Archive for January, 2011

How to Write a Review

Lots of writers say they don’t read reviews.  They’re lying.  What they really mean is they don’t like reviews.  I do.  I read them, and I like them.  A writer spends months and months sequestered, intimately involved with the rearing of a novel, and then shoves it out the door like a college graduate with the fervent hope it’ll succeed.  Reviews are feedback, and after spending all that time and thought crafting a novel it’s good to know what people think of it, even if they don’t like it.  Especially if they don’t like it.  Good reviews stroke the ego, while bad reviews, if they’re intelligent and perceptive, show me ways to improve my writing.

But after reading hundreds of reviews— maybe even dozens— it has come to my attention that not every reader knows how to write an intelligent and perceptive review, so I thought it might be good if I gave out a few pointers.

First (and this is particularly important if you happen to be reviewing one of my books), a reviewer should show off his/her…

The Keys

“All of life is a meditation, most of it unintentional.”                                                                       -Joseph Campbell

I believe in God.  It’s a core belief.  I’m not an in-your-face, Bible thumping, “git right or go to hell and fry like a sausage” kind of guy— I don’t like confrontation, don’t invite it, and don’t like it when somebody else initiates it.  You go to your church and I’ll go to mine.  I simply choose to believe in God, and it affects my decisions.  That’s pretty much the definition of a core belief:  If it isn’t a root-level decision-making tool, you don’t really believe it.

I have a lot of little conversations with God, most of them not terribly important.  Once in a while, like any Christian, I’ll get in a pickle and yell for help, like the time I got low in a sailplane, too far out to make…

Sap to Syrup

“There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”  — Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

My first novel, Sutter’s Cross, was an experiment.  Based on the numbers in Writers Market I figured out that the odds of publishing a novel were actually better than publishing a short story, and I had already published a few short stories in literary magazines.  All I needed was a novel.  I already had a first chapter, in the form of a short story that didn’t really end, and it started with what may be the best opening line I’ll ever write—  “The first time I ever saw Harley he was wearing my pants.”  I fleshed out some characters and followed them around for three years and seven or eight complete rewrites before I finally had a finished draft.  Then I sent it to an agent, and she had me rewrite it.  Later, she sent it to a publisher and they had me rewrite it.  Twice.  Even after all that, I still see things I could have done…

The Kid With The Busted Watch

It was about this time of year— I guess that’s what made me think of it. When I was in high school I worked afternoons and Saturdays in a jewelry store. That’s how I paid for my first car, a 1967 Triumph Spitfire. The old guy who owned the place taught me to do minor watch repair, among other things.

Late one Saturday afternoon the bell on the door tinkled and I looked up from the workbench to see this kid trudge in, all by himself. He was maybe nine years old but his face looked thirty. I’d never seen him before, though I recognized him right away— that is, I knew all about him at a glance. He was wearing grubby jeans, sneakers, and a plain white T-shirt with no coat, in January. His hair was cut in a tight crewcut, something no kid would have chosen for himself in the early ’70s. That flat-top…

Of an Angry God

Joseph Campbell once said computers are inhabited by an Old Testament god— “all rules and no mercy.”  There was one of those in our house when I was growing up, and he was personified by The Belt.  (You have to keep in mind that when I was a kid the Old Testament was still pretty fresh in everybody’s minds; it hadn’t been that long since it happened.)  The Belt hung from a coat hook in the hallway, and it was taller than I was.  Nobody ever wore it because it was far bigger than any waist in our house; it existed for the sole purpose of meting out justice, and it had always been there— the Alpha and Omega of belts.  The front was solid black, but all the way down the backside, the buff leather side, someone (I suspect my mother) had inscribed in black ink a title from one of those old blue hymnals:  I NEED THEE EVERY HOUR.

The Belt was legendary.  My mother could wield it in a pinch, but my father was a beltsman…