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Writing with the Master: How One of the World’s Bestselling Authors Fixed My Book and Changed My Life Hardcover – February 4, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Perhaps every budding writer fantasizes about having a successful veteran author looking over his or her shoulder, offering warnings to help avoid the pitfalls of composing and submitting a first novel. Imagine, for instance, penning a crime thriller while John Grisham offers you advice on building suspense. For Vanderwarker, a former ad-agency owner who cashed in to focus on writing, this proved to be no idle fantasy; Grisham actually did help him pen his debut novel, the soon-to-be-released Sleeping Dogs. Since both were already friends and neighbors in Charlottesville, Virginia, some form of mentoring was perhaps inevitable, but Vanderwarker wisely waited until Grisham offered. Although this short but captivating story of their collaboration sometimes feels like a rushed, albeit unique, accompaniment to the novel, it’s brimming with invaluable literary lessons and amusing anecdotes, such as Vanderwarker’s wry descriptions of the ego bruising he endured from Grisham’s blunt criticism and prodding to construct a whopping seven outlines for his novel before he actually began writing it. Must reading for both aspiring thriller authors and die-hard Grisham fans. --Carl Hays

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“Must reading for both aspiring thriller authors and die-hard Grisham fans.”—Kirkus Reviews
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (February 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1626365520
  • ISBN-13: 978-1626365520
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #997,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Casee Clow on February 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
When Tony Vanderwarker sat down to a casual lunch with his friend and neighbor, John Grisham, he probably never anticipated that he would walk away with the bestselling king of the legal suspense genre as his newly minted mentor in the novel-writing process. Formerly a successful ad man, Tony had been feeding his creative writing habit for years, but his hopes of publication had been all but dashed as rejection letter after rejection letter piled up. Having given up on writing so long ago, Tony is rejuvenated at the prospect of getting back in the game with one of the biggest players in the industry at his back. The story Tony’s ready to tell is Sleeping Dogs, an action thriller pitting a discredited Pentagon employee against the most notorious terrorist group in the world in the hunt to recover nuclear weapons lost in the Cold War. The process, as Tony will soon realize, doesn’t get any easier with the help of a friend – and when the friend is John Grisham, a writer can expect to be most thoroughly taken to task. Never one to dance around the harsh blows, Grisham puts Tony through the rigorous paces of crafting a bestseller, studiously giving his feedback on story outlines, chapter outlines, first drafts, and rewrites; Grisham digs deep into the problems Sleeping Dogs has, covering plot, character development and presentation, continuity, pacing, and more.

In his new memoir, Writing with the Master, Vanderwarker recounts his experience being mentored by Grisham, and he never seems to flinch at revealing the brutal honesty of some of Grisham’s critiques. Instead he puts everything Grisham taught him front and center, offering an interesting look at the novel-writing process of one of the most beloved novelists at work today.
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Format: Hardcover
If you had the opportunity to have your writing perused by one of today's most recognized best-selling authors, what would you do? This is exactly what Tony Vanderwarker, author of Writing With The Master experienced when John Grisham made the following offer: “Look, I'd be willing to help you if you'd like. Kind of mentor you, through the novel-writing process. Something I've never done before-not that plenty of people haven't asked.”

You can well imagine Vanderwarker's response to an offer he just couldn't refuse! Vanderwarker had seven unpublished novels on is hard drive when the offer was made to teach him the art of writing a thriller novel.

Initially, Vanderwarker may have thought that this would be fun, but as he and readers learn, writing a novel is not exactly a piece of cake as it requires a great deal of diligence, dedication, imagination and effort. Grisham reminds Vanderwarker that the nature of editing is to point out the bad stuff and not the good- a thick skin helps, as he painfully discovers.

Divided into twelve chapters and an epilogue, Vanderwarker recounts the help he received from Grisham and covers such topics as a compelling plot, characterizations, constructing a synopsis, outlines, and a host of other “goodies.”

There is a great deal of ink devoting to outlines, and when Vanderwarker began writing his outline, he was quite sure that it would not be difficult. As we read, until Grisham was ready to give him the green light to write the novel, he was obliged to produce six outlines. According to Vanderwarker, “John's hardly a somber guy, but he doesn't kid around about outlines.” In fact, Grisham is dead serious about plots and outlines and as mentioned in the book, he couldn't imagine writing a book without first doing an outline.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Love2Read on September 27, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This book was a quick read. It has it's entertaining moments and shows the amount of work and angst that goes into writing and editing a novel. While it shows some interaction with Grisham concerning his advice on writing, discusses some of Grisham’s rules for writing, and even shows some of his comments from the manuscript; overall, it doesn't provide much in the way of writing advice.

The author has an odd way of phrasing things, probably a result of his years in advertising, all those jingles and phrases. The true downside of this book is that it's much less about writing and far more about the author showing himself in a celebrity light. If he had dropped one more name, I swear I would have slammed the book shut and screamed. I'm happy for him that he and his wife are friends with the Grisham family, having met through their children’s school and sports activities, and that they get to travel to Venice with Grisham and his wife on Grisham’s private jet, thrilled that Grisham helps him out with donations to his prime cause, Virginia land conservation, but the book implies that it should focus on writing with Grisham. It doesn’t! Truly, Grisham only offered bits of advice, helped come up with many improvements for the novel, and did some preliminary editing of Vanderwarker's early drafts.

Don't buy this thinking that it's a step by step guide to producing your own novel. There are much better books out there for that. This is a light read that gives you a few ideas on how Grisham writes, but no real insight into his process. You get to see through conversation that Grisham has a quick mind, rampant with ideas, and you see Vanderwarker attempt to incorporate some of those ideas into his book, but not enough to say that this is a writing primer.
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