One-Minute Book Reviews

May 6, 2023

Why I Support The Writers Guild Strike

Filed under: Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:41 am
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I belonged to the Newspaper Guild for more than a decade when I was the book editor of the Plain Dealer, a “closed shop” where certain types of employees had to join the union. During those years, I found that union membership had benefits that went far beyond the difference it made in my co-workers paychecks’ or everyday working conditions.

The Writers Guild in Hollywood has gone on strike, in part, because the rise of streaming services has cut deeply into what they earn, and movie and TV studios and production companies are allowing it to happen.

But even those of us who work in other fields have reason to care about the outcome: The long, slow death of traditional unions has been a major factor in the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the United States. That income inequality helps to explain why unions recently have become reenergized in media companies, including the book publisher HarperCollins.

I write about why I support the Writers Guild strike–drawing on my experience as a third-generation union member in my family–in a new post over at Medium that might interest you if you care about whether writers earn a decent living. The official hashtags for the strike include #WGAStrong and #DotheWriteThing, and if you support the strike, you might also consider using them on social media.

May 2, 2023

15 Inspirational Quotes On Writing You Won’t Get From Stephen King or Anne Lamott

Filed under: Books,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:56 am
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Have you noticed that every time you see a list of inspirational quotes on writing these days, they’re always from Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird?

It takes nothing away from those books to say that a lot of authors had worthy things to say about the process before either of them arrived on the scene.

I recently read a long out-of-print memoir of the novelist Somerset Maugham by Garson Kanin, the director and screenwriter who with his wife, the actor Ruth Gordon, wrote the screenplays for some of Tracy and Hepburn’s most famous comedies, including Adam’s Rib. It turned out to be a trove of great quotes from Maugham, Kanin, Gordon, and the playwright Noel Coward, who wrote the foreword.

The book is Remembering Mr. Maugham, and because it’s hard to find today, I rounded up 15 of its best quotes on writing at @Medium.

In one of my favorites, Kanin takes on the question: Can you accomplish anything but writing only a few hours a day? He writes: “Charles Darwin–working only four hours a day–had changed the course of civilization.” You’ll find more like it in my post at @Medium.

April 19, 2023

What’s Wrong With ‘Expository’ Dialogue in Fiction?

Filed under: Fiction,Uncategorized,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:18 pm
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Why do critics fault writers for “expository” dialogue in novels and short stories? Is always bad? And how can you avoid it in your writing or spot it in a book you’re reading?

Short answer: “Expository” (or “expositional”) dialogue often leads to stilted or awkward info dumps. Here’s the longer answer:

February 27, 2023

What Should You Say On The Cover Of Your Novel?

Filed under: Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:56 am
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You have the title and, if you’re lucky, a few lines of advance praise from readers. But what else should go on the cover of your book (or the flaps or dust jacket if it’s a hardcover)?

The longtime Penguin Books copywriter Louise Willder scatters tips for writing fiction and nonfiction book-cover copy throughout her new Blurb Your Enthusiasm!: An A–Z of Literary Persuasion (Oneworld Publications, 2022).

Good cover copy, she says, has a tight narrative structure with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It tells a mini-story that makes an emotional impact.

That storytelling begins with an opening hook that makes people want to read more. You’ll find an example of a strong first line for the cover copy of a novel on the Virago edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: “The Republic of Gilead allows Offred only one function: to breed.”

Want more tips on what to say on the cover of your book? And a few about the things you should never say? You’ll find them in my article:

December 27, 2022

How Taylor Swift Learned the Painful Realities of a Drawn-out Copyright Battle

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:02 pm
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Authors often face murky issues when they try to decide: How much of a poem, a song, or another brief work can you legally use in book, a short story, or a blog post?

There are few bright lines about what’s acceptable and what’s not. How much you can reproduce depends on issues such as: What portion of the original do you want to use? And how do you plan to use it?

In 2017 two lesser-known songwriters sued Taylor Swift over 18 words in her blockbuster hit, “Shake It Off,” which they argued borrowed too heavily from their “Playas Gon’ Play.” The case was recently settled, with neither side admitting wrongdoing, after a bruising five-year battle.

The realities faced by an internationally known singer/songwriter might appear to have little in common with those of authors of books or articles for the print or digital media. But in both cases writers must deal with essentially the same question: What’s “fair” or “unfair” use of someone else’s work? I explore some of those issues through the lens of the Taylor Swift case on @Medium:

August 1, 2022

One of America’s Most Honored Journalists Reread the Hardy Boys Novels He Once Loved–And What He Found Startled Him

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:53 am
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Gene Weingarten, America’s only two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, calls the Hardy Boys mysteries the novels that “most influenced” his love of his craft

When he reread the books as an adult, he made a couple of startling discoveries: Contrary to his rosy memories, the writing was so bad, it was “some of the worst bilge ever published.” But there was much to admire in the often heartbreaking, Depression-era life of their author, Leslie McFarlane, who was required by the publishers of the Hardy Boys to write under the pen name of Franklin W. Dixon. Weingarten described what he learned about McFarlane and the Hardy Boys in an article I wrote about on Medium.

July 15, 2022

7 Deadly Sins of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:55 am
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Stephen King’s On Writing is America’s second bestselling guide to the craft, according to Amazon rankings, and it draws rapturous praise from aspiring writers. But in my experience, more experienced writers take a dimmer of its advice.

Over at Medium, I challenge seven pieces of advice King gives in On Writing. Some of his precepts are outdated or inconsistent. Others oversimplify an issue that’s vastly more complex than King makes it. Here’s a brief excerpt from my post (dealing, in this case, with King’s views on adverbs) and a link to my responses to six others at the end of it:

‘The adverb is not your friend’

No, it’s not your friend — unless you’re Jane Austen and writing one of the most famous first lines in English: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Or you’re F. Scott Fitzgerald and writing one of the most famous last lines: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Or you’re Herman Melville ending Moby-Dick by quoting the Book of Job: “And I only am alone escaped to tell thee.” Take that, writers of the King James Version.

Yes, writers tend to overuse adverbs, especially in speech tags. But adverbs have a purpose, and the best writers don’t libel them but use them — as Austen and Fitzgerald and Melville did — to serve their purposes.

June 1, 2022

How Great Writing Helped Charlotte Curtis Blaze Trails At The New York Times

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:06 pm
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The Ohio-born writer and editor Charlotte Curtis wasn’t just the first woman to appear on the masthead of the New York Times and to edit its op-ed page. She had earlier helped to transform its women’s section from a pink ghetto into one that welcomed diverse voices and was widely imitated by publications around the country.

How did Curtis scale the walls of the old boys’ club at a venerable newspaper? Here’s my appreciation of her work with a sidebar that gives 17 of her best leads for stories:

July 12, 2021

How ‘The AP Stylebook’ Can Help You If You Don’t Work for a Daily Newspaper

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:12 pm
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Some people call The Associated Press Stylebook “the journalist’s bible.” Others call it the journalist’s book of Job. Either way, if you’re a writer, it can help you fine-tune your work.

By whatever nickname, this newsroom stalwart gathers in one volume the AP’s rules for grammar, spelling, capitalization, and other writing-related matters.

The 640-page paperback edition has more than 3,000 brief, clear, and alphabetically arranged entries, many on topics not covered by Grammarly, Microsoft Editor, or similar tools. Why should you care about its rules when more than 2,000 newspapers have died since 2000? Isn’t that like feeding insects to pterodactyls? What if you hope to write not news stories but a memoir or Amish romances or blog posts that go viral?

If you’re interested, you may want to check out my essay “The Book Writers Love to Hate and Hate to Love” on Medium, in which offers some thoughts on the stylebook based on years of working with it.

February 9, 2012

Cruelty in Creative Writing Workshops — Quote of the Day / Francine Prose

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:02 am
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An old joke says that a sadist is someone who’s nice to a masochist. By that standard, you find both types in creative writing workshops that require students to submit their work for critiques by their classmates. Francine Prose suggests why in an interview with Jessica Murphy Moo in The Atlantic online, reprinted in Reading Like a Writer, that includes these comments:

Francine Prose: “I think that the idea of writing by committee, or learning to write by committee is insanity. It’s just simply insanity. I mean, writing is all about being different from everything else – not the same. So when you’re writing to satisfy the tastes of a group, and presumably you know those tastes after a while, that’s actually quite dangerous.

“ … there’s something essentially sadistic about the whole [workshop] process. I mean to sit there and have the love of your life – your work – something that close to your heart and soul, just ripped apart by strangers. …

Jessica Murphy Moo: “And not to be able to say anything.”

Francine Prose: “Yes – and not to be able to say anything. Who thought that up? It’s so cruel. And everybody essentially knows it’s so cruel, but that’s one of the many things you’re not allowed to say. This whole language of euphemism has sprung up around the inability to be honest. You can’t say, ‘This just bored the hell out of me.’ So instead you say, desperately, ‘I think you should show instead of tell.’ Where’d  that come from? I mean, tell that to Jane Austen!”

Comment from Jan:

Philip Hensher was right that a creative writing workshop “can be wonderful, with the right group, with a proper level of trust; or it can be atrociously unhelpful.” Journalist Cheryl Reed got little help from students’ comments she received while getting an MFA. “Most contributors offered terrible and conflicting advice,” she said on her blog. Reed added that although she received many favorable comments on her fiction, the workshop process on the whole wasn’t helpful: “It was mean and mean-spirited.”

I had to submit my work to peers in my undergraduate journalism classes and found the process neutral, neither helpful nor harmful. Perhaps the experience was benign because I had a gifted professor or because the rules for news-writing are clearer than for fiction: Your story has an inverted-pyramid structure or it doesn’t. I’ve also led workshops in college journalism classes I’ve taught, and they had more flexibility than those Prose describes: My students could respond to comments. But I’ve used workshops sparingly for reasons implicit in Reed’s remarks: They can amount to — if not in the blind leading the blind — the nearsighted leading the nearsighted. Some creative writing programs may require workshops partly because, in writing classes that last for several hours, they give everyone a break from the lecture format. For that reason alone, some students and professors welcome them.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter, where she often tweets about writing, by clicking on the “Follow” button at right.

(c) 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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