Cool Stuff to Read

I’m not a huge fan of interviews with “bestselling” authors, for the same reasons that some parents don’t like their kids memorizing the lyrics to the Judas Priest catalog.  That said, when I take off my writing-guru-guy hat I have to admit it can be fun, and vicarious, to see what the A-list is saying about all things literary.  Or not.

Here are a few reading referrals and links for you.

The Sunday Arizona Republic did a great interview with Patricia Cornwell last Sunday, written by Randy Cordova (of all the places out there, right here is one place you’ll see the writer acknowledged right up there with the subject).  Cornwell is doing a signing at The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale (where everybody comes for a signing; it’s like being invited to tea with the Queen, probably the most prestigious bookstore for author appearances outside of New York) this week.  She’s a no B.S. person and writer, with an interesting journey to share.  Enjoy it HERE.

Let’s just say, she feels your pain.

Back in the day, by the way, I did a signing at The Poisoned Pen, sharing the podium and a few cookies with Linda Fairstein.  I was funnier than her, and she was, and remains, orders of magnitude richer and more famous than me.

And so it goes.

Speaking of rich and famous… the January 2012 issue of Writers Digest offers up a profile of, and interview with, Diana Gabaldon (who only by coincidence lives in Scottsdale, and who will no doubt be signing for the umpteenth time at The Poisoned Pen before long, sharing the podium with absolutely nobody).

One thing of interest — and you may be wondering why I’d even mention this — is that her writing process is diametically-opposed, in smashing opposition to, what I advocate and teach about story planning and the writing process.  Yes, she’s a pantser… proudly proclaiming that she begins her books with a blank page one with absolutely no idea what the story will be, or how it will turn out once she gets something going.

First of all, I don’t believe her, not for a minute.

Second of all, what I think she’s going for is a description of an organic process that relies on her very steep and well-rewarded storytelling learning curve.  In other words, she’s very much like Stephen King — the flow, the structure, the sub-text and the underlying physics, are all second nature to them. 

If you think you’re in their league… have at it.  Haven’t met a writer yet who is, but I wish you well with that process.  May you live long enough to find success that way.

Moving on.  Backwards this time.

The September issue of Esquire Magazine had a killer interview with actor (and the shoulda-been People Magazine sexiest man of the year; Bradley Cooper agrees, by the way) Ryan Gosling.  You may not know who he is, or even like him if you do (in which case you’ll be in a dwindling minority), but if you’re a writer who wants to see characterization (yes, non-fiction profiles are absolutely all about characterization) in full glorious genius form, taken to a visible level of craft that will inspire you in your fiction, then check it out.  Here.

Dreaming of a book tour?  Or even a signing?

Oh boy.  It’s not what you think it is.  Believe me… my stories of book signing humiliations are the reason I’m funnier than Linda Fairstein. 

With thanks to the esteemed Betty Webb (who posted this link on Facebook), click here to read about the flip side — also known as the dark side — of sitting in a bookstore facing 48 empty chairs and 2 filled with your spouse and some guy named Lester who wandered in to get warm. 

The deadline for voting for your favorite writing website approacheth. 

It’s the 10th of December.  Click HERE to cast your vote… be patient, this site takes longer to load (because of the 2000-something votes that comprise the Comment thread, which is precisely where you cast your vote) than it does for most agents to get back to you.

9 Comments

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9 Responses to Cool Stuff to Read

  1. Re the Diana Gabaldon interview in WD. I read it too, Larry, and too be honest with you, I just stopped reading when she started going on about her “writing techniques”. I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but I just felt that someone who just sits down and writes, without knowing ANYTHING, isn’t going to offer me anything in terms of how to write. Like I said, no offense to her, or anyone who works in this way, but I just don’t feel I have anything to learn from those people. Now, you can read, Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It’s a terrific book, with loads of great advice, and as you say, though King may be a Pantser, he’s not really. He knows, instinctively, how to best structure a story. I mean he’s written so many and I think he just learned by doing. He’s also gifted, that’s for sure. But, he never gave me the impression that it was all just a guess, and crossed fingers. That’s the impression I got from the Diana Gabaldon interview.

  2. @Darren — totally agree.

  3. Janet Taylor

    Hi Larry- I’m a huge fan and I read you every day-though I don’t often comment.
    I am also a major Gabaldon nerd- and I’ve read a lot about her writing process.
    She is NOT a true pantser. She uses what she calls the “Iceberg” Principal.
    She says she see’s “islands” of ideas with lots of water between them. She uses these “islands” or “tips of icebergs” to begin her novels and then builds bridges of land between them.
    That sounds suspiciously like a vague outline to me. I’ve read all her novels. They are so intricate–with multiple story lines all tied together within seven monstrously long books in the series–that there is no way she doesn’t have extensive outlines to keep all that together.
    BTW- Larry- your method has changed my writing life! You are a rock star!!

  4. Hi Larry,
    I had the same reaction to the WD article on Diana Gabaldon, the King-esque approach to writing. However, I enjoyed the article. Even learning about a style that I would never use (I am steeped in the ‘orderly’ art of medical practice) lights up corners of my imagination in ways that surprise me. Besides, standing in the glow of genius is inspiring and energizing, no matter the light source.
    As for her being a pantser? I believe there is much more order and systematic processing going on in our subconscious than we control freaks like to admit. In some settings this is called instinct, others, creativity, both products of the primordial mind. The rest is cerebral crafting of the stream. If anyone out there doesn’t agree, sleep on it and see how you feel tomorrow.

  5. @Janet — thanks for this. See, I told you (in the post) I didn’t believe her (Gabaldon). I like the model-analogy of the icebergs (sort of like Ingermanson’s Snowflake theory), which is really the story milestones (visualized as “moments” or scenes or a series of exposition), floating around until they connect to form… well, a story. Thanks again for this. L.

    @Steven – ditto the above. Instinct, when honed, is very much a planning phenomenon. I love it when professionals like you, who depend on instinct (learned and practiced craft) see the parallels to storytelling. Thanks for joining this conversation. L.

  6. I also read Gabaldon.

    To imply that writing is magic and hide structure behind metaphor may fascinate and attempt to defy logic but it fails when questioned.

    I don’t question Gabaldon but I will analyze her books. When that’s done guess what we find. As sure as the organic human body is supported by a structure called a skeleton…. well you get the point and I like the metaphor. 🙂

    My favorite claimer to be a panster is Anne Lamotte. Favorite because I heard her in Austin, TX seethe to a gathering that she knew nothing about plot points and those who came to find out about such would soon be sorely disappointed. ” Me thinks you protest to much.”

    I enjoy Anne Lamotte’s writing. I would have to work to ignore the structure, setup, structure, plot points and mid-book transition that makes her work, work.

    Ditto Frederick Buechner. His “Godric” was nominated for a pulitzer. Read the first three chapters and tell me you can’t “see” the hard outline behind his magnificent imagination and powerful voice. And, I’m claiming his outline freed his imagination and voice to express the full range of his story telling capacity.

    The solitary figure alone in a garret struggling with a recalcitrant muse in the pain ridden hope of creating ex nihilo — out of nothing –is a romantic notion of an author that will be a long time with us.

    Personally, I think those of us who want to write simply can’t afford the luxury of that energy wasting image.

  7. @Curtis — bravo, well said. As you imply/say here… once you see it, once you know it, you can un-know it… and only then can you efficiently and effectively “pants” your way toward a viable end. Without knowing, one is exploring, and certainly some explorations “stumble” upon a treasure. Better to have principles that show us where it’s buried. Thanks for contributing. L.

  8. I met Diana Gabaldon a number of years ago at a Writer’s Festival — she’d probably only written a couple of bestsellers at that point — and asked her after her on-stage remarks about the industry gossip that she’d been contracted to write a couple of mysteries. Was she going to? She was non-committal on stage, but in conversation afterwards said something to the effect (as near as I recall, this was back in the 90s) that mysteries were too tightly plotted for her taste and that she preferred other genres — I should add that this was specifically in terms of what she wanted to write, rather than read. So perhaps that adds to the evidence that she’s a pantser rather than a plotter.

  9. I’m going to deliver myself of this once and for all and be done with it.

    Full disclosure. I stumbled onto Storyfix a couple of years ago. My first impression was, Oh good, drunk on technique in every area of life, we have now reduced the power and wonder of “story” to the level of glorified formula.

    BUT, being an academic with at least a smidgen of integrity I had to suspend my ego long enough to do what academics do — study the subject. While I was capable of defending my position I knew to honestly challenge what eventually became the “Story Engineering” position I had to understand it.

    Once that was accomplished honest evaluation required that I test the approach against existing novels and movies. I chose 1960 as a beginning point because I felt that time period forward would place the method far enough back in time to add or detract from the possible timeless nature of the method described. Truth be told I was suspecting (hoping) there would be a time in the recent past that Story Engineering would not apply.

    Bias dies hard. In desperation, but still true to my method I dipped back into movies in the early and now classic black and white days. In non-academic terms my bias bit the dust.

    Conclusion. Story Engineering is a contemporary statement of effective novel and movie story telling that finds it’s basis and power in the very nature of story.

    You can fiddle with the naming of the parts of the story. You can fiddle with the metaphor you use for your method of story telling and how you understand it. You can define story method and give it your spin. When its all said and done its going to sound a lot like “Story Engineering.”