Training a Writer

January 27, 2009

I recently saw a post on a writers’ board that annoyed the heck out of  me. An aspiring novelist wrote:

Good writers aren’t trained. Good writers are born.

Oh yeah? So why wasn’t the retelling of Thumbelina I wrote in second grade a massive success? Why weren’t all the other short stories and novels I wrote over the years a testanebt to my talent? Why is it I didn’t actually sell a piece of fiction until more than thirty years after I was born?

Try these on for size:

  • Good accountants aren’t trained.  Good accountants are born.
  • Good psychologists aren’t trained.  Good psychologists are born.
  • Good auto mechanics aren’t trained. Good auto mechanics are born.

And so on. All of those careers require a whole lot of training–why would anybody think writing is any different? Nobody expects a surgeon to be able to remove an appendix successfully the first time she picks up a scalpel, so why should they expect to be able to write a novel as soon as they get a word processor up and running?

Folks, I trained. I have a degree in English. I interned writing press releases, read slush pile stories for a college literary magazine, and was features editor for my college newspaper. I took writing courses outside of school as well, and attended countless lectures, talks, and panels on writing. I’ve read a shelf full of writing books. I spent a decade writing software documentation, plus occasional articles and limericks. And I did the two things that I think are most important for any writer:  I read and I wrote. For years, I read anything I could get my hands on, and for years, I wrote.

If that isn’t training, then I don’t know what is.

Maybe some people don’t see it as training because it wasn’t a formal process like passing a CPA exam, completing an internship in clinical psychology, or taking a course in engine repair. Though there are formal writing degrees, the majority of writers don’t have them–for the most part, we train ourselves. That doesn’t mean it’s not training.

I’m not saying that I wasn’t born with a certain amount of writing talent, because I certainly like to think that I was. But if I hadn’t taken the time effort to get what training I could, all I’d have to blog about is Thumbelina.



NOTE: I admit to being cranky today. I also posted on the Femmes Fatales blog about another statement about writing that annoyed me. Must be the weather.


Golden Globes Glory

January 12, 2009

I like Hollywood award shows. I love oohing and aahing over the clothes, and watching the reactions of the winners and losers, and listening to the acceptance speeches, even watching the montages. And I enjoy it all just a little bit more if I have a personal stake in the race, if a favorite actor or show has been nominated.  That’s why this year’s Golden Globes Awards Ceremony may have been my favorite award show ever.

First of, there were the two nominations for True Blood.  Anna Paquin was nominated for Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama, and the show itself was nominated for Best Television Series – Drama. Since True Blood is based on the Sookie Stackhouse series by one of my best friends in the world, the multi-talented Charlaine Harris, you can bet I was cheering on Alan Ball and company. When Paquin won in her category, I screamed so loudly I scared the heck out of my daughter Valerie and may well have caused an avalanche outside. And though True Blood didn’t win its award, all I can say is that it was a true honor for the show to be nominated.

Now the True Blood connection alone would have kept me watching the show, but I also had a tenuous connection with John Adams, one of the nominees for Best Miniseries. When I was in junior high, I met a young actor named Tim Parati, and we went on to high school and college together. He went on to work in theater, and ever since I have glowed with vicarious pride as he’s shown up in an impressive assortment of plays, movies, and TV shows, including John Adams. The fact that Tim plays Ceasar Rodney of Delaware, one of my favorite signers of the Declaration of Independence, only makes it better. So as far as I’m concerned, the Golden Globe John Adams won for Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television is due mostly to Tim’s efforts. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney did okay, too.

Again, either of those connections would have made me feel a special connection with this year’s ceremony, putting me several degrees of separation closer to Kevin Bacon that I ever would have imagined. But I got a special treat during the commercial breaks. Here in the Boston area, there were several promo spots for the WHDH investigative feature Hank Investigates. Each time it was shown, I chanted, “Hank, Hank, Hank,” which freaked out my daughter Maggie. Then the promo cut to Hank Phillippi Ryan herself, who is well known in the Boston area for her investigative reporting. This shocked the heck out of Maggie, who knows the award-winning mystery author Hank Phillippi Ryan, but only  only as one of her mother’s crazy writer friends. Which she is, of course.

So I had one friend who acted in a nominated mini-series, two nominations from a show based on a friends’ books, and another friend on a commercial. If this keeps up, Kevin Bacon is going to be trying to find connections to me! 

So Kevin, if you’re reading this? See you at the next awards show!

New Year’s News?

January 7, 2009

A New Year is supposed to be put one’s focus on that which is new. New outlooks, new projects, and so on. And I am working on new stuff. I’m hip-deep in the new “Where are they now?” mystery, Charlaine Harris and I are working hard on our new urban fantasy anthology, and I’ve got short pieces scheduled for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I’m even going to appear in a whole new sub-genre–I’ve written a noir PI story for a Bleak House anthology edited by Carolyn Haines. Of course, publishing pipelines are long, so that stuff won’t hit the shelves until later this year, or even in 2010.

For now, my new releases are actually new editions of older books.

  • Without Mercy was just released in a Wheeler Publishing Large Print trade paperback. I find it odd to look at my work in large print. It somehow looks as if the whole story is being told in shouts. I’d plug in the new cover, except it looks just like the hardcover.
  • Many Bloody Returns will be released in an Ace trade paperback on February, 3. The cover is a little new, so I’ll go ahead and post it.

bloody comp.indd

  • Though I can’t read enough Polish to tell what the release date is, Fabryka Slow has posted information about the Polish translation of Many Bloody Returns, or Krwawe Powroty, complete with a cover illustration. The newness here comes from it being my first Polish translation, and the cover, which is a whole new look–see for yourself.


  • Curse of the Kissing Cousins will be released as a Berkley Prime Crime paperback on May 5. Though it’s technically a reprint of Without Mercy, with the spiffy new cover, the new title, and the new publisher, it feels like a new release, and I’m planning to hit the road to promote it. There will be a new author photo as well, which was actually taken January 2 of this year. Or does this count as a new edition of the old author…


Happy New Year!

January 1, 2009

As part of my New Years’ Resolutions, I want to post more often. And there’s no better time to start!

Happy New Year to all!