Saturday, September 22, 2018

3 Layers of Writing Mastery: Which One Is Most Important?

Writing requires three layers of mastery.

First, a writer must learn to master stories.

People may think in stories, talk in stories, read and watch and hear stories all day long, but life itself, the thing about which we are always telling stories, has no beginning, middle, or end. Life doesn’t see protagonists or antagonists, doesn’t value one experience over the other. In fact, life doesn’t even recognize adjectives and adverbs: it’s made of nothing but nouns and verbs.

[Don’t miss William Kenower’s talk at the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference in Pasadena, CA, October 26–28, 2018!]

And yet the writer must learn to look at life, at the great teaming, streaming, swarm of things and thoughts and people and creatures and pull from it a fraction of what he or she sees and string the most interesting characters and ideas and events together in the most compelling way he or she can. The writer knows the stories are illusions in a way, and yet these inventions, brief as they are, have the capacity to remind us of the whole of life. There is no formula for how best to do this. Instead, the writer must spend his or her days asking and asking and asking this question: What is so interesting about what interests me? The answer is a story.

Next, a writer must master what we call craft.

Writers translate life, a three-dimensional and five-sensory experience, into nothing but words, which are themselves nothing but thoughts. Every other art form directly engages at least one of our five senses. Writers don’t get sound, or motion, or touch, or color, or shape. The writer must be interested in this unique translation, must be willing to leave his or her body behind for a time, leave behind the unshakable limitations of time and space for the limitless, formless silence of the imagination.

Once in their imagination, the writer must ask, “How can I describe what I see in my mind’s eye so that someone else can see it with their mind’s eye? And how can I describe it so that it also reminds us of how it feels to be alive, to walk and talk and think and feel? How do I create a living, breathing, hoping, dreaming, virtual reality out of just words?” There is no formula for this either. There is only the practice and the practice and the practice of it, whose greatest reward remains the mysterious knowledge that the imagination stands as the purest portal for true human connection.

Fearless Writing By William Kenower

Finally, the writer must seek emotional mastery.

Of the three, this is often the hardest and always the most important. Without some emotional mastery, all our mastery of stories and craft are useless to us. Unlike the powerful questions stories and craft ask of us, emotional mastery requires learning how to banish one persistent, unanswerable question: What’s the point?

The question takes many forms. What’s the point of telling a story if no one else will be interested in it, or if it is never published, or if it is published but is quickly forgotten? What’s the point of writing if I never make much money, or never receive the recognition I deserve? What’s the point of any of this if my bones will wind up in the same place as those who never wrote, my words dissolved into the same void of time as those who never spoke?

Having asked this question often enough in all its variations, I know its weight and tidal pull into despair. As a young man, I imagined that writing would answer it for me, that somehow through fame, or success, or simply managing to create something I found as beautiful and moving as the stories and poems that moved me, I would be delivered to some holy place free from the nameless suffering of that unanswered question. For all my unhappiness then, I remained convinced such a place, such a circumstance, existed. Life simply could not be the meaningless Hell it sometimes appeared. In fact, I could easily imagine life beyond the fires of despair, could imagine it as if I’d been there once and was only trying to find my way back.

Because, of course, I had been there. In fact, I went there often. The moment I found an idea I liked, and the moment I went to my desk and asked myself, “What’s so interesting about that idea? And how can I write it so another person might see what’s so interesting about it?” I was back where I belonged, where I had actually been born. Gone was that horrible question. It hadn’t been answered, it simply wasn’t being asked, and in its absence were the possibilities its shadow had obscured.

It took me many years of travelling in and out of Hell to understand which paths led where. I am still learning, because in my travels, in my search for new stories, I continue to find new paths, and some take me where I want to go and some do not. No matter. Sometimes you have a travel a bit to learn, though maybe just a step or two before you feel the heat, and so you turn around, and so you’re headed home.

Learn more in William Kenower’s online course: Fearless Writing — How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence

The post 3 Layers of Writing Mastery: Which One Is Most Important? appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Friday, September 21, 2018

New Literary Agent Alert: Jennifer Grimaldi of Chalberg & Sussman

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Jennifer Grimaldi of Chalberg & Sussman) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

About Jennifer:

Prior to joining Chalberg & Sussman as an agent, Jennifer Grimaldi worked at St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne, where she edited and acquired S. Jae-Jones’ New York Times bestseller WINTERSONG—a Labyrinth-inspired gothic YA—and worked with numerous bestselling and award-winning authors. Jennifer’s broad exposure to the domestic and foreign publishing markets as a scout with Barbara Tolley & Associates further shaped her taste for the eclectic. On those rare occasions without a book or Kindle in hand, Jennifer can be found replaying Dragon Age Origins, adding to her collection of increasingly elaborate board games (current favorite: Through The Ages), and entertaining friends and strangers alike with NYC trivia.

She is seeking: 

Science fiction and fantasy in both adult and YA, historical fiction, romance and horror. She is particularly intrigued by strong world-building and sense of place, and would love to see a wide variety of diversity in the gender, sexuality, presentation, race, and mental/physical abilities of characters. She also loves stories inspired by true events or myths and fairy tales, and deconstructed tropes. More than any of the above, however, she looks for genre books supported by a strong emotional core. While she is not interested in issue books, she is interested in character studies in trauma, whether that be a mysterious disappearance, extraterrestrial abduction, or emotional abuse.

She is also enormously fond of rakes and scoundrels in all varieties (thieves, pirates, spies), multi-dimensional villains, atmospheric creepiness, and longing glances.

How to submit: 

To query Jennifer, please email and include the first five pages of your manuscript in the body of an email. Jennifer accepts queries by email only. Please note that per agency policy, replies will be sent only for submissions being actively considered.

Live Webinar – Today’s Key Book Publishing Paths: What’s New, What’s Old, and What’s Right for You

Jane Friedman discusses everything you need to know about how book publishing operates today, in plain English, to help you understand the pros and cons of every major publishing path available. She’ll cover New York traditional publishing and what projects are well-suited to being represented by literary agents; the capabilities of mid-size publishers and independent publishers; how to evaluate small presses, micro-presses, and digital-only presses; what “hybrid” publishing is (or thinks it is) and how to evaluate such companies; and all forms of self-publishing and e-publishing practiced today. Learn more and register.

The post New Literary Agent Alert: Jennifer Grimaldi of Chalberg & Sussman appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

The Glamorous and Unattainable Writing Life: 6 Common Misconceptions About Being a Writer

Now that you’ve published a book, you can afford that fancy NYC loft, right? Emily Bleeker clears up a few common and hilarious misconceptions about writers.

Authors in books, movies and TV shows are often eccentric and fascinating hermits for whom writing is their sole purpose in life. I like these depictions, and I wish I was as mysterious and exotic as my counterparts on the silver screen.

But, the truth is, a lot of what makes up this fantasy version of a writer is either a fiction or an exaggeration. Whether in-person, on-line, or in an article no one asked me to write, I’ve made it my mission to clear up a few of these common and hilarious misconceptions about writers and authors.

1. Writers are all brooding, solitary introverts.

This image of a brooding, lonely writer who spends his or her days and nights alone in front of a typewriter would lead you to believe that authors are an odd, rare breed that rarely, if ever see the light of day. Sure, a lot of authors have the introvert gene, but they are also some of the most friendly, caring and encouraging people I know—and REALLY funny. Writing CAN be a lonely job—but only if you choose for it to be.

2. Writers are all exceptional at spelling and grammar.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to spell a word or had someone apologize for a minor grammatical error. Confession time—I’ve struggled with spelling my whole life. Authors are not perfect in every technical area having to do with writing and that’s pretty normal. Just like an accountant needs a calculator or spreadsheet, writers need some tools to make the technical aspects of their writing polished.

8 Things You MUST Do When Your First Book Is Launched

3. Once you’re published, you’re rich.

Authors are seen in books and movies as semi-celebrities or filthy rich after the launch of one book. This too is a bit of a fallacy (sorry fellow writers). The financial aspects of book writing are complicated and inconsistent. Nearly every writer I know has a “day job” of some kind. They are lawyers, real estate agents, doctors, data processors and accountants as well as dedicated to their craft.

4. Authors all know each other.

I don’t know Stephen King… or J.K. Rowling… or Gillian Flynn… or… You get the idea. Sorry, all authors don’t know each other. But I can suggest some new names that might peak your interests and widen your horizons. (And Stephen, Joanne and Gillian—call me any time!)

[Online Course — Advanced Novel Writing with Terri Valentine]

5. Authors have control over every part of the publishing process.

So you don’t like my cover? First of all—uh—rude. Second of all—I can’t help you there! Covers (and often titles) are not the final choice of the author. I’m NOT kidding. I can pass on feedback and give my own but authors rarely make the final decision.

6. Authors have loads of spare time to write.

Writing is usually something spoken of wistfully, planned for a future when there is magically “more time.” But the truth is—there is never more time. Authors don’t have boring lives or no obligations—they make time for their work and their creativity. Writing is a fun job, but a job none the less.

Okay, there are more misconceptions I don’t have time for—lots more: I don’t live in New York. I am not even sure what a “loft” is. I have only been to ONE fancy cocktail party and most of my business dealings are done via email, not phone or, gasp, in person.

But as fun as it is to clear up some of these fantasies, I have to admit the main reason I do it is because if “writer” or “author” is a mythical creature in the eyes of the world then becoming one is an overwhelming and unattainable goal to onlookers. Then I worry that we are all missing out on meeting those future authors who could reach their dreams if they just knew a little more about the realities of the world they would like to join.

EMILY BLEEKER is a former educator who learned to love writing while teaching a writer’s workshop. After surviving a battle with a rare form of cancer, she finally found the courage to share her stories, starting with her debut novel, Wreckage, followed by the “Wall Street Journal bestseller” When I’m Gone and Working Fire. Her latest novel is called The Waiting Room and publishes August 28, 2018. Emily currently lives with her family in suburban Chicago. Find out more about her at

Join us at our annual novel writing conference!

The post The Glamorous and Unattainable Writing Life: 6 Common Misconceptions About Being a Writer appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Language Arts: ‘VOX’ Author/Linguist Christina Dalcher Discusses the Power of Words

Following the release of her hit book, VOX, linguist-turned-author Christina Dalcher shares insight into the power of words spoken, written and suppressed. Learn more about Dalcher in the November/December 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest.

As much as Christina Dalcher loves words—she’s a linguist by trade, having taught at universities internationally—she knows better than most the power of their absence.

An award-winning flash-fiction and short-story writer, her debut novel VOX (released in August) has generated buzz from the likes of TIME, Publishers Weekly and Vanity Fair. In the fast-paced dystopian novel, where a certain demographic is limited to speaking only 100 words per day, it’s no stretch to say that language is, well, everything. Dalcher took a break from promoting VOX abroad—including doing four interviews in Italian the day before we chatted—to talk about where she gleans inspiration, how the study of linguistics influences her tales and why writing short is the best practice for longer endeavors.

In VOX, women are forced to wear counters on their wrists that limit them to speaking 100 words a day. The average person speaks about 16,000 daily, give or take. Speaking as a writer and linguist, what are some of the ramifications this would have on literature, communication and storytelling?

I think I can safely say that there’s one major thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, and that’s language. It’s language that allows us not only to share our thoughts and ideas and stories with others, but also allows us to process information. I doubt Einstein would have been able to come up with the theory of relativity without language. [Not because] he needed to talk to anyone; he could’ve been in a box by himself. But it is unimaginable, to me, that that kind of thinking could be done without language. We can go beyond communication and storytelling and family relationships and look at what really would happen: Our humanity would be taken away.

It’s impossible to miss the “right now” relevance of VOXTIME magazine even called it a novel of the #MeToo movement. Did current events have any direct influence on your approach to the story?

Not as specifically or directly as most people think. For one, when I started writing VOX last summer—I wrote it in two months—there really wasn’t a #MeToo movement [yet]. I’m a really strong advocate for freedom of speech. When we look at dystopian fiction throughout the ages, we’re basically looking at the same [topic]: restriction on freedom; sometimes speech, sometimes reading, sometimes other freedoms. I don’t think this is anything new, because if it were, we wouldn’t have had Orwell, Huxley or Bradbury writing about it. I’d like to think I would’ve written this book no matter what.

You’ve said that the idea for VOX came from a doomsday fiction contest in an online flash fiction magazine.

It did. Initially, at least, there were two stages. Basically, I came up with this kind of hybrid vegetable or fruit from the seeds of all these other sort of related ones. Maybe I created, like, a literary tomato. One, a magazine that I just absolutly love, called The Molotov Cocktail, had a doomsday contest. [Molotov] was the first place to ever publish a piece of my flash fiction. Maybe three or four times a year they’ll have a contest with a theme that’s usually very stark; either horror or speculative fiction, something like that. So I wrote this little story, about 750 words total, about a global aphasia epidemic, [where] all of a sudden, we’ve got the Tower of Babel. You can imagine how long we would last in that kind of a situation.

It’d be a disaster.

Maybe [we’d last] a week or two, really, before we just kind of all killed one another. [The story] was very dark. It had the linguistics aspect in it, which I really enjoyed because [as a linguist] it’s something that I can write into stories and make them a little bit unique.

In the meantime, all this while that I’ve been writing flash fiction, I’ve had the little idea over in my idea drawer—[which is] a virtual idea drawer called “Ideas,” as you probably can imagine. When I was a really young kid, I read this story about some kind of magical kingdom where people limited themselves to 10 words a day, something like that. They did it on purpose, so they could hear lovely music. That’s all I remember of it because I’ve never been able to find it [again]. But it was this idea, this word-limit thing, that made me think, Well, that’s linguistic-y. Maybe I can work that into a piece of flash fiction someday. I [combined] the aphasia piece and I had the word limit piece [into] a dystopian short story for a magazine, [hence] I came up with the “hybrid tomato,” VOX.

You’ve had dozens of short stories published in literary journals, including some that have garnered Pushcart Prize nominations. How did you decide that VOX could be lengthened from a short piece into a full-length book?

When I wrote the 3,500-word short story “VOX,”—which is pretty much the skeleton of VOX—my readers, three women who swap stories with me and also write flash fiction, looked at it and said, “This could be a novel.” The short story made it to the second round [of a competition] in Clarkesworld Magazine, a major science fiction/fantasy magazine. When that happened, I thought, “OK, this has legs.” I talked to my agent about it, and she said it sounded delightfully creepy—which is a great response from an agent. So I thought, “I’m going to do this thing.”

The pacing in VOX keeps readers hanging on with white knuckles. Do you think your experience with writing flash helped you to be …



Absolutely. I started writing four years ago, with the idea that I was going to write a novel—because I think that’s the idea a lot of people start with. But, in my own words, it’s like, “Hey, if Stephenie Meyer can do it, I can do it.” Riiiight. I think when I look at the first thing I wrote, [it’s clear] I had no idea about pacing. I certainly didn’t know what character
arc meant, or what a beat was, or about the importance of dialogue.

With flash, it’s not just about the story. You don’t have that much time [or space]. It’s about the lyricism and the poetry and evoking a really strong feeling while still telling a story. It’s like musicians who do ├ętudes: [It lets them] practice their form, instead of sitting down and writing an entire concerto or symphony.

That’s a great analogy. We’ve touted the benefits of writing flash to our readers—even if they don’t intend to make it their predominant form of writing, it’s a great way to get good practice. It’s wonderful to hear from you, having had so much success with flash/short stories, and then been able to carry that over into a longer form.

It really warms my heart that you’re making that recommendation, because it’s so important. I have taught [some] writing courses the last couple of years—I try not to tell my students that I haven’t actually taken a writing course [Laughs]—but I do find that there are so many beginning writers who just want to dive right into [a] novel. They want to do the same thing that I [first] did. We all do, because we know the novel, [it’s] what we see: [They’re] on airport bookshelves, in libraries. Of course, if you’re going to try to make any money as a fiction writer, the novel is pretty much the only way to go. Flash fiction paychecks are usually about $1.50. I think it’s a trap people fall into, this idea that, Oh, I’m going to do this really big, hard thing [and write a novel], but in fact, it’s quite nice to be able to focus on something much, much smaller.

You’ve taught courses on linguistics, phonetics and phonology at universities around the world. How does your academic knowledge of language influence your individual writing style?

I don’t spend a hell of a lot of time describing exactly what color somebody’s eyes are or what people look like, what they’re wearing. I think that probably came from the fact that I did a metric ton of writing when I was in graduate school and after that, but it was all very technical. If anything, it might not be the linguistics that really influenced my writing style, it might be the fact that I have a science degree.

Linguistics is a science, but we often think of writing as an artistic endeavor. In what ways does your background in science inform your writing process?

Writing is pretty damn technical. Take a Lee Child mystery. Or VOX. Anything like that. You’ve got this sort of formula that you need to stick to: We’ve got beats. An inciting incident. The “choice” that needs to be made. The debate period. Then the B-story comes in. I mean, it is quite scientific. That’s why [we call] things beat sheets or story “engineering” or whatever. There’s a technical aspect to it. I think once you’ve got that framework down, then you can be artistic, can play with your words.

What are some ways that non-linguists can learn from the study of linguistics to help improve their own writing?

For some inexplicable reason, I’m pretty OK [at writing] dialogue. I’m wondering if being a little bit more nerdy about language, being kind of a linguistics freak, helps me pay attention to the things that I hear and also recognize when I write dialogue that just doesn’t sound like the way people really talk.

I also think there’s that age-old, really tasty chestnut that says, “Write what you know.” I’m a linguist, so I wrote a book that features some linguistic stuff. But going more general than just linguistics, I think it’s always, always good advice to think about what you can do, and what you know a lot about, and go from there—rather than trying to write something that is like that one book on the bestseller list last year, or that got turned into a movie, or that your friend wrote. Write what you know based on your experience. It’s a golden rule.

The post Language Arts: ‘VOX’ Author/Linguist Christina Dalcher Discusses the Power of Words appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Q&A With Eliot Stein, Grand-Prize Winner of the 2018 WD Annual Writing Competition

“The Last Remaining Sea Silk Seamestress” by Eliot Stein is the Grand Prize­–winning story for the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, besting more than 5,300 entries across nine categories. For complete coverage of the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, please check out the November/December 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest, and discover which WD competitions are currently accepting entries at

Tell us a little bit about yourself? You seem to travel quite a lot.

I’m a freelance writer. I focus primarily on travel, but I also do a lot of culture, history, traditions— things that sort of lend different categories, I suppose. I’m also a contributing editor and columnist for BBC Travel, which is where this story [originally] appeared. For the last two years I’ve been living here in Berlin, Germany. I’m originally from Washington, D.C., but being here in Germany has really given me the opportunity and the time and the space to really focus on writing. And I found it to be incredibly rewarding, and the sort of thing that you don’t often get by kind of being in a big city back in the States where I’m from.

How long have you been writing and how did you start? Were you always interested in travel writing?

My dad is a writer, and he encouraged my brother and I every summer to keep a journal. And it would be the sort of thing where he would say at the start of the summer, “If you write one page every day in the journal, by the end of the summer we’ll do something special.” So I think from about the age of 9 or 10, it’s this sort of thing where they’re were no real limits placed on what it is that I write. It’s just kind of exercising that muscle and using the blank page kind of as a creative space to figure out what it is that I want to say.

Were you always interested in primarily nonfiction even as you were keeping your journal, or did you ever dabble in fiction?

Mainly nonfiction. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve never really crossed over into fiction. I find that there’s so many fascinating people and interesting stories to tell that are real, that I’m really just kind of enamored by people I meet and find their lives interesting, and so long as I can do a decent job of telling their story, I think that I find a lot of enjoyment in that. 

Why do you write?

Well, I’m really inspired by so many people that I meet, and I think that there are endlessly fascinating and inspiring stories out there that lots of people have. And I find a lot of energy and fulfillment in learning as much as I can about someone and trying to tell their story in a way that gets other people away from their phones and kind of engrossed in their own stories. But I find the process of writing to be exhilarating and exhausting and eventually rewarding. And [there’s] just no other way that I would choose to spend my waking hours.


When did you develop an affinity for travel?

I majored in college in Italian studies and journalism, which set me up to do exactly nothing. I did my best to kind of marry the two, and so the day after I graduated I moved to Italy and started writing. So I had never been to Sardinia and found that it was kind of off the beaten path and it intrigued me. So I lived there for a few years, wrote a couple guidebooks there, and wrote for a magazine. And that’s actually where I first heard about the protagonist in this story. And several years later—I was with my wife—we moved back here to Berlin in Europe, and that kind of really, as I was saying, gave me the space and the opportunity to explore more of the continent and travel and really dive into these stories that I find just endlessly engrossing and the people that I find inspiring.

Tell me more about your process for researching and writing this story. You mentioned you first heard about the woman in this story when you were living in Sardinia?

I lived in Sardinia between 2007 and 2009. And I had heard about her, but it was never the sort of thing where I made a mental note that I want to write a story about her. In terms of the process for this story, it’s very similar to a lot of the stories I write. The background research and the idea, I think, is absolutely the most important thing. Once you have a really solid idea and an angle, that’s worth more than gold to a writer. So for this one it was a bit of a tricky process getting in contact with Signora Vigo. She doesn’t really use the phone too often. She’s not on any sort of social media. She doesn’t carry a cell phone. So it was sheer persistence and about 15 Google Talk phone calls that got me in contact with her, and we agreed on a date.

And then once I got there, it’s very similar to a lot of the process that I have, which is, for other stories, I kind of bury myself in the person. But my goal is always to learn as much as I can about this person, because everything you learned about the subject that you’re writing about, it’s more fuel for the story. So I was there for four days with her, stayed with an elderly gentleman in his Airbnb. And everyday I would wake up and spend the entire day with Signora Vigo, learning her trade and also gaining her trust. And she was able to tell me things through that process that she hadn’t told other people before. And I found that to be the most valuable and rewarding part of the process that I in turn was able to introduce her stories to people who might not have heard it otherwise.

How frequently do you find that meeting the person shapes the story or changes the story from what it had been in your original idea?

Well, as a writer, I think you have to give yourself and your story the freedom to grow if you meet someone. It’s never the sort of thing where I would have in my mind, This is the story I’m going to write, before I meet someone. So you have a sense, you have kind of parameters of, This is where I think the story could go, but it’s completely shaped by what you learn on the ground. So if I were to go and meet someone, and I learned a very different or surprising twist in what I thought the story was going to be, you have to be true to the subject and follow it there. I guess that’s the difference between maybe travel journalism versus creative writing. But I would never sway a person’s story based on what I think would just make it a better story.

Who or what has inspired you as a writer?

I think I’ll go ahead and say that I do think, subjectively, BBC Travel is producing some of the most inspiring travel journalism that is out there right now. Before that, I grew up reading National Geographic, immersing myself in Pico Iyer books, reading pretty much anything I could get my hands on it. And as a kid going to the library, picking up the copies of Smithsonian Magazine, just kind burying myself in faraway worlds and kind of keeping track of places that I want to go one day. But beyond typical travel journalism, I think that there’s so many writers out there who are novelists who I think are just absolutely amazing, and their style of writing, I think, translates very, very well to do what people consider travel writing. From Hemingway to Vonnegut to tons of people out there who I think have a particular style of writing that is contagious, and … I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel like the definition of travel writing versus just writing in general is something that a lot of people confuse often. And I think that just fantastic writing, no matter in what form it is, is something that translates across all kinds of categories.

For complete coverage of the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, please check out the November/December 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest.


The post Q&A With Eliot Stein, Grand-Prize Winner of the 2018 WD Annual Writing Competition appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

“Go Your Own Way”: James Patterson on Supporting Childhood Literacy, Generating Novel Ideas, and Writing with Bill Clinton

After more than four decades in publishing, record-breaking bestseller James Patterson has this to say: You can go your own way. Discover an exclusive extended interview with Patterson below.

Chris Sorensen For The Washington Post via Getty Images


“I never give anyone writing advice.” That may seem like a surprising way to open an interview with a magazine for writers, but James Patterson has always avoided casting himself as the all-knowing writing guru. He’s a firm believer that every author is unique, and each must find a way to use their individual strengths and talents: “I don’t tell other people what they should do. I just know what I do. But I can share what works for me.”

What works for Patterson also seems to be popular  with a massive number of readers. He holds the Guinness World Record for the most No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, and his books have sold more than 375 million copies worldwide. He is the author of dozens of titles, many of them written with a crew of co-writers that Patterson keeps very busy.

He is passionate about promoting literacy and a love of reading, investing significant resources to support those causes. He has donated more than 1 million books to students and soldiers and heads up a foundation that has funded some 400 Teacher Education Scholarships at more than 20 colleges and universities. Plus, he has donated millions of dollars to school libraries and independent bookstores, including giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in surprise bonuses directly to bookstore employees.

Patterson created a children’s book imprint, JIMMY Patterson Books for Young Readers—affectionately known as “JIMMY Books”—in 2015. He says the imprint has one simple and important goal: “When a kid finishes a JIMMY book, I want them to say, ‘Give me another.’”

In 2016, Patterson played a central role in launching  BookShots, a publishing program offering original,  shorter-length (150 pages maximum) stories that retail for less than $5. Some of the stories are written by Patterson and his co-authors and feature his well-known characters like Alex Cross, while others are from a stable of authors selected—and their works edited—by Patterson himself. He also teamed up with former President Bill Clinton to pen the thriller The President Is Missing, which hit stores in June and sold more than 152,000 hardcovers in the first week, according to NPD BookScan—the best first-week sale for an adult hardcover fiction title in several years.

The prolific author is enthusiastic about the latest JIMMY Books project, a new line with a super-smart 12-year-old orphan as the heroine, called Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment. It’s the first of a series (co-written with Chris Grabenstein) that Patterson will produce in conjunction with the Albert Einstein Archives.

His strongest asset as a writer, Patterson would say, is his love for telling (and hearing) stories. His likable, relatable personality immediately makes people comfortable. He’s the kind of guy you’d gladly spend hours trading tales with over drinks. As we settled in for this interview, he told a fascinating story about his uncle, whose last name was the same as my hometown. Placed for adoption as a child, the uncle—as an adult—tracked down his brother (Patterson’s father), and eventually located their long-lost father in a seedy bar near a bridge in Poughkeepsie, only to leave without ever introducing himself.

Wow, that’s quite a story, like the real-life start of a novel.

There’s a writing lesson from that story. Sometimes people go, “Oh, he’s not a very good writer,” [because] there were no big sentences in that story. But it was a really good story. I write colloquial. I don’t tell anyone else they should write colloquially. I write the way we tell stories. If everybody wrote that way, it wouldn’t be great. But that’s what I do.

I write in a very simple way. I don’t have to. I was a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt. I know the rules—I could write more complex sentences if I wanted to. But I choose not to, and I think it’s a valid approach, in the same way I think James Joyce had a valid approach when he wrote Ulysses. It’s a different tone, a different voice. I think my voice is pretty distinctive.

You don’t come from a privileged background, but you credit that for playing a role in your success.

I was poor and middle class, and then I was poor and middle class again. And now I’m rich. And on balance, I prefer being rich. But I don’t think I’d be who I am or write what I wrote if I hadn’t been brought up the way I was. I had a 10-cent allowance when I was a kid. And I had to make that decision: Are you going to have a Pepsi this week? My mom went to the supermarket and she would get one quart of soda a week. For four kids. And she was a teacher at a Catholic school, so there was no money there.

I didn’t come to [success] overnight. I was lucky in that the first novel I wrote won an Edgar when I was 26, but I didn’t have anything that would have supported my life in terms of making a living until I was in my 40s. I was very practical about it, and humble. I didn’t feel that I should expect to make a living, or that I was entitled to anything. That seemed very presumptuous to me. I’ve always been big on, “Have a dream and a backup dream.”

I’m very organized. Anybody I work with would tell you, “He’s very focused.” I’m clear and will say exactly what I want. But there’s room for exploring. I think most of [my co-authors] have enjoyed it. It allows me to do what I love, which is telling stories. Most of the time I will lay out the story. And then we’ll take that 40 or 60 pages and turn it into 350 pages.

Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

You see this? [He holds up a stuffed folder, roughly the size of an old-fashioned Manhattan phone book, with the word IDEAS in large capital letters on the front.] I don’t think I’ll run out anytime soon. I’m not quite as quick as I was, but I still do OK.

You’ve done a lot for childhood literacy.

I tend to be very efficient and do a lot of things at the same time. With the philanthropy, I try to make it as efficient as I possibly can. To have a really clear-cut mission. So with JIMMY Books, it’s a simple mission but I think it’s clear and allows us to function in an appropriate manner. Which is, when a kid finishes a JIMMY book, I want them to say, “Give me another,” instead of, “I never want to read again.” If we can deliver on that, then JIMMY Books is a big deal. Because we’ve done what we should do, which is putting [the kinds of] books in kids’ hands so they say, “I like to read.”

You’ve also been very active in supporting future teachers.

We have scholarships for kids to get through school who are going to be teachers. One of the colleges is University of Florida. I went there with [Harry Bosch author] Mike Connelly, who is a graduate of the school and asked me to do a speech with him. While I was there, I met the kids that we have scholarships for, and I also met the education department. And I said, “If you have something else that we could partner with, that would be great.” And they came back with a program they have been testing. In Florida, the percentage of kids who read at grade level is 43 percent. That’s not great. It’s not great anywhere. The best in the country is Massachusetts, which is like 62 percent. University of Florida, in the outer areas around Gainesville, they have over 80 percent of the classes reading at grade level. And we’re taking that across Florida this year.

We went up and met with the state lawmakers in Florida, and they were all for it. They said, “Look, we spend $130 million a year and we don’t think we spend it as well as we could. We’d rather spend it on second and third graders instead of trying to get kids when they’re in high school. It’s very hard to get them at that point, it’s too late.” So we try to do stuff where we think there will be a good result.

We also have a kids’ show now on PBS, called “Kid Stew,” in more than 200 markets. It’s to make learning fun. It’s by kids, for kids. We do some interviews, but it’s funny. There’s a time machine, which is a phone booth. And they’ll go back and talk to Da Vinci for a while. Or Shakespeare.

Your latest kids’ project is the Max Einstein book. How did that come about?

The Einstein estate came to three publishers, and they basically said, “We want to do a series of books that would introduce kids around the world to Albert Einstein. And the only thing we’re going to give you is the name Max Einstein.” So we had to pitch our idea.

And we’re little compared to the others. But I figured we have an advantage because I’m going to write them and I’ll be in the room, so I can talk about what the books will really be like. When we get in there, I said, “For starters, I’d like to make Max a girl. Because I think that’s more useful now. Because there are still a lot of places in the United States, and a lot of places around the world, where girls and women are not encouraged to study math and science. I know in some places it’s beginning to even out and that’s good, but I think it would be good that Max is a girl.” They liked that a lot. Then I began to tell them the story we had in mind. They were very smart in that they said it’s got to be entertaining or kids won’t read it. Then you get to the challenge of, How do you write an entertaining book about Einstein’s theories?

You’ve called it the most important work you’ve ever done.

Because I think it is, if we go around the world and turn millions of kids on to science. For a long time, a lot of the scientists that you would meet, if you asked, “What got you started?” They would say, “Reading science fiction.” They read sci-fi and they get turned on. And they say, “I want to do that. I want to build a time machine,” or whatever it is. That would be part of the stimulus. I think this series of books will turn a lot of kids on. Boys and girls. And in certain families there are going to be doubts. The way I grew up, my mother encouraged my sisters to become secretaries. We didn’t know any better.

I mean, it’s nice to have created Alex Cross and the Women’s Murder Club and all that. And Max Ride, my other Max, that’s another empowered girl who basically becomes the leader of this group of kids who escape from a terrible situation and have to power through
life somehow.

Do you find it challenging to write in the voice of female characters?

Not really. I think a piece of it is I grew up in a house full of women. Mother, grandmother, sisters, female cat. I write about women a lot. I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing something like Harlequin [romance]. I don’t have the voice. I just spent so much time with women, especially growing up. I think I kind of got it, within reason. I know and empathize with a lot of things that people go through.

BookShots was a new, innovative approach to publishing works that were packaged differently than your normal books. You take a very active role in creating and developing the outlines for all of your full-length books. Was it the same with BookShots?

There they are. [He gestures towards shelves filled with books]. That was one year’s output. That was insane. To take that on and write a bunch of them, and then to do the outlines. That year, I wrote 2,500 pages of outlines. And all of my outlines are three or four drafts. So that’s nuts.

I did all of the outlines [for BookShots]. Every outline was 30 or 40 pages. In 90 percent of the cases, I would have [my writers] sending pages every two weeks. And I would call them back that day and either say, “Keep going,” or, “Hold up, we’re going off the track here.” That’s the way I work with my co-authors, with all of my books.

But with BookShots, we’re kind of done with them. It was too threatening to publishers, honestly, to have these books for $3.99 and $4.99. They thought people were not going to want to buy a hardback. But I think toward the end, [the books] were really catching on. What we do now is we’ll bundle three of them in a paperback. They sell well. We’ve gone from being in the red to being solidly in the black. But the energy it took was incredible. We’re doing an occasional one now. But not a lot.

What do you think of the state of publishing today? There’s a trend toward giving content away, especially in the form of ebooks.

People think free books are great, but it’s a problem when publishers want to give away writing. Just like what happened with musicians. It’s like, OK, let’s go to your house and take your money. A lot of free books don’t even have editors. That’s a problem because if the last six books you read were terrible, you’re not going to want to read any more. It turns people off from reading. I think at this point it’s important that we still have publishers and editors. That can all be done on the internet, but nobody’s really doing it [that way] yet. Not really doing it, to a big extent.

I wonder who is going to do the Great American Novels in the future. Who’s going to develop the next Hemingway or Fitzgerald, or whoever you think is terrific. The reality of it is, if Infinite Jest was published today on the internet, it [would] sell five copies and disappear. Ulysses goes out and sells three copies and disappears.

Originality is a big thing. You get too much of, Let’s do another one of whatever. Realistic fiction in YA is a hot thing now because of John Green. But people forget that John Green does really good dialogue. And if they can’t do great dialogue, they might not make it. That’s what separates him. Obviously, he promotes really well, too.

How did Bill Clinton compare to your normal co-author situation?

He was very respectful. What sets that book apart is the authenticity. Even though it’s a novel, people really get to know what it’s like to be president during an unbelievably tense three or four days, where the worst attack ever on the United States is imminent. There’s a traitor in the White House. The president disappears. If that kind of attack were about to happen, this is the way it would go. It’s all real stuff. If the motorcade was attacked, this is exactly what the Secret Service would do.

[Clinton] has been a joy to work with. It’s fun. We get a kick out of each other. It’s different than with my other co-authors. I defer more here than I normally would. And he wants everything to be accurate. A lot of times, if you’re a fiction writer, you just make shit up. But he’ll be pushing for accuracy. He pushed for the characters to be more flesh and blood. There’s an assassin in the book, and in the first draft, I think she was a little bit more of a thriller device. But she wound up being very flesh and blood, and he really helped push for that—to make sure [the assassin] was a real human being.

Anybody on your wish list you’d like to work with?

Maybe the Pope. I think the two of us could do something good. WD

Bobbi Dempsey ( is a freelance writer whose credits include The New York Times, Harper’s, Quartz and Parade. She is the author of the Amazon Kindle Single ebook Degrees of Desperation: The Working-Class Struggle to Pay for College.








The post “Go Your Own Way”: James Patterson on Supporting Childhood Literacy, Generating Novel Ideas, and Writing with Bill Clinton appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 454

For today’s prompt, take the phrase “I Get (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Possible titles include: “I Get Knocked Down,” “I Get Around,” “I Get a Little Bit Genghis Khan,” and/or “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.” And yeah, I get it if you feel like these titles are all song lyrics (because they are), but there’s a lot of potential here for you to get a new poem at the end of this exercise.


Build an Audience for Your Poetry tutorialBuild an Audience for Your Poetry!

Learn how to find more readers for your poetry with the Build an Audience for Your Poetry tutorial! In this 60-minute tutorial, poets will learn how to connect with more readers online, in person, and via publication.

Poets will learn the basic definition of a platform (and why it’s important), tools for cultivating a readership, how to define goals and set priorities, how to find readers without distracting from your writing, and more!

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at an I Get Blank Poem:

“i get a little distracted”

i get a little distracted
whenever you are close
& even more attracted
when you haunt me like a ghost,

because the language we speak
isn’t captured in our words
but the twitter of our beaks
as if we are two love birds.


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He gets distracted more than a little bit a lot of the time.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.

The post Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 454 appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –