Purveyor of Tall Tales.

Starve Better

There are books that make writing fiction (or writing anything) sound like a deep and mysterious art practiced by a higher form of intellectual being. Frequently, such material is written by someone you have never heard of with a handful of credits from a list of publishers who you have likewise never heard of and/or teach at such and such university but have no fiction credits.

Such material is to be distrusted and avoided.

There are books that make writing decent fiction sound like a lot of hard but fun work, where competency and a reasonable level of skill can be reached through hard work. These are usually written by people you have heard of, in the genre world they are the likes of King, Kress, Card (though his personal outlook is a little hard to get on with), Delany and so on.

Such material is to be paid attention to but is not gospel.

Occasionally, there are books on writing by people who you probably haven’t heard of unless you submit regularly to short fiction or read very broadly within genre seeking out small press items as a matter of course. These guys are quietly beavering away earning a living writing and frequently eschewing the common apocryphal Rules that tend to get bandied around online. I think these are ignored at your peril. That’s why I was delighted to see Nick Mamatas on Scalzi’s Big Idea recently pushing his new book Starve Better.

Being the susceptible marketing whore that I am, I immediately bought it via Kindle. Nick rejected one of my short stories when he was at Clarkesworld. At that point I wasn’t getting much feedback from editors or slush readers but Nick made a point of taking the time to write some feedback (as he did, I believe, with most submissions) and it was good, useful, stuff without the sugar coating you frequently get from readers closer to home. I was keen to see what else he had to say on the subject.

I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a great book to make you think about why you write; what you write and how you write while challenging prevailing wisdom. Moreover, it’s an entertaining read and I went through the thing in pretty much one sitting but I’m very likely to go back to it again and again because there’s lots of good stuff in there. Aside from anything else it’s a good kipper to the face when those unhelpful habits start creeping back in, like opening my laptop in a coffee shop.

It’s brilliant: go read it.*

* Naturally, I doubt my little plug will even register versus Scalzi or anyone else but a modest bit of unique link-juice will, I hope, help and not everyone I know who writes reads Whatever. Hard as that is to believe. 🙂

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