‘Getting to Zero’: David Brooks on Ernest Hemingway

In April, while in Havana, New York Times columnist David Brooks visited Ernest Hemingway’s house. Brooks filed a column that focused on Hemingway’s later years, which he characterized as a sad and prolonged decline.

And yet despite his flaws Hemingway still managed to produce some of the same magic prose that made him a world-famous novelist.

Brooks wrote:

When you see how he did it, three things leap out. The first is the most mundane — the daily disciplines of the job. In the house, there is a small bed where he laid out his notes and a narrow shelf where he stood, stared at a blank wall and churned out his daily word count. Sometimes it seems to have been the structure of concrete behavior — the professional routines — that served as a lifeline when all else was crumbling.

Second, there seem to have been moments of self-forgetting. Dorothy Sayers has an essay in which she notes it’s fashionable to say you do your work to serve the community. But if you do any line of work for the community, she argues, you’ll end up falsifying your work, because you’ll be angling it for applause. You’ll feel people owe you something for your work. But if you just try to serve the work — focusing on each concrete task and doing it the way it’s supposed to be done — then you’ll end up, obliquely, serving the community more. Sometimes the only way to be good at a job is to lose the self-consciousness embedded in the question, “How’m I doing?”

Finally, there was the act of cutting out. When Hemingway was successful, he cut out his mannerisms and self-pity.

Read the entire column.


How I Won’t Remember Harper Lee

Nelle Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, died in her sleep on February 19 in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. She was 89.

Lee is literary royalty.

“All I want to be,” she said a long time ago, “is the Jane Austen of South Alabama.”

It would seem that she far exceeded her goal.

I will cherish some memories about Lee and her work, but I won’t remember her for Go Set a Watchman, a lost-and-found manuscript from 1957 that was published as Lee’s second novel a year ago. I haven’t read Go Set a Watchman. I doubt that I will. It strikes me as an opportunistic publishing episode that should not have happened.

And yet, it’s not a blemish on Lee’s legacy. Not for me. Instead of reading “Watchman,” I’ll just read “Mockingbird” again. There will be many others who do the same.

The New York Times obituary and video.

How to Write a Book in 18 Holes

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.

Bestselling author John Coyne.
Bestselling author John Coyne.

I recently published a book entitled How To Write A Novel in 100 Days. Now I thought I might attempt to tighten that frame of reference (and time) and focus on, How To Write a Book in 18 Holes.

Over my writing career I have published three novels on golf, and edited three books of golf instruction. I have some advice on how to do both for anyone who writes or plays golf, or both, like myself.

In my mind, playing golf and writing a novel are incongruously connected. Let me try and explain.

Golfers enjoy playing alone, often playing early in the day or late in the evening after the sun has set when it’s cool and quiet and the course is empty. Why? Well, as all golfers know, we have to work on our game without the distractions of others.

The same is true for writers.

The first task for a writer is finding a quiet place to work. A comfortable room where it’s just you and the blank page. Writing a perfect sentence takes as much time and effort as grooving one’s golf swing. You have to do it more than once to get it right.

Nothing is more intimidating to a writer as a blank sheet of paper or an empty computer screen. It sits there in its emptiness. Staring at you as if to ask: Now what do you have to say?

Golfers face similar fears. Standing on the first tee, for example, staring down the empty fairway, they tell themselves:

  • Keep it straight.
  • Keep it out of trouble.
  • And whatever else, don’t top it!

So, staring at a blank sheet of paper or empty computer screen, or standing alone with a driver in your hands on the first tee, the fears and demands for both writers and golfers are similar: Get me off to a good round of golf! I’ll start writing my novel now!

Still, the writer might secretly think at that moment: I’m going to write a bestseller!

The golfer might secretly declare: I’m going to break par for the first time in my life. Continue reading “How to Write a Book in 18 Holes”

January 23: Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

roland lazenby and me
Conference director Dan Smith (left) and author and biographer Roland Lazenby.

UPDATE: The conference has been rescheduled for Saturday, January 30, due to an expected snowstorm.

The 2016 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference is on Saturday, January 23, at Hollins University. (For details, schedule and to register, go here.)

Twenty or so writers, authors, journalists and publishing professionals will speak and teach classes on a range of topics, including yours truly. This is the ninth edition of the popular writers conference.

More from conference director Dan Smith:

The conference, which has been held over two days for the past eight years and has featured 24 classes each year, has slimmed down in every respect for the coming year. The entire conference will be contained on Saturday and the number of classes will be trimmed to a more manageable 18. The cost of the conference has also been reduced to $65, including lunch on Saturday in the Hollins dining room.

This year’s featured topic is blogging and there will be three classes held for those interested in beginning a blog or improving the one they have (including increasing the following). Other classes will deal with storytelling, fiction, biography, memoir, converting a manuscript to the stage, editing, publishing (traditional and self-publishing), and poetry.



Saturday, January 23, 2016 [snow date January 30]

All classes will be held in the Dana Science Building.

[#12 on the campus map]  Continue reading “January 23: Roanoke Regional Writers Conference”

5 Tips for Getting a Studio-Quality Author Photo Without Paying for It

Every step as a first-time author is new, and that includes the author photo. According to my book contract, it was my responsibility to provide an author photo to the publisher. Following are five tips I discovered for producing a snazzy author photo without putting a dent in the bank account.

My author photo.
My author photo.

1. Get professional help at low or no cost. Snapping your own author photo may be easy and permissible, but it’s unlikely to match the highly skilled efforts of a professional photographer. And it’s possible to hire a pro without paying studio prices. One option is to offer your writing services in trade for photography. Another is to lure a photographer with the promise of a photo credit on your book or a mention and link at your website. I asked a friend who is an art director to assist me with my author photo. He gladly accepted the job without pay, telling me all he wanted was a photo credit and an autographed copy of my book.

2. Wear appropriate and complementary attire. Things to consider include the image you want to project and what colors and styles look best on you. Since my book was about golf, I decided to wear a polo shirt, slacks and loafers. On the eve of the photo shoot, I searched my closet for shirt options and asked my wife to weigh in. A light-blue polo was the winning pick.

3. Have photo ideas but trust the pro. Arrive at the shoot with ideas about your author photo. Do you want a head shot only? Are there particular poses or looks you like or dislike? That said, be open to the ideas and direction of the photographer. There’s a reason why they’re pros—they make people look terrific. I met my friend at a local country club and we rode a golf cart to find attractive course settings. He snapped numerous pictures of me in a variety of poses. Later, he used his photo-editing skills to merge shots of me with different course backgrounds to create the best images.

4. Ask for feedback to choose best shots. It’s wise to consider the opinions of others before making your author photo selection(s). I chose a few people who have my best interests in mind—the photographer, my literary agent and my wife. All three told me which photos they liked best. Then I made my final picks.

5. Say “thank you” in a special way. If, like me, you’re able to get an author photo for low or no cost, be sure to express your gratitude with a thank-you note or more if your budget allows. I sent my photographer friend a gift card for a local restaurant. He treated his wife and mother-in-law to a fancy lunch that included a hot fudge brownie for dessert. It was a sweet deal for both of us.