How John Grisham Mentored an Unpublished Novelist

What if John Grisham offered to mentor you on writing a novel?

You’d wake up.

But for Tony Vanderwarker it wasn’t a dream. The Charlottesville, Virginia, writer tells how he came under the tutelage of the world-renowned novelist in an interview on With Good Reason (about 15 minutes).

Teaser from With Good Reason:

With seven unpublished novels wasting away on his hard drive, Tony Vanderwarker was astonished when world-renowned author John Grisham offered to take him under his wing and mentor Tony on the art of thriller writing.

Random House: ‘The Journey from Manuscript to Book’

If you are writing a book for one of those big publishing houses, what happens to your manuscript after it leaves the editor’s desk?

The short answer: “A lot.”

Real people (a managing editor, a content applications manager, an ebook technologies director and an art director) at Random House explain a portion of that process in a little under three minutes.

“This video explores the next critical steps in the pre-publishing process,” says Random House, “from copy editing the text to designing and coding each interior page so the book renders beautifully in print and digital formats. Watch the video and go behind the scenes of preparing a manuscript for print and ebook production.”

I never gave it much thought, but there certainly appears to be ample testing of the text and flow on various devices, which makes perfect sense now that ebooks are so prevalent.

(H/T: Robert Bruce, 101 Books)

Reaching Famous and Unattainable People

It’s happened to me. In the last several years, as I’ve blogged and written two books, I’ve had dreamlike experiences. I’ve interviewed well-known people in their fields. With nothing to lose, I’ve pitched stuff and asked for things. Surprising results often followed. I didn’t see any of it coming.

I’ve learned at least one thing: You never know what can happen unless you try. Usually, it’s only necessary to take one small step, or one small risk, at a time.

Which brings me to another Neil.

Neil Barsky hatched a journalism project called The Marshall Project and decided to approach Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York TimesAs reported in a Newsweek Q&A, here’s what happened:

“What made you think of Bill of all people you could have hired?

“NEIL BARSKY: I literally, randomly emailed him. I said, ‘You don’t know me.’ I said, ‘My name’s Neil Barsky, I’m doing this project, this is a long shot, would you be interested in considering working together?’ Not only have I been reading The New York Times my whole life, certainly when he’s been running it, but I have tons of friends at the Times, who are reporters, who uniformly speak highly of him on the record and off the record.

“So he replied to your email?

“NEIL BARSKY: He replied to the email, we had breakfast, then we kept talking. It took about a month to finalize our arrangement, but it’s pretty thrilling.”

How about that? And it started “randomly” with an email.

Is there someone you’re itching to contact? Is the person famous? Do you consider him/her out of your league in some respect? Take a shot anyway.

Q&A: Bestselling Author John Coyne (Conclusion)

John Coyne is a seven-time bestselling author who has written more than 25 books of fiction and nonfiction. He is also a friend, someone I had the good fortune to meet after he published a successful golf novel that focused on Ben Hogan. John encouraged me to write my first book. He also helped me get my first literary agent.

This is the second and concluding part of my Q&A with John. Read Part 1.

Bestselling author John Coyne.
Bestselling author John Coyne.

Q: Describe your writing routine or process.

JOHN COYNE: Well, my website (www.johncoynebooks) and my new book How To Write A Novel In 100 Days go into the writing process for any writer, but I’d say for myself the key has always been to do a little writing every day. I try and write about 1000 words each day. Now, they are not finished copy, but once you have something down on paper (or in a computer) you own it and second drafts are a lot easier than just having a blank page.

Q: What is your approach to research?

JOHN COYNE: I research while I write, as I need the information. The wonder of the Internet is that what you need to know is just a click away. Also, I have a rather extensive library of books on topics. For example, I must have 200-plus books on the history of golf. If nothing else, golf has a lot of facts and figures.

Q: How do you prepare for interviews?

JOHN COYNE: If I am talking about my novels, I really don’t prepare. After writing one, I know everything that I need to know about the book. However, if I am going to talk about golf, golf history, a particular tournament or player, then I try and have the facts of the situation close at hand. At my age, just remembering where my car keys are is a daily struggle.

Q: Tell about your work space or where you like to work. What’s on your desk or close by?

JOHN COYNE: I have a small office on the second floor of our home and it is jammed with book shelves and filing cabinets. I have one desk and I operate with two computers. Why two? I have no idea but I just got a new computer and half of the stuff is on the old computer and I’m too lazy (or inept) to coalesce the files.

Q: What has to happen for you to feel like you’ve had a good writing day?

JOHN COYNE: Write one thousand words before noon so that I can play golf in the afternoon.

Q: What do you like to read?

JOHN COYNE: When I was a lot younger, I read novels. Now I tend to read non-fiction. And the truth is, when I’m writing, I just don’t have time to read much between the daily New York Times, New Yorker and New Republic. These magazines seem to find a way to stack themselves up around the house demanding to be read.

Q: Share a tip or word of advice for an aspiring or less-experienced author.

JOHN COYNE: Try to get published, anyway. Write for the local newspaper, send in a letter to the editor. Whatever you can get published. Also, join a local writing group (they are everywhere) as then you can get feedback on what you have written. That’s very important for all of us, however long we have been at the game.

Q: What is your next project?

JOHN COYNE: Breaking par for eighteen and publishing a bestseller. I’ll take either one and be happy.

Q: Any final comments?

JOHN COYNE: The Internet and Print-on-Demand as well as ebooks and various other forms of self-publishing have changed forever the publishing world. I am not sure how the world of books will change but I do know that the world still needs stories to read or watch. Therefore, the world still needs creative writers. So keep writing.

Q&A: Bestselling Author John Coyne

John Coyne is a seven-time bestselling author who has written more than 25 books of fiction and nonfiction. He is also a friend, someone I had the good fortune to meet after he published a successful golf novel that focused on Ben Hogan. John encouraged me to write my first book. He also helped me get my first literary agent.

When John isn’t writing, there’s a good chance he’s playing or watching golf. Recently, he was kind enough to answer my questions.

Bestselling author John Coyne.
Bestselling author John Coyne.

Q: What is your current project, and how did it come about?

JOHN COYNE: I just finished a non-fiction book entitled: How To Write A Novel In 100 Days. It only took me 356 days to write! I’m now working (and have been working for about six months) on a novel entitled Long Ago and Far Away, which is set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Westchester, New York; Menorca, Spain; St. Louis, Missouri; Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Kentucky.

As the heart of the novel is a murder mystery that is relived and tracked through thirty-plus years of two characters who were not involved in the murder, but whose lives were shaped in many ways by the event. There is no golf angle in this novel.

Q: What drew you to the story?

JOHN COYNE: I had lived in Ethiopia in the 1960s and knew the Empire then when it was ruled by Haile Selassie. It is a beautiful and fascinating country full of beautiful and fascinating people. (The only problem is that is only has one nine-hole golf course!)

A few years ago at a used book store, I came across a copy of a small guide book that was published in 1965 or so. I had never seen the book before or knew about it. Of course, Ethiopia, like the rest of the world, has changed. In fact, they are building a subway in the capital now which to me seems beyond comprehension.

Having the book, I began to think it might make a nice plot device and from that, I began to churn up plot ideas.

Q: Share a surprise and a challenge.

JOHN COYNE: When I started working on the book, I thought it was going to be mainly about the male character, but the female character became much more interesting to me, and the center of the plot—was it a murder?—became the focus on the story. I didn’t know any of that when I wrote the first sentence. The story itself told its own story, I guess.

Q: What drew you to writing and how did you get started?

JOHN COYNE: I remember when I was about ten or eleven reading a novel and being swept up with the prose and thinking not “oh, how beautiful this is said,” or even “I wish I had written that,” but thinking “to write this a person would be very powerful.” Odd that a little kid might come to that conclusion, but for me the ability to write such prose made a person “powerful.” I guess what I thought was that to write in such a way made a person important.

Q: How did you become a writing instructor?

JOHN COYNE: I have helped, in some minor and major ways, friends start and/or finish their books and over the years I have developed a series of suggestions that I think work for all writers. So, I pulled them together recently into How To Write A Novel in 100 Days.

TO BE CONTINUED.  Next time I’ll share what John said about the writing life.

My Grandma Edna

(A little something I wrote about my Grandma Edna when she died in March 2005. She lived her entire life in Jeffersonville, Indiana.)

Today we put Grandma Edna in the ground. Her full name was Edna Laura Etta Eich.

Everyone loved grandma. The sentimental memories of a grandson? Perhaps. But she did possess angelic qualities that I haven’t encountered in any other person.

Others said so, too. And it wasn’t people just saying nice things because she had passed. Friends and church members who knew her for years cried tears that seemed to come from some deep reservoir of sorrow.

My Uncle Bruce stood up and spoke about his mom. I wish I could tell you what he said. I can tell you it was heartfelt, the humble words of a son who was blessed with a sweet loving mother. (My dad, a former minister accustomed to these occasions, said he couldn’t have done it. Too hard to find words. Too emotional.)

Many others came forward and spoke about how they met grandma and what she meant to them. Then my cousin Tony walked to the front of the church sanctuary and shared a story about our grandma.

Grandma was attending the Ash Wednesday service with Tony when everyone was asked to write down his or her sins on a piece of paper and pass it to the center aisle. All the scraps of paper would be taken up front to the cross and burned. Hard of hearing, it took grandma a few extra moments to understand what was happening. An awkward pause followed.

Finally, after all had passed their slips to the center aisle, grandma leaned toward Tony and whispered, “I don’t have anything to write down.”

Upholding Fundamentals, ‘Delivery Methods Be Damned’

Michael Bradley.

As college kids around the country begin a new term, Michael Bradley will have a simple focus for the 20 students in his sports journalism class at Villanova University. The fundamentals. Reporting. Interviewing. Organizing. Writing.

Without those basics, not much else matters Bradley said in his recent piece for the National Sports Journalism Center.

Bradley opened with an anecdote about a game story that had a grammatical error in the first paragraph. The article had surely made the social media rounds “before the printed page reached [his] driveway,” but the mistake stopped Bradley from reading the rest of the story.

“If the writer, and more importantly the editor, couldn’t get it right out of the chute, just imagine what horrors awaited readers later on,” Bradley wrote.

The Philadelphia writer, broadcaster and teacher deeply cares about getting it right.

What can’t be ignored amidst the wave of the new is the enduring need for journalists to do their jobs properly, delivery methods be damned. If you can’t report, interview, cultivate sources, organize facts, and yes write, it doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers you have. You won’t be relevant or reliable.

Fundamentals Don’t Change

Bradley continued with worthwhile advice for anyone who writes.

The heart of journalism remains the ability to write clearly and directly. It doesn’t matter whether you are on TV, radio or the web, if you can’t express yourself with the written word, you won’t be successful. The industry may change, but its fundamentals don’t. And that’s what my students are going to hear at the outset and what they are going to learn throughout the semester.

Bradley’s class sounds like it might be less fun, but it should be more fulfilling. His students will be asked to master the nuts and bolts of sports journalism.

It may not be fun to spend the better part of two weeks learning how to organize basic facts into an inverted pyramid-style straight news story, but it’s vital for any kind of media member to know that. It isn’t as much fun to learn various components of sports reporting and digging for stories as it is to send out Instagram photos and videos, but if you can’t find the information, you can’t get it out there.

I wish I could sit in for a class or two or three.