Thursday, November 27, 2008

Neil Simon Interview (Lawrence Grobel)

Lawrence Grobel has been a freelance writer for thirty years, Playboy calls him "the interviewer's interviewer." In 1985 he sat down with Neil Simon:

Lawrence: "How autobiographical a writer are you?"

Neil Simon: "Very, when I'm writing autobiographical plays. In a sense, everything you write is autobiographical because it is going through your brain, so it comes out like litmus paper, it always catches some of who you are. But even when you write the autobiographical plays, they are not specifically autobiographical. When people see plays like Come Blow Your Horn or Brighton Beach and Biloxie Blues, they'll ask, "Did that really happen? Did he say that?" Well, sometimes it's true, sometimes it's not. Sometimes I've given aspects of my life to somebody else, like my girl cousin, who had aspects of what I went through as a child. It's hard to discuss that writing process. It's like you throw it into a bowl, mix it up, and pour it out. But everything of you is in there."

Endangered Species, Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
by Lawrence Grobel
Published by DA CAPO Press (c) 2001
pg. 395

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mystery Loves Company, Part II


This is Kathy Harig again from Mystery Loves Company. As I said in my earlier Blog 1, writing the book is just the beginning. It is a business. You may think it is early in your writing career to think of publishing, but if you are aware of the pitfalls and means to success, you will have a better chance of seeing your work published. There are four key people in the equation for writing a successful book -- the author, the agent, the editor(s) and the publisher. In recent days we have seen this list shrunk to two, the author and the publisher, due to self-publishing technology. Sometimes the author even does away with the publisher, entirely. But all good books, I believe have these four elements. More and more we see books that are grossly unedited and good ones that are badly distributed, i.e., do not reach a bigger market because they have a tiny publisher, or one who does not have the means nor care to really promote their authors' works. If the author had gotten him/herself an agent, the problem probably wouldn't have been so severe. Agents are hard to come by, but there are several good listings on the web. Also attend mystery or fiction conventions, or writing seminars. Agents frequently attend.

Spell check does not an editor make. I have had several books published and each time the second or third reading, or editor always caught improvements that needed to be made. Fact checking is really up to you. Don't expect help with this at all in fiction. I recently received an advanced readers copy from a major publisher in which there were at least twenty errors in the first fifty pages. A badly edited manuscript will not get you an agent, and certainly won't get you a major publisher. Even with a major publisher, there are pot holes along the way. Respect your work and your audience. Do careful editing yourself, and hire a professional editor/ fact checker and/or reader. Then let the manuscript rest for a while, and read it again, and again.

Choosing a publisher is one of the biggest decisions an author can make. Choosing the wrong one, can lead to heartbreak and a ruined career. Choosing carefully can insure that your work will find its broadest possible audience and the success it deserves. One can hardly count the number of publishers that have sprung up on the web. Remember one thing, if you have to pay a publisher to publish your work, they are not a publisher. Many of them are not reputable, and can ask for more and more money that you eventually will give them, only to end in disaster. Mystery Writers of America has approved a list of publishers that they find reputable. Check with them if you have any doubt. The other reason to go with an approved publisher is the need for wide distribution of your work. Small publishers are not normally linked to broad networks and distributing companies that market and distribute your work.

In choosing a fiction or mystery publisher, look at your favorite mystery books. Who published them? Is your book going to have the same tone or sub-genre as they have. Then they might be a good bet for a author/publisher match.

If you intend to make writing your career, understand the homework you have to do. It is a profession and a business. Place your posterior in the chair according to a schedule that suits you best, and when you are not writing or editing, take care of business.

Best in your writing careers,

Kathy Harig

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mystery Loves Company

My name is Kathy Harig and I have been invited to blog on this site about mystery writing. First to introduce myself. I retired after 28 years in 2001 as a branch librarian/manager of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Roland Park in Baltimore. In 1991 I co-founded Mystery Loves Company Booksellers. We now have two stores, but our Baltimore store will be closing on Dec 31 2008, and we will consolidate to our Eastern Shore store in Oxford MD. You can read about the store at and our blog

Mysteries to me are a passion and for 18 years I have tried to promote local authors whenever I can. I take the "Buy Local" concept very seriously, indeed. Maryland and the Delmarva region have a long history of wonderfully talented writers, especially mystery writers. I work with three such groups of writers, The Eastern Shore Writers Association Sisters in Crime -Chesapeake Chapter and Mystery Writers of America - Mid-Atlantic Chapter I mention them only to tell you that there is a huge network of folks writing in the area. I urge you to contact them and attend their meetings, if possible, since they are the best source of information about mysteries and writing.
As far as advice for writers in the field of mysteries, I would advise to read widely in the sub-genre you are interested in writing such as cozy, noir, thriller, espionage or literary. This way you won't duplicate plots that have already been overused. What's your favorite mystery? What elements about it made you choose it? Develop your special "voice," one that is unique to you and engaging to the reader; a voice the reader will care about and relate to. Develop a way to organize your thoughts, usually in a outline or diagram, or by composing a summary of the book with a breakdown by events and chapters. This you will use to show an agent. Know the "conventions" of a mystery novel. If they are not obeyed, it is not a mystery, it is a novel. We have non-fiction books at the store that talk about these conventions. These conventions include being true to the reader and not introducing a villain at the last moment who hasn't participated in the action of the book. Have the detective be an agent of detection and justice. As P. D. James has said, the most difficult thing for a mystery writer is letting the detective explore the inner workings and motives of the criminal mind without giving away the murderer until the end. All this doesn't mean you don't have to be like anyone else when you write. Some of the famous mystery stories break some of the conventions.By being original and fresh you state your case. But since writing is such an individual and sometimes solitary occupation be aware there are others out there who can be of help. In part II of my blog I will mention the elements of getting your work successfully published, since writing it is just the beginning.
--Kathy Harig

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Judging Great Characters

Great character models are all around us ... even on the bench. Phil Williams, an investigative reporter for WTVF-TV in Nashville found that many local judges are simply too busy to come to work. One judge works a second job as a funeral home worker (he was working his second job the day Phil tracked him down). Meanwhile, a courtroom full of folks waited. Another judge (she admits to having issues with being late) came in late and had to leave early (despite a packed courtroom). Her reason, she had to pick her dog from the kennel. According to the report most judges in the area earn around $150,000.00 a year. Instead of sitting on the bench however, they are golfing, pulling up shrubs from around the house, stopping by for a beauty treatment or two. Or picking up the family dog. Are you thinking what I'm thinking....

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Professional freelancer Peggy Frezon is willing to share her experiences and answer any questions you might have about writing, marketing, and publishing. Her book credits inclue numerous Chicken Soup editions, Matters for Mothers, Miracles Everyday, A Christmas Wonderland, and others. Her magazine credits include: Guidepost, Positive Thinking, Sweet 16, Pockets, Teaching Tolerance and many more. An award winning writer Peggy can be found here:

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Monday, November 17, 2008

A Good Editor Is Hard To Find

Cynthia Crossen writes about authors, books, publishing and editors in her Wall Street Journal column Book Lover. Today's column talks about Australian author Steve Tolz's first novel "A Fraction of the Whole" (short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in September). The novel is long, 576 pages.
According to the cover quotes (paperback edition) the book is "devastatingly funny," even "laugh-out-loud-funny" and Mr. Toltz is compared to Mark Twain, John Irving, Martin Amis...even Charles Dickens. Ms. Crossen asks the question "What more could I want?" Her answer is quoted below:
__"A plot, compelling voices, believable characters and an editor with a machete for starters. There were a lot of funny moments and lines, and Mr. Toltz is obviously an exceptionally imaginative and witty guy, but where were his minders? Someone should have sat him down in an interrogation room and offered a plea bargain: Lose 100 pages or go to jail.
"Editors are the invisible heroes of the publishing industry, and as publishing companies cut corners, they cut editors. On the most basic level, that means more typos, grammatical errors and factual contradictions...
"But without strong editors, writers are like cars with accelerators but no brakes. While reading many of Mr. Toltz's long passages, I pictured him at his computer (or typewriter), entertaining himself with his own wit and wisdom. That's as it should be. Then an editor should tell him, "Steve, you're a great writer (always start with the praise), but let's do some judicious whittling and makes this fabulous book (more praise) even better."

I can't say enough about good editors. As a writer I value their feedback and direction. They are, after all, trying to help me write well and connect with the reader. As a reader I appreciate a good editor because they keep me turning the page. Those who read Ms. Crossen know that she has a "strict no-skimming rule." As a reader I don't have the same patience to wade through a novel I don't like, no matter how long or short. I'm not sure why she sticks with the author, I can't. There are simply too many other good books waiting to be read.
My work as an editor however, puts me in a very different place. I can't stop reading. I endlessly turn the pages looking at the story line, picturing the characters and listening for the author's voice. What does the author want me to know about this world that she has created? Why has the author chosen to present the characters in this manner, what changes, if any will I see in their character by the end of the story? Why has he chosen this plot, these characters and this particular setting? And what is this book, this manuscript, really about?
My job as a freelance editor is enjoyable, because I get to choose whom I will work with. I work with writers I think I can help. This is why my initial reading is free. I love being the first to read an author's work. It is an honor. And when I've finished those first five or seven pages and I'm wishing I had more I'll call the writer and say let's get together.
Talk to me I tell the writer, tell me where we're going, help me to see what you see. Who are these characters? Where have they been? And where are they going? And they do. The serious writer can answer these questions. They know what they want to say, they just need someone to listen to them and help them get it down. I think the nicest thing anyone could say about me would be, "She's a good editor."
To quote Ms. Crossen one final time, "It's hard work for both author and editor, but it's only fair to those of us who still invest in books."

Monday, November 3, 2008

"I quit my job and launched my freelance career..."

Joy Perrino Choquette is a full-time freelance writer whose work has appeared in E/The Environmental Magazine, Listen Magazine, and Liberty Magazine. She has upcoming articles in Vermont Magazine and Grit Magazine. She also writes regularly for a number of regional publications. Joy is particuarly interested in writing about environmental, social and animal welfare issues and hopes to someday publish a book on one of these topics. In the meantime, Joy is working on a fictional young adult novel.

Many people grow up knowing just what it is they want to be when they get older: Be a doctor. Fly commercial airplanes. Work as an executive accountant. Be a stage actress.
I never knew what I wanted to do. When I was very young I wanted to be a wife and mother, or maybe a baker. When I got older I decided I wanted to be either a veterinarian or a photo/journalist for National Geographic magazine. I struggled enough in my freshman college year of biology to realize that a veterinary degree was going to be awfully hard to come by. I had also taken a year to work at a vet’s office after high school and realized that I would have to deal with people a lot more than their pets in a veterinary practice.
So, I ended up getting my degree in psychology. My intent was to continue my education and become a marriage counselor. Instead, I finished my bachelor’s while working full-time in human services. I stayed in that field for seven years. Seven loooooong years. I changed jobs so many times within the field that it was getting to be a joke among family and friends. People would ask me "So, where are you working now?" as soon as they saw me. I think I had something like 10 jobs within those seven years. I hated working in an office. I quickly burned out listening to so many horrible, sad, stories. I felt like I was constantly applying band-aids to gaping, gushing, wounds. There were the elderly people who were so lonely they never wanted me to leave. The mothers who were drug addicts and had lost their children to the foster care system. The men who were out of work and depressed. It was a very hard career and it was not a good fit for me. But each time I changed jobs, I thought "This will be it! This job will be the one. I will work here and tough it out no matter what." Six months later, I would be zipping around the employment websites, looking for a way out.
Finally, after losing my last job, I took a temporary position as a receptionist in a small, family owned company. I knew before accepting the temporary-to-permanent position that it was not going to be permanent for me. But I needed a place to rest, to gather my strength, and to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was interested in graphic design and researched that for several months. However, there were parts of the work that seemed tedious to me, and other parts that seemed frightening (like finding and retaining all those clients on my own). There was also the investment in graphic design software and a new computer which would not be inexpensive.
I kept researching and kept my eyes and ears open. "Write." That’s what I kept hearing but I pushed it away. To be honest, I had heard that idea before but never pursued it. My oldest sister is "the writer" in our family. And in a family with four girls, you learn early to stay out of other sister’s territory. Still, the idea kept popping up. "Write." Write what? How could I write for a career? I didn’t have any experience or background. I had no idea what I was doing. But still the voice kept chiming in, "Just write." Finally, I said a prayer (okay, it was about 345 anguished prayers) and starting writing. First, I just wrote down my thoughts, like I had for all the years growing up when I kept a journal. Then, sort of by accident, I found a part-time job writing human interest stories for a local paper. Later, I found more writing work through a monthly business journal, then a local art publication and a national magazine.
Six month later, after socking away extra money and writing before and after my work day at the office, I quit my job and launched my freelance career. It’s been 11 months now, and even on the very worst days, I have not regretted my decision. Each time I feel tempted to give up and throw in the towel, ("I’ll never make enough money doing this!") something happens to keep me going. Sometimes it’s a check I forgot was coming, or a kind word from an editor. Other times it’s my writing friends telling me not to give up.
And finally, finally, I can say without a doubt, that I have found the career that I was called to. The work that I am meant to be doing. It’s taken me a lot of years, but it’s been worth the wait.