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Why I Write Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction

ISBN 0316102296 / 9780316102292 / 0-316-10229-6

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Book summary

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 [via]