and far between--and don't confuse the one with the other. While "a news story takes a direct route to the truth..." says Bugeja, "a good magazine story takes a scenic route." News stories examine a topic (what the story is about), while magazine stories also include a theme (what the story is *really* about). Magazine freelancing is a tough market, but Bugeja's no-nonsense guide makes one feel about as equipped as one's going to feel. There is outstanding information here about crafting magazine nonfiction, from developing topic and theme to tending to such details as title, viewpoint, and ending. A strong current running through Bugeja's book is the need to tailor one's prose to specific magazines, something Bugeja insists should start with a story's inception. After all, this is how a freelancer stays in business. Plus, "Every time you change the theme," says Bugeja, "you target a new market. That's how freelancers keep generating story ideas."

    --Jane Steinberg was a longtime editor at Seattle Weekly and a stringer for Glamour magazine. She now writes from her home in New Jersey.

    You'll find more great books, articles, excerpts, and interviews in the Writers' Reference section at http://www.orb-store.com/writers.htm

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