Would-be writers will find Percy’s passionate, pragmatic cheerleading inspiring and energizing.




An accomplished writer comes to the defense of genre.

Percy (The Dead Lands, 2015, etc.) has practiced what he preaches. His novels can be considered genre novels, but they’re more. In this deeply personal and intriguing apologia for the “pop lit” and pop film that he grew up on—he’s read The Gunslinger more than any other book; Jaws is his favorite movie—the author enthusiastically argues for good “plotted fiction,” books that are “neither fish nor fowl, both literary and genre.” He loves story, “discovering what happened next.” Too much literary fiction, he argues, has “fallen under the indulgent spell of…pretty sentences.” Born out of past lectures and articles, this is a craft book about how to be a better writer, but it’s also a colorful memoir about a young boy who loved reading, especially horror and fantasy books, and realized he wanted to be a writer. Each chapter takes on a specific topic. With setting, aim for a few “indelible moments.” Research your setting fully, and “know what you write.” With tension and suspense, “strategize the delivery of bad news.” Violence? Avoid at all costs “gorenography,” which is “hollow, excessive, masturbatory.” Make the ordinary extraordinary, or “we won’t be willing to follow you to long ago and far away.” Also, don’t provide too much back story. Occasionally, Percy is prescriptive. The book abounds with numerous, sometimes-lengthy excerpts from works, including his own, that he admires. One of the book’s strengths is the many instructive examples of close, in-depth readings. Curious as to why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was so popular and “compulsively readable,” he read it twice, then color-coded key passages throughout to reveal what made it tick. Percy is in “awe, hypnotized, overwhelmed” by Michael Chabon’s sentences, which “lavishly uncoil.” On Donna Tartt’s sentences in The Goldfinch: your “eyes bug and your heart hurries.”

Would-be writers will find Percy’s passionate, pragmatic cheerleading inspiring and energizing.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55597-759-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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