I hope you’ll enjoy the baker’s dozen tidbits from famous and not-so-famous authors I’ve stuffed into this book-lover’s stocking.
Linda Fairstein: When I began writing Into the Lion’s Den, the idea of assuming the voice of a twelve-year old was daunting. In my extended family and among my friends, I know a lot of kids that age. When at a Thanksgiving dinner, I found myself with a notebook writing down certain phrases. For instance, the word “fiblet” meaning a little lie, is one of the words with which I became familiar. Hanging around with today’s kids is almost like referring to an urban dictionary.
Louis Begley: In correcting the German translation of my book, it struck me my dialogue is quite funny. How a writing style comes about—I really can’t tell you. I will tell you though, I’m a very good listener. I try to get into the longest line at the supermarket so I can hear what people in front of me are saying. I love listening to conversations. I pay attention to how people talk.
Mary Kubica: When I think about what I’d be doing if I weren’t a writer, I’d return to being a high school history teacher. Now, I volunteer at an animal shelter, my bucket list includes owning my own shelter.
Dave Barry: I got into LIV, Miami’s hottest nightclub. I was blown away by the concept of a celebrity DJ. The same skill set required to operate a microwave oven renders the DJ an internationally valued talent. If you want to stand around and listen to incredibly loud music played by a guy pushing a button, and if you want to purchase dinks for twenty dollars a pop, it’s a fun place to go.
Laura Lippman: The most important lesson I’ve learned about writing is to just do it. To get up and write, and do it regularly. I think people make a mistake in talking about developing discipline. Discipline is a scary word. It doesn’t sound like fun, and it’s difficult to maintain. I think what really works is habit. It’s crucial to develop the habit of writing. That’s what I’ve learned—to build writing into becoming a habit.
John Sandford: When I was a newspaper reporter, I heard the funniest stories from cops. Many cops have a good sense of humor. You almost have to have that to do the job. Some very weird and funny things happen on the street. I try working them into my books. Many things in the books are more stupid than just plain funny. Working with cops you realize that a lot of the people they meet are really dumb. And they do really dumb stuff. It can lead to tragedy, and many of these stories are really a complex mixture of comedy and tragedy.
Liz Kay: In my fiction, writing dialogue is the most fun for me. In my poetry, I don’t use dialogue. The language of poetry is so far removed from the way we actually speak. Moving into a world where I could create snippets of conversation like the language used in daily life, was my way of making art out of conversational language.
Joseph Finder: When I re-read my own book after it’s been published, I usually find something I would have done differently. With each book, I’m more demanding of myself. If a writer isn’t getting better at the craft, something’s wrong. That can make writing new novels harder. Because our critical faculties are more highly developed, we become less tolerant of mistakes.
Nathan Hill: In some ways, I think writing a novel should be like planting and tending a garden. A garden isn’t a failure if thousands of people don’t look at it. A gardener loves gardening because it brings a measure of joy. The writing itself brings me joy. I think having a novel published should be viewed as a side-effect of the writing.
Lynn Rosen: As an eighty-four-year old debut author, I’ve come to realize my writing style is simply the voice in my head. I write down what that voice tells me. For me, the creative and performing arts involve transcendence beyond the moment. I’m engrossed by the question of how we access art and process our feelings about it, and that informs my writing. I don’t write the way I do in a purposeful way. It’s simply a result of how I think.
Daniel Silva: I always thought the dumbest piece of advice I ever heard was ‘Write what you know.’ I disagree. Write what you’re passionate about. Choose your material and then bury your face in it.
Camille Perri: Getting my first novel published was a long, long road. As a kid, I wrote stories. I spent a lot of time in the library. Books and writing have always been a huge part of my life, and it was always my dream to become a writer. I was relentless in this pursuit. I have loads of unpublished books. But I kept going. Even if my novel hadn’t been published, I would still be writing tomorrow morning.
Ace Atkins: I think dialogue is the engine driving a novel. It propels the story and bespeaks character. A novel’s characters are made real by their dialogue more than by anything else. I’ve always felt dialogue is not just what people say to each other; it’s what they do to each other with words.
Mark Rubinstein’s latest book is Bedlam’s Door: True Tales of Madness and Hope, a medical/psychiatric memoir.