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HOPE IN THE MAIL by Wendelin Van Draanen


Reflections on Writing and Life

by Wendelin Van Draanen

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9848-9466-3
Publisher: Knopf

This thorough, well-voiced guide to becoming a writer covers everything you need to be published, starting with developing the right attitude.

From building believable characters to finding an agent to designing a book cover, Van Draanen’s (Wild Bird, 2017, etc.) guide to becoming a writer has it all. Beginning with her personal history as the child of hardworking Dutch immigrants, the author encourages future writers to be gritty, describing her own relentless pursuit of her craft even during a decade of constant rejections from major publishing houses. She then moves from the attitudes necessary for creative work to the more practical details: how to find a narratorial voice, how to structure a mystery, and how to find and work with an editor. Throughout, she uses moments of perseverance and struggle from her own life to urge aspiring writers to keep going, no matter what challenges—internal and external—they must face down. Van Draanen’s voice is charmingly no-nonsense, and the themes she explores are sure to benefit aspiring writers of many ages. Unfortunately, though, by insisting on the connection between hard work and success, Van Draanen ignores structural issues that prevent writers from marginalized backgrounds from breaking into publishing with the same ease as mainstream peers. Furthermore, small moments of ignorance unredeemed by self-reflection—such as shaming her childhood bully for her looks and repeatedly using the charged term "hoodlum" in a context that is loaded with class-based assumptions—make her unexamined privilege difficult to ignore.

A thoughtful and entertaining how-to guide weakened by serious diversity-related missteps.

(Nonfiction. 14-adult)