As you may know from an earlier post, I just finished editing a great book called Write Like the Masters. The book analyzes the writing styles of literary greats like Hemingway, Faulkner and Salinger and offers advice for incorporating their techniques into your own writing. It was a lot of fun to work on and I’ve enjoyed working with the author William Cane immensely. Cane is also the author of six books including the international bestseller The Art of Kissing.
Cane took a few minutes out of his busy teaching and lecture schedule to answer some questions:
Write Like the Masters, aside from being an instructional book for writers, is full of interesting facts about some of the greatest writers in history. I’m curious: Who is your favorite writer and why?
There’s no question my favorite writer is Kafka. I like the darkness of his stories and the unique way he tells them. Something else I really like is his style. For example, he’s one of the very few writers who puts multiple speakers into one fat paragraph when writing dialogue. This may seem too dense for the modern reader used to the Hemingwayesque stichomythia, but it condenses dialogue into topical segments that is very helpful to savvy readers. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, on his stylistic virtuosity. I also like his dry sense of humor.
What are the last 5 books you read?
No one ever asks me this, and I’m delighted to give you the answer. The last five books I’ve read are:
Edmund Spenser’s THE FAERIE QUEENE
Sam Harris’s THE END OF FAITH
Ian Fleming’s THUNDERBALL (re-read this summer)
W. Somerset Maugham’s OF HUMAN BONDAGE
Edith Wharton’s THE CHILDREN
bonus sixth book: Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD
You’re obviously well read, is there a particular writer who makes you say “I know I should like this, but I just can’t get into it?”
The funny thing is that if I can’t get into a book I don’t usually think “I should like this”; instead, I think, “I don’t respond to this.” Into that category I place most mysteries and thrillers, although I do enjoy Sherlock Holmes and especially Ian Fleming. Fleming, of course, is one of the chapter in my new book, and one of my favorite writers. I have to admit that there are some things by James Joyce that I can’t throw my hat up into the air about, like his later work (especially Finnegans Wake). But I don’t think I should like it, I just think I’m not on his wavelength here. Maybe some scholar could open my eyes and help me enjoy it, and probably that would be a good thing and I’d learn something.
I’m always curious how writers ended up becoming writers. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Up until the age of six I wanted to be a Don Juan. Women reacted quite well to me at that age, too. Then from seven to thirteen I wanted to be an inventor. I believed I could invent flying machines like Tom Swift. After my first year of high school, after I had been introduced to the Greek dramatists, I wanted to be a Greek dramatist. I think my wish to be a writer originates from a deep desire to obtain the same kind of recognition that Euripides and Sophocles have.
What was the first thing you ever wrote?
The first thing I wrote was a science fiction short story inspired by the work of Ray Bradbury, specifically his novel SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. His language and poetry knocked me for a loop. I knew I had a long way to go before I could hope to ever reach his level, and I kept asking myself: How on earth did he do this? Where did he learn this? Is he blessed by God, or what? Why don’t they teach me to do this in school? Where can I learn to write like this — or anything even remotely close to this — too?
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
The best writing advice I ever got was from a law school professor who told me, “If something is worth writing it’s worth writing poorly.” What he meant, of course, was that if you expect perfection on a first draft, you’ll never write anything. Don’t let a poor style hold you back. Just get that first draft finished. There’s always time to revise. That’s what summers –– and Christmas vacations — are for…