READ LOCAL at Salem Museum on May 20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop by the Salem Museum on Saturday, May 20, if you’re in the Roanoke area. I’ll be there with about two dozen other regional authors.

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The Time It Took to Write Famous Books

How long did it take to write my books?

That’s hard to say. The first one took at least a few years. It was an on-again-off-again process. The second book took a little less than two years. That’s from start to turning in the manuscript, with idle time in between.

I’m always interested in the writing processes of other writers and authors. An infographic by printerinks titled “How Long Did It Take to Write the World’s Most Famous Books?” caught my attention.

In some cases, classic literature and bestsellers were written in very little time. All I can do is bow to these master storytellers.

Here are many of the books listed:

Fitzgerald’s classic took 2.5 years to write.

2.5 days: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

6 days: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

3 weeks: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

3 weeks: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

6 weeks: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

2 months: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

3 months: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

8 months: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

9 months: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

1 year: 1984 by George Orwell

1 year: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

1 year: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

1.5 years: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

1.5 years: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

2 years: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

2.5 years: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

2.5 years: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3 years: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

4 years: The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

5 years: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

5 years: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

6 years: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

10 years: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

10 years: A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

12 years: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

16 years: Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tokien

That was fun. Now we better get back to work.

Erik Larson on Narrative Nonfiction

In recent years I’ve been a student of narrative nonfiction, with a focus on history. It’s what I love to read and what I’ve learned to write. In fact, while my two books published by St. Martin’s Press are in the sports/golf category, I also think of them as historical narrative nonfiction.

ErikLarson
Erik Larson.

Now I’m happily working on another nonfiction book that has nothing to do with golf or sports.

Bestselling author Erik Larson (Isaac’s Storm, The Devil in the White City, Dead Wake and other titles) is a master of historical narrative nonfiction, as are Laura Hillenbrand, Daniel James Brown and others.

Larson has shared a lot about his craft in interviews. This is my opportunity to preserve some of his wisdom where I can find it and hopefully guide others with similar interests.

On Story

In an interview with Creative Nonfiction, Larson said, “If the story doesn’t come alive for you, it’s not going to come alive for the readers.”

Larson’s agent David Black challenged the author to keep refining his proposal  for The Devil in the White City (eight drafts, to be exact) and “concentrate on what makes a powerful story.” A few of those nuggets, according to the author:

“Where is the conflict? Where is the suspense? We’re not talking about making things up; we’re talking about where the story is in real life. Who are your characters? Find the right characters and you’ll have your story.”

The characters don’t usually just show up. You have to look hard and, if you’re Larson, you dig deep in the archives, in places like the Library of Congress.

Chronology

Chronology is simple and powerful in nonfiction storytelling.

“The detailed chronology is my secret weapon,” Larson said. “Because chronological order is the key to any story. If you simply relate a historical event in chronological order, you have done much more than most historians do.”

Choose and organize your material well and also add some foreshadowing when possible.

‘A Viable Book Idea’

In an interview with The Rumpus, Larson discussed his criteria for settling on a book project. The following is paraphrased.

One, he has to be interested.

Two, it has to have a built-in, organic narrative engine, or arc. (Beginning, middle, end.)

Three: You can have a great narrative, but it also needs enough fine-grained personal detail to tell the story. For Larson, this means a deep, rich reservoir of primary materials–letters, diaries, artifacts and more, because that’s what makes the story come alive.

Lastly, find an idea that has barriers to entry, an approach Larson said he learned when he worked at the Wall Street Journal. In other words, an idea complex enough that no one will do the same book.

The Primary Goal

Larson wrapped up his Rumpus interview with a gem for anyone who writes about history.

“I always try to get across that my primary goal as a writer is not to inform, necessarily,” he said.

“My primary goal is to produce as rich a historical experience as I possibly can. So readers can sink into the past and feel like they’ve spent some time there. That they’ve lived another life, however briefly.”

Writers Gather for 10th Regional Conference

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Yours truly and Kim Leigh Martin on the blogging panel on opening night.

This past weekend was the 10th edition of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University. I have been to most of them. Dan Smith is stepping down as director, but, as he told me in an email, he will still be on the scene when we gather at future conferences. That is good news.

Dan Smith.
Dan Smith.

Dan was honored on opening night for his vision and leadership. There wouldn’t be a Roanoke Regional Writers Conference without Dan. He felt the love. It even brought a tear to his eye.

“Dammit,” he said. The words got stuck in his throat.

The highly capable and affable Liz Long will take the reins from Dan.

Following are some of my notes and highlights from the conference.

In her class about how to make editors happy, Carol Alexander, editor of Shenandoah Living, encouraged careful listening in 2017–listening to clients (editors), to readers and to sources. She said, “Be a servant, not a diva.” She also said to expect corrections and make them cheerfully.

Author Rod Belcher had great anecdotes and tips during his session on science fiction and fantasy. “The biggest career skill is tenacity,” Rod said.

Cara Ellen Modisett led a class on travel writing and essays. “Chattanooga is travel for Chicago,” Cara said. She encouraged us to write about our hometowns. Personal writing (memoir and essay) is reporting on yourself. It’s a document of the individual mind at work and play.

Roland Lazenby had a slew of personal stories and observations during his session about not violating the trust of sources. “The deeper you dig,” Roland said, “the more you get to a truly human story.”

I also enjoyed sessions with Terry Maggert and Diane Fanning, and was sorry to miss others. Finally, I always love the conversations in the lobby and the hallways and at lunch, renewing acquaintances and making new ones.

I can’t wait until next year.

‘SHOWBOAT: THE LIFE OF KOBE BRYANT’ By Roland Lazenby

8f35161680f5fe05cb87208bebf2964dOctober 25 was the publication day for SHOWBOAT: THE LIFE OF KOBE BRYANT (Little Brown and Company) by Roland Lazenby, the bestselling author of MICHAEL JORDAN: THE LIFE and numerous other basketball and sports books.

“With the publication of SHOWBOAT: THE LIFE OF KOBE BRYANT, it is high time we recognized author Roland Lazenby for what he has become: the finest sports biographer of our time,” said Peter Golenbock, author of 10 New York Times bestsellers. “First with the astonishing MICHAEL JORDAN: THE LIFE and now his having written an incredibly researched, beautifully written biography of this enigmatic Laker superstar, Lazenby has entered rarified air: one is wowed by what one learns and at the same time you can’t wait to read what comes next.”

That’s the highest praise from someone who knows the genre and the craft. And other stellar reviews are rolling in.

I’ve read Roland’s biographies of Michael Jordan and Jerry West. They’re excellent. As I’ve said before, Roland digs, reports and provides rich context and revelations about these complex sports icons, weaving it all together in a page-turning narrative. What more can I say?

I’m very much looking forward to reading SHOWBOAT.

In addition, I know Roland as someone in our region who is wonderfully generous when it comes to mentoring and encouraging writers and authors. I’ve seen and experienced it firsthand. We are lucky to have him.

‘TRUEVINE’ By Beth Macy

28962954-_uy400_ss400_October 18 was the publication day for TRUEVINE: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South (Little, Brown and Company), which is the second book by New York Times-bestselling author Beth Macy of Roanoke.

Anyone who lives in southwest Virginia and has been even a casual reader of The Roanoke Times through the years is surely familiar with Beth’s exceptional work as a journalist and storyteller who, as her biography says, gives voice to outsiders and underdogs.

Two years ago she made her authorial debut with FACTORY MAN, which was a sensation. I expect a similar reception for TRUEVINE, “the true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back,” says the publisher.

“It’s a story about race, greed and the circus,” writes Beth at her website, “and I’ve been chasing it for more than 25 years. I’m thrilled to say it was just short-listed for a Kirkus Prize in nonfiction, and long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence, a project of the American Library Association.”

I’m not surprised one bit. Based on what I’ve seen, no one chases, researches and writes a true story quite like Beth Macy.

VIDEO: ‘The Giant Awakens’

The giant is back. The mission is unchanged. Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you.

Recently, Adweek reported:

You may be forgiven for thinking the Giant had retired as he hasn’t appeared on TV screens in recent years. But a new campaign launched this month by Deutsch will explain where he’s been—and why he picked now as an ideal time to make his comeback.

This teaser-style launch film, which will (appropriately) air in movie theaters around the country, doesn’t include any shots of the Giant himself. But it leaves no doubt that he is back and bigger than ever.

Finally, I encourage you to check out my ebook, HO! HO! HO!: The Life and Legend of the Jolly Green Giant (at right). It’s a fun read. It may be good for you.