Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Help For Authors From James Scott Bell
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to interview prolific author, teacher, and recovering lawyer--James Scott Bell. Jim has a new book on self-editing and revision and I wanted to let him share his thoughts about that, as well as a bit about his fiction work. I owe a great deal to James Scott Bell (and I'll send the check next payday, Jim--I promise).
RM: Jim, your book, Write Great Fiction: Revision and Self-Editing, published by Writers Digest Books, is coming out in early May, and I’m looking forward to reading it. Can you tell my readers a bit about what they can expect with this book?
JB: I wanted to provide writers with an organized approach to revision, a way to rework their material so they have the best chance of improving it. If we don’t watch out, revision can get sort of chaotic, and you end up splitting up your time in an unhelpful way.
The self-editing part is both instructive for newer writers and a kind of checklist for more experienced ones. We can all use reminders from time to time.
RM: Your earlier book on writing, Plot and Structure, is a classic “must read” for writers. My copy has so many yellow highlights it looks like it has jaundice. Is it necessary to read Plot and Structure before Revision and Self-Editing?
JB: No, although I do have a section on Plot in Self-Editing that had to be truncated for space purposes. The two books together represent just about all the most helpful material I can give within the confines of two covers. Or is it four covers?
RM: Not only are you a great teacher, you write excellent fiction. I know that this book will have a lot about fiction writing in it, but is there anything in this book that would be applicable for writers of non-fiction?
JB: Absolutely. I constantly extol the benefits of fiction writing techniques to non-fiction writers. It's essential in this day and age, when story is the vehicle that carries information. Look at the way newspaper features are written, and you'll see the way material is shaped in this fashion. Some of the best storytelling is being done in non-fiction these days.
And some of the best fiction is being written in memoirs! Go figure.
RM: Since I last interviewed you here, you’ve released another fiction work, The Whole Truth. I’ve had the opportunity to read it and highly recommend it. Any comments about The Whole Truth?
JB: I loved doing this book, as I got very involved with the lead character and his backstory. I've always been fascinated with how the past impacts the present, and this was one way I could explore that theme.
The germ of the idea came from the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case. Her little sister was in the bedroom at the time. I got to wondering what effect that would have on the sister. So I started the book in the past, with two brothers sharing a room. And the older one is kidnapped. And then some bad things start to happen.
Then we cut to 25 years later to see what impact that has had on my lead character, a struggling lawyer.
RM: I have nothing but high praise for your first novel for the mainstream market, Try Dying. I can hardly wait for the next Ty Buchanan book. Tell us about your experience crossing over into the general market.
JB: It's been nothing but positive. It's fiction either market can read and enjoy. Try Dying has introduced me to a new group of fiction readers, and also given me the chance to sign books and rub shoulders with some of my favorite writers, like Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, John Lescroart and T. Jefferson Parker. (If people go to my website and click on the "I'm Feeling Lucky" link, some pictures will pop up).
(Note to those reading this interview in the distant future: the link may have changed!)
RM: Any last bits of advice for my readers?
JB: Your readers are blessed to have a guy like you out there, as am I. Your love of fiction is infectious. So I'd advise your readers to keep that same enthusiasm burning inside them. Make writing an act of joyous energy. Write hot. Then revise cool. I think Revision & Self-Editing will help in that regard.
Jim, thanks for the kind words and for the way you give so unselfishly to teach and mentor. I look forward to studying Plot and Structure.