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Letters to a Fiction Writer Hardcover – June 1, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0393047356 ISBN-10: 0393047350 Edition: 1st

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"As a writer," says Andre Dubus, "you are constantly in training. Day after day, alone at your desk, with no one watching you or even depending on you, you take your position on the playing field." Letters to a Fiction Writer, which was inspired by Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, is a reminder that there is actually a whole community out there sharing your Sisyphean task. These 33 letters are written by authors such as Ann Beattie, John Gardner, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tobias Wolff. Lee K. Abbott (Living After Midnight) addresses the obligation of the fiction writer to "write it all goddamn down." Raymond Carver ponders the relationship between writing and alcoholism (upon recovering from it, he says, "I was so grateful to have my health back, and my life back, that it really didn't matter to me in one large way if I ever wrote anything again or not"). David Bradley discusses the difficulty of being an as-yet unpublished writer: "Most professions," he says, "pay bright prospects to develop their skills.... There are no such positions in writing."

Trying to make it as a writer is discouraging, yes. "If you can stop," recommends Reynolds Price, "you probably should. Try cabinet-making." But if you're all thumbs with a band saw, clasp this book to your breast and don't let go. For in it there are words of wisdom, wit, encouragement, and enticement that are sure to help you through that "strange and particular torture" that comes, according to Nicholas Delbanco, "after four hours of sitting with a paragraph you know to be poor." Of course, the true key to being a writer, say many of the authors included in this anthology, is writing. "Show up for work as dutifully and with as little fanfare as any civil servant," says Rosellen Brown. "Stop thinking of becoming an author," says Stanley W. Lindberg, editor of The Georgia Review, "and work instead to become a writer." And finally, intones Janette Turner Hospital (The Ivory Swing), "When rejection slips or rotten reviews come in ... have one stiff drink, say five Hail Mary's and ten Fuck-You's, and get back to work." --Jane Steinberg

From Library Journal

Busch, the author of 22 books including A Dangerous Profession: A Book About the Writing Life, brings together letters by 33 authorsAamong them Shelby Foote, Ray Bradbury, and Joyce Carol OatesAwho graciously share their thoughts on the art of writing and being a writer. There is always the danger of unevenness in a collection of letters, many of which are personal correspondence, but Busch chooses well. Many aspiring fiction writers will feel that the authors are speaking directly to them. Some, such as Raymond Carver, talk about the dark side of fiction writing, in his case his battle with alcoholism. In this age of E-mail, a letter from a friend seems like a wonderful prize to be savored over and over. This collection gives that same feeling and will be dipped into many times. To inspire and instruct both new and experienced writers, this book is recommended for all libraries.ALisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 291 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393047350
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393047356
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. Stone on April 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
After about two decades of writing and teaching, I have an awful lot of writing books. Some books are wonderful straightforward textbooks (like Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction), others are brilliant collections of essays on the art and craft of writing, like Charles Baxter's Burning Down the House or Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi's Bringing the Devil to His Knees or the Julie Checkoway-edited Creating Fiction.
But sometimes what we need are books that amuse, comfort, guide, and inspire us, like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird or Chekhov's letters or Frederick Busch's collection, Letters to a Fiction Writer. Different writers will respond to different essays in here, but there are some that are among the most honest and helpful pieces imaginable. This is one of the books on my shelf that I consider essential.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Vaughn A. Carney on June 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Frederick Busch's collection of letters is masterfully conceived and edited. This book should be required reading for anyone who has ever considered writing fiction (as well as for anyone who has ever pondered the degree of self and soul that go into creative writing). The insights into the process of such writing are most illuminating, rather like holding a rare diamond up to the light and being struck by its varied points of brilliance as one turns it from one angle to another.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Julia M Nolan on June 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
I thought that this book had a rather cool premise. In it, a bunch of random letters from famous authors to aspiring authors were found and published. As could be imagined, the quality varies greatly. Some are pretty much useless, some are full of interesting advice. Some advice is overly general, some too specific (and applicable only to the letter writer). I wish that the editor had better culled the letters to remove some of the ones that meander, discuss stuff that's too personal to be interesting to a random reader, etc. But there's at least some good advice to be found here.

I'd probably recommend skimming, not buying this book. (Unless you're really into one of the listed authors and desperately want to know what he/she said about writing.)
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David F. Daniels on March 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
While there is some good, specific advice, most of the advice boils down to this:
1. Read a lot
2. Write a lot
3. Don't become a writer, because if you do you'll work in isolation, won't be able to make a living and no one will read your work.
Many of the letters seemed self-conscious to me, and I found myself saying, look, I know you're a writer, but please don't try to impress me with your carefully crafted wisdom. The best IMHO were those written privately, with palpable passion (John Gardner, Shelby Foote, a couple more.) This is not to say the other writers are or were not passionate about their work, but I couldn't feel it here.
Some of the good advice:
1. Stop in the middle of a sentence when you know what is going to happen next.
2. Go against the grain. Add bad characteristics to your good characters, good characteristics to your bad.
3. Avoid cynicism.
For those of you interested in hearing more from published writers, find Don Swaim's library of interviews online. That's a whole college education there.
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