Books on Writing

I guess it’s no surprise there are so many books about writing. We writers need something to write about, and some of us write about writing.

Writing is a craft that I continually work on. In college I majored in journalism, and since then I have continued to take writing classes (both in person and online), participate in professional writers’ groups and online forums, and sometimes in local writers groups — and I also read how other people have succeeded as writers. How they do it. Their tips.

They’re just like us, most of those other writers. We’re all just people sitting in front of a yellow pad of paper or a laptop, starting with a blank screen and a head full of ideas. Reading over the years about how some people have accomplished what they’ve done has helped me set goals for my own writing, and reach high.

I could read about writing until the cows come home. (“What cows?” asked my then-four-year-old with a puzzled look, once, when I used that expression.) Though it’s best to put down the books and hit the keyboard from time to time.

Here are just some of the writing books on my shelves, which I’ve loosely grouped into categories here. I have learned from or been inspired by many of these.

BUSINESS

Early on I realized that you are only a hobbyist, and will likely get nowhere as a professional freelance writer, until you accept that it’s a business and you need to be businesslike (in setting goals, where you focus your efforts, calculating your overhead and knowing how much to charge, protecting your copyrights, handling accounting, paying taxes and much more). Some creative sorts have to really force themselves to buckle down and learn the business aspect of being a self-employed writer. Here are some books that can help:

  • The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing, ed. by Timothy Harper
  • This Business of Writing, by Gregg Levoy
  • Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, by Jenna Glazer
  • Six-Figure Freelancing, by Kelly James-Enger
BY WRITERS ABOUT WRITING
I don’t know how to group these books, some of which inspired and convinced me I could quit the day job and live happily as a writer (they were right!):
  • Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
  • The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
  • If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland
  • Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande
  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Living the Writer’s Life, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Thunder and Lightning, Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
  • Making a Literary Life, by Carolyn See
  • On Writing, by Stephen King
  • No Mentor But Myself: Jack London on Writing and Writers, ed. by Dale L. Walker and Jeanne Campbell Reesman
FICTION/NOVEL WRITING
What pondering these titles from my bookshelf tells me is that I have long wanted to delve more into fiction and novel-writing. But I knew that already.
  • On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner
  • On Teaching and Writing Fiction, by Wallace Stegner
  • The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner
  • Writing the Novel, by Lawrence Block
  • Writing Fiction, by Janet Burroway
  • How to Write a Book Proposal, by Michael Larsen
  • The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, ed. by Meg Leder, Jack Heffron and the editors of Writer’s Digest

MAGAZINE/NEWSPAPER WRITING
I have done an awful lot of this. I started out, long ago, writing an occasional freelance piece for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and then got a regular freelance gig working for Hilo’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald, where I wrote features and entertainment articles every week. That was terrific in teaching me how to just sit down and do it. When I had several articles due each week, I also got over my reticence about calling people to ask questions. That was worth it all right there.

After that I started writing for magazines. More interesting, more in-depth, more time for craft. Yet it doesn’t always pay enough to pay the bills. There are a few people who only write for national magazines and make a good living, but you cannot count on that these days. If magazine freelancing is your plan, you’d better start out with some other income, too.

  • The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, by William E. Blundell
  • Writing for Story, by Jon Franklin
  • Creative Nonfiction, by Philip Gerard
  • Story, by Robert McKee
  • Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, ed. by Jean Fredette
  • You Can Write a Column, by Monica McCabe Cordoza
  • The Renegade Writer, by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
  • Travel Writing, See the World, Sell the Story, by L. Peat O’Neil
  • Literary Journalism, ed. by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer
MEMOIR
  • Living to Tell the Tale, A Guide to Writing Memoir, by Jane Taylor McDonnell
  • Inventing the Truth, the Art and Craft of Memoir, ed. by William Zinsser
ON WRITERS
It’s aways fun to read how other writers do what they do. Computer? Typewriter? Pencil and pen? Schedules? Rituals? Isabel Allende always starts writing a new novel on January 8th, because that’s the date she started her very successful (and wonderful) novel House of the Spirits. (It’s one of my favorites.)
  • Writers on Writing, Collected Essays from the New York Times
  • The Writer on Her Work, by Janet Sternberg
  • The New New Journalism, ed. by Robert S. Boynton
COPYWRITING
Some of my work falls under the category of copywriting. These books were somewhat interesting as I started out writing for businesses, but I’ve found that I figured out a lot of it by myself, along the way. The Well-Fed Writer is currently a bible to some copywriters.
  • The $100,000 Writer, by Nancy Flynn
  • The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman
  • Secrets of a Freelance Writer, by Bob Bly
  • The Copywriter’s Handbook, by Bob Bly
RADIO
This is one of the few books from my long-ago college journalism days that I’ve kept. I have worked in public (and commercial) radio a little bit, and really enjoyed it. I keep the book in case I want to get back into it one day. Cool book.
  • Telling the Story, the National Public Radio Guide to Radio Journalism
LASTLY
And, my favorite title of all:
  • Too Lazy To Work, Too Nervous to Steal: How to have a great life as a freelance writer, by John Clausen

Image © Tanjaru | Dreamstime.com

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“Gathering Places” Tour a Success!

Our recent Historic Architecture Tour of Hilo went great! It was the second in a series of three tours we give on the Big Island each fall, and this one focused on “Gathering Places.”

These tours, which are offered through Lyman Museum, are so much fun to research and lead.  It was Judith Kirkendall who designed them and she has brought me on to help. Judith is a historian and anthropologist (her dissertation was on the anthropology of food), lived for many years all over the world, and was formerly a University of Hawai‘i dean. She is just a lovely, interesting person. I am so fortunate to be able to work with her. We have so much fun working together.

Judith KirkendallJudith Kirkendall

East Hawai‘i, of course, has so much interesting history, and one of the fun things about our tours is that we can sneak people into places one doesn’t ordinarily get to see. Among many other places, we went into the Kaikodo Building and up into what was formerly its very interesting Masonic Lodge to examine the architecture – even though the Center Stage Dance Studio has recently moved in there. We talked to them in advance and got permission to have a look around even though they had a class in session! It was generous of them.

We heard all about the Koehnens building’s history,  and even went into its basement where we got to peak into a cement channel where the Wailuku River courses underneath the store. You can see the river swooshing by! I mean, you could reach down (not too far) and touch the water! Owner Karyl Franks told us some great stories about the building, how it was built, tsunamis, and how they keep that river from flooding the place.

We ate our bento lunches (included in the tour) at the Wild Ginger Inn in Wainaku, which has quite a history of its own. Its owner showed us around and told us about how it was formerly a hotspot bar/nightclub. One of our tour participants recalled going there in the 1950s when a stripper from Punahou School was performing. It’s much calmer there now.

There were many other stops as well – I’m just telling you some of the highlights – and then we ended up at the Japanese tea house at Lili‘uokalani Gardens, where we talked about Japanese architecture, brought over by Japanese carpenters who immigrated as plantation workers.

Japanese tea ceremony, Liliuokalani Gardens

The women of the tea house put on a tea ceremony demonstration for us, and it was an absolutely perfect way to end our busy tour. I think everything seemed to leave the tea house feeling a bit more calm and centered than when we arrived there.

Our next tour, also a guided van tour that starts at the Lyman Museum and runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., is on Saturday, December 17th. It’s on domestic structures – or another name for it might be “Historic Homes.” Sign up for it by calling Lyman Museum at 935-5021, if you’re interested, and don’t wait ’til the last minute because we fill ’em up.

And stay tuned for news about a brand new tour series, on a new topic, that we’ll be premiering starting in February. It’s going to be neat, and I’ll tell you more about it here soon.

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Message From The Dead

Except a living man there is nothing

more wonderful than a book!

A message to us from the dead,

– from human souls whom we never saw,

who lived perhaps thousands of miles away;

and yet these, on those little sheets of paper,

speak to us, teach us, comfort us,

open their hearts to us as brothers.

–  Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)

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Q&A With Darien Gee About Her New Novel ‘Friendship Bread’

Darien Gee, author of The Friendship BreadDarien Gee is a Big Island writing dynamo, and acquaintance, whose new novel Friendship Bread (Ballantine Books/Random House) comes out April 5, 2011.

It’s a great read! I read some of it and really liked it. (It’s so nice when you read the writing of someone you know and don’t have to struggle to think of something nice to say.) I’m looking forward to the book coming out. She kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about her new book and her writing, and our Q&A follows. But first, if you’d like to know more, here’s where you can:

You can buy the book here. Do! It’s a good book, and you should support our Hawai‘i writers.

This is Darien’s fourth published novel. She’s definitely got it figured out! Here’s what she told me:

Q. Your newest novel’s genesis came about when your daughter brought home some Amish Friendship Bread, which definitely makes the rounds and we’ve all had it. How old was she, and where did she get it? Were you the type to bake?

My daughter Maya was eight when she walked through the door holding a Ziploc bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter and a few slices of the bread. She’d received it from one of her homeschool friends.  I actually told her to forget it, that we weren’t going to do it, but then I tasted the bread and I was hooked.

Q. Do you still have that starter going?

I do. I also have one that a friend gave me from 2006. Both are still going strong!

Q. Tell us how your novel idea formed from that.

On the day that Maya brought home the starter, I was standing in my kitchen eating the bread when I saw a woman in my mind with strawberry blond hair, regarding the bag of starter with the same initial apprehension. That was Julia. I could sense a sadness hanging over her, but I didn’t know what it was about. I started writing that night.

Q. What’s something you particularly like about this book?

I love the anecdotal characters of Friendship Bread, like Gloria the fortune teller, A.A. the biker, Connie the laundromat manager, and Clyde the pharmacist. They were a happy accident that ended up being an integral part of the structure of the book. I found they served two purposes: one, they showed how the bread was moving through the town and touching the lives of everyone in it, and two, they gave us a break from the intensity of the primary narrative. These characters were fun to write, because I got to stand in their shoes and just witness their lives spilling onto the page. I could see how their peripheral lives intersected with my main characters in an indirect, but sometimes profound, way. It was a good reminder about how interconnected we all are, and that we are not alone even when we think we are.

Q. Tell us about how you got started as a novelist; about deciding to sit down and write your very first novel. What made you do it? How old were your kids then? How did you do it?

Good Things was my first published novel, and I have one unpublished novel that I was offered representation on a few years prior. That story is now a little dated and I’m not sure I want to bother rewriting it versus starting something new altogether. Each time I read it, though, I fall in love with the characters all over again, so we’ll have to see.Good Things was written when my daughter was four. Each subsequent Mia King novel coincided with the birth of another child, and you can see it in my acknowledgments. My last Mia King novel, Table Manners, was tricky because my deadline was a few weeks after I’d given birth, but it worked out well in the end.I had some writers tell me that writing with young children was too difficult and that I’d be better off waiting until they grew up, but I didn’t want to wait—to be honest, I felt like I’d waited long enough. Friendship Bread, my fourth novel but the first one written under my own name, Darien Gee, will be published when my youngest is two and a half.

Q. How is it the process different now that you are on your fourth published novel? What has changed?

The process is the same. In some ways, Friendship Bread was a bit like starting over again—I ended up with a new agent, a new publisher, a new name (even though Darien is my real name, I’d never published anything by it). What changed is that I have more confidence about my work, about being able to tell a story that resonates with readers. I’m also better at navigating the business of writing.

Q. You seem to be publishing a book a year. Tell us about how you keep that up. What is your writing schedule/routine?

My original goal was a book a year, but then Friendship Bread took longer because in a way I was starting over. I don’t have a schedule and every time I try to set one, I don’t stick to it. I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to writing and edits, though, and I listen to my inner self—when it’s time to write and things are flowing, I write. Even if I’m tired. Even if it’s inconvenient. I’ll tell my husband that it’s time and we’ll re-juggle our schedules. If I’m in a lull, I give myself the time off and not force myself to write. I trust the creative process but I do integrate deadlines and personal goals. Everyone is different but this seems to work well for me.

Q. The novelist Isabel Allende starts writing a new book every year on January 8th. Do you have any writing superstitions?

I don’t have anything I would call a superstition, but I do have several processes. I rarely stop writing mid-chapter—I always write to a close. If I know I can’t get there, I may not write at all that day and wait until I can. I cannot leave things hanging and when I do, it takes me forever to get back in and I just don’t have that kind of time. I also seem to write better at night. I can work on edits or handle the business aspects of writing during the day, but when I’m working on a first draft, on a new story, I prefer darkness and solitude. I used to pass my husband and children in the hallways around dawn—I’d be heading to bed as they were waking up.

Q. What advice would you give to others who want to tackle writing a novel?

To go for it, to not give up. I have some tips on writing from a UCLA extension writing class. You can view them by going here (http://www.friendshipbreadkitchen.com/pantry/on-writing).

Q. What’s your next project?

I’m almost done with the second book in the series. It’s called Memory Keeping and picks up about six months after Friendship Bread ends, in the summer of the following year. Some familiar characters are back and some peripheral characters, like Connie, have moved to the forefront, and there are newcomers, too. There isn’t that much Amish Friendship Bread in this book, but we’ve moved onto something just as appealing: scrapbooking, thanks in part to Bettie Shelton, founder and president of the Avalon Scrapbooking Society. It does move through the town but in a completely different way and for completely different reasons than the first novel.

Darien Gee is the author of three novels under the name Mia King: Good Things (2007), Sweet Life (2008) and Table Manners (2009), all published by Berkley Books, Penguin USA. Her fourth novel, Friendship Bread, will be published in hardcover by Ballantine Books in April 2011 and has sold foreign, audio, e-book, and book club rights.

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How Freelance Writing Has Changed, & Why Editors Get What They Pay For

If you’re not in the freelance writing business, you might not know how much it’s changed. But oh, how it has changed.Check out this American Society of Business Publication Editors blog post, in which “ASBPE award winning freelance writer Tam Harbert explains why even in the age of content farms and $15 fees for articles, trade publications get exactly what they pay for when it comes to hiring editorial talent.”

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‘Captain Cooked’ Book Signings – Meet The Author!

Listen, there’s a new book out and it’s an island culinary/romance/mystery novel that got me at its great title. It’s called Captain Cooked.

Full disclosure: I know about this book because its author, Steve Grogan, hired me before publication to review it for Hawaiian cultural accuracy. It’s set here on the Big Island, and he wanted to make sure he had his Hawai‘i facts down.

And so I got to read it early on, and saw that it’s really a fun read. Included throughout the book are really interesting island-related recipes. There’s also geocaching and more. And get this: He has hidden a shark-teeth club somewhere on the Big Island, and the book contains clues as to its location. Find the treasure and win $5000! This book really has it all! (Don’t ask me where the treasure is. I really have no idea.)

He did a similar thing with his previous book, a mystery titled Vegas Die. (Great book titles, huh?!) Nobody found the hidden dagger. Read where it was.

Vegas Die, published by Addison & Highsmith Publishers, has gained recognition as a “Best Seller” in the West, with its special twist featuring a dagger worth $25,000 hidden somewhere in the Las Vegas Valley, with clues to be found within the book. The fictional plot centers around the murders of retired mobsters with the Mayor of Las Vegas becoming the #1 suspect.

Back to his current book: Steve Grogan is going to be here, on the Big Island and O‘ahu, signing books, and you should swing by. I’m going to stop by when he’s at Basically Books in Hilo on Saturday. He is an interesting guy and you should stop by, say hello and pick up a book, which he’ll sign for you.

If you cannot make a signing, you can order Captain Cooked online.

Captain Cooked Book Signing Tour Dates

Big Island

Saturday, February 19th Borders Bookstore, 75-1000 Henry Street in Kailua-Kona 10:30 am (808.331.1668)  — Tentative–check with store

Saturday, February 19th at Basically Books 160 Kamehameha Ave. in Hilo 2 pm (800.903.6277)

Sunday, February 20th   10am, Big Island Geocachers at Island Lava Java restaurant, 75-5799 Ali’i Dr., on Kona Bay in Kailua-Kona – Public welcome

Sunday, February 20th Royal Kona Resort with book cover Tiki artist Brad Parker, 4 pm to sunset,  75-5852 Ali’i Drive, Kailua-Kona

Tuesday, March 1st, Kona Stories in Kailua-Kona 6 pm ‘Words & Wine,’ Keauhou Shopping Center,  78-6831 Ali’i Drive (808.324-0350)

O’ahu

Friday, February 25th,  Pau Hana Meet & Greet with O’ahu Geocachers, 6-8 p.m.  at Kaka’ako Kitchen, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd. (Ward Centre)—Free, public welcome

Saturday, February 26th at Barnes & Noble in Ala Moana Center 1450 Ala Moana Blvd. Suite 1272   11am-2pm (808.949.7307)

Sunday, February 27th at Barnes & Noble at Kahala Mall 4211 Waialae Avenue   (808.737.3323) 1:30 pm-3:30 pm

Please contact book stores and locations to verify times

Please note: due to the impending Borders Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing the Honolulu book signings were cancelled and adjust your calendar accordingly.

Some of the press the book has received so far, and store announcements:

Captain Cooked Recent News Articles, Blogs, Book Store Postings

— as of February 1st, 2011

Craig’s List

http://honolulu.craigslist.org/big/eve/2177754916.html
Honolulu Star Advertiser

http://www.prlog.org/11261704-captain-cooked-book-review-by-star-advertiser.html
Big Island Chronicle

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2011/02/01/hawaii-news-get-your-copy-of-captain-cooked-autographed-in-upcoming-book-signing-tour/
Hawaii Life of Luxury

http://www.hawaiilifeofluxury.com/captain-cooked-mystery-book-by-s-p-grogan/
Hawaii Book Blog

http://www.hawaiibookblog.com/?p=5090
Hawaii Star

http://www.hawaiistar.com/2011/01/captain-cooked/
Big Island – Big Island Blog

http://www.bigisland-bigisland.com/author-of-captain-cooked-book-signing-dates-proceeds-to-food-basket-program.html
News Blaze review

http://newsblaze.com/story/20101001054427clar.nb/topstory.html
You Tube Video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K9g3GglE-Y
Craig’s List

http://honolulu.craigslist.org/oah/eve/2153723051.html
Native Books – Na Mea Hawaii

http://www.nativebookshawaii.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_12&products_id=4008
Basically Books – Hilo

http://www.basicallybooks.com/upcomingevents.html
The Big Island’s Food Basket Calendar

http://www.foodbaskethi.org/index.php/calendar/
Kahakai Kitchen Blog

http://www.wellsphere.com/healthy-cooking-article/alan-wong-s-whole-tomato-japanese-cucumber-salad-with-li-hing-mui-vinaigrette-for-local-foodie-mystery-captain-cooked/1189654

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