Saturday, August 20, 2022

[Link] Hemingway’s Advice on Writing, Ambition, the Art of Revision, and His Reading List of Essential Books for Aspiring Writers

“In any art you’re allowed to steal anything if you can make it better.”

by Maria Popova

“As a writer you should not judge. You should understand,” Ernest Hemingway (July 21, 1899–July 2, 1961) counseled in his 1935 Esquire compendium of writing advice, addressed to an archetypal young correspondent but based on a real-life encounter that had taken place a year earlier.

In 1934, a 22-year-old aspiring writer named Arnold Samuelson set out to meet his literary hero, hoping to steal a few moments with Hemingway to talk about writing. The son of Norwegian immigrant wheat farmers, he had just completed his coursework in journalism at the University of Minnesota, but had refused to pay the $5 diploma fee. Convinced that his literary education would be best served by apprenticing himself to Hemingway, however briefly, he hitchhiked atop a coal car from Minnesota to Key West. “It seemed a damn fool thing to do,” Samuelson later recalled, “but a twenty-two-year-old tramp during the Great Depression didn’t have to have much reason for what he did.” Unreasonable though the quest may have been, he ended up staying with Hemingway for almost an entire year, over the course of which he became the literary titan’s only true protégé.

Samuelson recorded the experience and its multitude of learnings in a manuscript that was only discovered by his daughter after his death in 1981. It was eventually published as With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba (public library) — the closest thing to a psychological profile.

Read the full article:

Friday, August 19, 2022

Airship 27 Productions presents The Last Days of Poe

Airship 27 Production is proud to present famed writer R.A. Jones’ latest work of unparalleled imagination, “The Last Days of Poe.”

While on a trip to Baltimore, writer Edgar Allan Poe finds himself lost one night in the bustling new American metropolis. He stumbled upon a strange mansion on the city’s outskirts where he is welcomed by a bizarre figure to attend a garish ball.

The little guide, named Reynolds, wears a realistic head mask of a sharp-tooth dog and once inside the weird festivities, leads Poe to an upstairs room to meet his host. There assembled are six other wanderers also puzzled by their own presence there. When the master arrives, he is garbed in a long red cloak and hood and wears a frightening skull mask. He calls himself the Red Death and explains that they are invited to partake in a contest of spiritual survival.  

If any of them can find the exit to the house, they will be set free. Whereas any who fail will die and their souls condemned to the fires of hell.

Writer R.A. Jones spins a fanciful tale of horror and human despair that unveils the true sins of six people and their desperate attempts to flee their own inescapable judgment. Artist Chuck Bordell provides the black and white interior illustrations and the cover is by the popular Adam Shaw.


Available now from Amazon in paperback and soon on Kindle.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Movie Reviews for Writers: Half Light

In this thrilling haunted story, Demi Moore plays Rachel Carlson, a best-selling mystery writer who has recently lost her son and is struggling with guilt. So, she moves to the coastal countryside to think and write and figure out what to do about her now-failing marriage. 

I'll admit that I was expecting a more "by the numbers" thriller, but this one has a lot of emotional intensity. It's as much a drama as it is a ghost story. And Moore really delivers the goods as Rachel, the grieving mother with a deadline to hit. On that basis alone it's well worth watching. 

But, as with all the movies I review here for you, it also has so much to say about the lives we writers experience. 

During a conversation at the beginning of the film, when Rachel's husband Brian receives another rejection for his manuscript, the two of them joke about "Tabitha King Syndrome." For those who don't know, Tabitha King is a capable writer who had the bad luck to be married to Stephen King -- not because he was a bad husband, but because it meant anything she wrote would find it hard to grow so deeply entrenched in his shadow. But it doesn't just apply to family members. 

If a friend has ever recommended you to their publisher, there's always the risk of being ignored because the publisher understands you're doing your duty as a friend or being given the "friendly review" that means nothing because it wasn't really looked at because they were doing their regular writer a favor. 

It also means that as a writer, there's always someone in whose shadow you live and whom you are at least a little bit jealous of. I don't have to tell you how it feels to see friends you wrote with when you were all starting now writing regularly for awesome properties and one even recently hitting the New York Times best-seller charts for a graphic novel. Meanwhile, I struggle in relative obscurity with my own tales that I'm vehemently proud of and committed to continuing. Still, as much as I'm proud of them, the struggle against jealousy is real. 

The flip side of that is, of course, the bit she tells her husband when he feels that way. "I couldn't have done it without you," she says, and since he's also her editor, she's absolutely right. He's one of the reasons her prose is so marketable and so clean. They continue:

Rachel: They'll know you one day. Look at all the help you've given me.
Brian: That's editing, darling. It's not the same thing.
Rachel: You're the best editor in London; is that so bad? Max Perkins saved Hemingway.
Brian: Yes, well, no one remembers Max Perkins, and he's right up there with Tabitha what's-her-face. 

Of course, kudos to Rachel for knowing and appreciating the help of her editor. 

One of my favorite fallacies is one this movie explores beautifully -- the idea that the better the scenery/environment, the easier it should be to write. To some degree, there is some truth to this. Some sense of calm or quiet is needed for many, if not most, writers I know. Some sense of solitude, for many others, can also help. But there is no perfect place to write just as there is no perfect anything. Writing is an art, yes, but it's also a skill set, a practiced and trained technique of putting words onto paper. As such, as long as base criteria are met for being able to focus, no perfect place exists. 

Regardless, as Rachel looks over the green coast and the rolling seas, she exclaims, "If I can't write here, I can't write anywhere."

It's a nice thought, but as I said before, it's also horse shit. 

It would be more accurate to say while in your home office with your kids constantly interrupting you and your dog barking to go out, "If I can write anywhere, I can write here." 

Another key point I enjoyed in this creepy flick is how life can shut down our creativity. Notice I don't refer to it at all as writer's block. I call it what it is, our creativity being shut down by our circumstances. Semantics, I know, but even though the results are the same, an inability to write temporarily, it's important to know that it's not something outside us that shuts up down, it's something inside us, something begging us to deal with it. 

Of all the things that shut down our creativity, it's often the things that haunt us that do it the most, whether bills, family struggles, or other issues -- or in this case, grieving the death of a loved one. 

In some cases, the best case if you ask me, writing can be part of that healing process for the things that are haunting us. It can be therapeutic. But that doesn't mean it always is. Sometimes, we need to pull away and deal with those outside things before we can be free to write again. And that's okay. 

The last of the major points Half Light shows us is that, as I've mentioned before in several other reviews, we are known by our writing. It's there we truly live. It's in those words and paragraphs and stories where the secrets of our thoughts and beliefs and values come out and shake hands with our readers. 

When Rachel hands a copy of her book to the hunky lighthouse keeper, he tells her, "I'll find out all about you."

She responds, "Maybe."

But the assumption (okay, truth) is already stated: When I read your book, I'll learn about you and what you think about people and life.

It's one of my favorite things about having so many writers as friends. Even though we may never get to see each other often since we're scattered all over the country, and indeed the world, we can build a deep understanding of each other through reading each others' stories. 

One interesting tidbit was watching Rachel work. It's not a big thing, but it was nostalgic for me. She used what I learned as the "notecard method." She put plot and character points on index cards and then tacked them up and grouped them by scenes and themes. It was nostalgic for me because that's the way I learned to plot a novel. I didn't do it long, and it was far more a "how to write" book way of doing it rather than the more organic method I learned most working writers used, but still, it was fun to see it displayed onscreen. After all, every writer has to start somewhere, and it's still a useful method for keeping all that information organized when writing. 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

[Link] Gabriel García Márquez, The Art of Fiction No. 69

by Peter Stone

Gabriel García Márquez was interviewed in his studio/office located just behind his house in San Angel Inn, an old and lovely section, full of the spectacularly colorful flowers of Mexico City. The studio is a short walk from the main house. A low elongated building, it appears to have been originally designed as a guest house. Within, at one end, are a couch, two easy chairs, and a makeshift bar—a small white refrigerator with a supply of acqua minerale on top.

The most striking feature of the room is a large blown-up photograph above the sofa of García Márquez alone, wearing a stylish cape and standing on some windswept vista looking somewhat like Anthony Quinn.

García Márquez was sitting at his desk at the far end of the studio. He came to greet me, walking briskly with a light step. He is a solidly built man, only about five feet eight or nine in height, who looks like a good middleweight fighter—broad-chested, but perhaps a bit thin in the legs. He was dressed casually in corduroy slacks with a light turtleneck sweater and black leather boots. His hair is dark and curly brown and he wears a full mustache.

The interview took place over the course of three late-afternoon meetings of roughly two hours each. Although his English is quite good, García Márquez spoke mostly in Spanish and his two sons shared the translating. When García Márquez speaks, his body often rocks back and forth. His hands too are often in motion making small but decisive gestures to emphasize a point, or to indicate a shift of direction in his thinking. He alternates between leaning forward towards his listener, and sitting far back with his legs crossed when speaking reflectively.

Read the full article:

Friday, August 12, 2022

Airship 27 Productions presents Caged Fury

Airship 27 Production is thrilled to announce the release of “Caged Fury.” The third in writer R.A. Jones’ western series featuring bounty hunter Jason Mankiller.

After a deadly shoot-out with outlaws, bounty hunter Jason Mankiller founds himself in the small town of Low Water. Upon delivering the bodies of the criminals to the local marshal, he is immediately arrested for murder and locked up. Then, before he could comprehend what was happening, he’s put on trial in front of a kangaroo court set on finding him guilty. Too late, Mankiller realizes both the town marshal and mayor are also wanted men who have set themselves up as the law in this out-of-the-way hick village.

Found guilty, h’s sent to the hell hole known as the Pima Territorial Prison run by the sadistic Warden Holden Mayhew. Now the bounty hunter’s only goal is to stay alive long enough for his friends to learn of his fate and find a way to free him. But in Pima, that’s not going to be easy when he’s surrounded on all sides by brutal and savage killers. 

Once again, western writer R.A. Jones delivers a fast-paced, action-packed adventure starring his one and only “Man Who Cries Blood.” Artist Chris Rawding provides the cover and Neil T. Foster the nine black and white interior illustration. All assembled by award-winning Art Director Rob Davis.


Available now from Amazon in paperback and soon on Kindle.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

[Link] 50 Pulp Cover Treatments of Classic Works of Literature

Guns, Broads, Beefcake, Literariness

by Emily Temple

Last month at CrimeReads, Rebecca Romney looked at a few classic detective novels that had, at one time or another, gotten makeovers as sexy pulps—because as we all know, the easiest way to sell something is to make it look salacious (whether it actually is or not). But it isn’t only great detective novels that have gotten the pulp treatment. Classic works of literary fiction have existed as pulps from the very beginning of pulp—the new paperback publishers of the 1940s and 50s printed them right along with classic crime and some genuinely lowbrow (and sometimes quite lurid) new novels, often commissioning the very same artists to design their covers. Below, I dug up a few of these pulpified classics (not including the Pulp! The Classics imprint)—many of which I found through the excellent resource Pulp Covers. Some are true pulp covers—with overtly sexy women and tantalizing movie-esque taglines—while others are just amusingly lowbrow mass market treatments of highbrow novels. Either way, they’re even better than you’d expect.

Read the full article and see the pretty pictures:

Friday, August 5, 2022

Introducing The Last (The War of Souls Book 1)

The War of Souls is lost

For five thousand years, the Nephilim, begotten by the angels cast out of Heaven, have fought to corrupt mankind. Opposing them are the Ageless, the offspring of the Seraphim. Mankind’s fate hangs in the balance.

But Hell cheats...

While Earth suffers a slow-motion climate apocalypse, the love of Heaven is losing the War, while the hate and lies of Hell are winning. When the last human soul is finally corrupted, Armageddon will sweep the Earth clean.

Only one warrior for Heaven remains, Empa, the last of the Ageless, daughter of the Seraphim Raphael, Angel of Healing. She is opposed by the full complement of Hell's minions, two-hundred Nephilim. She’s unable to quit, even though she knows all is lost.

But the war isn't over yet, and hope rises unbidden. Empa searches for a weapon that may tip the balance toward Heaven’s favor for the first time. With the experiences and skills of thousands of years, but an equal burden of PTSD, she is a survivor. She has learned from the very best and worst of mankind, finally shunning love to avoid heartbreak.

But love is her greatest weapon against the minions of Hell.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Persistence in the Face of Great Adversity

by David James

As I sit here in my car doing my best to figure out exactly what I'm going to write about, I think about a friend of mine that's well published that uses a voice recorder in his ear while he goes hiking to do his first drafts. And I think of a marketer who uses a voice recorder to automatically type what he wants written for his marketing campaigns into Google Docs. Thus, using inspiration from both of them, I am doing voice-to-text right now as I think about what it is I am going to write.

One of the things that I admire in writers, is how they can take over a known universe, and make it their own, giving us a great story in it that continues the universe's Legacy. I think of the Star Wars Expanded Universe of novels. I think of the Star Trek novels. I think of authors that take over after other authors have died such as what Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have done with Frank Herbert's Dune, and what Brandon Sanderson did for Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, or what Todd McCaffrey did after his mom died with the Pern novels.

For myself, when I was growing up, and in my early 20s, I would sometimes write Star Trek or Marvel or some such in a short story form yet I never would finish the story. A lot of it was just done for fun anyway. I would even have wild ideas I would start writing down and had nothing to do with anything established. I had friends would say to me what I wrote was very readable. Yet, I never would continue nor finish them. I always thought I would, but never did.

Then, I decided to be serious. I bought a used copy of Dean Koontz's book How To Write Bestselling Fiction, and I read it like a writer's bible. I bought Stephen King's On Writing and read it. Then I came up with various stories of my own which I started. I have a whole universe of stories in my head just waiting to be told or finished being told. A few years back I lost a 20x20 storage unit that I was not able to pay; many, many, many stories were lost forever that had been in progress. Yet, the last one that I had been working on, I had somehow been wise enough to save PDF files online which I was able to recover.

I have gone through the PDF, the full PDF, a few times now, and I want to finish it. Yet, here I am sitting in my car, it's raining outside, I am homeless, very tired, and autistic, and have a hard time concentrating in public when I pull out my computer. A friend even got me a computer recently, because my other one was messed up and I hadn't been able to write in over a year. Files are on it as well. I sometimes can concentrate, and sometimes not. It varies, depending on what stimulation I have going on around me.

I rather hope to finish my story someday, and perhaps restart some of the stories I had started previously, yet never finished. Perhaps I can finish those as well. Yet, each day is its own struggle just to survive. I have to keep gas in the car to be sure I have air conditioning so I am not too hot. I have to make sure I have food each day. And most times I don't have any shelter other than the roof of my car. Friends help me out with donations on occasion. Even though the novel is not finished, I am considering sectioning up the part I already have, which is over 100 pages, into a few sections which could be sold on the Kindle Vella. How many would be interested in finding out more about the story I currently have?

When I think of how other writers are able to step into other universes and just take off with those universes and do so well, I look at myself and how I'm just working on my own stories, and my own universe, and how although it would be wonderful to write a Star Wars novel or a Marvel comic book or a Star Trek novel or some other thing, I just want to see my own stories in print.

If there is one thing I can say, whether one is published or not, whether one has finished a story or not, if you are a writer, then you have to write. I have other aspects of me as well and I am a trained healer. I am a certified Wholistic Health Coach. I have also trained in a very specific healing technique, which is highly effective. I love to help people. And I love to see them get better. Writing is something which causes people to feel good. Reading words helps one to become a better person. I believe that is why I have such a drive to write, and to never give up. Persistence truly is the key to success. Whatever success you have, it is because you are persistent, no matter what!

Saturday, July 30, 2022

[Link] Hemingway’s Tough-Love Letter of Advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald on Writing and Turning Suffering into Creative Fuel

“Forget your personal tragedy… Good writers always come back. Always.”

by Maria Popova

In the spring of 1934, just before dispensing his finest advice on writing and ambition to an aspiring writer who had hitchhiked atop a coal car across the country to see him, Ernest Hemingway (July 21, 1899–July 2, 1961) received a request for input by a writer far less unknown: his old pal F. Scott Fitzgerald. Despite their divergent politics and worldviews, the two had become fast friends a decade earlier and corresponded with uncommon candor about their convictions, their struggles, and the intricacies of their common craft.

Fitzgerald, who had taken a nine-year addiction-aided hiatus from publishing after the success of The Great Gatsby, had just released Tender Is the Night and was turning to his old friend for feedback. Hemingway did not hold back — he fired a missile of tough love not nearly as polite as Beckett’s, not nearly as intellectually elegant as Margaret Fuller’s, and yet absolutely brilliant and brimming with sobering advice for any writer.

Read the full article:

Friday, July 29, 2022

VALIDUS-V Arrives in Hardcover, Trade Paperback and on Kindle!

Press Release – For Immediate Release

Giant Robots! Giant Monsters! And one kid caught in the middle! In the spirit of Marvel’s Godzilla and Shogun Warriors comics of the 1970s.

White Rocket Books proudly announces the release in hardcover, trade paperback and Kindle e-book formats of Van Allen Plexico’s VALIDUS-V.

It’s 1978 and David is a high school student who stays with his aunt in Hawaii, eats mac and cheese, and talks Star Wars with anyone who will listen. But when his brother—the pilot of a gigantic, super-powerful robot—is injured, David must learn to operate the most advanced weapon on Earth, save his brother’s life, and battle three other robots, whose pilots are trying their hardest to kill him. And that’s before giant monsters rise up out of the Pacific to add to the carnage! Where did they come from—and will David survive long enough to find out?

Says creator Van Allen Plexico: “As a huge fan of Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe’s big monster and robot comics like Shogun Warriors and Godzilla back in the day, I have always wanted to write a story that involved those same sorts of characters and creatures, and evoked those same feelings. When the idea for VALIDUS-V came to me, I pretty much dropped everything and got to work. Four giant robots with different specialized weapons; four giant monsters of different shapes and sizes (but are they good or evil??); a group of skilled international pilots led by an enigmatic British professor; and an ancient alien conspiracy! What more could you want? I couldn’t be happier with how it all came out. And I think the spectacular cover art and design by Jeffrey Hayes of Plasmafire Graphics elevates the whole thing to another level!” 

Van Allen Plexico has won three “Best Pulp Novel” awards from the Pulp Factory, and “Best Thriller Novel” from the Imadjinn Awards, as well as a “Best Anthology” award from the Pulp Factory.

Now in its eighteenth year, White Rocket Books is a leader in the New Pulp movement, publishing exciting action and adventure novels and anthologies, in both traditional and electronic formats.   White Rocket books have hit the Top 5-by-Genre and reached #1 on the New Pulp Bestsellers List, and have garnered praise from everyone from Marvel Comics Vice-President Tom Brevoort and Avengers scribe David Michelinie to Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai and Kirkus Reviews.

VALIDUS-V is a $16.95, 6x9 format trade paperback, $24.95 dust-jacketed hardcover, and a $3.99 Kindle eBook from White Rocket Books.

260 pages.  ISBN-13:   979-8841938194 (6x9” Trade Paperback) 

Full details and links at    

Learn more about Van Allen Plexico’s work at




Thursday, July 28, 2022

Show, Don't Tell -- Sure. But How? A Description Writing Roundtable

For our next writers' roundtable, we're continuing this week's theme and talking about writing description. 

How much description do you tend to put into your work? When is (for you) it not enough? When is it (for you) too much?

Marian Allen: All detail should be "telling" detail -- that is, it should contribute to the scene or to the story as a whole. It's definitely too much if I'm reading it out loud and get bored. 

Brian K. Lowe: I try to put in enough description to paint the necessary picture, but leave the rest to the reader's imagination. No matter how you describe a character, everyone will see that character differently (like when you fantasy-cast your favorite book as a movie). 

Herika Raymer: I try to follow the adage of 'show don't tell,' but I also try not to pull a Thomas Covenant, where it takes two pages to finish one description. It's a tricky balance, but I do try to be concise while being descriptive. Can be difficult when writing, because sometimes the words used are not 'common'. I have to be sure that whatever words I use are relatively well known.

Bobby Nash: I know it sounds like a cop-out answer, but it depends. I like to make sure I’ve set the scene, let the reader know what they need to know. Conversely, there are things I leave less fleshed out so the reader can fill in the blanks. A murder scene, for example, I don’t go into every detail of the body’s condition, the blood, etc. The reader’s own imagination will do the work for me and make the scene even more graphic than anything I could write.

I play it by ear so too much or not enough is based on a gut feeling, I suppose. I want to make sure my readers have the information they need. In a mystery, especially, I want the clues to be in the story for the reader to find. That is important and I make sure it’s there.

Jessica Nettles: I work hard to describe scenes in a way that gives readers a sense of place. At the same time, I’m a lot like Bobby in that it depends on what’s going on or what’s needed. I have had to learn to balance what to describe and what not to describe. I wrote scripts for a while, and had to relearn how to weave in good description when I returned to prose writing.

Ef Deal: When I depict a setting, I try to capture more than the visual accuracy of the scene. I use colors, scents, light and shadow, and furnishings to convey or evoke as much of the emotional freight as I can. 

Ernest Russell: I like to write enough description so the reader has something for their imagination to work on, they'll fill in blank far better if I did it right. If particular details are needed, I'll be certain they are in the description.

Let's slice that question a different way. Do you picture the scene in your head as you write it, and if so, how do you figure out which details 100 percent have to be there for the reader to also picture, and which ones are open to the reader's interpretation?

Herika Raymer: Since I usually write with scenes in my head, I can safely say that is exactly what I try to transcribe. To be sure the details are sufficient, I try to read the passage aloud. Either to a test audience or to myself to see if I can recreate the image. Often though, much of it has to be left to interpretation.

Ernest Russell: Sometimes, I fall into this amazing place where I am merely writing down what I see and hear. It is the most euphoric feeling. My partner/Editor says that can really tell when it happens as they are editing. Most of the time I am struggling to describe the events and trying to figure out the details.

Bobby Nash: I see locations in my head and I describe them as necessary. There are some places where it’s less important to give every detail. If I say, for instance, that Bobby and Sean walk into Bobby’s office, I don’t have to say that there is a desk, two chairs, one bookshelf, overflowing with books and papers, two large area rugs, a mini fridge, a filing cabinet, and a potted plant that hadn’t been water since Bush was in office. Instead, I would mention an office, most readers know what an office looks like and assume certain things are there like a desk and chairs and focus on the important details. In the case above, the overflowing bookshelf and dead plant tell you a lot about Bobby. I can work in the two chairs part when Bobby offers Sean a seat or the mini fridge if he offers his guest a drink. I don’t need to info dump it all at once.

Krystal Rollins: As my husband once said, when he sees me writing, my facial expressions change, as if I'm not there anymore, like an out-of-body expression. I put myself in the scene, like outside looking in. I try to write in the sentence what I see, smell, and feel. 

Ef Deal: There's a huge difference between "It was sunset" and "The last of the sun sliced blood-red across the horizon beneath a sky the color of battered flesh" or "A bright red ribbon marked the end of the summer day, and the dark of night settled softly over them along with the heady perfume of the surrounding lindens."

At the same time, I don't want the forward motion or pace to suffer from overwriting, so sometimes I have to wait until a scene is finished to find out what is necessary and useful.

Jessica Nettles: I do see most scenes in my mind. The way I avoid over-describing is by considering what the central character in the scene sees and is experiencing in that moment. So if my character is at an airport waiting for her plane to be refueled, she’s going to probably see the workers taking care of her plane and the hangar area where she parked her plane. She may also notice that guy in the gray suit who is out of place and pointing a pistol at her. She won’t notice the other planes or the coffee pot inside the hangar.

How do you determine the type of description needed for a scene (visceral, setting details, physical characteristic details, internal details)?

Brian K. Lowe: Different scenes demand different levels of description, depending on the scene; an action scene depends more on its rhythms than description, for example.

Jessica Nettles: I determine what sort of description by focusing on what I need for a scene. So do I need to amp the tension? Is the plant life part of what will happen in the scene? Is a character frying green tomatoes? All of those things make a difference as to how I will use description.

Ernest Russell: The genre, type, mood of the story determine what kind of details. Action stories for me, usually have shorter, tighter descriptions. Horror will be more visceral, more metaphors as examples.

Ef Deal: In a first draft, I usually just push through the scene doing the blocking and dialogue, and I come back to flesh out the textures.

Herika Raymer: Details to be described depending on the effect I am looking for. If it is atmosphere, focus more on the surrounding. If it is how a character is viewed or how their actions are perceived, then focus on the character, how they look, and what reactions are around them. The description essentially puts something in the spotlight, and the author decides what is in the spotlight. What becomes tricky is when something may be going on in the background that is pertinent but the author does not want the hint to give away anything major.

Bobby Nash: Part of that depends on the POV the story is being told from. In the scene I mentioned in the last question, if Bobby’s POV, there’s less about the office’s layout since he knows it well, but I might have him upset that the fridge wasn’t stocked or have him mention how hard it is to find his keys in all this clutter. If from Sean’s POV, he would note that Bobby is a slob, might comment on the stacks of papers everywhere or the dead plant. The type and amount of description changes depending on who’s describing it.

What tools (if any) do you use to help you create description for your work?

Bobby Nash: Picturing the room helps. If it’s a place I will revisit again and again, maybe diagraming it or using photo reference to build the set in my head, so I am consistent in my descriptions. On Sean’s second visit to Bobby’s office, he might comment that the dead plant is missing and has been replaced with a fish tank and now Sean is worried if the fish will have better odds than the plant.

Marian Allen: Sometimes I draw a floor plan or landscape plan of the place I'm thinking of and let that dictate business/thought, as in, "She went up the stairs one at a time. She could do two at a time, or even three -- she was sure she could do three! -- but she was too much of a lady." Whatever. Weirdly, although I VERY seldom do detailed descriptions, I've had more than one person describe, in detail, the setting after they'd read a scene.

Ernest Russell: If I'm getting stuck, I'll go look it up. If it is a halfback I'll pull the manual. An aircraft? Video of it in flight. A Viking settlement? Archeology texts.

Sometimes writing prompts or sites that offer descriptive prompts. Reading, since the more you read of types of genre, fiction and nonfiction, adds to the breadth of turns of phrase.

Carry a notebook and jot cool things you hear down.

Above all, language is fun; mix it up and enjoy.

Jessica Nettles: I use photos (especially for historical places and clothing), personal experience, and maps (real maps and also maps of the scene). I also use art and even music.

Herika Raymer: Since I am a visual person, I usually try visual aids like pictures and videos. If I think other senses should be used, like sound or taste or smell, I try to find descriptions similar to what I am looking for to help me transcribe what my mental image depicts.

Krystal Rollins: My concern us too much or a run-on sentence. Not enough information would make the reader bored. Too much or too little? Add in what my character is thinking.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Movie Reviews for Writers: The Medusa Touch

We all know that writers change the world, but not like the writer Morlar in this thriller played by Richard Burton. A writer with a talent for psychically causing accidents, Burton is a dangerous man that not even death can stop. Lee Remick plays his psychologist who gradually comes to believe the impossible. 

The first thing I acknowledged while watching this movie is that as writers, we all suffer from the same problem Burton does -- we will disasters. Granted, we only make them happen on paper and digital screens, but we will tragedies into being regardless. 

Without them, our fiction would suffer. 

I've often said in panels at conventions that if my characters ever came to life the first thing they would do is shoot me in the back without a second thought. I mean, honestly, I make their lives hell. I have too. When they have a good relationship, it's my job to put it through the proverbial wringer for the sake of a compelling story. When life is going well for them, it's time for me to throw a dead body or a monster or a debilitating disease at them, again, all for the sake of an interesting read for the readers.

Without some kind of life or death (emotionally, psychologically, or physically) on the line, who would care to read the book? We read because we want to see people overcome obstacle, or at least try to and fail. 

So it's my job as the storyteller to will disasters into being. My love for my characters, my literary children, be damned. The story is king. So, here comes the potential tragedies, kids. 

The next tidbit I picked up from this gripping flick is one we've covered in other review as well, but it's reiterated here quite well.

You only really know writers by reading them.

While Detective Brunel is trying to find out more about Morlar's past, he meets with the author's publisher, a man named Moulton. During that exchange, Moulton drops a zinger that says this outright to the detective.

Moulton: He was a brilliant writer, and his last books were the best.

Brunel: What were they about?

Moulton: Evil and the power. He had the gift for tying one to the other, but nobody wanted to know. Copies always sold, but somehow they never got reviewed.

Brunel: Could he have made enemies with what he wrote?

Moulton: You'd better read him and see. Since no one paid very much attention, I doubt they inspired murder. 

In other words, I couldn't know him as a human being well, only as a writer, at least truly know him. It's a sentiment echoed later in their conversation. 

Moulton: It's funny, there was something about him, very private, very intense, a little menacing. It's not strange someone tried to kill him, but I couldn't tell you why.

Brunel: And his personal life?

Moulton: I'd be surprised if he had one, he was so self absorbed. In all the times we met, I can only remember one moment that didn't have to do with business.

I really that not all writers are as stand-offish the fictional Morlar, but the truth stands to a degree with all of us. You'll learn far more about it through our work rather than by observing us. Observation may show you habits and hobbies, but reading our stories will reveal the truly important stuff lying beneath the surface, our innermost thoughts and values and goals. 

In another flashback, as Brunel continues to dig for answers, Moulton reveals another lesson for us from this film. It is this: Readers don't always know the difference between writers' views and their characters' views. Accept that and move on. 

It's a hard lesson for us, because we populate our worlds with characters with a variety of actions and beliefs, and it hurts to think that some readers may see our inclusion of a morally gray character as meaning we are morally ambivalent or our revenge story as proof that we are inwardly violent as well. 

I have a friend who was accused of being a Nazi because he included Nazis as the bad guys in his WWII-era pulp fiction. Like it or not, there's just no stopping it from happening. Once the story is out in the wild the meaning and interpretation are out of your hands as the writer. People will believe what they want to about your work. And that's okay. 

During that flashback I mentioned, Moulton, as a publisher, tries to warn Morlar about that very situation.

Moulton: I've read your manuscript. It's very exciting. I love your satirical dissection of the Prime Minister. But there's this other bit that worries me. 'It's God who should...'

Morlar: ...stand at the bar of public opinion. That almighty enemy of evil should face the jury of his victims, the helpless, the hopeless deformed, the despairing.

Moulton: It's a little strong.

Morlar: I'm not responsible for what my characters say. Colby's despair entitles him to taunt that celestial non-entity.

Moulton: But your readers won't see it that way; they'll say it's you.

Morlar: I can live with that, I've known despair too.

I like Morlar's response here: "I can live with that."

Can you?

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Description Toolbox: 3 Tools Every Writer Needs

Dialog and description. What people say and what they do in the world they inhabit. There would be no stories without them. 

I know there are thousands of articles and books about writing description out there in this big ol' wide world, so why waste my time with one here on this mostly unknown blog by a D-list indie writer of pulp and genre fiction? 

Because I'm both vain and stubborn, I guess. 

Now that that's out of the way, the real reason is that since we each have different ways of approaching our work, I figured it might help someone else out there if I shared what worked for me. Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes. 

Description, defined personally, is the art of putting a place to your work. It's where the world is created with words and each item in that world worth mentioning is created as well. But there's a fine line between not enough description and too much description. How do you know if an item in or a detail of that world is needed or not? 

I go to my toolbox. I have one for description and one for dialog. The description toolbox contains three key tools that help me answer that question for my writing. These are, in effect, my hammer, screwdrivers, and wrenches for my stories. For most situations, they get the job done for me, in spite of any additional fancy, schmancy gadgets I may also have access to.  

Tool #1: Journalism School (The Four W's)

I come from a background in both fiction and nonfiction writing. I cut my teeth on magazine and newspaper articles, and as such, I had to learn quickly the most important questions for informative nonfiction. They've been called the "W's" for years. 

They are: 

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?

Now, I know it's tempting to add "Why" to this list, but hold off on that for now. Honestly, if we can't detail a clear picture of these four questions, then why doesn't really matter to your story. We need to know who is on the set, what is on the set and what is happening, when it's happening (era or time of day or season, etc.), and where it's happening. Once those details are clear, readers will have all they need to ponder the why in their own minds and in Literature classes for time to come.

Without all that, who cares? It's just a list of plot points and random dialog. 

Most writers devote more time to who and what than anything else, but it's important to remember that each is equally important to your work. 


Without a who, the plot is meaningless. The story only happens because it happens to somebody. And that somebody is either short or tall, lanky or stout, male or female or trans, blonde or redhead or raven-haired. That person has a personal style of dress, or stuff important to them, etc. Plot happens to characters, not to placeholders in the shape of one. 

But it's not just your antagonist and protagonist. You also have to think about your other characters, even to the point of onlookers. One of these coolest tricks in filmmaking is to add a third person in a scene between two important characters. It's not just a way of breaking up the monotony of talking heads, it also can supply comedy, tension, suspense, or that moment of relief as the viewer sees another character react to those two primary leads for the scene. It's a trick we can apply in our fiction too, a breakaway from the key action to describe something in the background, something that may have importance or not -- the reader won't know yet. It could be important or it could be red herring.


Without a what, nothing happens? Characters do things in a way that tells the reader something about them. The things they touch, the way they walk, the words they say. the drinks they drink, the colors they choose for their living room decor -- all those whats establish identity and place a real character in a real place, at least in the theater of the reader's imagination. 


A lot of writers, particularly beginning writers, tend not to even think about when. I can't tell you how many times I've read a short story without any sense of day or night, winter or fall or spring of summer, or the year. Some might say that's not nearly as important to the plot, but I disagree. If you didn't feel the snow and isolation of winter in Ethan Frome (it's pretty much its own character in the story) would the outcome of the novel matter or even make sense? If you could sense the oppression of night in Chander's hardboiled tales, you'd miss the moral ambiguity of the themes. If you couldn't feel the summer heat in Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, you'd missed the exuberance of childhood play that underlines all the weirdness of the stories the boys live. 


Where is the one we writers think about almost as much as who. But do we really populate where in a way that makes a vivid picture for readers? Think about the various colored rooms in Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" or the simple living room in Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron." The importance of the setting will determine how fully you describe it. In "Red Death," the colors not only exist for opulence and extravagance but also for meaning and symbolism. In "Bergeron" the setting is sparse intentionally because no one in that world has any more or less than any other. 

Tool #2: The Senses

Now let's go deeper into our W's. How do we perceive the who, what, where, and when in our real life? Through our senses, of course. 

It's the same with our fiction. Sensual (not to be confused with erotic though it can be that) writing simply means understood through or by the senses. 

For those who haven't taken elementary-level science in a few years, they are:

  • Sight
  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Touch
  • Taste

On the surface, these are all very easy to work with, but like a screwdriver, they each function similarly but with different specifics, whether flat, Phillips, hex, socket, etc. Let's break them down. 


Sight, simply put, is what the writer (and by extension, the reader) sees. It's where details like size, color, shape, number, background, etc. are perceived. It also has an emotional quality to what is seen, but we'll get to that later. In many ways, both in real life and in fiction, it's our default sense. It's the one we use even as a beginner without really having to think about it as we bang out words on a keyboard (or for you old schoolers, write on a notepad). 

"It was a dark and stormy night..." is proof enough of that. (Thanks Snoopy!)

Sight descriptions run the gamut from basic (Hemingway, Carver) to uber-detailed (Faulkner, Tolkien) to flowery (Hurston, Garcia Marquez), and each is a valid choice when the writer knows when and where to use it. When it is overused, it is often referred to pejoratively as purple prose (often leveled at the pulp stories from the magazine heydays when writers were sometimes padding the pay per word). 


This one is often underused, I've always believed. Maybe it's because I'm also a musician and I hear sound in a perhaps different way from non-musicians. For mean, perception through sound goes way beyond just the message heard, beyond the words. 

At the risk of sounding stuffy (too late, I know), a message or setting is communicated more than just in the words said. I also understand meaning and location through volume, pitch, "pleasantness," etc. 

For example, a loud speaking voice can be like a cannon or like a droning bug in my ear. And each conveys a different message about the speaker. Loud background sounds can provide feelings of calm or tension, whether cicadas, grasshopper "fiddles," water babbling, or falling timber in the distance. Even urban sounds can have different tones they convey just like nature. And how that message is received by your characters is important. But to experience them, they have to hear them first, and that means you need to write them. 

The pitch of a sound also carries meaning to the listener. A high lilt may relax someone in the same way a low, husky, deep voice might relax another. Sharpness in the tone will almost always irritate me and put me off, whereas a softer timbre will put me at ease. Don't forget your characters have these traits too. 

Volume and pitch and tone all cause a sound, whether speaking or mere noise, to fall somewhere on a pleasantness scale. And we all have different ways of describing that scale. Like mama soothing me after I scraped my knee. Like a bird trapped in a chimney. Like my aunt scolding my cousin. Like leaves crunching underfoot. You can't read those without feeling something, and that's the point of sound descriptions. 

Smell and Taste

I like to think of sight and sound as the (sort of) basic senses and as the remaining three as the visceral senses. Sight and sound often tell you what while smell, taste, and touch tell your body how to react to that what. 

As such. smell and taste often work together. If you can smell a fresh apple pie or a dead animal on the side of the road, you can almost always taste it as well. 

Likewise, when you taste something and hold your nose, you miss out on quite a bit of the experience of tasting in the first place. 

Every place your characters go and every person they meet and every new thing they see will have a taste and smell component. Your job will be to determine whether that is an important detail to include. However, don't be fooled into thinking that only food and fragrances are worth tasting or smelling. The thick, iron odor of blood can be a useful detail in a murder mystery or a coming of age tale in the wilderness. The taste of chalk on a vase can tell a detective or a nosy neighbor details about the person who owns the vase. 

And, because these are visceral senses, how far you take that taste or smell is up to you and the story you're trying to tell. "The dried beef crawled down my throat like maggots swimming in gravy" tells a far different story than "The cottage pie warmed my tongue with the sweetness of green peas." 


I could (and have) done a full tutorial on this sense alone. It's often the first sense that action writers go to for their visceral descriptions. It's the gut punch that twists your guts into a bag of bones and blood and playdough. It's the catch in your throat just before you lurch forward and send the contents of your stomach spewing. It hits like a proverbial sledgehammer. 

But it's so much more than that. 

It's also the touch of a lover's fingernails on the ticklish spot of your back, the one that causes your hairs to tingle and stand up, the spot that itches and relaxes your muscles all at the same time. 

It's also the warmth of your father's palm against your face when he leans in, gripping slightly enough to force your  cheeks against your jawbone, then backs away before leaning his forehead against your own and says, "I always knew you could do it."

It's also the gentle brushing of a thousand tiny dancers against your calves and ankles as your walk through the field between your house and your grandmother's place, each step sending the twirling off into the air. 

It's also the breeze that makes you shake from the sudden ice cubes hunching across your shoulders and the single drop of rain that hits you on the forehead just as you enter the church for your mother's funeral. 

It's touch. And it conveys so much more than just the physical sensation. It also tells the reader how to feel without ever saying how to feel. 

Tool #3: The Psyche

We've actually been using this tool throughout this tutorial already because none of those previous tools works without this one. It's the creamy filling inside every chocolate candy we've eaten thus far (and yeah, I'm mixing metaphors; just go with it, we'll call it stream of consciousness if that helps). No who, what, where, or when exists in a vacuum. Each W question you describe the answer to has all kinds of emotion and reaction built in. It's the reason words like gigantic resonant more than big. It's why alluring means more than just pretty. The technical term for it is connotation. If denotation is the meaning all by itself, connotation is the meaning when the word is filtered through the brain. 

This deepest tool of description is where we intentionally move our pictures from the outside to the inside. Like I said, we've been doing it all along, but now is the time we do it on purpose, not by accident. 

There's a lot going on inside a reader (and a character) we need to tap into. Among them:

  • Inferences
  • Implication
  • Emotional responses
  • Empathy
  • Personality
  • Experiential understanding
  • Pondering

This is where we not only drink the dandelion wine we've been waiting for, but we also pick up what the drinker feels and thinks when they drink it. But that's not description, you say, that's narration. Duh. It's all narration. Has been all along. It all is. 

This is where those adjectives and adverbs become strong nouns and verbs instead or become more targeted from our initial brain droppings (often called cliches). 

This is when the particular words chosen have something meaningful to say about what is implied when the narrator says the sun is yolk-like rather than yellow. 

This is where the vision seen by the POV characters tells the reader something unique when they see rocks that are like little broken cities of the past rather instead of dried clumps of dirty stone. 

This is the place when the way a character sees, hears, smells, etc. another character or a place will differ from how they see, hear, smell, etc. another character or place. 

This is when the smell of cheese toast reminds a character of home in a good way or a bad way, like a melted combination of butter and cheese, with the tops all crispy and blackened, hot and sticking to the inside of your teeth or the dead odor of burned cheese and too much butter, thick in the air like the grease would undoubtedly soon be in the reader's mouth. 

This is where the most important how in your work can finally come out and play -- the how it makes your characters feel and how it makes them think. 

A Few Examples From My Work

Rather than analyze the works of writers far more gifted than me and tell you what I think they intended as they wrote, I'll take the coward's way out and just pull a few examples to examine from my own work. 

    It begins as always with the crick-cracking of the neck bone where it attaches to the top of the spine. Then there is the delicious constriction as the breath slowly ceases its movement through the windpipe. At last, after moments sometimes but more often after teasingly painful minutes, thick as the dripping of Winter’s oil, the body lies limp and unmoving, lifeless in the metal, springs and gears that have become my new strength. 

    -- "Death With a Glint of Bronze" (Dreams of Steam: Brass and Bolts)

This story opening is filled with visceral sense imagery using sounds and touch particularly. I can not only hear the crick-cracking but also feel in my fingers what it would feel like to make a neck make that sound. 

    A high-pitched male voice cut through the throng of onlookers and one of the bobbies fell to the street with a wet thud. A dwarf of a man, five feet tall at his best, stepped over the fallen officer and strode between McKendrick and his assistant. 

    -- "Death With a Glint of Bronze" (Dreams of Steam: Brass and Bolts)

Here's an example of using description to show a POV character's summation of a character he encounters. Words like "thud" and "dwarf" tell you exactly what he thinks of this interloper. 

    She reached across her lap and pushed the broken bone back into place then shook her wrist to check the connection. It held, and would stay together long enough to get some gauze and tape to secure the cracked bone. Not that it would heal of course. Those days were over. 

    “What do you call this bone?” she asked, holding up the arm to show him. “I used to know, I think, but I can't remember it now.”

    “Hell if I know,” the man said. “That's what I hire editors for.”

    -- "Posthumous" (Zombiesque)

For this zombie protagonist, I wanted to show not the grossness of the bone but the monotony of her having to constantly repair her body when she got angry and broke a bone. The emotion was not an active one, but a passive one in this case. 

    They were nameless, though they had no trouble distinguishing one another. Short and squat, they smelled like the caves they mined, but that didn’t bother them. They had done so and been so for more than two hundred of the humans’ years, and they looked neither older nor younger than they had a few decades ago.

    -- "The Fairest of Them All" (Classic Mutilated)

I wanted to convey the way a fantasy dwarf might describe his kind in this story opening. Rather than the four-color world of Disney's Snow White, I wanted to build a dusty, dirty world of cave living for the seven dwarves. 

    The door burst open and a small dog with white matted fur bounded in and leapt into her lap, pushing her back onto the bed. Her feet hung of the edge and touched the floor, flat-footed, and the top of her head pressed against the head rail. The dog snuggled into her chest and licked her lips and nose. 

    -- "The Fairest of Them All" (Classic Mutilated)

When the story needed a break, it was time to bring in the dog, but only in such a way that made the scene feel childish, but not quite, since her feet touch the floor flat from the edge of the bed. 

“You do know she's dead, right?” the girl tossed her hair back, flicking a solid streak of purple amid the unnaturally dark black. “Besides that, she wasn't real. She's a movie character.”

“What do you know about String Theory, Gert?”

“God, I hate that I got stuck with that name. Why couldn't my mom have been a hippy instead and named me something less stupid, like Sunshine or Rainbow?”

Reed ignored her, and traced the Hello My Name Is Gert on her cockeyed name tag with his eyes, then let them dart over to her breast for the merest of moments. “Or even better, M-Theory.”

    -- And So She Asked Again, (Reel Dark)

Clearly, Reed notices Gert, and this established Gert's personality and even Reed's. I can clearly see Gert with her dark hair and streak of purple. 

In a few minutes the worst of the pain had passed, and I gathered up Elise's purse and overnight backpack just in case the doctor sent her own to the emergency room. He didn't do it often, but frequently enough that we had learned to keep the bag packed with a few toiletries, fresh underwear, and a pair of sweats and an baggy T-shirt and her flip-flops. 

She made it out to the car leaning against me for support, and I helped her in the passenger side, careful not to touch her legs more than needed to help lift them into the car. She grinned weakly and said thanks then looked away and grimaced. 

    -- "The Watching Thing" (coming soon in A Crowd in Babylon)

This is one of my favorite passages of description. The contents of the bag say something meaningful, and then the description of Elise getting help into the car tell us it's worse than even the bag indicates.

    Just as he’d requested in the Mid Town Reporter, the flowers were all made of papier-mâché. They were orange. And green. No other colors. The pallbearers wore suits of black, against which the brightly colored paper looked like a gift from a well-meaning, but naïve child, the kind of gift that a parent couldn’t dream of turning down, but clenched still at the thought of accepting.

    -- "Foolish Notions" (Show Me A Hero)

I loved the color contrast in this story. It sets up the theme and tone from the beginning. 

    The woman’s accent was just German enough to get his attention, all dripping with sexy gutturals and thick vowels, just exotic enough to trick a man’s ears into thinking he was having a drink with Marlene Dietrich instead of some two-bit nightclub singer in a no-account New York dive like Belle’s. But the comparison stopped cold at the woman’s voice. She was attractive, of course, but lacked the sex appeal that would have brought sell-out crowds to the local bijou. Her skin was pale and almost sickly, and her figure—while a far sight better than that of the average woman with a nice apartment and radio in her living room—well, it was never going to get her silhouette painted on a playbill. But her eyes, her dark eyes that threatened to go solid black in just the right light, those were something special, and it was those eyes that had convinced him to listen to her story in the first place. 

    -- "Die Giftig Lilie" (The Ruby Files, Vol. 1)

The whole point of this story opening was to make the reader picture the idea of hard-boiled. I wanted to create the background images and the incidental music without having to say the bar was smoky or that a jazzy soundtrack played over the scene. 

In Conclusion

Okay, I've shown you the tools, and I've provided a few examples. Now it's your turn. Get to work. Dazzle me. 

Saturday, July 23, 2022

[Link] Is this the most powerful word in the English language?

by Hélène Schumacher

The most commonly-used word in English might only have three letters – but it packs a punch.

‘The’. It’s omnipresent; we can’t imagine English without it. But it’s not much to look at. It isn’t descriptive, evocative or inspiring. Technically, it’s meaningless. And yet this bland and innocuous-seeming word could be one of the most potent in the English language.

‘The’ tops the league tables of most frequently used words in English, accounting for 5% of every 100 words used. “‘The’ really is miles above everything else,” says Jonathan Culpeper, professor of linguistics at Lancaster University. But why is this? The answer is two-fold, according to the BBC Radio 4 programme Word of Mouth. George Zipf, a 20th-Century US linguist and philologist, expounded the principle of least effort. He predicted that short and simple words would be the most frequent – and he was right.

The second reason is that ‘the’ lies at the heart of English grammar, having a function rather than a meaning. Words are split into two categories: expressions with a semantic meaning and functional words like ‘the’, ‘to’, ‘for’, with a job to do. ‘The’ can function in multiple ways. This is typical, explains Gary Thoms, assistant professor in linguistics at New York University: “a super high-usage word will often develop a real flexibility”, with different subtle uses that make it hard to define. Helping us understand what is being referred to, ‘the’ makes sense of nouns as a subject or an object. So even someone with a rudimentary grasp of English can tell the difference between ‘I ate an apple’ and ‘I ate the apple’.

But although ‘the’ has no meaning in itself, “it seems to be able to do things in subtle and miraculous ways,” says Michael Rosen, poet and author. Consider the difference between ‘he scored a goal’ and ‘he scored the goal’. The inclusion of ‘the’ immediately signals something important about that goal. Perhaps it was the only one of the match? Or maybe it was the clincher that won the league? Context very often determines sense.

There are many exceptions regarding the use of the definite article, for example in relation to proper nouns. We wouldn’t expect someone to say ‘the Jonathan’ but it’s not incorrect to say ‘you’re not the Jonathan I thought you were’. And a football commentator might deliberately create a generic vibe by saying, ‘you’ve got the Lampards in midfield’ to mean players like Lampard.

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Saturday, July 16, 2022

[Link] Margaret Atwood, The Art of Fiction No. 121

Interviewed by Mary Morris

The manuscript of “Frogless,” a poem that appears in this issue, by Margaret Atwood. Ms. Atwood wrote the poem on an SAS Hotel’s bedside notepad while she was in Gothenburg, Sweden last September for the Nordic Book Fair. “I’ve written quite a lot under those circumstances. Perhaps it’s being in a hotel room or a plane with no ringing phone and no supervision. Also, there’s something about jet lag that breaks down the barriers.”

Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1939. As a child, she lived in the wilderness of northern Quebec and also spent time in Ottawa, Sault Sainte Marie, and Toronto. She was eleven before she attended a full year of school. In high school Atwood began to write poetry inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, and at sixteen she committed herself to a writing career, publishing a collection of poems, Double Persephone, six years later.

Her second book of poetry, The Circle Game, earned her the Governor General’s Award—Canada’s highest literary honor—and from that time forward she has been a dominant figure in Canadian letters. In 1972 Atwood sparked a hot debate when she published a controversial critical study of Canadian literature, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. In it she claimed that Canadian literature reflects the submissive as well as survivalist tendencies of the country, born from its being a subordinate ally to the United States, a former colony, and a country with vast stretches of untamed land. Following the publication of this volume, Atwood retreated from Toronto, where she had been working as an editor at the publishing house Anansi, to a farm in Alliston, Ontario, where she began to write full time.

Atwood has published nineteen collections of poetry—including The Circle Game (1964), The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970), Power Politics (1971), You Are Happy (1974), True Stories (1981) and Interlunar (1984)—but she is best known for her novels, which include Surfacing (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), and Cat’s Eye (1988). Her most widely read novel is The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), a chilling account of a puritanical theocracy that won Atwood a second Governor General’s Award and was recently made into a motion picture. She is also the author of two children’s books, Up in the Tree (1978) and Anna’s Pet (1980) and two collections of short stories, Dancing Girls (1977) and Bluebeard’s Egg (1983). She has edited Oxford anthologies of Canadian verse and Canadian short stories and, with Shannon Ravenel, the 1989 volume of The Best American Short Stories.

The question of the status of women has frequently been an issue in Atwood’s work, and feminists have seized upon her writing as a product of the movement. Atwood has also made other political and philosophical issues themes in her work, such as Canada’s struggle to create an identity and, in recent years, her concern for human rights.

This interview was conducted in a house near Princeton University, where Atwood had gone to give some readings and lectures. In person, Atwood is much as one might expect from reading her work—incisive. For many hours over a period of two days, while teenage boys bounced basketballs and played music outside, people walked in and out, and football games played on the television in the next room, Atwood sat, attentive, answering each question without hesitation. She never strayed from her point, never seemed to tire, and remained, like a narrator from any one of her books, unflappable.

INTERVIEWER: Has the theme of survival always been intrinsic to your work?

MARGARET ATWOOD: I grew up in the north woods of Canada. You had to know certain things about survival. Wilderness survival courses weren’t very formalized when I was growing up, but I was taught certain things about what to do if I got lost in the woods. Things were immediate in that way and therefore quite simple. It was part of my life from the beginning.

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