Writers, do you want to read a book that contains summaries of the best books on writing? Look no further than Roy Peter Clark’s Murder Your Darlings and other gentle writing advice from Aristotle to Zinsser. I found this book on the ACES website (The ACES: The Society for Editing). Clark is a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, which is a world-famous school for journalists. Having taught writing for over forty years, Clark shares the advice of famous writers throughout history. This is his latest book and now I plan to search for his earlier works, which include The Art of X-Ray Reading, How to Write Short, The Glamour of Grammar, and Writing Tools. I felt an instant kinship to Clark for two reasons: He writes in the beginning that he did not get accepted into his first-choice school (Princeton) and he graduated from Providence College. I also did not get into my first-choice school, Brown University, and I happen to be a native of Providence, Rhode Island, so I felt an affinity to this author right from the start.
To give readers a sample of Murder Your Darlings, I will summarize the advice of a few of the most noteworthy authors and their writing tips:
On the Art of Writing by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
Sir Quiller Couch, or Professor Q as he was affectionally known, told his students to “Murder Your Darlings.” He did not mean they should actually kill people, but rather if they come up with sentences they think are particularly witty or exceptional, they should by all means write them down. However, he cautioned they should not be so enamored with them that they refuse to delete them when editing. Professor Q wrote that “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole heartedly, and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” (p. 15)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Stephen King really needs no introduction. In his book King shares his writing strategies as well as his own daily writing habits. The following are a few strategies in a nutshell:
- The story is more important than the plot. A good way to move the action is to ask “what-if” questions. For instance, “What if vampires invaded a small New England village, as in Salem’s Lot?” (p. 143)
- When King thinks of the story’s pacing, he reminds himself of writer Elmore Leonard’s advice to cut out the boring parts. Even if you crafted some sentences that you are extremely proud of, if it slows down the story’s pacing, take it out (murder your darlings).
- Kings tells writers to use their imagination in their description, but make sure the readers can actually envision that description in their imagination. Description should not be exhaustively excessive but rather insert a few “well-chosen details” so they can imagine the rest.
Language in Thought and Action by S. I. Hayakawa
Everyone has bias but journalists should make every effort to not allow theirs to creep into their work. S. I. Hayakawa emphasized that news reports must contain only verifiable facts with no propaganda to influence readers’ opinions. To ensure a sustainable democracy, the media have the responsibility to report provable information free of bias and their own subjectivity. How can they achieve this? The following is some of Hayakawa’s advice:
1. Avoid judgments. The writer should not express their approval or disapproval of the individuals they are writing about.
2. Avoid inferences. Hayakawa writes that there should be “. . . no guesses as to what is going on in other people’s minds.” (262) In other words, show actions such as “she hugged and kissed her sister” rather than “she was relieved to find her sister unharmed.”
3. Slant both ways at once. In other words, describe details that demonstrates impartiality. For example, if a writer is describing a rally, they may mention it was well-attended but they can also include unflattering details, such as the attendees were speaking among themselves instead of focusing their attention on the rally. Hayakawa’s point is to paint an accurate and objective portrait of the events being described.
How I wish more journalists today would heed his advice!
Writers, eager to read more? Get a copy of Murder Your Darlings.
Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations.
I found Alex George’s The Paris Hours a beautifully-written story. Here is just a sample: “Every morning the piano rescues Souren Balakian from his dreams. The same low notes gently tug him away from everything that he has left behind. The ghosts that haunt his sleep are chased away by the music floating up through the floor from the studio below. He opens his eyes” (p.13).
The Paris Hours was published this year and is the first book of this author that I have read. Two of George’s earlier books have received widespread attention: A Good American was the #1 Indie Next Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Setting Free The Kites was also an Indie Next Pick, A Library Reads Choice, and a Midwest Connection Pick. In addition, it won the Missouri Prize for Fiction in 2018. Wow!
While reading The Paris Hours, I appreciated the diligence and care George took in creating each of the four central characters, ordinary people who have suffered greatly during the First World War in France. He elicits readers’ empathy as he draws them into their lives: a refugee from the Armenian genocide who made his way into the country after losing his entire family, a French journalist who also lost his family during the war, a struggling painter desperately needing love and luck, and a former housekeeper of Marcel Proust desperately searching for a notebook belonging to the late artist because it could ruin her life. The author weaves in other famous artists besides Proust, the rest being American expatriates living in France: Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, and Gertrude Stein, among others. But the story concentrates mainly on the four central characters and their quest for redemption.
However, as much as I enjoyed reading The Paris Hours, I was disappointed by the ending, which critics promised would be spellbinding. The lives of these characters are individualized and intricate, but for the conclusion they all come together in one setting. I do not want to give too much away other than stating I found it unsatisfying. Nevertheless, for readers who enjoy an author who produces beautifully crafted writing and unforgettable characters, The Paris Hours delivers.
Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations
I am pleased to interview writer, blogger and book reviewer Amy Shannon. She is a prolific author who is dedicated to providing book reviews for indie authors on her website, Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews. On her second website, Amy Shannon: The window to my soul, starts with a blank page, she promotes her own work as well as provides promotion services for other authors, When I sent her my new novel, The Book of Revelations https://www.amazon.com/dp/B088F1P1SY, Amy promptly read it and posted her review. She also included my book review among a group of her other reviews in a special section of the e-magazine, Uncaged Reviews (www.uncagedbooks.com). As you will read in this interview, Amy’s work in the writing world is extensive and has recently expanded to podcasts.
1.) Q. Amy, please tell me about yourself and your writing career.
A. I have been writing since I was a young girl but telling stories long before that. My mother used to call me her little storyteller because I was always making up stories or giving my own version of stories I have read. For a long time (and still do sometimes) I wrote poetry and short stories. In 2004, I started writing what I thought was a short story but ended up being a full-length novel. I published my first book Unwritten Lifein 2005 (since then it’s had several printings and updates). After that, stories were so much easier to write and they came to me so easily, but I kept going back to the characters in my first book, Unwritten Life. To date there are 67 volumes plus nine bonus books (it’s called the MOD Life Epic Saga).
2.) Q. Tell me about your blog.
A. I have two blogs. The first one I call my author blog, which is where I promote my own work and I also offer services to promote other authors’ works, especially indie authors. My second blog is Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews and that was started in 2014. To date, I have served over 1200 authors (and read and reviewed over 1800 books since then).
3.) Q. What made you decide to become a book reviewer as well?
A. At the beginning of the year 2014, I met an author online through LinkedIn. We were thinking about doing some book reviews together. At first, we were going to read each other’s work and write honest and unbiased reviews. Renee wrote children’s books that focused on children having cancer. I read all of hers but she was only able to read a few of mine. Her books were something very close to her heart. She herself had cancer and lost her battle that September. We were going to open our own blog together doing reviews but then she was gone, so I continued to do what we were going to do. The original blog was very raw and eventually, I found a new home with a better blog, which is what I have today.
4.) Q. Which writers are your role models and why?
A. I am a big fan of classic work such as Walt Whitman’s poetry and stories, as well as William Shakespeare’s tragedies, but I really love his sonnets the best. I still read Edgar Allan Poe’s work, but I also read current authors such as James Patterson and Stephen King. I also think of all the authors that I read as role models and their writing as learning experiences because I can see a variety of writing styles. It’s not only shows me what I could challenge myself to write like but also a way that I would not want to write.
5.) Q. What genres are your favorites? Do you turn down certain kinds of books?
A. If I had to say I had a preference for specific genres, I would say crime genres and crime procedurals, as I like James Patterson’s Alex Cross series and his Women’s Murder Club series. I’ve also started reading Kathy Reich’s books and her Temperance Brennan series. I also like to read biographies about presidents and first ladies, interesting persons, whether it be someone famous or just an ordinary person’s memoir.
The only books that I’ve ever turned away were books that were not in a published-ready state. Some authors in the past have sent me their rough drafts to read and I had to turn them away, but I’ve given them the option to resubmit for a review after the book has been edited thoroughly. I read genres of all kinds from any author. I’ve read everything from erotica to self-help to religion and politics, plus all types of fiction and all types of nonfiction. I’ve even reviewed books that I personally didn’t agree with the content, so I wrote the review based on the writer’s ability to write. I can pretty much deal with any subject matter, so it’s more about how it’s written than what is written.
6.) Q. Being a writer, a blogger, and a book reviewer, have you noticed any latest trends in the publishing industry?
A. I know that trends come and go, but I think one of the biggest trends is being an indie author. In some cases, there is still a stigma to being an indie author. I hope with my reviews that I can show that most indie authors deserve to be read because their stories are great. Sometimes I find a gem that I wouldn’t have normally sought out. I think the digital version of books is a trend that won’t go away and will get better with the different types of technology, but I think that paperback or print books will always have a place on someone’s shelf. I do see an increase in audiobooks and if I have read a paperback or a digital version and they want me to also review their audiobook, I will get the audiobook and listen to it, so I can also review on the narration and tone of the story.
7.) Q. You have accomplished quite a bit, including providing a valuable service for authors. What are your career goals for the next few years?
A. I try to do what I can for any author. Sometimes I have to charge small fees for editing, proofreading, or other promotional services. I do take part in blog tours on my author blogs. Unfortunately, this past year I have been diagnosed with a tremor disorder which affects my ability to hand write and type. Actually, I’m filling out this interview using voice recognition and dictation. I hope in some way to be able to still tell my stories and I’m getting used to dictation software. Though I have thought about disbanding my book review blog, I don’t see it ending anytime soon. I would love to write again, even if it is short stories or poetry because writing is my passion and telling stories is in my soul.
I also co-host a podcast with author McKensie Stewart and it’s called The After Show. It runs on most Fridays except holidays and breaks between seasons. We are always looking for more guests and ways to increase our audience because it’s an outlet to help authors, especially indie authors, tell their story.
8.) Q. How has the pandemic affected your business? I know the publishing industry has been hard hit. As someone who published a book this year, I am finding it difficult to promote. I must add that unlike you, many reviewers are not reviewing books now.
A. I don’t think the pandemic has affected my business. However, I’m not getting as many requests for doing promotions, but I’m getting requests for reviews from authors who have written more than one book during the pandemic.
9.) Q. Before the pandemic, were you attending writing groups on a regular basis? Do you attend writer conventions? How do you network with other authors?
A. Actually, I don’t really attend writing groups or conventions. I’ve network with other authors and make connections through email and social media. Usually we meet because I’ve read their books. I also connect with editors, publicists, publishing companies, and other author representatives. Usually once they send me one author, they send me more authors.
10.) Q. How many books have you written? Tell me about your books and what inspired your writing.
A. In total and under three pen names I have written 114 books. Last year I retired two of the pen names and this year released as their final release a collection of all my books for one purchase. Under my name, Amy Shannon, I have written over 96 books and that is including poetry and my large epic saga. I have probably written my last full-length novel, but I have enough books written that I can continue to just publish those books until the year 2034 or more, depending on my releases. I have actually scheduled all my releases up to that year.
As for inspiration, everything inspires me: my surroundings, other authors, and my observations of people.
11.) Q. Is there anything else you would like to share?
A. I am a big supporter of the indie author community. And basically, my goal for my life is to be an inspiration for someone else. I am a lifelong learner and I like to share what I’ve learned with others.
I would like to thank Amy for participating in this interview. I must also add that she works quickly. How do I know this? I gave her my interview questions in the late afternoon one day, thinking I would hear back from her in at least a few days, but she sent me back all her answers early the next morning!
To learn more about Amy, including her contact information, the following are her links:
Author Blog: http://writeramyshannon.wixsite.com/amyshannonblog
Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews: http://writeramyshannon.wixsite.com/bookshelfreviews
Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. She is a freelance writer, copyeditor, and proofreader.
I am very excited to post Amy Shannon’s recent review of my first novel, True Mercy:
Kursman pens a magnificent story in True Mercy. I haven’t read anything from this author before, and I really enjoyed this story. The characters were intense and very real. The author’s writing style is perfect for this story. Reader, enter the despicable world of the sex-slave trade. It’s an intense story about survival and caring, and the addition of an autistic character, makes this story both poignant, and interesting. This book deserves a second read! (and maybe more). The author’s technique of intense characters and great plotlines is a gift. It’s a great story to follow and try to figure out what will happen next. This author’s characters develop and interacts well with the other characters. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is definitely highly recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews. A very powerful, raw and gritty read, with high emotions and aptly placed humor and reality.
I received this book free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. ~Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews
Thank you, Amy!