Monthly Archives: July 2012

Judging a book by its cover

Who  hasn’t been enticed to pick up a book due to its attractive cover?  When I peruse the book store for historical fiction I’m certainly more likely to read the jacket flap of a book with intriguing cover art that gives me some idea of the time period in which the story takes place.  Same goes with the library–sometimes I’ll just wander the aisles until I see a title written in “old-fashioned” cursive, and pull it out–9 times out of 10 it’s historical fiction.

But sometimes book cover art isn’t quite so obvious.  Which brings me to a funny blog post I had to share.  Sunny Chanel, a blogger on the Babble website, got her six-year old to give her own interpretation of what she believed some works of classic literature were about, based on their covers.  The results were, in my opinion at least, pretty entertaining.  Here’s her take on The Great Gatsby:

I think it’s a book about a haunted theme park and it stars a magical magic guy and he’s good and evil and he’s trying to get rid of the ghosts. And I think at the end, since it’s haunted by a ghost, he tried to make the park go on fire and it did.

Not a bad guess by just looking at the cover and the title, right?

You can read more 6-year-old takes on classic literature by visiting the blog post here.  Wuthering Heights, Animal Farm, The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird, and more….all judged by their cover by a 6-year-old.  Enjoy.

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Writing Advice from Fitzgerald

As writers, we have a lot of advice thrown our way.  Some of it’s helpful, some not so much–writing fiction is, after all, a very subjective business.

What if you had the opportunity to have one of the great American authors read your writing and offer feedback?  That’s what Radcliffe sophomore Frances Turnbull hoped for when she sent F. Scott Fitzgerald (who was a friend of the family) her latest literary effort.  What she received in return was some rather blunt but very honest advice, which I think all aspiring novelists can learn from.

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

I would love to know what Ms. Turnbull’s reaction was to this letter.  At least, if nothing else, he gave her a little bit of hope in the postscript.
Great advice from one of the greats.  Mr. Fitzgerald, you inspire me yet again.

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The Wonderful World of Writing

I’ve been neglectful of my blog lately, as most of my spare time has been consumed with some major rewrites of The Education of Eve before I start my next round of sending it off to agents for consideration.  While this blog focuses on history, from time to time I’ll post on this other interest of mine.

It’s a lot of work, writing.  My husband often asks me why I couldn’t have chosen a more relaxing hobby.  Sometimes I wonder the same thing.  But I don’t think I had much choice in the matter, to be honest.  I’ve been coming up with stories in my head for as long as I can remember.  Barbie, Ken, & co. lived a dramatic As The World Turns sort of life at my house.  And outside my dolls became pioneers (thanks to my love for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books), braving the wilderness that was our backyard.  I eventually became too old to play with dolls, but the stories didn’t stop.  My imagination kept turning them out, and I started filling notebooks with ideas.  I loved creating characters and then putting them in dramatic situations, plotting how they would react.  It’s something I just couldn’t turn off.

So here I am, years later, novel ideas still swirling around in my head, just waiting to be brought to life on paper (well, word processing document, but that doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it).  Which brings me back to the rewrites.  Right now I’m dealing with the not-so creative side of the writing process: trying to get published.  It’s not an easy task, and turns writers into salespeople as we pitch our work via query letters, which most agents receive hundreds of each week.  This “sales pitch” can go a few ways–it can lead to instant rejection (one must develop a thick skin pretty quick in this business), or perhaps if the concept catches the agent’s fancy it might lead to a “partial” or a “full” request of your manuscript.  That doesn’t give you any guarantees, but it at least gets your foot, er, manuscript, in the door.

I’ve learned a lot about the world of publishing since I began this process of taking my hobby to the next level.  Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming and I wonder if it’s worth it.  But then I think about that little girl playing outside, populating a fictional world with colorful characters and stories, and how much fun she had.  And I think that maybe, just maybe, if I can someday get my words in print, that perhaps I can bring some entertainment and enjoyment to others with these stories I carry around in my head.

What about you other aspiring authors out there?  When were you first bitten by the “writing bug?”


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