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Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction (Back Bay Book) [Paperback]

by Will Blythe
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 15, 1999 0316115924 978-0316115926 1st Back Bay Pbk. Ed
In this anthology, 26 writers illuminate the motivations at the heart of their creative lives in original essays that are as surprising and varied as their fiction. The contributors include Pat Conroy, Norman Mailor, Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace.

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Editorial Reviews Review

With the enormous quantity of books on the market purporting to teach us how to write, it is with some relief that someone has thought to pull one together on why writers write. Will Blythe, a contributing editor to Harper's and Mirabella and formerly the literary editor at Esquire, has assembled a fine cast of 26 contemporary fiction writers to muse on his assigned topic, "Why I Write." The reasons, boiled down, range from "Because I can't do anything else" to "Because I can't not write." Ho-hum. But these are fiction writers, don't forget, and fiction writers can spin yarns.

Thom Jones's (The Pugilist at Rest, Cold Snap) formation as a writer began, perhaps, during lunch hours spent drawing sharp-witted comics in the principal's office at a Lutheran elementary school. A promising start at the Iowa writing program dead-ended, seemingly, with drunken night shifts as a school janitor. Only an epiphany involving Wile E. Coyote drew him back to writing. Before long, he'd sold three stories in one afternoon, to Harper's, Esquire, and the New Yorker. "Fiction writers often mature at a glacial pace," says Jones. " I was slower than most."

With apparent effortlessness, Elizabeth Gilbert (Pilgrims) weaves together tales of a cursing cowboy, her grade-school diary, a gawky teenager who aspired to be a magician, and a man whose neighbors had stolen his cat. "Sometimes," says Gilbert modestly, "when we are trying to find a calling, it is helpful to confirm that we are not really very good at anything else." Gilbert, it is clear, has found her calling. And Mark Richard (The Ice at the Bottom of the World, Fishboy) tells a sprawling mini-saga about a "special child" whose life is so full of the elements of good fiction (a scorpion-infested sandbox, a homesick mother, a father who accidentally lit a borrowed bulldozer on fire, a mean tomcat named Mr. Priss, a family friend who got shredded in a silage bin) that you can't imagine him not becoming a fiction writer. Also: Lee Smith, Pat Conroy, David Foster Wallace, Tom Chiarella, Jayne Anne Phillips, and others. --Jane Steinberg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Literary editor Will Blythe (formerly of Esquire, now at Mirabella) asked 20 writers why they do the peculiar thing they do. Norman Mailer kicks things off with a meditation on an answer given to him by a friend: "The only time I know the truth is when it reveals itself at the point of my pen." This theme recurs, but one of the delights of this collection is the many unexpected ways the writers approached the question. Some (Lee Smith, Elizabeth Gilbert) talk about the prominence of stories in their family backgrounds. Rick Moody pairs his account of his growing into writing with one written by his mother. Rick Bass and Jim Harrison think about some of the larger implications of what fiction means in the lives of humans. Other answers run the gamut from the incomprehensible (Steven Wright) to the melodramatic (Pat Conroy, Jayne Anne Phillips) to the practical ("For the Money" by Mark Jacobson). In all, an eclectic and stimulating collection; recommended for public and academic libraries.AMary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Back Bay Book
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st Back Bay Pbk. Ed edition (September 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316115924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316115926
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #952,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Seductions of Fiction February 9, 1999
By A Customer
Blythe is as fine and impassioned a writer as he is a shrewd and judicious editor, and the real gem of this wonderful anthology is his beautifully drawn, occasionally hilarious and ultimately inspiring introduction. In these literal-minded journalism-crazed days it's hard to imagine any work that exhorts the merits of fiction putting much of a dent in the near-monopoly held by fact-based writing, but this anthology should lure many readers and maybe even a few journalists themselves who are tired of splashing around in the shallow pool of stories that actually happened when they could be diving into the deep water of figurative and imaginative truth.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Writer's Home Companion October 12, 2000
This is a holy compendium of wisdom for fiction writers to keep themselves from pulling out every single hair of their frustrated heads on any given day. When I need intensive literary therapy, I sit down and read the book from cover to cover; I've done this on at least seven occasions. WHY I WRITE is my intelligent literary cheerleader . Every morning before I begin to write, I randomly open the book and put my finger on a paragraph, and read the section. Invariably, I get the boost I need. It's like having coffee with a witty, brilliant friend that happens to be a writer. Ann Patchett, one of the writers whose essays appear in this book, says that "writers are people who desperately need habits to fill up their days." One of the best habits I've formed is referring to this powerful volume on a daily basis. Will Blythe's introduction is one of the best essays on writing I've ever read; he has brought together a magical cast of writers whose blunt, holy words have the power to heal many an ailing writer.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm never without this book February 8, 2002
I'm a produced playwright who has been working hard on writing prose for a few years. I've taken some University Extension classes on writing and was even selected to be a part of a prestigious year-long university novel-writing intensive. I own many wonderful books on the craft of writing and I have to say that this is my favorite. It's the one I always keep with me whereever I go. I can literally open it to any page and find something that will help me at that moment. I read it when I'm stuck or when it's flowing, when I'm bored with my writing or when I'm happy with it. Some of the essays in here I have read literally hundreds of times, and each time I get something new from them. The pieces by Rick Bass, Thom Jones, Mary Gaitskill and William Vollman are, IMHO, worth the price of the book. I have purchased copies for many of my writer friends when they've hit a slump. If you are serious about your writing, are past the beginner stage but every so often need the sage advice of a seasoned pro, then buy this book immediately.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking December 8, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Intriguing and thought-provoking essays on the craft of writing, and reasons why we writers do it. A good read for writers, both seasoned and new.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A very good overview of novel structure December 13, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A clear, straightforward 'how to' book for writers with an excellent focus on the importance of planning and structure. Recommended.
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