Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Writer Wars

I see things are again getting a bit nasty out there in NetPubLand. I read a post this morning that sizzled with such contempt for traditional publishing I had to check afterward to see if I still had eyebrows. Then I ran into another elsewhere that repeatedly bashed self-publishing as if it were the root of all evil snaking through the open gates of Hell.

Kind of reminds me of the War of 2001, when the new crop of e-published authors were going to save/destroy Publishing as We Know It. Are these things on ten-year cycles, or what?

Relax and put down your guns; I'm not on either side. I don't think the self-published are talentless scum, nor do I think the traditionally published are clueless dinosaurs. I don't think one way is better than the other; both have pretty much an equal amount of merits and headaches. I don't think this situation should degenerate into a war between writers, but like anyone listens to me. Nor am I going to hold my breath wishing it wouldn't.

How we choose to publish is not nearly as important as the quality of what we produce. You won't hear hardly anyone talking about that because that's the boring work part. But the only war that should concern us as writers -- the only real war -- is the one that takes place on the page.

Fortunately there are some experienced allies out there who can help us win some of those battles, as author James Scott Bell does in his quite excellent writing nonfic, The Art of War for Writers.

I think Raine gets the blame for me picking up this book; I'm pretty sure she quoted it once and the title stuck in my head for months until I happened to see a copy at my local BAM. From the title there's no doubt the author was inspired by Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and in fact he quotes the famous Chinese general many times throughout the book. He also employs many of the same tactical philosophies as the famous warrior to provide a battle manual for writers.

As the author says in the introduction, "This is not a comprehensive "how-to" on fiction." -- and he's right, it's not. You won't find step-by-step instructions on how to write a synopsis, pitch an editor or set up a web site in this book. What you will discover is infinitely more valuable: keen observations on the biz and the business of writing, creative navigation, thoughtful strategies and useful exercises. Basically all the things that go into not just creating but sustaining a focused, productive career are in this book.

I was impressed by how the author illuminates virtually every major problem common to writers, and his practical approach to solving them. He also did this without slanting his advice toward any specific genre, or playing favorites with example authors. He speaks to every writer, so whatever you write, you can use this book. That's extremely hard to pull off.

Bell's brevity and sense of humor are terrific. The chapters are short, the language is concise, and the author never once wasted my time by nattering on and on about anything. The chapter titles are a bit on the long side, but for titles he uses statements versus the usual topical words, which makes even the table of contents interesting reading. As for the humor, Bell's is dry and subtle, but it's there, and that also contributes to the engaging aspects of the book.

I'm divided on whether or not I think this is a good book for beginning writers. On one hand I think it should be required reading for anyone who is thinking of getting into the biz, because this is it -- this is the war, right here. As I've always said, compete or die. On the other I think it may seem harsh and intimidating to the timid or undecided, especially when the author makes certain unequivocal statements.

Such as: Should you outline a novel? Bell says yes. He doesn't dance around it, he doesn't apologize and he doesn't offer warm fuzzies to people who hate outlining. He does point out that some successful authors don't outline -- and then he tells you why you should be outlining. So if you're looking for someone who is going to cater to all your quirks and preferences or kiss your butt, Bell is not your guy.

I seriously loved this book (and maybe it's because of my military background, but I think civilians will find it just as absorbing.) Every chapter had me from the first line, and the author always spoke to me as an equal, and never once to bitch or complain about his experiences. That I deeply appreciated, particularly as I've read far too many how-tos that delivered everything in a decidedly patronizing tone, or were nothing but neurotic whinefests.

As always you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name the last book you read that was superbly written (or if it's been too long for you to recall, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, April 21, 2011. I will select four names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned paperback copy of James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

51 comments:

  1. Ottoman Women, myth and reality by Asli Sancar. It really captured my imagination. I was living in Turkey at the time (the former Persian and Ottoman empires) so it was fascinating to see where some of their current traditions stemmed from.

    It was also fun to read about the woman who ruled the Ottoman Empire for a while...

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  2. I'm reading Magic Bleeds and I think it's pretty damned awesome-- does that count? I would LOVE this book-- I'm a fan of Sun Tzu, and even if I NEVER outline, I never reject a nickel's worth of free advice:-)

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  3. Throwing my name into the hat.

    I unfortunately haven't read a book in an embarrassingly long time (months and months now) -- this from someone who used to devour 3 books a week. This will change soon as I've gotten the courage to quit my incredibly stressful, soul-and-energy-sucking job, and I can once again not spend all my free time feeling too mentally and emotionally exhausted to do anything at all. I've tried reading, but I always find myself getting distracted or putting whatever book I'm trying to read down because I don't get any enjoyment from reading anymore.

    Aside from work writing, I want to weep when I think about how long it's been since I've written anything for pleasure.


    I'm quitting this job because I've lost myself. I'm quitting this job because it's eating me alive, and I want to find words and books (and everything else I love) exquisite again.

    Life is too short to spend every day of it miserable and angry. Life is too short to be so unhappy that the first thing you do when you wake up in the mornings is weep, because you have to go into work.

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  4. Must confess, I just don't understand the battle lines being drawn.
    But I'm thrilled that the book impressed you! :)

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  5. Tossing my name in the hat. :) It's been far too long...

    Thank you!

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  6. Actually, The Book of Five Rings by Musashi Miyamoto can also be applied to writing.

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  7. I think the most well-written thing I've read lately is Mallika's comment. Made me tear up. You're clearly a great writer, so get out of that job as soon as you can and get writing!

    I've heard good things about this book and would love a copy.

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  8. Anonymous7:39 AM

    I am currently reading The Games of Thrones by George, but I also just read the latest C.S. Harris. Ugh, I can't remember the title.

    Sandy L

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  9. Just finished God's War by Kameron Hurley and Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs. I've added The Art of War for Writers to my reading list, winner or not.

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  10. Just throw my name into the hat since I haven't been able to read much for pleasure since I went back to work.

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  11. Throw me in the hat...I could use this one.

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  12. Anne V.9:17 AM

    Throw my name into the hat too.

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  13. Wonderful post. I just finished reading a memorable book, Emily Alone.

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  14. I've been working through Cat Bordhi's New Pathway's For Sock Knitters and I love it. I know you maybe meant fiction writers, but Cat's writing is sooooooo clear. She makes difficult knitting concepts easy to understand and has such a love of helping people look at the craft in new, exciting ways. She's never patronizing or snooty. I admire any writer who can explain heel turns so well that I can do them on my own!!

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  15. It may not have been the last, but the last that sticks in my mind is Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. Of course, I would read his shopping list, so.

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  16. Anonymous10:04 AM

    Just finished reading Herman Melville's "The Piazza Tales" for a 19th century American lit class. I hadn't read any Melville in about 20 years and had forgotten how really good his short works are -- like an onion, with layers and layers of meaning, details, implications, etc. Loved it!

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  17. Superbly written...? Maybe it is too long ago to recall specifically. But please put my name in the hat anyway.

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  18. I just finished reading Preston and Child's Fever Dreams. When I veer away from romance, it's always for mystery or suspense, and I love Agent Pendergast. I would also love to have a copy of The Art of War for writers. :)

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  19. Writers fighting each other is so fighting the wrong war! Really looking forward to reading this book.

    Last superb book I read was Carrie Vaughn's Voices of Dragons (YA). Great read for a rotten day.

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  20. Hmm, I would say I read a great book yesterday! I don't know about superbly written but it was very very good. Eona by Alison Goodman.

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  21. I really enjoyed 666 Park Ave recently by a debut author whose name eludes me....Right now I confess that I'm reading a Brady Bunch tell-all...don't judge me!

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  22. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky-- a fantastic book!

    Thanks for blogging about this book today. It's going straight to the top of my Must Read list.

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  23. The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen. I love her books. The stories are lyrical, poetic, charming and just plain magical, so for me, that makes them superbly written.

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  24. I'm working through the "Bad Blood" series from Mills and Boon Modern, for review.
    A really interesting exercise, to see what approaches the different writers take to the even stricter confines than usual. So far, one has soared, but they've all done pretty well.

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  25. I remember truly enjoying Gail Carriger's Soulless. It was a long while back, but I was completely pulled into the story.

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  26. Just when I thought I was done with my current stretch of reading writing-craftbooks, you have to bring up another one. Thanks, Lynn. ;D

    As for superbly written ... can't think of one offhand, but the two craftbooks, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, have me thinking of ways to infuse my writing with verve. Or at least to retool my plot, characters ... ok the whole story.

    Thanks for the book recommendation, adding it to my Goodreads list.

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  27. The Neon Graveyard by Vicki Pettersson. She never disappoints!

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  28. I'd love to win a copy of this book. As far as superbly written books I've read, for fiction, there is The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke, a mystery set in post-Katrina New Orleans, and for nonfiction, The Infinite Monster by Leigh Jones and Rhiannon Meyers about when Hurricane Ike hit Galveston in 2008.

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  29. I just finished reading The Tomb, by F. Paul Wilson, which is emotionally intense and well written.

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  30. I really loved "Alice at Heart" by Deborah Smith! It was a freebie on Kindle and I couldn't put it down. A unique take on mermaids. :)

    -DiDi

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  31. "Sharp Objects" by Gillian Flynn.

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  32. It hasn't been recent, but I learned a lot when I read Stephen King's "On Writing".

    *tossing my name in the hat*

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  33. I love Bell's book. I borrowed it from the library and now plan to buy it -- because it MUST go on my shelves. Art of War isn't a book, I think, that you can read once an absorb. Since he doesn't mince words, every one is valuable, and it's something to take your time with and return to.

    Best book I've recently read (er, am reading) is The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell, which doesn't come out until September. I've hijacked her galleys and am reading it while I'm working out (and my workouts get longer and faster as the book ramps up). It's middle grade and set in I *think* medieval Romania, and not only is the girl hilarious and wry but the world is fascinating. Like the curses and insults . Ex: 'wipe his mother's grave with my dirty socks!' I can't wait until it hits the shelves.

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  34. The last superbly written book I've read is "Infamous" by Ace Atkins (FCC warning: I was given this book for review).

    Pretty Boy Floyd vs. the FBI in the Depression. A crime novel, but nice flashes of prose that reminds me of "Christine Falls" by John Banville (slumming under the penname Benjamin Black).

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  35. A beautiful book that resounded with me was Sarah's Key.

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  36. Just read Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book this past weekend, and loved it. Before that . . . the two that stick in my mind are Shades of Milk and Honey and Kraken. All three books are going to stick me for different reasons.

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  37. Atropa Rainwater6:44 PM

    I'm reading Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" which is very good.

    But the last "superb" book I read? Ray Bradbury's "Zen and the Art of Writing," which on won on PBW!

    XD

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  38. The best thing I've read recently is Reckless by Cornelia Funke (I'm still reading it actually).

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  39. @kathy

    Oooh!!! Pendergast! He's my favorite agent/detective/existential investigator. I haven't read the newest though.

    Which brings me to Mallika. Though I don't cry when I get up, I know what you're going through. I haven't read for pleasure much at all and my part time job that's turned into 40+ hours a week is sucking the life out of me. I don't want to read, write, watch tv, clean, talk to anyone...If you can afford to, quit. You never know what good things will happen.

    Don't hat me. I'd probably never get a chance to read the book or if I did, I'd be too tired to take it in. *sigh*

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  40. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

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  41. amethyst9:45 PM

    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

    :)

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  42. I don't know if these count since they're non-fiction, but a book that I've been reading and which every time I dip into I think how well it's written is Web Design in a Nutshell, 3rd edition, by Jennifer Niederst Robbins (publisher O'Reilly), excluding the two chapters in Part IV on Javascript and DOM scripting written by someone else. You wouldn't think what is basically a reference book could be enjoyable reading but the clarity of the writing is sheer pleasure. Similarly, another text/reference book which I would read for the writing alone, quite apart from the subject matter, is The C Programming Language, 2nd edition by Kernighan and Ritchie.

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  43. Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde.

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  44. I second SquidKiller: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. A clever, clever book, with phenomenal worldbuilding. Another standout I read last year was Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Justine takes the concept of an unreliable narrator and just blows your mind with it. Awesome book. You still might not know exactly what happened when you finish it but you can't stop thinking about it for weeks.

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  45. @Heather Wardell,

    Thank you for the words. They mean a lot to me!

    And nightsmusic, fellow suffering soul, I hope the situation gets better for you soon. Mine will be better in a week -- I'd sent in my resignation a few weeks ago and the next week is my last! I wish you the same peace of mind, however you choose to get it.

    Hugs to all!

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  46. Throw my name in the hat. I read a YA dystopic novel called Wither by Lauren Destefano two weeks ago. I finished the nove in about three days. Amazing!

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  47. Among Others, by Jo Walton. It is the best book I've ever read about growing up as a teenaged reader. Amazing craftmanship and an all around fantastic book.

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  48. I would love a copy of this.

    Last book I read was Delirium by Lauren Oliver and it was amazing.

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  49. I'm reading Remember Me? by Sophie Kinesella. Kinsella's writing is funny and so well done, I enjoy her books!

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  50. Thank you Lynn, this is a wonderful giveaway. :) I last read The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. It was quite long, but lovely indeed!

    ~TRA

    http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

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  51. Heh...the book I won off your giveaway, Garden Spells.

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