Scratch a Pulitzer Prize winner, find a former Hallmark Card employee with a troubled past and a passion to write. Early on in this spirited handbook for beginners, Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb, 1986, etc.) introduces the concept of a palimpsest, a manuscript written on more than once, with the earlier writing perhaps still legible. Such are the rules of the game the author operates under in constructing this multifaceted work. On the surface sits a workmanlike narrative that offers solid advice on the craft of writing and covers all the important bases: motivation, voice, structure, research, and getting published. Rhodes teaches by example and in doing so shows he also knows how to sell: Within the first 100 pages he manages to plug or provide juicy paragraphs from eight of his published books and a work-in- progress. Beneath this discourse shines an anthology of meditations, poems, and anecdotes on writing by a menagerie of the gifted, including Anthony Trollope, Fran Lebowitz, Walt Whitman, and Sherwood Anderson. In the base layer of the book lurk the closet skeletons of Rhodes's psyche, revealed in a small handful of frightening autobiographical asides with which he somehow cannot resist shocking his pupils. When an early novel had trouble getting off the ground, suddenly his ``old flirtation with suicide returned.'' Similarly, comments about a ruined previous marriage and a painful childhood are presented with such matter-of-fact casualness during the course of instruction that one has trouble knowing just where and how to focus one's attention. Rhodes plainly states that anyone can write. But his subconscious seems to be whispering that it helps if you have suffered.