“The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers” by Betsy Lerner (Riverhead, 2001)

A Book Every Writer Has to Have!

Forest For the Treesstarstarstarstar

Like a lot of English majors on campus, I want to get a book published eventually. Also, like a lot of other people, I don’t really know how to go about getting an agent, an editor, a publisher, etc.  I just figured I would find answers to those questions when I got the book done.

Thankfully there is now a book that answers all these questions, and much more.  The Forest for the Trees should be on every writer’s shelf, right next to Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.  The author, Betsy Lerner, is now an agent for the Gernert Company in New York, and has worked in the editorial departments at Simon & Schuster, Ballantine, and Houghton Mifflin, as well as executive editor for Doubleday.

The book is divided into two sections: one on writing and one on publishing.  It does not try to teach you how to write.  Lerner offers advice and information to writers who have problems.  She uses categories (The Ambivalent Writer, The Natural Writer, The Wicker Child, etc.) through which writers can classify themselves, and with Lerner’s help, avoid the pitfalls and potholes that this category reveals.

The second half of the book is on publishing.  Starting right at the beginning, Lerner takes you on a journey, where you are told how to get an agent, how they should be treated, and whether multiple submissions are a must or a must-not.  Lerner explains how to deal with rejection, telling you that each rejection is a run on the ladder towards success.  She explains what it is that editors want, and what authors want.  Finally, Lerner takes you on a unique quest with what happens once you’ve signed the contract and the many steps it takes to get your manuscript into book form and out on the shelves of the bookstores.

The Forest for the Trees is an interesting and entertaining read for the writer or the reader interested in the process of writing.  Find out the problems Tom Wolfe had with his editor, or how well did John Grisham’s novel do?

Betsy Learner uses a language that is simple yet detailed, packed with information that everyone can benefit from.  Recently issued in paperback, this book is now only $12.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on February 18th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, 2001)

Gaiman’s American Gods

American Godsstarstarstarstar

From upcoming English author of Neverwhere and the successful Sandman comic book series, comes Neil Gaiman’s first great epic, American Gods.  In the metaphysical vein, Gaiman has created a world to rival those of Clive Barker’s, presenting new insight into n otherwise ignored genre.

Our main character is a man recently freed from prison, known as Shadow.  He is now heading for what he thinks will be a return to his former, happy life with a beautiful wife and his old job already lined up.  What he does not know is that his wife is dead, killed in a car accident while “administering: some pleasure to his best friend, the very man who gave him his job back.

Shadow is going to meet some very strange characters that go by some most unusual names: Mr. Wednesday, Mr. Nancy, Easter, Ibis, Jaquel, and Czernobog.  What he does not know is that he is very special, not just to these bizarre characters, but to the fate of two great armies – one as old as time itself, the other as new as the Internet – who will war against each other to decide who will have the right to govern the country as gods.

American Gods is a compelling, driving novel that enraptures the reader.  And while Shadow’s full potential and significance is never truly understood, as well as Gaiman’s obsessive use of dreams to explain crucial details, the novel on the whole is an enthralling read for any who profess to enjoy a kaleidoscope of horror/fantasy/metaphysics/sci-fi.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on February 18th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of a Legendary Queen” by Nicholas Clapp (Houghton Mifflin, 2001)


In this most historic effort, one man records – through fact, evidence and study – who the real woman known as the Queen of Sheba was.  Firstly, she is a place in the ancient world in which she was at one point considered queen; ruling with her, as well as being the one who made her queen, was none other than the king of Solomon.

In Sheba Nicholas Clapp goes all the way, taking the reader on a guided tour, first into every known genre where the enigmatic Sheba is mentioned.  Having provided a strong background and introduction, Clapp then takes the reader into the areas where Sheba is actually though to have lived: Ethiopia, with Solomon and the Holy Land, and into the desert and land of spices.

What is necessary, I believe, before reading the book is a relatively well-rounded background in the religious texts of the ancient world, like the Bible and the Koran, for there are certain instances where Clapp tries to explain religious as well as historical significance, but can only go so far when these texts are involved.  Nevertheless, the book is a delight to read and provides a unique insight into a character so shrouded in mystery and legend that very few truly know who the Queen of Sheba really was.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on February 11th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.