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How to Write

August 1st, 2006

I’ve been thinking about writing. Last Saturday, I attended a writers’ workshop, Write Now, which is sponsored annually by our local Phoenix Sisters in Crime (SinC) chapter. I heard talks by several authors and others in the publishing and editing fields about what it takes to write a book. Every time I attend one of these writers’ workshops or conferences, I learn something and come away with good ideas, but the major thing they do for me these days is cause me to ponder the art of writing. Now that I do so much of it, and have done it for so long, I have ideas of my own.

At the Write Now conference, the speakers talked at length about plotting, atmosphere, and character development, all of which is extraordinarily important. You just about have to master the basics if you want to write. I hear editors complain continually about receiving manuscripts from people who can neither spell nor construct a sentence. And yet, you point out, Dear Reader, what about some of the really genius writers who wrote earth-shattering literature that played with grammar and language to a fare-thee-well? Shakespeare, for instance, who made up words with wild abandon, or James Joyce, who created a monument of English literature without resort to sentences, punctuation, or a capital letter?

I think of Picasso. He stood the art world on its head by deciding to paint in two dimensions. But he didn’t start out as a Cubist. If you look as his earlier work, you’ll see that he could draw a realistic 3-D picture with the best of them. James Joyce knew one end of a sentence from another, so well, in fact, that he could mold the words like clay and create a masterpiece.

I expound, Dear Reader, and grow boring. So I’ll atone by giving you a couple of ideas for good books to read. Two of the speakers at the conference were fellow Poisoned Pen authors. Twist Phelan writes the Pinnacle Peak mystery series, which are set in the fictitious town of Pinnacle Peak, AZ. Her sleuth, Hannah Dain, is a lawyer/extreme sports enthusiast, and all of Twist’s books explore family relations. Jon Talton writes the David Mapstone mystery series. Jon is a columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper here in Phoenix. His series is set here, and the city is very much a character in his books. David Mapstone is a “defrocked history professor” (Jon’s words), who is a detective with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s department, working mostly on cold cases. Jon and I will be launching our new books together on September 12. (See the “Events” page for details) The third author who spoke at the conference was the excellent Jewell Parker Rhodes, about whom I will write more later.

And finally, thanks to my webmaster/brother, there is a new picture of me on the “Press Kit” page of this site, if you are intereseted in looking at the new $113 hairdo.

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