How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman – Book Review

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, a Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins

There are hundreds, thousands, millions of ways to write a novel, many of them good. Of course, many of them are also oh so very bad. Luckily, if you WANT to write a bad novel, Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman have got you covered. These two long-time denizens of the world of writing have identified 200 Very Bad Things writers do in their novels in categories such as plot, character, style, and world building and have laid them out with detail so you can either avoid them or aim for them, depending on what you’re going for.

The advice here is wonderful. Mittelmark and Newman are not telling you what to write or how to write, because there are so many different things that work for different people. But seriously, no matter who you are, this stuff is bad and should be avoided at all costs. I’m not sure that by simply avoiding all of this you can write a good novel, but you can definitely make your novel better, something that will be hugely helpful for all of you beginning your NaNoWriMo work (you may want to revise with this by your side).

There was something that seemed slightly off, I felt that I didn’t always know from one moment to the next whether they were warning writers away from something bad or pretending to encourage the terrible thing. However, the fact that the conceit didn’t always seem consistent never impeded my ability to understand just what was horrible and what was not. I am also able to forgive any inconsistencies because this conceit made How Not to Write a Novel hugely engaging to read. I figured I’d get some pointers for my own potential writing and more ways to think about what I read, but my reading of How Not to Write a Novel was as much about enjoyment of the style and authorial voice as it was about analyzing specific writing issues.

If all writing books were as fun and helpful as How Not to Write a Novel, I might have a blog of nothing but writing books.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop by John Scalzi – Book Review

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing by John Scalzi
Published by Subterranean Press

If you want to learn how to craft a sentence, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop (henceforth known as You’re Not Fooling Anyone) is not the writing guide you’re looking for. If, however, you want to know what life is like as a full-time professional writer, and how to actually accomplish such a life, You’re Not Fooling Anyone is a great guide.

The essays in You’re Not Fooling Anyone are culled from Scalzi’s popular blog Whatever. Scalzi is a well-known author of science fiction, but he writes on Whatever about a broad range of topics.  He has a tendency to not categorize his posts in any way, so compiling so many of his pieces on writing into one place is very helpful, because if you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for you might not find them otherwise. There is some repetition occasionally between essays, but that is to be expected as they were written to stand alone and, frankly, sometimes the same question comes up more than once.

Perhaps the most interesting and refreshing thing about You’re Not Fooling Anyone is Scalzi’s willingness to detail what he makes (well, made, this book is nearly six years old and many of the essays even older, and in the meantime he has become an increasingly prominent and – theoretically – well-paid novelist) and how he cobbles together a living from his writing. Many readers have the idea that novelists have the ability to work solely on their fiction, but for most that is not true, unless they have a partner who basically makes enough for their whole family. Most authors have to keep a day job of one kind or another, but for Scalzi that day job is freelance writing, including ad copy. Scalzi encourages would-be writers not to be romantic about the writing life. Certainly there may be some projects with which you would not want to be associated, but by and large, if it will allow you to pay the bills and you can do it, Scalzi advises that you do so. That is, if you want to be a working writer and actually pay the bills.  There is practical advice on the tools to help you find paying freelance gigs (although, again, they may be slightly dated), and the timeless advice about making sure you actually get paid for said writing.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone would be a worthwhile book for writers just for the practical and forthright information and advice, but when combined with Scalzi’s distinctive and entertaining voice, it becomes a must-read.

Buy this book from:
Somewhere online, it seems to only be available as an ebook at the moment.

Source: Personal copy.

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The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson – Audiobook Review

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson, read by the author
Published in audio by Harper Audio, published in print by Harper Perennial, imprints of Harper Collins


There exists some nonfiction that I have a difficult time explaining in a concise manner while still making it sound somewhat interesting. “The Dead Beat” is one of those books. If put on the spot to describe the book, I would probably say, “it is about obituaries.” When pressed for more detail, I might be able to come up with, “it is about obituaries and the people who write them and, to a lesser extent, the people who read them.” Since that doesn’t sound the least bit interesting, I’m going to do something I do irregularly and provide you with the publisher’s description.

Marilyn Johnson was enthralled by the remarkable lives that were marching out of this world—so she sought out the best obits in the English language and the people who spent their lives writing about the dead. She surveyed the darkest corners of Internet chat rooms, and made a pilgrimage to London to savor the most caustic and literate obits of all. Now she leads us on a compelling journey into the cult and culture behind the obituary page and the unusual lives we don’t quite appreciate until they’re gone.

Ah yes, that’s much better.

Thoughts on the story:

I was morbidly fascinated by “The Dead Beat.” Not so much by all of the obituaries, but by all of the people who are themselves so morbidly fascinated by obituaries. Seriously, people, the obituarist (yes, that is a real word, at least as per this book and yes, my spell checker thinks I’m lying about it being a real word) convention was begun by a group of enthusiasts. Enthusiasts! About obituaries! I’ve heard the trope about elderly people reading the obituaries because it is where they can see their friends and know that the obituaries are many famous people are filed with newspapers well ahead of those people’s deaths just in case something should happen, but I had no idea how beloved obituaries are by so many.

I’m not entirely sure why I thought I would want to read (or listen to, in this case) this book, actually, because I’m pretty sure that before picking it up I had never in my life read an obituary of any sort. Even so, Johnson not only kept me entertained and got me educated, she almost made me want to start picking up obituaries and reading them. And, really, what higher praise can I give an author of nonfiction than to say that she kept me interested in something in which I have no inherent interest?

Thoughts on the audio production:

I thought that Johnson was actually a very good choice to read her own book. She didn’t necessarily have a huge range of emotion in her reading but the texts wasn’t such that needed a huge range, other than from somber to humorous to ironic. The fact that she knew well her subject and the people she was interviewing so well made her narration a net positive for the audiobook.


Definitely an interesting book, I think I would recommend it in either print or audio.

Buy this book from:
Audible: Audio
Powells: Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Print*
Amazon: Print*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst – Book Review

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

Octavia Frost is a very successful novelist, but she’s not entirely happy with all of her books. In fact, she would change the endings of many or most of them if she could. And, in fact, she’s reasonably certain that she can; in fact, Octavia’s latest book is not so much a story in and of itself, but a reworking of the endings of all of her previous novels. She is on her way to deliver this very work to her publisher in New York when she learns that her estranged son has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend.

“The Nobodies Album” alternates between Octavia’s journey to find out what happened with her son Milo, a famous rock star in his own right, and her manuscript with the new endings to her old books. I was very hesitant about the idea of rewritten endings of imaginary books at first, but oh my gosh, did it ever work. Parkhurst deftly wove them together with Octavia’s story, exploring the Frost’s painful past and the reason for Milo and Octavia’s estrangement as well as the question of what happened between Milo and his girlfriend. Somehow Parkhurst managed to write and re-write endings to books that provided the reader with enlightenment as to Octavia’s own story while also making them into snippets of stories that pulled me in completely. I really, really wish that some of these were real books.

I loved “The Nobodies Album.” It just had so much going for it: family strife, murder, writing and publishing, a mother’s love and guilt, and mystery. All of these elements worked together to create book that I was able to completely lose myself in. If you liked Parkhurst’s first novel, “The Dogs of Babel,” “The Nobodies Album” is just as creative and an even better book. Highly recommended

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound

This review was done with a book received from the publisher via Shelf Awareness.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.