Barnes and Noble






This form does not yet contain any fields.

    Entries in On Writing (18)


    An interview with Greg Taylor, author of Killer Pizza and The Girl Who Became a Beatle

    Last May I got to spend the day with Greg Taylor. He was so much fun and shared lots of interesting stories about his screenwriting days. Here's a video interview I did with him before we turned him loose. Enjoy!

    You may also want to visit Greg's website. It's really cool. And you can buy his books wherever books are sold!



    Where do you get your ideas?

    Writers get asked this question all the time. But I don't think anyone's ever asked me. Oh, well. On the off chance you're interested, I'm going to tell you.

    But first, a story.

    This is a satellite photo of the section of Interstate 45 where my 17-year-old son had his first wreck last weekend as he was returning from a friend's lake house. He was about 50 minutes from home. He'd just come over the flyover and the roads were wet and slick. His back tires lost traction and his car went into a spin. Two 360's and then the car slid over a rather steep embankment. (The cop told me they were lucky they didn't have a rollover). He's okay, and so is his friend traveling with him. The only damage was to his tires and my sanity.

    That's where my ideas come from.

    Every heart-stopping moment I've ever experience, every time I've laughed until my sides ached, every time I've gotten so angry I thought my head would explode, every time I've been so annoyed I wanted to scratch someone's eyes out, every time I've cried. I use what I know to flesh out the lives of my characters.

    The fun part of that is that I also preserve the memory in perpetuity. 

    Did I mention that two nights before the accident, my son drove up to the lake house after dark, depending on his GPS to get him there. I got a call about 10:20 that night. My son was cursing that GPS like nobody's business. The f***ing GPS had led him to the f***ing middle of f***ing nowhere. There were no people, no lights, no cars, no street signs. He was hopelessly lost an hour from home and I had to way to help him except to try and calm him down. I swear I heard banjos.

    He eventually got to the lake house, and I lost half my hair.

    Do you think that's going in a book? You bet it is.



    Bad words don't hurt kids

    I just read this terrific article in The Huffington Post by young adult author Chris Crutcher--"Young Adult Fiction: Let Teens Choose." He wrote something that I have often thought about and even posted on once. Unfortunately, that post offended people and out of self-preservation, I pulled it. What resonated so much with me is his comments on profanity in young adult literature:

    Bad language doesn't hurt anybody. It might make a few -- mostly adults -- uneasy, but it doesn't hurt anybody. Words can hurt. Name calling hurts. Oral bullying hurts. Humiliation hurts. But bad language doesn't do shit.

    YA author Catherine Ryan Hyde made a similar argument in a 2009 blog post--"$@%*!!!":

    For those who would make the argument that words are powerful, and can hurt, I could not agree with you more. But, now, here's my question: Are you sure that those seven words are the hurtful ones? Are you sure there aren't far more powerful and far more damaging words that fall into the category of socially acceptable?

    Check out her post for the four words she believes should never be used in polite company.

    Two very powerful arguments. I encourage you to read them in their entirety.


    How I don't write a novel, and how I do

    When I wrote my first novel I tried very hard to use another writer's process--taking tons of notes and then plotting my story on index cards. I had this huge stack of the cards. The photo at the left shows only a few. I organized them and reorganized them. I grouped them. I laid them out on a table, and then I gathered them all up again. I shuffled through them, and then finally I became so overwhelmed by and frustrated with the whole process that I just cast them aside and started to write.

    It's the best move I ever made.

    After four novels, I now have a pretty good understanding of what works for me. If you care to know, here it is.

    When I first get an idea for a novel, I open a Word document on my computer and throw down whatever it is that's whirling around in my head. Some of my thoughts are quite specific, but most are pretty general--themes, characters, an ending. Over the course of the next couple of weeks before I start writing, I might add bits of dialog, research, tidbits, whatever interests me, whatever I think I might be able to use. There's no organization to this document. It's just page after page of stuff. Maybe 9 or 10 pages worth.

    When I feel like I have a pretty good idea of who my characters are and a sense of the story, I jump in, usually keeping to 2000 words a day, seven days a week until I'm done. I turn to those notes from time to time when I'm not sure where to go. I even add to them for awhile.

    Here's the funny thing, though. I don't actually use much from my notes. And somewhere along the way, maybe halfway through my story arc, I quit referring to that document altogether and start making notes right in my manuscript--what's coming next, upcoming dialog, reminders of things I need to address.

    So why do I do it then? Because it works for me. Something about the process gives me the confidence to get started and keep going until I have a real story that I can't put down until I'm done.

    Note cards and storyboarding work for my author friend, but they don't work for me. Everyone has to discover their own process. And you only do that by trying something, anything, and keeping at it until you begin to see a pattern.

    Happy writing!


    Writing fiction & perfecting your craft--two recommendations

    I made it a goal this summer to read as many books as I could on plotting and structure. Two books really stood out for me. The first is by David Morrell (First Blood, and later the movie Rambo)--Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing: a novelist looks at his craft. The second is Plot & Structure: techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish by James Scott Bell. I won't go into a lot of detail here, but I think what makes these books stand out, at least for me, are the examples. Bell uses passages from novels by Dean R. Koontz, who happens to be an old favorite of mine. Morrell has a tendency to focus more on classics--Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, anything by Charles Dickens, an interesting contrast to his own work.

    Anyway, I don't like writing reviews. You can check Amazon or Goodreads for a more detailed discussion of these two books. I just wanted to point them out as very useful to me. Both books have very specific sections on pacing and holding on to your reader, pulling them into the story and compelling them to read on.

    Hope you get a chance to read them. I'm using a lot of the guidelines set out in Morrell's book to guide me through my revision of my third novel. I'll let you know how that turns out.