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Speaking to a Book Club

Speaking to a Book Club

A book club recently decided to read The Wysman and invite me to speak at their meeting. Actually, I should say “our” meeting because it’s a club I belong to. I swear I didn’t suggest the book! Someone else did. The members are all avid readers though, so they decided that having an author to talk to would be interesting. I was, of course, happy to oblige. I love talking about writing. I must say it was a different kind…

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Using Our Own Lives to Write

Using Our Own Lives to Write

I sometimes see people asking if a story a writer tells is based on their own life. I’m not usually asked, though, probably because I write YA fantasy set in a secondary world. So it’s hard to see the connection. However, I’d say a writer always draws on their own life. What else would we draw on? Usually, though, that drawing from life works differently than the question implies. Drawing on Emotion We draw on emotion as much as or…

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On the Need for a Project

On the Need for a Project

I am working on the theory that having a project makes people happier. By “project,” I mean something that requires a person to make plans and carry them out. The plans are for something they do freely rather than being assigned or forced to do. I first thought about this when someone gave Mr. DAW and me a book about wine that took up a different kind in each chapter and recommended some varieties to try. Each week, we read…

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On Book Covers

On Book Covers

Book covers are supposed to serve as little billboards that tell the reader what kind of book they are and invite the reader to pick them up and examine them further. Read the back cover copy, maybe, or browse chapter 1. What makes a good cover? I’m probably not the person who should be answering this question because I’m not very visual and am terrible at telling good covers from bad. I’m so bad that my writer friends laugh at…

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First Drafts: First Paragraph Edition

First Drafts: First Paragraph Edition

On “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert occasionally does a bit called “First Drafts.” He shows greeting cards and then what he claims were the first drafts of those cards, all of them hilariously wrong. I’ve written before about how often the first draft of a book’s first paragraphs go wrong, usually in ways I don’t find hilarious. So I thought you might be interested in seeing early and final drafts of the openings of some of my novels. I can’t show…

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Character-Driven versus Plot-Driven Stories

Character-Driven versus Plot-Driven Stories

You sometimes hear people talk about character-driven versus plot-driven stories. Generally, plot is more important in genre fiction, though I would say that character is important in every story. I like plot. I miss it in a novel that seems to drift along. But it’s character that makes me love a book, remember it, reread it. That being said, the difficulty of creating a good plot is underestimated. Part of the difficulty is just coming up with something unexpected and…

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A Visit to the Sixth Grade

A Visit to the Sixth Grade

I recently visited the sixth grade at a school in Cedar Falls, Iowa to talk about being a writer. Ninety eleven- and twelve-year-olds sat on the floor in the central area of an open space classroom while I gave a talk I ambitiously called “From Idea to Book.” Ninety Sixth Graders? Help! I won’t lie. Ahead of time, I found the event a little scary. In all my years teaching, I never taught anyone under 18. Even among readers of…

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Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Recently, someone tweeted a question for published writers, asking how many books they published before they quit their day job and wrote full time. I didn’t read the answers. Mine would have been don’t do that. Every published writer I know has either a day job or a partner who helps support them. Obviously, there are exceptions. J. K. Rowling doesn’t need a day job. But for every Rowling, there are thousands of working writers who don’t make enough to…

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The Lost Wax Process

The Lost Wax Process

Today’s post is by a guest, John Manchester, author of the mystery thriller Never Speak. He writes about how composing music and writing fiction both seem to him to share a kind of creativity he compares to the lost wax process. The post first appeared on John’s blog in May. If you click on over there, you’ll find other interesting posts. Take it away, John! __________________________________ If you’re born a lemon-head, make lemonade. I. Growing up my parents often smiled, saying, “You’re so…

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Problematic Plot Elements

Problematic Plot Elements

Judging by drafts I’ve critiqued lately, two commonly used plot elements automatically come with problems because they tend to be low tension. These are meetings and travel. Meetings It can be tempting to deliver exposition by staging a meeting between characters. The meeting can be formally held around a table or casually placed at a campsite. It mostly doesn’t matter. A meeting is a meeting. How riveting do you find meetings in everyday life? Not very? Then why write them…

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