Tag Archives: Literature

Barnes and Noble, tear down these walls

berlin-wall-falls

Readers and writers need each other, and we won’t connect when there are thick, artificial walls and book covers so filled with testosterone – or estrogen – that you may as well nail up signs that say “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” or “RUN AWAY, MEN, FOR YOU ARE UNWELCOME.”

I don’t want fiction so segmented that it becomes little fiefdoms, or ghettos, with this section for men, this one for women, little kids here, gay literature over there, big kids there, lesbians here, left-handed straight white guys here and right-handed women who are into quilting and cats in this corner. I read whatever Dan Savage and David Sedaris write, though I’d never have found them if you hidden them in a gay and lesbian corner, which is a bit too near a closet.

Good writing is good writing, period.

Here’s a brief plot summary for a novel. Read it and tell me where it belongs in Barnes and Noble.

Hank is an investigator who solves murders. But he can’t stop a new serial killer, at least not officially. Because that killer is going after the employees of his wife, a prominent businesswoman. This is a case Hank can’t touch and can’t ignore. The killer knows it — and he’s getting ever closer.

All too easy, right? This is pure mystery/thriller. You put it next to Lee Child and James Patterson.

Nope. It’s a romance novel. Some stores might get wild and put it in Romantic Suspense. This is BETRAYAL IN DEATH by J.D. Robb, aka Nora Roberts. All I did was change the genders of the protag and love interest.

The initials Nora Roberts put in her pen name also tell us something. Why do female authors, even crazy famous and insanely successful ones like Nora Roberts and J.K. Rowling, have to hide behind initials? Continue reading

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Thrillers and mysteries

The Red Pen of Doom harpoons MOBY DICK by Herman Melville

MOBY DICK by Herman Melville

Now, this classic book is so ingrained in our culture that movies can get all deep and interesting simply by alluding to a metaphor–which is like a simile, only different–that refers to this doorstop of a book.

Like this: “Maybe I’m Ahab and he’s my white whale” uttered by Bruce Willis in DIE HARD 17: THE HAIR DYES HARDEST could change that movie from just another 120-minute shootout in a nursing home into a penetrating examination of the purpose or life, or lack thereof.

Does that make editing the first page of this thing any harder?

Not really. Bring it, Melville.

MOBY DICK

by Herman Melville

Call me Ishmael. (People have been riffing off it for so many years that those three words are invincible. Can’t touch this.) Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. (This second line is also good. It makes the narrator a smidge unreliable, which is always interesting, and gives him a motive that everybody can relate to: being poor and wanting to see the world.) It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. (On your third swing of the bat, Herman the Meville, you whiff. Nobody cares about other peoples’ spleens and such. Kiss those words goodbye.) Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. (Whenever I read a ginormous sentence with five zillion semi-colons and commas, I reach for the red pen and turn it into a nice, short sentence with one comma.) This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. (Another semi-colon, but this is the last one that gets to live.) There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs–commerce surrounds it with her surf. (Hate this sentence. It’s like our friend was talking to us about an interesting story, then started reciting beat poetry. Rewrite follows.) The city of Manhattoes is belted with docks and ships, like an Indian isle is encircled by coral reefs. Right and left, the streets take you waterward.

Verdict:

The fact this book is a classic doesn’t mean page one is perfect.

Herman the Melville is wordy on this page and he only gets wordier later on in this book, where he stops the action entirely to devote entire chapters to lectures about whale tails and such.

There’s a lot of fluff to kill, and I was pretty gentle with the word slaying. You could kill more.

Compared to most first pages, though, he does a good job of setting things up. Ishmael wants to see the world and that means sailing, because he’s not rich. So we’re in for an adventure.

How could we improve this? More foreshadowing. Maybe he mentions a friend who’s a sailor, the one who told him stories that got him interested in a life at sea, and this friend just served on a whaling ship that limped into port after getting attacked by a big whale. A ghostly white one. But his friend was drinking a lot of rum and tends to make up stories…

Got a suggestion for a Page 1 that deserves the red pen? Hit me in the comments, the Twitter or secret emails.

The Red Pen of Doom’s Greatest Hits Collection: 10 Epic Posts

  1. Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?
  2. The Mother of All Query Letters
  3. Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller
  4. The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
  5. The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books
  6. A BOWL OF WARM MILK AND MURDER
  7. 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys
  8. Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt
  9. The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
  10. Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom

Banned substances for writers

Click here to read the whole post at McSweeney’s here, because it is brilliant.

My personal favorites:

CAPOTEX — A vintage 1960s designer drug. Unlike most other banned literary substances, this drug is often used by fiction writers and non-fiction writers alike. Artificially increases prose style and sophistication. May cause speech patterns to be affected. Known to induce cutting, witty remarks in some test subjects. Long-term use can lead to literary irrelevance.

SPILLAGRA — Boosts literary testosterone levels. Known side effects include involvement with femme fatales, consumption of rye whiskey in dive bars, and over-reliance on colorful similes. If hard-boiled dialogue persists for over four hours, contact a doctor immediately.

ORWELLBUTRIN — Regulates and encourages the production of dystopamine in the brain. Developed as a means of social control, but now listed as a “doubleplus ungood” substance by the Ministry of Health. In rare cases, subjects may imagine that they can hear animals talking. Should only be taken after the clocks strike thirteen.

Related posts:

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

6 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction

Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller

In college, wise men with Einstein hair stood in front of lecture halls to tell you literature isn’t really about verbs, adverbs and dangling modifiers. No. Beneath the surface, lit-rah-sure asks a fundamental question that some believe is just as important as religion or science.

That question is this: “What’s worth living for, and what’s worth dying for?”

Nine words.

But I’m not banging in the keyboard late at night, powered by industrial amounts of coffee, to channel those old men wearing corduroy jackets with patches on the elbows. My closet contains no corduroy whatsoever.

I’m here to talk about those nine words, and why it leads me to one inescapable conclusion: that I do, in fact, know how to spell “inescapable.” Bit surprising. Thought I’d muff that one.
Continue reading

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Thrillers and mysteries

Friendly Friday: Amanda the Nelson of DEAD WHITE GUYS: An Irreverent Look at Classic Literature

We all read them in high school, then college. You know the books I’m talking about: the classics.

LORD OF THE FLIES and WAR AND PEACE and GIANT NOVELS BY RUSSIANS WHO REFUSE TO CALL ANY CHARACTER BY ANYTHING LESS THAN SIX NAMES.

I’m talking about literature, except true literary snobs pronounce it “lit-RAH-sure.”

It’s these Great Books that we all flipped through at three in the morning, cranking out a term paper fueled by beer with fish on the can and Camel cigarettes bummed from your roommate as you dream up phrases like “the author’s framework includes a subtle critique of dialectical materialism buried within the character’s clear delineation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” until you hit about 7:15 a.m., with the paper due on the professor’s desk at 8 a.m. sharp, so you start busting out sentences like “The last chapter’s use of the hierarchical opposition of day and night, does, in fact, highlight the artificial constructs of love/hate, life/death and hunger/satiation, when clearly there are no such boundaries except as defined by man — or woman,  or cyborgs, sufficiently intelligent dolphins and chimpanzees trained in the art of ESL.”

Amanda the Nelson reads the classics for us so we don’t have to.

Then she writes  about these books with insight and hilarity.

Her blog is a public service. Continue reading

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Filed under 6 Friendly Friday, Barons of the Blogosphere, Worthy citizens of the Twitterverse

The best Fabio romance cover OF ALL TIME

What is the most amazing, over-the-top Fabio romance cover OF ALL TIME?

We are talking about Fabio here, so there is an embarrassment of riches.

How can we pick one masterpiece when everything the Italian Master of Romance has done with the cover of novels is so good?

I wanted to do crazy sci-fi and fantasy covers first. But they are surprisingly monotonous, with the difference between (1) a great cover and (2) a campy cover and (3) an insane cover being a matter of taste, really, and of what cup size you want your robot / elven princess / barbarian warrior woman to have, and whether she should be a loyal sidekick, at the feet of the male hero, or the heroine who’s busy cutting off the heads of trolls or whatever.

The other options for sci-fi and fantasy covers include:

  • Old Bearded Man in a Robe with a Magical Staff,
  • Young Man Playing with His Magical Sword, or
  • Spaceships and exploding stars (dinosaurs are optional).

captainraptor (tony medeiros)

Frankly, they kind of bored me, though I will search harder for amazing sci-fi and fantasy covers, especially of spaceship riding dinosaurs.

Continue reading

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers

Is this high-brow poetry — or pretentious garbage?

Poets are crazy. This much I have learned.

In my endless quest for the truth, I have discovered more Gertrude Stein-esque free verse.

I did so after writing the post, Gertrude Stein is a literary TRAIN WRECK.

I leave it up to you:

Is the poem below high-brow literary genius that only members of Mensa can understand?

Or is it pretentious trash? Continue reading

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday