I love having a library of resources about writing. Sure, I could check them out of the library, but no library in my neighborhood is open when I get up at 3 a.m. When I need to understand a craft element, get a character interview form, jumpstart my engine with writing insights, I want to go right over to my bookshelf and find what I need. Besides all those books distract me, and I end up spending hours when I meant to spend a few minutes.
Sure I go on-line for help. Sure I get some books from the library. But, there is nothing like having a text in your hand you can mark up and put stickies on. How many how-to books do you own? See? We can’t help ourselves.
I ordered a book this summer that I am just getting around to reading. OMG! What took me so long to find this thing, and why didn’t I devour it the day it came in the mail???
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron is the most powerful book on how-to write I have ever read. I’m a pretty good skimmer, looking for the good stuff when I “read” a book on writing. Not this time. I am READING this book, every word, and some parts more than once.
What Ephron does so brilliantly is to break the book into four segments: Planning, Writing, Revising, and Selling. These are not equal parts. Planning takes up more than a third of her pages. An even larger segment is “Writing”. “Revising” and “Selling” are the smallest segments.
I know, that sounds just like all the others. But her planning section, for example, really does help you plan. It is not generic, plain vanilla. She is specific!
She breaks planning into manageable bits, explains the bit, shows examples of the bit, has you practice the bit, and then you transfer that bit-ness to your own novel and commit to paper that bit in your book. It is superb teaching without ever meeting us. Each section allows ample opportunities to grasp the concepts presented because she comes at each from more than one angle.
She writes in a practical, workshop kind of way without being demeaning or condescending. Her tone is one of helpful, insightful, supportive guide. She makes you think you can do this thing called mystery writing; it’s just of matter of stringing the bits together. Of course, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but I am talking about the attitude here.
Maybe it is because I dumped my almost-done mystery and am trying to figure out how to start it all over again. That book is percolating in my mind, waiting to be poured onto the page when it is dark and strong enough. Maybe that is why I am so taken with the book.
I am seeing so clearly why the dumped book failed. I understand everything Ephron is explaining, modeling, and demonstrating. I am even encouraged by her to believe that I can write a mystery.
But understanding is still such the long way from actualization. I know what good writing is when I read it. The challenge, as always, is not just in understanding but in translating that understanding to an engaging and challenging mystery of my own. Hallie is doing her part. Now it’s my turn to step up to the plate.