Sunday, November 25, 2007

Books into movies

Interesting article in this Sunday's New York Times Book Review on how Hollywood is affecting novels.

Some worry that movies and the desire to have your book made into a movie negatively influences the writing, but Diane Johnson said screenwriting has helped her sense of structure.

And Tom Perrotta said, "Writing screenplays has the paradoxical effect of making me a more literary writer, much more conscious of what I can do in a novel that I can’t do in a script: the ease of a flashback within a flashback, how you can have immediate access to any event in your character’s life.”

A movie just came out about a novelist that I want to see: Starting Out in the Evening.

But movies made from books: Accidental Tourist worked well. I can't say I finished The English Patient, but I'm thinking the movie worked better than the book (don't hit me, all you readers who loved the book; I loved the writing, but I just wasn't compelled to finish). I liked Wonder Boys very much. I didn't like Perrotta's Little Children as a film, though I loved it as a book. What other movies translated well--or didn't?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Writerly links

A few sites to peruse to eat up your writing time. Kidding! You should only visit web sites and waste time when you've doneyour writing. (Uh-huh...)

The Quality Paperback Book Club. I used to belong and I'm thinking of joining again (like I really need more books). I found editions of books I didn't see anywhere else. A little compendium of Hemingway quotes which I still use.

A Los Angeles Times story about the graying of protagonists in fiction (thanks, Elle, for the tip).

And a blog with writers' tips (submitted by Allison Johnson).

That's all for today. Time to get out of these PJs and go to an event at a Barnes & Noble in Covina. Other speakers will be Susan Kandel and Lisa Fugard. Maybe see some of you there?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Book proposals: a question

Rob says....

"One more question, if I can. I am also looking at a non-fiction work. How much information will I need in my proposal before sending it off? Is there a good on-line resource for putting together the proposal/query?"

My book proposal for Pen on Fire ran around 50 pages. Parts include the overview of the project, a bio, marketing plan, comparison survey, chapter outline and three chapters or 30 pages or so of text from the book.

I don't know if there are online resources but I'll tell you what book served me well: Michael Larsen's How to Write a Book Proposal. I followed it pretty much to a T and my agent garnered a great deal for me. There may be other good books on writing book proposals but this one worked for me. (Larsen is an agent in San Francisco.)

Novel revision

My buddy said, But what if you don't want to change the story, what if you want to remain loyal to your original premise or the characters/people you're writing about?

It's a dangerous thing, to want to control the show, if you ask me. I tend to follow the story and not try to remain loyal to what really happened. As someone who likes to base fiction on real life, for me, that's just a starting point. My original draft looks far different than what my 7th draft looks like. For me, this is a good thing.

I know authors, though, who say they don't put their projects through a zillion drafts, who say they work to get the sentence, paragraph, page perfect before moving on and then do minor revision. Interesting way to work, but it's not me.

Revision styles are as individual as voice. How do you revise? (Post here, for others to benefit from. I love getting your private emails, but then everyone here can't benefit....)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A question from a listener re: novels....

An email from a podcast listener (who gave me permission to post it here):


I discovered your podcast about a month ago and I have been listening to the old ones first. I am still in September but I am absolutely loving the show!! It is so refreshing to hear writers talk about their writing process. When I first thought about writing, I took up a conversation with a "writing" friend of mine. The friend said I needed to sit down and outline my story, define my characters and so on. The very process became frustrating such that I put my pen down for nearly three years. Then, I decided I would just sit and write--with no idea where the journey would take me--I found this process exciting and I could write and write and write. And now, after hearing some of your interviews, I find that I am not alone--many of your writers have said they use the same process--how exciting!!!

So, thank you. The interviews with agents has also been very illuminating. I am really getting excited about the novel writing process.

I have a question; From some of the interviews you've had with agents, I am thinking that it is possible to sell a novel without even having a completed book to show--is that true? In other words, I can write the query, maybe an outline and a few chapters. If this is true, and a sale is made, then how much time does the author have to produce the entire manuscript? And, is any money disbursed before the entire manuscript is delivered?

Thank you so much for the Podcast!

Rob Rainey


Okay, an answer for you, Rob...
These days, even for most published novelists, partials are no longer possible. Just about all novelists I talk with must write the entire book and before submitting it to their agent. Nonfiction books are most always purchased without being finished, but with a book proposal. Even many memoirs. But novels, no. I wish! It's so hard to know how the writer will pull of the story and characters and ending, without reading it in full.

If any authors reading this have a different experience, please, post it here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The 7th draft

A friend on sent me an email and said, "I'm fascinated. Tell me about the sixth draft of a novel. How does that process work? When can you decide that you've said what you wanted to say? Why didn't you say that the first time? What changes between drafts, when is it finished and, when it is, is it the same novel?"

Great questions. I'll see if I can answer them.

For me, the process of writing a novel is a matter of finding the story, chipping away. I'm not an outliner. The one time I actually tried outlining a novel, by the time the outline was done, I was so bored with the story. So now I write to discover what I'm trying to say. An instructor of mine, Judith Beth Cohen, once said this, that she didn't write because she had answers but because she had questions.

So the first draft is the discovery draft. I kept about 30 pages--the last 30!--of the very first draft of Starletta's Kitchen (working title). The next draft had all sorts of things going on in it that I later realized didn't belong, or were story lines, or characters, that bored me. If I'm bored, then my readers will be bored. Chris Bohjalian has said this, that he'll stop writing 100 pages into a book if he's bored.

A couple of my drafts were read-throughs. Another draft was comprised of carving. And now this draft....I'm cutting, streamlining. The story is coming into focus. I doubt that this is the final draft.

So many of the novelists I respect go through many, many drafts. First (and second and often third) novels are on the shelf, in storage. The novel I end up with will not be the same one I started. But...why should it be? A novel is written over a few years. You're not the same person you were when you started it. A novel will change as you change.

When is it done? Someone said a project is never finished, but abandoned. Or published. I could tweak my first published book, Pen on Fire, still. It can be painful, seeing things you'd like to change but it's published! So you know you're done when you feel you've done the best you can do or you have no energy left or an agent likes it and shops it and it sells.

A way to keep organized, by the way, is to type subsequent drafts on different colored paper. My 7th draft is on blue. I'm going to buy pink paper for the 8th draft. Maybe it will be a happy! But who can say?

Friday, November 09, 2007

James Frey

Every so often I listen to an old show of mine and yesterday I listened to the James Frey show when he was for My Friend Leonard. (He shared the hour with Roxana Robinson, one of my favorite essayists who also writes short stories and novels.)

Frey talked about how he was doing what Kerouac and Kesey and others had done before him--taking their life and embellishing a bit. He talked about how he had come to his own voice. As I was listening I was thinking how I liked him and liked what he had to say, and how no one would have ever lanced him over A Million Little Pieces had it not become such a mega-seller.

I wondered then--and I wonder now--how his publisher might have saved him (and themselves) a ton of tears had they simply classified his book as a novel. But of course the fever for true stories was festering, and he went along with whatever they wanted. A big mistake. When I listen to him on this recording, I think: He was an innocent guy who was grateful for a publishing deal and would have said it was a cookbook if that's what they had wanted.

What's wrong with a novel based on truth? Often that's how you have to do it, and for me, I enjoy these types of novels--sometimes even more than memoirs. And how many authors make it all up, anyway?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tomorrow's show: Emily Listfield and Tom Perrotta

On "Writers on Writing" tomorrow, Marrie Stone and I will talk to Emily Listfield, author of Waiting to Surface and Tom Perrotta, author of The Abstinence Teacher. You can listen at iTunes (go to Public Radio, look for KUCI-FM) or go to and listen live. If you're in the O.C., it's at 88.9 FM.

Listfield based her novel on her husband's disappearance. Perrotta did some research into abstinence at a Christian church or community in NJ, and is author of Little Children, so he should be interesting as well.

You can hear a ton of shows at

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Vegetable plagiarism and Nanowrimo

Did Jessica Seinfeld crib recipes or not? Mr. Seinfeld, on the David Letterman show, seems to be a bit wacky over the whole thing.

I don't know about anyone else out there, but when Travis was a wee tot, I mushed up vegetables, too. I haven't seen the cookbooks so I don't know how close the recipes are, but the books came out at the same time, so I don't see how Ms. Seinfeld could have cribbed--unless the publisher cribbed for her. Now the casserole thickens....

What do you think?


Also it's Nov. 1 and that means it's Nanowrimo month. Who's writing a novel this month? Only have to hit 50,000 words, a book the size of Brave New World or 1984. On your mark, get set, go!