My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Laura Resnick is a multi-genre writer who's been making her living at this writing thing for quite a while. She's written regular columns for the official publications of multiple writers' organizations, and this book is a collection of columns on a variety of topics. They were all written for an audience of writers, and I've enjoyed this book very much, enough to read it more than once.
The Luck Myth
The Reader's Mighty Pen
Copy Edits We Have Known and Hated
...Does Not Meet Our Needs at This Time...
The Best Bad Advice
Enlarge Your Penis
The Unfinished Conversation
The Long Haul
Ow! Ow! Owwww!
I'll Just Sit Here in the Dark
It Can Happen Here -- And Often Does
Nurturing the Nature
Those Who Are About to Reboot, We Salute You!
Vive La France!
Back in the Day
The Wages of Obsession
Orphans of the Storm
In Praise of Old Friends
How Long Does It Take?
Let's Face the Music
The Artist's Knife
What I've Learned from Will
Selling Elsewhere Is the Best Revenge
Lions By Night
The most memorable thing about this book, for me at least, is how wonderfully readable Laura Resnick's writing is. She has an easy, flowing style that carries you right along. Her pacing is pretty much perfect, making this an ideal book to read for relaxation. This isn't the sort of book you have to focus on, as if you're going to be taking notes. Instead it's the kind of book you read because it's fun, because it'll make you laugh, or smirk, or go "Huh" over something interesting, something you didn't know before.
One of my favorite essays here is one I've talked about before, It Can Happen Here -- And Often Does. If you've been reading my blog since early 2013, you might've read that post already. If not, click through and check it out, seriously, because the story is hilarious in a horrifying sort of way. The TL;DR is that, very late in the publication process, an editor went through and changed a character in a book from an adolescent boy to a raccoon. It was too late to fix it, too late to cancel the book, and it went out that way, over the strong protests of the writer and her agent. Really, you've got to read that if you haven't. (IMO, this one article is a good reason all by itself to get this book.)
As a writer who's had their blood pressure spike over especially egregious copyedits a time or two, "Copy Edits We Have Known and Hated" made me wish (for just a moment) that we still worked edits on paper, because Laura relates how her father once handled a particularly awful copyedit and I was envious for a minute or two.
Perhaps the most volatile reaction to a copy edit that I ever saw was that of my father, science fiction writer Mike Resnick. He wrote a novel in which the narrative describes one character, a leprechaun, as having an Irish accent. The copy editor went through the entire manuscript and changed every single word the character spoke which ended in ing to in'. Showin' a surprisin' streak of practicality, Pop went out and had a "stet" stamp made at the local print shop, rather than writin' stet ("let it stand") a thousand times. And when he sent the heavily stetted manuscript back to the publisher, he phoned the executive editor and warned him that if he didn't make these (stet) changes, Pop would personally fly to New York and rip his heart out of his chest.
Any writer who's worked a particularly awful set of edits in MS Word, one at a time, is probably with me in feeling a twinge of envy for Mr. Resnick's "stet" stamp. [cough]
"The Best Bad Advice" is full of examples of same that are funny in a way that makes you smirk and eyeroll, of the "Why don't you just write a bestseller so you don't have to worry about money anymore?" type. I've certainly gotten some really awful advice from people who've never written so much as a short story, but who are sure they have great advice to give anyway. (One friend whom I let read an SF romance WIP back in the 80s was sure I should rip out all the "soapy stuff." He wasn't a writer (although he was an SF fan) and he didn't seem to get that something not to his taste (romance in this case) wasn't necessarily bad or a mistake. He was a bit offended when I told him I wouldn't be making that particular change.) Laura relates bad advice she's gotten herself, and bad advice other writers have related to her, and it was all recognizable in tone and type, even if I'd never gotten this or that particular flavor of advice myself. But one example, and the reaction to it, made me laugh out loud.
Ray Feist recalls once hearing an editor tell an audience that he preferred first-time writers to approach him directly, not through an agent. Feist says, "Under my breath I muttered, 'And armies prefer it when the other guys surrender without firing a shot.'"
I know -- agents -- but considering when this was likely written, and that the editor in question would probably have the same attitude about a newbie writer hiring an IP attorney instead of an agent, I think Mr. Feist's observation is still valid. :)
Every writer who is or wants to go tradpub with novels should read "Orphans of the Storm." Laura tells about how she was orphaned -- her editor left the publishing house in the middle of working on Laura's very first book -- and her new editor sounds like the sort of person you'd expect to show up in a Stephen King book. New Editor had no interest in Laura or her book, nor in the other manuscripts her first editor had asked to look at, considered Laura to be an unwelcome burden added to an already overlarge workload, and seemed to be doing everything she could to passive-agressively push Laura into leaving the publisher completely. The situation could've killed Laura's career -- and actually has killed the careers of some writers who couldn't manage the situation. Definitely read this one. And maybe take some notes, if you're going tradpub with your novels.
More favorites -- "Enlarge Your Penis," "Jabla," "Gunk," "Lions By Night." These are just a few that pop up in my mind when I see the titles, without even skimming back throught he book to remind myself of what they were about, as I usually have to do. If something short, whether story or essay, sticks in my mind well enough that I remember it from the title, it's definitely a good piece and worth a read.
All the essays in this book are worth a read -- I've only called out a few of my favorites. As I said above, Laura's style is smooth and enjoyable. This is another Chatting About The Writing Life kind of book that's fun to read, and made me feel part of a community. If you're a writer, and you've ever hung out with a friend and had an enjoyable time mutually griping about things you agree are annoying (my best friend and I used to refer to it as "being in violent agreement") then you'll enjoy this book. Kick back with a drink and a snack and have fun hanging with Laura for a while.