Thursday, April 22, 2010


I’ve been writing a thriller that deals with terrorism. Recently I read an interesting article in the April, 2010, issue of Smithsonian magazine about Indonesia. According to the article the Indonesian government has made great strides against Islamic terrorism through a three fold policy: 1. Aggressively pursue terrorist, 2. Undercut the popular appeal of militancy by exposing it as un-Islamic, and 3. Ensure that the government doesn’t create more terrorists by treating prisoners brutally. This makes all the sense in the world. A stand must be taken against terrorism, and just as there are Christian and Jewish extremist, there is a core of Islam that doesn’t buy into violence. Brutal treatment of prisoners leads to martyrs and a hardening of sentiment against the government. This is a lesson that regimes around the world must learn.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Writing Rules—There Are None Or Are There?

After years of going to writers conferences, speaking with other authors about what they do and even after my last post, I’ve reached the conclusion that there are no writing rules. Here are several examples. 1. I’ve often heard authors wax poetic about how they know they’re really into the flow of their writing when their characters take over. I haven’t had this experience but I guess it’s like channeling someone else’s thoughts. Recently, I heard best-selling author, Stephen Cannell address this topic. He quoted Janet Evanovich who when asked if her characters ever run away with the story replied, “If they do, I shoot the sons of bitches.” 2. Another rule often stated is to write what you know. This is definitely helpful when getting started, but one of the joys of the writing process is to experiment and try new things. That’s when learning takes place. 3. Some people state that using a prologue is verboten. I find many thrillers greatly improved by the prologue that sets the stage in the past and then plays out in the present. 4. Character description. Some people advocate extensive character description while others keep it to a minimum to let the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. We’ve all seen excellent examples of both approaches. 5. Outlines versus seat-of-the-pants. Here’s one where you’ll hear opinions ranging from extensive outlining to just sitting down and writing. Either extreme or any gradation in between can work. It’s up to the writer to figure out what’s best for him or her. I use a basic outline but then always find that the story takes off in a direction I never would have predicted. I need a starting structure but then can enjoy the discovery of new alternatives as I write. 6. Write it right the first time versus extensive rewrites. I happen to be in the camp of many rewrites. I can write a fast first draft but then need to do numerous rewrite passes. But there are others who labor over that first draft and then that’s it. Hey, whatever works for you. Rules? Okay, so I really think there are two rules to writing. These are: 1. Sit down and get started, 2. Keep going.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Conference on World Affairs

Every April the University of Colorado sponsors a Conference on World Affairs and this last week I had an opportunity to take in two sessions. One session was titled SuperGeeks Changing the World. One of the speakers talked about crazy billionaires who change the world. The formula was arrogance plus money equals innovation. Some of the super rich are turning their attention to new endeavors or philanthropy. Another point was made that we’re all becoming participants in the media with the Internet providing more democratization of news dissemination. An example is WikiLeaks which publishes information that has been leaked from classified sources such as the recent video of collateral death in Iraq including two Reuters News people. I also attended a session on Writing—The Process. One of the panelists made the statement that less than five percent of authors earn a living from their writing. Another described the writing process as four steps: 1. The madman—write everything down, 2. The architect—take material and put it together, 3. The carpenter—use the architect’s plans to build, and 4. The judge—do the editing. A web site recommended to writers: It stands for Arts and Letters Daily and is an eclectic set of information. I checked it out and found that it is fascinating—a web site I could spend hours on if I allowed myself to read all the interesting tidbits. One of the presenters mentioned a list of writing rules attributed to Elmore Leonard and others which, paraphrased, included: 1. Never start a book with weather, 2. Never use an adverb, 3. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip, 4. If it sounds like writing, rewrite, and 5. Never put a picture of a famous author on your desk, particularly one who committed suicide.