Monday, November 30, 2009
James Scott Bell and The Art Of War For Writers
James Scott Bell is more than a prolific and talented author. He is a great teacher, mentor, and encourager of many writers, and I am proud to be included among those he has touched in a positive way. His latest book is The Art Of War For Writers. This work goes beyond the basics of his two prior books on writing: Plot And Structure and Revision & Self-Editing. These are indispensible to the writer who wishes to perfect his or her craft, but in The Art Of War For Writers Jim has gone past the nuts and bolts to the intangibles that separate the merely good writer from the one whose work is “a cut above.”
Jim has graciously consented to take time away from coffee-drinking, people-watching and pounding out his daily quota of words at his local Starbucks to answer a few questions about this book.
RM: First, aside from a possible desire to be known as a modern-day Sun Tzu, why The Art Of War?
JSB: I was just thinking one day about how getting published is a real battle these days. Well, it always has been, but the climate seems to be getting cloudier. I found myself typing up a blog post using this metaphor. As I did some research on military principles, I came back to The Art of War, which I'd read years ago. What was ground breaking about Sun Tzu was that he used very short, but very potent principles to bring order to the chaos of war in his day.
So I thought, what about doing the same thing for writers? Not just another "how-to," but a sort of "field manual" for those in the battle to get published. I pitched the idea to Writers Digest Books and they loved it. So here we are.
RM: You’ve already written two excellent books about the craft of writing. What do you see as the audience for this book?
JSB: I've said it's for those who desire to get, and stay, published. It is a collection relating to topics that include motivation and inspiration, the fiction craft (things not usually taught that take fiction to a higher level), and the business side of things. It's not a book that needs to be read cover to cover. One can look at the contents and check out what's most needed at the time.
RM: The face of publishing appears to be changing on a daily basis. How does this book prepare the modern writer to face those challenges?
JSB: I tried to stick to core principles, things that don't changes, as Sun Tzu did. While war has changed in its scope and technology, Sun Tzu's principles still remain solid. I wanted to do the same thing with writing.
For example, in the craft section I talk about various ways fiction can be elevated to that storied "next level." These techniques hold no matter what form the fiction ultimately comes out in -- book, Kindle, pdf, whatever. On the business side, how you plan for a career should be based on core competencies, critical success factors and strategic planning. These things are unalterable.
RM: Two unrelated questions that have intrigued me. This book, like your other books on writing, is loaded with quotations that bring it alive. How do you come up with all these? And what do those symbols alongside the page numbers of the book mean?
JSB: I love quotes on writing and have been collecting them for years. I pick them up all over the place and put them in a file. A lot of them come out of interviews with writers.
As for the symbols, great question. Loosely translated, they mean "strategies" and "tactics."
RM: Jim, you can go back to your mocha now, but thanks for sharing with us today. The Art Of War For Writers ranks alongside Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies For Fun And Profit in my pantheon of books about writing that are just purely enjoyable to read.
JSB: Thank you for comparing the book to Block's, which I also greatly enjoy. Block has the ability to get in the head of the writer, to anticipate what he or she might be thinking, and to respond in a way that gets to the heart of things. That's my hope for this book as well.
RM: Thanks again. I hope you readers will order your copy today. If you purchase through Amazon, here is the link for The Art of War for Writers.