olumns, by Billie Sue Mosiman

I was a regular columnist for DEATHREALM MAGAZINE in 1996-97, writing "The View From the Castle Tower".   I took over for the beloved Karl Edward Wagner and his column he'd written for DEATHREAM for some years.  Deathrealm closed down publication due to various reasons.  It was a good magazine.

I was also a Regular Book Reviewer for HORROR Magazine, 1996-1997.  The reason I left it was because the new editor thought I should eviserate the authors of novels, I should make them bleed, make them faint with despair.  I decided, being an author myself, that was not something I would ever like to do.  I gave up my humble reviewership position so that someone of harder character could please the new editor.  I don't miss it.


I had marked down in my notebook three characteristics a work

of fiction must possess in order to be successful:

1. It must have a precise and suspenseful plot.

2. The author must feel a passionate urge to

write it.

3. He must have the conviction, or at least the

illusion, that he is the only one who can

handle this particular theme.

--Isaac Bashevis Singer


Nothing is sillier than the creative writing teacher's dictum,

"Write about what you know." But whether you're writing about

people or dragons, your personal observation of how things

happen in the world--how character reveals itself--can turn a

dead scene into a vital one. Preliminary good advice might

be: Write as if you were a movie camera. Get down exactly

what is there. . . . The trick is to bring it out, get it

down. Getting it down precisely is all that is meant by "the

accuracy of the writer's eye." Getting down what the writer

really cares about--setting down what the writer himself

notices, as opposed to what any fool might notice--is all that

is meant by the _originality_ of the writer's eye. Every

human being has original vision. Most can't write it down

without cheapening or falsifying.

--John Gardner


Don't get discouraged because there's a lot of mechanical work

to writing. . . . I rewrote the first part of _A Farewell to

Arms_ at least fifty times. . . . The first draft of anything

is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick

and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it's

your objective to convey everything to the reader so that he

remembers it not as a story he had read but something that

happened to himself. That's the true test of writing.

--Ernest Hemingway


I would rather be a fool than a wise-man. I love all men who

_dive_. Any fish can swim near the surface, but it takes a

great whale to go downstairs five miles or more; & if he don't

attain the bottom, why all the lead in Galena can't fashion

the plummet that will. I'm not talking about Mr. Emerson

now--but of that whole corps of thought- divers, that have

been diving & coming up again with bloodshot eyes since the

world began.

--Herman Melville


It was from Handel that I learned that style consists in force

of assertion. If you can say a thing with one stroke,

unanswerably you have style; if not, you are at best a

_marchande de plaisir_, a decorative litterateur, or a musical

confectioner, or a painter of fans with cupids and coquettes.

Handel had power.

--George Bernard Shaw


If he is an artist, the realist will seek not to

give us a banal photograph of life, but rather to give us the

most complete, impressive, and convincing vision of life--more

than reality itself.

To relate everything would be impossible, because

you would have to have at least a volume for each day in order

to enumerate the mass of insignificant incidents that fill up

our lives.

A choice therefore obtrudes itself--which is the

first blow struck against a theory about "the whole truth." .

. . The artist, having chosen his theme, only picks out

details that are characteristic and of value for his subject,

out of this life so burdened with chance and futility; and he

rejects all the remainder and puts it to one side.

--Guy de Maupassant


If you do not make the right beginning, you will never be able

to write. They will put you down as one who has been

influenced by another, and that will be the end. If they do

that with your first stories, and your first book, there will

never be any freedom from their judgement. The way not to

write like anybody else in the world is to go to the world

itself, to life itself, to the senses of the living body

itself, and to _translate_ in your _own_ way what you see, and

hear, and smell, and taste, and feel, and imagine, and dream

and do: _translate_ the thing or the act or the thought or

the mood into your own language. If you make the right

beginning, nothing can stop you, and all you will have to do

is survive.

--William Saroyan, in a letter to a

young, unpublished writer


Why talk in subtleties, when there are so many flagrant truths

to be told? . . . [When an artist begins to say], "I am not

understood, not because I am incomprehensible (that is, bad)

but because my listeners- readers-spectators have not yet

reached my intellectual level," he has abandoned the natural

imperatives of art and signed his own death warrant by

ignoring the mainspring of creation. . . . The artist of

tomorrow will realize that it is more important and useful to

compose a tale, a touching little song, a _divertissement_ or

sketch or light interlude, or draw a picture that will delight

dozens of generations, that is, millions of children and

adults, than a novel, symphony or painting that will enchant a

few representatives of the wealthy classes and then be

forgotten forever.

--Leo Tolstoi


If you try to nail anything down, in the novel, either it

kills the novel or the novel gets up and walks away with the

nail. . . . Never trust the artist. Trust the tale.

--D. H. Lawrence


If I stop writing and just try to enjoy myself, I get very

neurotic and guilt-ridden. Orwell was the same. Like the man

who, if he stops running, becomes afraid. Or the shark, which

must move to breathe.

--Arthur Koestler


Writing is my religion. . . . I do believe that somehow, no

matter what the writing task, no matter how interesting or

straightforward the technique, no matter how mercenary the

reasons for writing it, if I search my soul and my heart I

will find a way to capture some kind of energy, to somehow

bring down a little fire to change my readers and change


--David Bradley


Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with

writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until

death--fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous,


--Edna Ferber


Every character is a mixture of people you've known.

Characters come to me--and I think this is behind the

Madeleine business in Proust-- when people are talking to me.

I feel I have heard this, this tone of voice, in other

circumstances. And, at the risk of seeming rude, I have to

hold on to this and chase it back until it clicks with someone

I've met before. The second secretary at the embassy in

Bangkok may remind me of the chemistry assistant at Oxford.

And I ask myself, what have they in common? Out of such

mixtures I can create characters.

--Angus Wilson


So poetry, which is in Oxford made

An art, in London only is a trade.

--John Dryden


Because of this [fear], the young man or woman writing

today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in

conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because

only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the


He must learn them again. He must teach

himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and,

teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in

his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths

lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed-- love and

honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until

he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love

but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of

value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without

pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones,

leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the


Until he relearns these things, he will write

as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I

decline to accept the end of man. . . . I believe that man

will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not

because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice,

but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and

sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to

write about these things. It is his privilege to help man

endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage

and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and

sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's

voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of

the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

--William Faulkner, in his

acceptance speech for the

1949 Nobel Prize


To have something to say is a question of sleepless nights and

worry and endless ratiocination of a subject--of endless

trying to dig out the essential truth, the essential justice.

As a first premise you have to develop a conscience and if on

top of that you have talent so much the better. But if you

have talent without the conscience, you are just one of many

thousand journalists.

--F. Scott Fitzgerald


Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as

painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine.

If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit


--Truman Capote


When you get down to work, just do the work the best you can.

Don't ever think about the public, or the critics, or any of

those things. You are a born writer if there ever was one and

have no need to worry about whether this new book will be as

good as the "Angel," and that sort of thing. If you simply

can get yourself into it, as you can, it _will_ be as good. I

doubt if you will really think of any of the extrinsic matters

when you are at work, but if you did, that might make it less


--Maxwell Perkins, editor at Scribner's,

in a letter to Thomas Wolfe as he

worked on what was to become his

second novel


Always get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel

the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off

more than a great slab of prose at the start. I think the

success of every novel--if it's a novel of action--depends on

the high spots. The thing to do is to say to yourself, "Which

are my big scenes?" and then get every drop of juice out of

them. The principle I always go on in writing a novel is to

think of the characters in terms of actors in a play. I say

to myself, if a big name were playing this part, and if he

found that after a strong first act he had practically nothing

to do in the second act, he would walk out. Now, then, can I

twist the story so as to give him plenty to do all the way

through? I believe the only way a writer can keep himself up

to the mark is by examining each story quite coldly before he

starts writing it and asking himself if it is all right _as a

story_. I mean, once you go saying to yourself, "This is a

pretty weak plot as it stands, but I'm such a hell of a writer

that my magic touch will make it okay," you're sunk. If they

aren't in interesting situations, characters can't be major

characters, not even if you have the rest of the troop talk

their heads off about them.

--P. G. Wodehouse


Recording of everyday gestures, habits, manners, customs,

styles of travelling, eating, keeping house, modes of behaving

toward children, servants, superiors, inferiors, peers, plus

the various looks, glances, poses, styles of walking and other

symbolic details that might exist within a scene . . . is not

mere embroidery in prose. It lies as close to the center of

the power of realism as any other device in literature.

--Tom Wolfe


I have very seldom asked myself about the technique I

was using. When I begin to write I don't stop and wonder if I

am interfering too directly in the story, or if I know too

much about my characters, or whether or not I ought to judge

them. I write with complete naivete, spontaneously. I've

never had any preconceived notion of what I could or could not

do. . . . I believe that my younger fellow novelists are

greatly preoccupied with technique. They seem to think a good

novel ought to follow certain rules imposed from outside. In

fact, however, this preoccupation hampers them and embarrasses

them in their creation. The great novelist doesn't depend on

anyone but himself. Proust resembled none of his predecessors

and he did not have, he could not have, any successors. The

great novelist breaks his mold; he alone can use it. Balzac

created the "Balzacian" novel; its style was suitable only for


There is a close tie between a novelist's originality

in general and the personal quality of his style. A borrowed

style is a bad style. American novelists from Faulkner to

Hemingway invented a style to express what they wanted to

say--and it is a style that can't be passed on to their


--Francois Mauriac


The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the

works of the poem so that something that is _not_ in the poem

can creep, crawl, flush, or thunder in.

--Dylan Thomas


One of the problems in a longish task is it's hard to

stay oriented to the goal. If I begin on page 244 and end on

page 249 on a given day, was it a good day, or not? Many

writers are troubled by a feeling of getting lost in the

process, and feeling a lack of feedback or reward during this

long time. So I discovered that I could graph my day's output

(in the old days with MockChart, later with Works). And my

reward was a dot on the graph. It had several advantages. It

made the work "visible" and it allowed me to play a game with

myself. I always begin by just working for a few days. To

see how the book is going. Then after a week or so, I see I

am getting a certain page count. Maybe it's 3 a day, or 5 a

day. So whatever I am getting, I try to push it. Try to get

it up from 5 to 5.5, and then to 6 . . . I find it a useful

way to work, since the actual activity of writing is painful

to me. So if I can get it done faster, great. But the result

is that I have all these graphs, now. Which means I can

COMPARE how I am doing now to how I did then.

The other thing I do is I keep a diary daily. A very

short entry (also on the computer.) It is very valuable for

many reasons, but especially about writing. Sometimes when it

isn't going well, I look back at JP [Jurassic Park] or SPHERE,

and read my diary . . . and see all these expressions of

doubt, and discouragement. It isn't working. I will NEVER

finish. All that stuff. Then I feel better about my current


--Michael Crichton, in a Writers'

Ink RTC, December 1992


If we work upon marble it will perish; if on brass, time will

efface it; if we rear temples, they will crumble into dust;

but if we work upon immortal minds . . . we will engrave on

those tablets something that will brighten all eternity.

--Noah Webster


Find a subject you care about and which in your heart

feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and

not your games with language, which will be the most

compelling and seductive element in your style.

I am not urging you to write a novel, by the

way--although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided

you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor

about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the

girl next door will do.

--Kurt Vonnegut


I mean to utter certain thoughts, whether all the artistic

side of it goes to the dogs or not . . . even if it turns into

a mere pamphlet, I shall say all that I have in my heart.

--Fyodor Dostoyevsky


I should write for the mere yearning and fondness I have for

the beautiful, even if my night's labors should be burnt every

morning and no eye shine upon them.

--John Keats


A lifetime's experience urges me to utter a warning cry: do

anything else, take someone's golden retriever for a walk, run

away with a saxophone player. Perhaps what's wrong with being

a writer is that one can't even say "good luck"--luck plays no

part in the writing of a novel. No happy accidents as with

the paint pot or chisel. I don't think you can say anything,

really. I've always wanted to juggle and ride a unicycle, but

I dare say if I ever asked the advice of an acrobat he would

say, "All you do is get on and start pedaling. . . ."

--J. G. Ballard


I can't do anything else. I have always regretted having

gotten involved with literature up to my neck. I would have

preferred to have been a monk; but, as I said, I was torn

between wanting fame and wishing to renounce the world. The

basic problem is that if God exists, what is the point of

literature? And if He _doesn't_ exist, what is the point of

literature? Either way, my writing, the only thing I have

ever succeeded in doing, is invalidated.

--Eugene Ionesco


The dancer realizes someone else's dance, the writer her own.

The relationship of any writer towards a vocation so exacting

in its specificity, so demanding of love and energy and time,

so resistant to all efforts to define its essence or to

categorize its best effects, is bound to be an edgy one . . .

--Margaret Atwood


. . . The heat of writing. I call it heat not because one

does or should write in a fever, but because the deliberate

choice of words and links and transitions is easiest and best

when it is made from a throng of ideas bubbling under the

surface of consciousness. On this account, I strongly

recommend writing ahead full tilt, not stopping to correct.

Cross out no more than the few words that will permit you to

go on when you foresee a blind alley. Leave some words in

blank, some sentences not complete. Keep going!

--Jacques Barzun


Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader

. . . by either the author or the people in the tale.

The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to

possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a

miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make

it look possible and reasonable.

The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest

in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he

shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and

hate the bad ones.

Use the right word and not it's second cousin.

--Mark Twain


Let him mature the strength of his imagination amongst

the things of this earth, which it is his business to cherish

and know, and refrain from calling down his inspiration

ready-made from some heaven of perfections of which he knows

nothing. And I would not grudge him the proud illusion that

will come sometimes to a writer: the illusion that his

achievement has almost equalled the greatness of his dream. .

. . My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of

the written word to make you hear, to make you feel--it is,

before all, to make you see. That--and no more, and it is


--Joseph Conrad


Don't tell us petty stories of our own pettiness. We have

enough little Harvard men to do that. Tell us of things new

and strange and novel as you to do. Tell us of love and war

and action that thrills us because we know it not, of

boundless freedom that delights us because we have it not. . .

. Go back where there are temples and jungles and all manner

of unknown things, where there are mountains whose summits

have never been scaled, rivers whose sources have never been

reached, deserts whose sands have never been crossed.

--Willa Cather, in a letter to

Rudyard Kipling who was living in

Vermont, spending what was to be a

short time in the U.S.


Whatever the thing you wish to say, there is but one word to

express it, but one word to give it movement, but one

adjective to qualify it; you must seek until you find this

noun, this verb, this adjective. . . . When you pass a grocer

sitting in his doorway, a porter smoking a pipe, or a cab

stand, show me that grocer and that porter . . . in such a way

that I could never mistake them for any other grocer or

porter, and by a single word give me to understand wherein the

cab horse differs from fifty others before or behind it.

--Gustave Flaubert


Writers and artists . . . can vanquish lies! in the struggle

against lies, art has always won and always will. Lies can

stand up against much of the world but not against art.

--Alexandr Solzhenitsyn


As you know, the future itself is perilous. But as regards

books, there is first the financial aspect of publishing.

Already books are very expensive, so that a first novel of

quality will have less of a chance of being picked up. Say a

new Djuna Barnes, or indeed Nathalie Sarraute, might not get

published. If Woolf's _The Waves_ were to be published today

it would have pitiful sales. Of course, "how-to" books, spy

stories, thrillers, and science-fiction all sell by the

millions. What would be wonderful--what we _need_ just now--is

some astonishing fairy tale. I read somewhere the other day

that the cavemen did not paint what they saw, but what they

_wished_ they had seen. We need that, in these lonely,

lunatic times.

--Edna O'Brien


The novelist should, I think, always settle when he starts

what is going to happen, what his major event is going to be.

He may alter this event as he approaches it, indeed he

probably will, indeed he probably had better, or the novel

becomes tied up and tight. But the sense of a solid mass

ahead, a mountain round or over or through which the story

must somehow go, is most valuable and, for the novels I've

tried to write, essential. There must be something, some

major object towards which one is to approach. When I began

_A Passage to India_ I knew that something important happened

in the Malabar Caves, and that it would have a central place

in the novel--but I didn't know what it would be. The Malabar

Caves represented an area in which concentration can take

place. A cavity. Something to focus everything up: to

engender an event like an egg.

--E.M. Forster


What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done

reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific

friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone

whenever you felt like it.

--J.D. Salinger


First remember George Seither's rule: "We don't reject

writers; we reject pieces of paper with typing on them." Then

scream a little. . . . Don't stay mad and decide you are the

victim of incompetence and stupidity. If you do, you'll learn

nothing and you'll never become a writer. . . . Don't get

huffy because you have already made sales and therefore feel

that no editor dare reject you. That's just not so. He _can_

reject you and he need not even offer any reason. . . . Don't

make the opposite mistake and decide the story is worthless.

Editors differ and so do tastes and so do magazines' needs.

Try the story somewhere else. . . . What doesn't fit one

magazine might easily fit another.

--Isaac Asimov

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