Archive for January, 2010

Interview with author Peter Selgin

January 28, 2010

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with Peter Selgin (Drowning Lessons, Life Goes to the Movies) on his latest book of writing advice 179 Ways to Save a Novel. The book is more than just a collection of ideas for troubleshooting your work in progress (though it has plenty of practical writing advice for fixing your book). Save a Novel doubles as a thoughtful examination of the writing life–not just the writing, but the reading habits and the thought processes of aspiring novelists. Filled with179 meditations that delve into “matters of vital concern to fiction writers,” this book is an inspiring read from cover to cover (but also easy to dip in out of for quick advice about specific writing concerns). Put simply, it’s one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of editing.

Peter was kind enough to take a few moments out of his busy writing and teaching schedule to answer a few questions:

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I like telling this story. I was in art school at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. As a painter I had great facility, but no depth and not much to say. One day my studio instructor, Professor Blaustein, accused me of being an “artistic illiterate.” Dejected, I returned to my dorm room and switched on my little portable black & white TV to Richard Burton’s face filling the screen, saying something about bergin, “bergin and water.” It was a monologue from the film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, based on Edward Albee’s play. I watched, mesmerized. The performance was of course very good, but the words were what captured me. The next day I found those same words in print in the Pratt Library. It struck me then that one could “paint” with words. I began writing with passionate intent immediately thereafter.

What was the first thing you ever wrote?

Strangely enough a play with a “mesmerizing” monologue stuck in the middle of it. In fact I wrote a series of plays, all with “mesmerizing” monologues that would have benefited greatly from Richard Burton’s voice and delivery. The second of these plays was a biting satire of my parents that I titled “The Swine Interview.” You can imagine how enormously pleased they were.

179 Ways to Save a Novel includes a lot of examples of works in progress from your students. Do you stay in touch with all of them? Are there any success stories?

Not with all of them, no, only with a fraction, since by now I’ve taught thousands. By various degrees they’ve all succeeded, which is to say they’ve all kept at it, though only a handful have published and fewer still have had books. But not all have wanted to publish. To do so requires a very set determination. My most successful student has published several books. I take no credit for it.

You write about the importance of reading as a writer. What are your favorite 5 books of all time?

That’s always a tough question to answer; the target keeps moving. For instance, I’ve just recently started reading two books, both coincidentally by Swedes, that may bump their way onto the list: Pär Lagervist’s Guest of Reality, and The Death of the Beekeeper, by Lars Gustafsson. The latter, first published in 1981 (translated from the Swedish by Janet Swaffar), is the first person narrative of a beekeeper dying of cancer, his death set into a wintry Swedish landscape as barren as “a pencil sketch.” It’s one of those plotless wonders that grip despite a total lack of traditional suspense or narrative. Hell, anyone can do it with plot!

In your opinion, what is the number one reason for someone to choose writing as a career?

Beyond masochism? The desire to spend as much of one’s time as possible invested in words, sentences, paragraphs, characters. If you’re deeply in love with these things, then reading alone may not do the trick; you may have to write.

Check out a more in depth with Peter Selgin on

Learn more about 179 Ways to Save a Novel

Salinger RIP

January 28, 2010

I’m bummed. Just found out that J.D. Salinger passed away

I think every writer must go through a Salinger phase. So sad to hear of the passing of this great author. I know Catcher in the Rye springs to mind first, but I have to say I think my favorite was 9 Stories–my favorite of them being “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes.”

A book for freelance illustrators

January 27, 2010

Writing and illustration often go hand in hand. Here’s a nice review for a book that I edited called Breaking Into Freelance Illustration by Holly DeWolf.

It has good advice that can really be applied to any creative field (so it may be of interest especially if you are writer/illustrator).

Check out the review here

You can get a copy of the book here


January 26, 2010

So, I’m sure a lot of folks reading this blog have most often seen my editor side–talking about books that I’m working on as an editor and sharing things about publishing. But, I have my own writing projects too and we’re all in the same boat here (wanting to get our projects published).

I just sent off a book proposal and sample to an interested acquisitions editor, and now begins the waiting game. I won’t say much about my project for fear of jinxing it, but mostly wanted to share so that my readers would know that I know what you’re going through. From writer’s block to getting excited about a project to sitting around waiting to find out if it’s accepted… I’ve been there (am there).

My way of coping with this nervous period is to focus on other things. I’ve completed one stage in that project’s development (put together my sample/proposal and submitted it) and now I’m moving on to something else until I get the green light. My philosophy is that the important thing is to keep moving forward. Don’t dwell on things once they are beyond your control. Do the best you can, put it out there, and then move on.

I’ll let you know what happens with my project, and, as always, I wish you the very best with whatever you’re working on.

WD 90th Anniversary Party pics

January 25, 2010

Last week’s 90th anniversary party was a lot of fun. Lots of Cincinnati-based writers, past employees of WD, and friends of the magazine showed up. Here’s a few pics from the event courtesy of WD designer Claudean Wheeler.

WD. Instructive, inspiring, and tasty.

Alas, no leprechauns this time…

January 22, 2010

One of the tasks I always enjoy here in the office of Writer’s Digest is the judging of the “Your Story” competition. It’s interesting to see all of the imaginative scenarios that writers come up with based upon the same story prompt, the most recent being: “Something bizarre occurs at the table next to a couple on their first date.”

In addition to reading all of the stories we started keeping a running tally of appearances of bizarre or mythical creatures and repeated pop culture references (we usually get a few leprechaun references, which were strangely absent from this batch).

Anyway, without further ado, out of 550 submissions here is today’s tally of the weird:

  • Ghosts: 17
  • Vampires: 2
  • Devils/Demons: 2
  • Aliens: 2
  • Chimpanzees drinking alcoholic beverages: 2
  • Cupids: 2
  • Reenactments of the deli scene in When Harry Met Sally: 2
  • Ventriloquist’s dummy (alive): 1
  • Cyclops: 1
  • Hologram: 1
  • Mysterious Thundercloud: 1

Click here to learn more about the Your Story Contest

Creating a civilization for your sci-fi/fantasy story?

January 22, 2010

The genres of science fiction and fantasy will always hold a special place in my heart as a reader and a writer. Reading Star Wars serialized novels and The Dragonriders of Pern series when I was growing up is probably one of the reasons I started writing in the first place. I always get excited about sci-fi/fantasy stuff.

Here’s an article about creating a fantasy race for your story. Check it out.

Online workshops

January 21, 2010

Wanted to let everyone know about some great courses coming up offered through Writer’s Online Workshops. Might be a great way to start tackling some of those writing New Year’s Resolutions. Check ’em out:

Advanced Novel Writing:
Little Red Writing Workshop:
Novel Writing- Scene Fundamentals:
Essentials of Travel Writing:
Essentials of Science Fiction & Fantasy:
Elements of Effective Writing II-Form & Composition:
Extended Novel Writing Workshop:
Fundamentals of Writing for Children:
Essentials of Writing Personal Essays II-Advanced:
Writing the Query Letter:

Kelly’s Picks

January 20, 2010

If you’re looking for the inside story on our writing books you should check out Kelly’s Picks. Kelly Nickell, the executive editor at Writer’s Digest Books, knows our book line inside and out. Her featured spot on the gives you the lowdown on why books were conceived or chosen for our line.

Right now she’s spotlighting The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine. This book is near and dear to me as I worked as the editor for the project. It’s a must have for anyone who has a writing group or is looking to join one (or start one). It gives you the ins and outs of giving and receiving helpful critiques, managing your group, and utilizing the feedback you receive from group members.

Check out Kelly’s Pick

Order The Writing & Critique Survival Guide

Also available as a digital download

Books I’ve worked on–digitally

January 20, 2010

I thought I’d post links to the digital downloads of recent books I’ve edited–in case anyone prefers their writing instruction on screen vs. bound. I think most of the books I worked on last year are available in both versions now, so here’s a list: