ARTICLES by Billie Sue Mosiman

New--"The Darker Side of My Life", DEADLY WOMEN, Carroll & Graf Publishers

Edited by Dean James, Jan Grape, Ellen Nehr

Various ARTICLES  published in:

Tampa Tribune

Writer's Digest Magazine

Paperback Parade

Mystery Scene Magazine

The Report



Ideas have to be wedded to action; if there is no sex, no vitality in them, there is no action. Ideas cannot exist alone in the vacuum of the mind. Ideas are related to living.

--Henry Miller


DORN: Hey--a bit excitable, aren't you? Tears in your eyes--.

Now, my point is this. You took your plot from the

realm of abstract ideas, and quite right too, because a

work of art simply must express some great idea. Nothing

can be beautiful unless it's also serious. I say, you

are pale.

TREPLEV: So you don't think I should give up?

DORN: No. But you must describe only the significant and the


--Anton Chekhov _The Seagull_, Act I


First of all, Southerners, I think, have a way of talking on

two levels at once. And novelists revel in this. In my new

book, _Father Melancholy's Daughter_, a little girl is shopping

with her mother. And the mother says, "Margaret, if you buy

this dress, it has buttons and you'll have to button them and

unbutton them, because I have enough buttons of my own to worry

about." And remembering this years later, after her mother has

absconded, the child says, "My mother talked on two levels.

She spoke in a very sweet, Southern drawl. But then,

underneath, you knew she was saying something else." And in

this case this woman was saying, "I'm the Rector's wife. I

have enough buttons to worry about." But it's that subtle

undertext that you can really play with.

--Gail Godwin


If a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write

what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon

his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no

plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in

the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as

the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of

giglamps symmetrically arranged; but a luminous halo, a

semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of

consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to

convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit,

whatever aberration of complexity it may display, with as

little mixture of the alien and external as possible?

--Virginia Woolf


All dialogue should come out of character. It should never

come from the author. If a character speaks in slang, then it

is perfectly proper to let him do so. It would obviously be

out of place to put slang in the mouth of a character to whom

such language would be alien. If you want dialogue to be strong

and vivid, make it _real_. . . . If you really know your

characters, you will know exactly how they should speak.

--Sidney Sheldon


Now the purpose of a book I suppose is to amuse, interest,

instruct, but its warmer purpose is to associate with the

reader. You use symbols he can understand so that the two of

you can be together. . . . Let's take the inner chapters of

_The Grapes of Wrath_. . . . You say the inner chapters were

counterpoint and so they were--that they were pace changers and

they were that, too, but the basic purpose was to hit the

reader below the belt. With the rhythms and symbols of poetry

one can get into a reader--open him up and while he is open

introduce things on an intellectual level which he would not or

could not receive unless he were opened up. It is a

psychological trick if you wish, but all techniques of writing

are psychological tricks. Perspective in painting is a trick,

word sounds are tricks, even arrangement and form are tricks.

And a trick is only good if it is effective. The writer never

knows whether his trick is going to work until he has a reader.

--John Steinbeck


I want stories to startle and engage me within the first few

sentences, and in their middle to widen or deepen or sharpen my

knowledge of human activity, and to end by giving me a

sensation of completed statement.

--John Updike, upon serving

one year as guest editor

of the award anthology,

_The Best American Short



Be in love with yr life

Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

Blow as deep as you want to blow

Write what you want

bottomless from the bottom of the mind

Remove literary, grammatical and

syntactical inhibition

Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

--Jack Kerouac


The basic rule you gave us was simple and heartbreaking. A

story to be effective had to convey something from writer to

reader, and the power of its offering was the measure of its

excellence. Outside of that, you said, there were no rules. A

story could be about anything and could use any means and any

technique at all--so long as it was effective. As a subhead to

this rule, you maintained that it seemed to be necessary for

the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was

talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat

of a story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well

enough to enlarge it to three or six or ten thousand words.

--John Steinbeck,

in the preface to

_Story Writing_,

by Edith Ronald Mirrielees,

his writing teacher at



Discipline. Tightness. Firmness. Crispness. Sternness. And

sternness in our lives. Life is tons of discipline. Your

first discipline is your vocabulary; then your grammar and your

punctuation, you see. Then, in your exuberance and bounding

energy you say you're going to add to that. Then you add rhyme

and meter. And your delight in _that_ power.

--Robert Frost


In most good stories, it is the character's personality that

creates the action of the story. In most of these [lesser]

stories, I feel that the writer has thought of some action and

then scrounged up a character to perform it. You will usually

be more successful if you start the other way around. If you

start with a real personality, a real character, then something

is bound to happen.

--Flannery O'Connor


I often get my ideas not from characters, but from the ideas of

what my characters will be involved in. Many people who teach

writing teach it by saying you've got to get the character

first and then blah, blah, blah . . . that is quite true.

Ideas come from other places.

--Irving Wallace


If you want my real opinion, I think today an exaggerated

preponderance is given to form. . . . Basically, I suggest that

the method itself establishes the form; that a language is only

a logic, a natural and scientific construct. The best writer

will not be the one who gallops madly amid hypotheses, but

rather the one who marches squarely to the middle of the truth.

Actually we are rotten with lyricism; we think quite wrongly

that the grand style is composed of startling sublimity, ever

close to tumbling over into lunacy. The grand style is

composed of logic and clarity.

--Emile Zola


Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult, rather

because it wishes to be art. However much the writer might long

to be straightforward, these virtues are no longer available to

him. He discovers that in being simple, honest,

straightforward, nothing much happens.

--Donald Barthelme, rebutting

criticism of himself and

of other writers as being

too difficult


To live _in_ the world of creation--to get into it and stay in

it--to frequent it and haunt it-- to _think_ intensely and

fruitfully--to woo combinations and inspirations into being by

a depth and continuity of attention and meditation--this is the

only thing.

--Henry James


A poet's mission is to make others confound fiction and reality

in order to render them, for an hour, mysteriously happy.

--Isak Dinesen


This is a gift that I have, simple, simple; a foolish

extravagant spirit, full of forms, figures, shapes, objects,

ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions . . . But the gift

is good in those in whom it is acute, and I am thankful for it.

--William Shakespeare,

_Love's Labor's Lost_,

Act IV


Write till your ink be dry, and with your tears Moist it again,

and frame some feeling line That may discover such integrity.

--William Shakespeare, _The

Two Gentlemen of Verona_,

Act III, Scene 2


I have to be alone. A bus is good. Or walking the dog.

Brushing my teeth is marvelous--it was especially so for

_Catch-22_. Often when I am very tired, just before going to

bed, while washing my face and brushing my teeth, my mind gets

very clear . . . and produces a line for the next day's work,

or some idea way ahead. I don't get my best ideas while

actually writing . . . which is the agony of putting down what

I think are good ideas and finding the words for them and the

paragraph forms for them . . . a laborious process. I don't

think of myself as a naturally gifted writer when it comes to

using language. I distrust myself. Consequently I try every

which way with a sentence, then a paragraph, and finally a

page, choosing words, selecting pace (I'm obsessed with that,

even the pace of a sentence). I say to myself what I hope to

put down on paper, but I hope not aloud. I think sometimes I

move my lips, not only when I'm writing, but when I'm thinking

of what I'm going to be having for dinner.

--Joseph Heller


It began as diary . . . little by little it began to turn

itself into a story, by that mysterious process which I cannot

explain, but which I recognize when it begins, and I go along

with it out of a kind of curiosity, as if my mind which knows

the facts is watching to see what my story- telling mind will

finally make of them.

--Katherine Anne Porter


Short stories should tell us what everybody knows but what

nobody is talking about. At least not publicly. Except the

short story writers.

--Raymond Carver


The legend that characters run away from their authors--taking

up drugs, having sex operations, and becoming president--

implies that the writer is a fool with no knowledge or mastery

of his craft. This is absurd. Of course, any estimable

exercise of the imagination draws upon such a complex richness

of memory that it truly enjoys the expansiveness--the

surprising turns, the response to light and darkness--of any

living thing. But the idea of authors running around

helplessly behind their cretinous inventions is contemptible.

--John Cheever


Chance is the world's greatest novelist. If you would be a

prolific writer, just study it closely.

--Honore de Balzac


It has something to do with a kind of readiness to record

impressions arising from a source of which we know little. I

suppose that all of us have a primitive prompter or

commentator within, who from earliest years has been advising

us, telling us what the real world is. There is such a

commentator in me. I have to prepare the ground for him.

From this source comes words, phrases, syllables; sometimes

only sounds, which I try to interpret, sometimes whole

paragraphs, fully punctuated. When E. M. Forster said, "How

do I know what I think until I see what I say?" he was perhaps

referring to his own prompter. There is that observing

instrument in us--at childhood at any rate. At the sight of a

man's face, his shoes, the color of light, a woman's mouth or

perhaps her ear, one receives a word, a phrase, at times

nothing but a nonsense syllable from the primitive


When I say the commentator is primitive, I don't mean he's

crude; God knows he's often fastidious. But he won't talk

until the situation's right. And if you prepare the ground for

him with too many difficulties underfoot, he won't say


--Saul Bellow


The task of a writer consists in being able to _make_

something out of an idea.

--Thomas Mann


E. M. Forster refers to "flat" and "round" characters. I try

to make all of mine round. It takes an extrovert like Dickens

to make flat characters come alive. But story as such has

been neglected by today's introverted writers. Story and

character should grow together; I think I'm lucky so far in

that in practically everything I've tried to write these two

elements have grown together. They must, to give an

impression of life lived, just because each man's life is a

story, if you'll pardon the cliche.

--William Styron


Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which

you are used to seeing in print.

Never use a long word where a short one will do.

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Never use the passive where you can use the active.

Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word

if you can think of an everyday British equivalent.

Break any of these rules sooner than say anything

outright barbaric.

--George Orwell


Words have to be crafted, not sprayed. They need to be fitted

together with infinite care. William Faulkner would isolate

himself in a small cell-like room and labor over his words

like a jeweler arranging tiny jewels in a watch. Thomas Mann

would consider himself lucky if, after a full day at his desk,

he was able to put down on paper 500 words that he was willing

to share with the world.

--Norman Cousins


I would imagine that most writers revise, one way or another.

Maybe they don't revise as extensively on paper, but the

process of writing is a process of inner expansion and

reduction. It's like an accordion: You open it and then you

bring it back, hoping that additional sound--a new

clarity--may come out. It's all for clarity.

--Jerzy Kosinski


To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want

to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever

turned out and sent rambling.

You must write every single day of your life.

You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious

books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your

head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like

ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats

upon your crazy heads.

I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative

Muse that will last a lifetime.

I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon


May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine

stories. . . .

Which finally means, may you be in love every day

for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a


--Ray Bradbury


The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any

manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat.

--Robert Heinlein


I am glad you think my style plain. I never, in any one page

or paragraph, aimed at making it anything else, or giving it

any other merit--and I wish people would leave off talking

about its beauty. If it has any, it is only pardonable at

being unintentional. The greatest possible merit of style is,

of course, to make the words absolutely disappear into the


--Nathaniel Hawthorne


Man lives and evolves by "eating" significance, as

a child eats food. The deeper his sense of wonder, the

wider his curiosity, the stronger his vitality becomes,

and the more powerful his grip on his own existence.

There are two ways in which he can expand: inward

and outward. If I am in a foreign country and I get a

powerful desire to explore it thoroughly, to visit its

remotest places, that is a typical example of outward

expansion. And it would not be untrue to say that the

love of books, of music, of art, is typical of the

desire for inward expansion. But that is only a half

of it. For what happens if I suddenly become

fascinated by a foreign country is that I feel like the

spider in the centre of a web; I am aware of all kinds

of "significances" vibrating along the web, and I want

to reach out and grab them all. But in moods of deep

inner serenity, the same thing happens. Suddenly I am

aware of vast inner spaces, of strange significances

_inside_ me. I am no longer a puny twentieth-century

human being trapped in his life-world and personality.

Once again, I am at the centre of a web, feeling

vibrations of meaning. And suddenly I realize that in

the deepest sense those Indians and Peruvians were

right. I am like a tree that suddenly becomes aware

that its roots go down deep, deep into the earth. And

at this present moment in evolution, my roots go far

deeper into the earth than my branches stretch above

it--a thousand times deeper.

--Colin Wilson