This collection’s subtitle describes it as “The Borgo Press Book of Writers Writing about Writing,” and that’s as good a description of it as any I might come up with. The collection contains nineteen essays on writing, plus the introduction and an unusually thorough index. Most of the essays concern themselves with advice from veteran authors on general fiction writing, but there are also essays on poetry, the craft of screenplay writing, translations, collaborations, science fiction writing, and writing sex scenes, among others. This is truly an eclectic collection, to say the least!
Several essays by the likes of Ardath Mayhar, Robert Reginald, Victor J. Banis, and Charles Allen Gramlich, among many others, offer anecdotes, discussion, tips, and dispatches from the trenches on how working writers go through the process of churning out coherent, enjoyable, and perhaps most importantly, publishable prose. I don’t want to give a complete run-down on a score of essays – that might test the patience of even the most dedicated review-reader – but I’d like to highlight just a few of the essays that hit particular chords for me.
I found “A Few Words, a Very Few Words, on Writing” by Robert Reginald to be a poignant piece in which he describes an experience he had with systematically deconstructing another author’s body of work for a guide he wrote on that author’s universe (I’m pretty sure I know which one he’s talking about here, but I won’t spoil it here). The exercise of doing this showed him exactly how the stories were constructed, and he’s learned to apply this to other works of film and fiction. In the process, though, it’s spoiled many of them because he can now see where most plots are headed well before they get there. Alas – with wisdom comes a loss of innocence, I suppose. “Love, Anyone? or, How to Write Sex Scenes,” by William Maltese provides what seems to me some excellent advice on writing sex (not romance) scenes through a series of lengthy prose examples. It’s also hilarious, and makes me want to read more by Mr. Maltese. And “Preparing and Writing,” by Charles Allen Gramlich, Y. Du Bois Irvin, and Elliott D. Hammer is an excerpt from their larger book-length work on publishing in academic venues, and echoes some very good advice I’ve encountered elsewhere on time management for writers.
I give this one 4 stars out of 5, with the sheer eclecticism of the collection the only element holding it back from a full five stars, and highly recommend it to fiction writers of all stripes in particular, though there are certainly useful essays here for poets, playwrights, and translators as well.
Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers