Links for Writers–Books, Blogs, Lists, Etc.

Here are some of the links I mentioned in the Santa Barbara Novel Mentor workshop in February 2013, about dialog, pitches, queries and beginnings of novels.


Writing Dialog by Tom Chiarella. I lent this book to somebody and have to get it back. It’s a good book. Useful. Interesting.

“Are we still doing the dishes?” This is the page I took that dialog exercise from that we did in the workshop together. I suspect that it’s something Mr. Butler might use on occasion, as it’s on the FSU site. I liked doing that. I liked the suppressed tension that many of our writings had. And then if you recall I thought, now let’s raise the stakes, and so suggested that we write a dialog between two characters, one of whom asks the other, “What do you want more than anything else in the world … and what are you not willing to do to get it?” That last bit, expressed in the negative, is hard to grasp at first but it’s basically saying, “Would you stop at nothing?”

12 Exercises for improving dialog by John Hewitt. Some of these are pretty good. You can’t go wrong trying things out. The more you do, the more you learn.

And how can you go wrong with dialog advice from Stephen J. Cannell, right?


Here is former agent Nathan Bransford on the one-sentence pitch.

This from writer Hilari Bell on writing a pitch I find useful because it takes us through several iterations of a hypothetical pitch.

Now, of course, this is all in addition to all the things that Michael Neff has to say and all the resources that are on the Algonkian site.


I thought this query letter madlib idea from Nathan Bransford was funny. And it could be useful. As long as what you build on it sounds reasonably like it was written by a human.


I love this long list of novel openings, as well as these 5 ways it can go wrong, both from Forgive me if I didn’t really know who Darcy Pattison was … I’m not your ideal student of contemporary fiction.

I guess it couldn’t hurt to read this list from the American Book Review of 100 best opening lines, but somehow it leave me flat. I think because there’s no analysis. We don’t really know if those are the best opening lines or they just happen to be the opening lines of some really great novels. Worth thinking about: Would they be in there if the novels that came after them sucked? For instance a couple of them might stop an agent cold. Like No. 65, “You better not never tell nobody but God,” from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982). Or Saul Bellow’s No. 69, “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” If it wasn’t a famous and great novel by a famous and great novelist, would it get recommended as a great first line? I dunno. I’m just saying. Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964). And there are among them, of course, lines I like a whole lot, like: 67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963) and 75. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. —Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929). And here is an appropriately doubting and irreverent take on those same 100 first lines.

OK, so that’s it for now. I just promised at the Santa Barbara conference that I’d get back to you on those links and stuff. You could look forever on the Web for such stuff. I’m not saying all of it is great. I also have some favorite books about writing. Maybe I’ll put some of that together too.


Cary T.




Tuscan memories

Cary’s first-ever Tuscan writing retreat went better than we could ever have imagined. First of all, we’d like to thank all of our participants who travelled from all over the world to attend. After years of putting on writing retreats, we’ve noticed that those who participate in Cary’s events are a very special breed: talented, creative, intelligent, adventurous, fun-loving and kind are the qualities that immediately come to mind. Without such a wonderful, open-hearted group of people, our retreat wouldn’t have been half the success it turned out to be.
In addition to many productive writing workshops, there were wonderful hours composing and enjoying delicious pot-luck meals, fascinating and amusing conversations by the pool, amazing local food discoveries and adventurous treks to Cortona,

View beyone Pari's city wall.

View beyone Pari’s city wall.

Florence, Siena and Beyond (“Beyond” being the obscure and utterly charming medieval town of Pari to which our good friend,

Linda, introduced a small group of us).
After Tuscany we made our way to Amsterdam where we stayed at the ultra-modern, state-of-the-art Citizen M hotel and put on a two-day writing workshop at the American Book Center‘s Treehouse. I was amazed by how many non-Americans attended this event. I was most impressed by our German, French and Dutch attendees who chose to write in English rather than their native languages, which, no doubt, added a layer of challenge.
Both the Amsterdam and Tuscany workshops turned out to be so successful that we are indeed planning on doing this again next year. Stay tuned for more information!

On a quiet Cortona street

On a quiet Cortona street

In Florence

In Florence

An areal of our lunch after our writing workshop in Amsterdam

An areal of our lunch after our writing workshop in Amsterdam

Cary on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Cary on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Back from Esalen, the Sun Magazine “Into the Fire” conference

Rooming with Sy Safransky. We got to talk under the stars Friday night about this and that. Talking with Sy it’s never about this and that but it’s always kinda about this and that which makes it akin to the lightly ordered musings you find in the magazine. Writers giving workshops included poet Chris Burks, whose performances and performance-art-type gifts — a stone, a bell — were just what the heady, headless, heedless group of up-in-the-air poets, fiction writers, memoirists and journalists needed. Nice. A stone. A bell. Thanks, Chris. And Alison Luterman, and Pat MacEnulty, and …