Readers Rule

...if the writer has the energy, determination and persistence to develop more stories, and is open to learning and perfecting his or her craft, then s/he can offer another story, and maybe get a second date, and a third, and perhaps become a couple. How great is that?

Read More

Who is Reading Your E-Book: Trace Its DNA

When a book interests you, what compels you - its genre, theme, cover art, protagonist? If you read more than the first 50 pages, why? What pulls you forward?

What is the optimal length of a novel in the e-book format?

When you finish a book, do you know what it was in the story that drew you on, turning hundreds of pages to the last scene, the concluding paragraph, the cathartic final sentence?

If you are a woman reader, are your answers to these questions different from those answers a man might give?

HipType created this infographic based upon some of the data it gathers from e-readers for authors.  It analyses a wide range of book types and genres.

 

DNA of Successful Books

 

OUT STEALING HORSES | Per Petterson

Alone, Not Lonely

Several Decembers ago, while walking up a side street in the Colorado Rockies, I experienced a sense of being transported across time to another life. It should have scared me. Yet I knew exactly where I was - the Silver Boom-era Victorian houses, the approaching winter storm’s metallic taste in the air – and knew to a certainty that I had not been there before in this life. I was in surroundings that felt like home, just not my then current home. This effect happened to me again when I read the first page of PER PETTERSON's novel OUT STEALING HORSES, which begins:

Early November. It’s nine o’clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don’t know what they want that I have. I look out the window at the forest.  There is a reddish light over the trees by the lake. It is starting to blow. I can see the shape of the wind on the water.

That paragraph evokes sense memories that clarify and transport. Per Petterson has said that he worked extensively on the English translation with Anne Born and that he prefers the English text to his original Norwegian.  Reading this, it is possible to understand why.

We imagine other lives in the flickering cinema or while reading a good book.  This is the effect when Per Petterson’s narrator in HORSES, Trond Sander, includes us in his thoughts as he adjusts to life in the rural cottage to which he has retreated after the death of his wife and a career as an Oslo professional. We are drawn into his shrinking world and the occasional tricks of his memory as he shares past events with candid, unassuming, transparent detail. Trond is without artifice.  We like him immediately.  Even when he is not so accepting of himself, perhaps the more so because of his mild surprise at his own decay.

It is this contract of decent, at times self-deprecating truth-telling he establishes with us that enables some significant coincidences to pass into our accepting state of mind.  His meeting the former boyhood friend, Lars, half a century after life altering tragedy seems right in Trond’s contracting universe.  His daughter Ellen’s sudden reappearance after his abrupt escape to anonymity brings still more validation of his life’s choices and in Trond’s chosen time.  We trust that we will learn what we need to know. And we do.

Literary Northern Light

OUT STEALING HORSES is a book for writers.  We read, hope to occasionally glimpse a little of how he does it, perhaps detect a pattern, some clue to technique, yet Petterson’s style is organic, so thoroughly in tune with his mind that it is unlikely any of us can parse it successfully for its underlying machinery.  He may not even be aware of precisely how he accomplishes such precise emotional resonance.  One gets the sense that Per Petterson trusts himself to navigate the cross currents of the average life’s rapids, like when as a boy he discovers one of his father's secrets, he knows he should be troubled yet intuits that he should keep it to himself until he can determine its meaning.  When young Trond drops from a high branch to a horse’s back, he trusts that Zorro’s ghost will guide him to a suitably valiant flight on the mare’s back through the ancient Norwegian forest.  When instead his crotch meets the horse’s fence line of bone at the withers, he suffers the ignominy of busted balls and blinding, legendary pain, we wince and shift in our seat, relive our own first such catastrophe and invest a little more of ourselves in Trond’s story.

There is an intimate quality to Petterson’s writing here that brings Barry Lopez’s writing to mind. It is hard to imagine a more unexpected connection. Lopez, who is best known for his excellent non-fiction accounts that compete for impact with the best fiction, is a master of erudition, intimate detail, ethics and how the individual relates to him/herself. Petterson's writing is simultaneously understated and precise, a daring combination for fiction.

OUT STEALING HORSES won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2007. I have added Per Petterson to my list of authors to watch and look forward to reading his other work.

Publisher's Blurb

OUT STEALING HORSES is the story of a man who has settled into a rustic cabin in an isolated part of eastern Norway to live the rest of his life with quiet deliberation. A meeting with his only neighbor, however, forces him to reflect on a fateful childhood summer. Petterson’s subtle prose and profound vision make OUT STEALING HORSES an unforgettable novel.

Graywolf Press

Avoid Mind Reading

Except your own. Writing to the market always falls short of the mark. Besides being a soul-numbing experience (because you end up essentially writing someone else’s inspiration), it cannot be researched sufficiently, drafted, rewritten, edited, rewritten again, shopped, edited, and published in time to capitalize on the market trend.  So, you have invested valuable time, energy, and effort in a project to which you are less than 100% committed, and about which you are less than passionate.

Start with what you want to read. Do what you think is right. Draft your concept.  Outline it, write a few chapters and share it with someone whose skill, perspective, judgment, interests, and discernment you respect.  Odds are that those pages will jump to life in the reader’s mind because you care, because you’re invested in something you want to say, in a tale you want to tell.

Trying to forecast the market, or read editors’ or agents' minds wastes your time.  It also paralyzes your writer’s instrument.  The skills that you develop as a writer are important, high performance, precision tools.  Don’t use your scalpel as a screwdriver.  Don’t use your best sagacious voice to make someone else’s hero sound interesting. Respect yourself, your ideas, and your time.  Follow your muse, your heart, and craft the stories you think matter, the ideas, subjects, and characters that wake you at 3:00 am.

Creative Writing & The Money Myth

Creative Writing

What is creative writing?  Opening to an idea, following where it leads, exploring it, getting inside it and crafting a way to bring it alive through story.  Creative writing is observing a subject, its strengths, weaknesses, contexts, perceptions and misperceptions about it, wants, needs, identity, senses... the full spectrum of facts. Then writing a story, poem, screenplay, stageplay, or novel in an imaginative way that is characterized by originality and expressiveness.

Why write? Developing an idea into a concept, then into a premise, and then writing about it is Sisyphean, like hauling a wheelbarrow up K2. No one undertakes this lightly. So why do it? Often, the ambition sprouts from a fertile childhood, a sense of otherness from earliest memory, or distinctive experience. Maybe something as simple as an insatiable curiosity to learn and understand. Michael Chabon ( in Imaginary Homelands, which first appeared in Civilization) describes it:

I write from the place I live: in exile.   ...    I bear no marks or scars. I haven't lost anything that isn't lost by everyone.

And yet here I am - here I have always been, for as long as I can remember knowing anything about myself - feeling like a stranger.

For his entire life, he says he has been engaged in

One search, with a sole objective: a home, a world to call my own.

The Money Myth

Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Samuel Johnson ("No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money") notwithstanding, no writer starts writing for the money.  For most if not all of the writers I know there is never any rumuneration equal to a living wage for the work invested in a novel. "If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write," said Epictetus.  Novelists write to learn, to understand, to experience, to entertain, to create a world in which to live. That's pretty much the sum of it.

The Last :05 Seconds

If I can't write the final beat of a story, brief, or article, or the last five seconds of a commercial or video, I know that the premise is not yet fully realized. Those concluding seconds, or those cascading syllables leading to a final conclusive sustaining note should resonate.  The end should resolve, summarize and underscore the point.  If those qualities are absent or not sufficiently present, then the foundational work - the premise in most instances - is not done; the ad, video, short story, screenplay or novel is not complete. The piece might move, twitch, even walk, but it won't fly.