05/07 On the Bookshelf . . . “Finch”


When I interviewed Jeff VanderMeer last October at the World Fantasy Convention, I was primarily interested in only one of the two books he’d released around the time, Booklife.  (He was on a rare double-book tour across the country.)  I’d heard about his new fiction book, Finch, and when he talked about it during the interview, it certainly piqued my interest: a small nugget of contemplation that has been growing month by month, with the Hugo Award nomination, and then an award nomination for best cover — and it truly is a beautiful cover.  Thankfully my contemplation is now done with, as I have a copy to review and am very much looking forward to reading this fascinating-looking book that has garnered many positive reviews.

“Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer” by Jeff VanderMeer (Tachyon, 2009)


Jeff VanderMeer is a writer who’s done a little bit of everything, whether it’s publishing compelling fiction, editing his own anthologies (as well as co-editing with his wife, Anne), going on book tours for author appearances, or presenting writer workshops around the country.  He’s the sort of guy who has a lot of say about writing and publishing and advice he can offer just about any level of writer.  Fortunately, he’s done just that in his new book, Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer.

Booklife is a book for any kind of writer whether he’s someone who’s never published anything and is looking to make it in the business, or whether she has a few books under her belt and is looking to make it really big.  Booklife has a little something for every type of writer.  The book is divided into two parts: Public Booklife, which covers how to present both yourself and your work as a writer, how best to organize and carry out successful signings and book tours, and – most importantly – creating and managing your goals so you can really make it as a writer.  The second part, Private Booklife, covers some of the mechanics of writing, how important feedback is – and not just from friends and family, and using some of the lessons from the first part of the book in different and constructive ways to make your writing the best it can be.

And it doesn’t all end when you reach the last page of Booklife, there is the booklifenow.com website, filled with helpful articles, tips and strategies, updated three times a week, and affiliated with Publisher’s Weekly Booklife portal.  Booklife is not just a book, but a whole package experience that gives you ideas and suggestions to help you achieve your goals; it’s not necessary to do every thing this book tells you; it’s up to get what you want out of it, which depends on how much work you put into it.  But Booklife will certainly help you along the way to becoming that bestselling writer you’ve always dreamed of.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on December 11th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

Who Needs a Writing Program? Word Does the Job Just Fine.

As I started getting stuck into the thick of the start of my manuscript yesterday, I soon decided I wished I had a little tool to use that I would expect to be the basic add-on for just about any writing program or writing aid software available.

I’ve always been a fan of Microsoft Word, and I’ve become very familiar with its layout and design, its shortcuts and fine tunings, regardless of the critique that others make against the program. And I’ve never really planned on getting any of the programs that help in writing. Jeff Vandermeer makes himself very clear in Booklife in that he believes while it is up to the author’s own choice, the programs do more to hurt than help in making writers lazy with the shortcuts and easier ways of doing things that may not do anything to actually improve the writing, but serve more to distract the writer with gadgetry and quick fixes. While I am at times curious about the programs available, I tend to agree with him. Even Word itself has some shortcuts that can atrophy a writer’s abilities in some way with the spellchecker and the thesaurus and the preset grammatical rules to make it simple for a writer to have Word tell them when they have made a mistake.

As a writer, a firm credo I’ve always believed in is that it is key to understand the rules of English in writing (for obvious reasons), but in this way it allows the writer to bend or break these rules of language, resulting in something new and more spontaneous. When you’re working on a piece — whether it be a short story, a longer project, or even a drabble — you can write in two ways:

1) with the safety net in place, telling you when there’s a spelling error, a grammatically incorrect sentence — or simply that it is too long — or you’re stumped for a word and automatically go to the thesaurus, giving little creativity and originality to your work; or

2) you can work without the safety net, come up with your own wordage, your own complex sentences and choose to use the same word over and over. It may get removed during future edits, but it will make the sentence look completely different, making you see it in a totally different and unique way that you wouldn’t have had you had the safety net in place. Perhaps the repetition may serve to work make the sentence stronger or work for a particular character or piece of description.

Though I admit I keep the spellchecker automatically on because I just find it easier that way. But I have customized Word to suit my own needs in writing and don’t have any of the grammatical rules in place.

And then there’s the new tool I discovered.

It allows the user to add comments to the document. As I said, this is something I would expect most writing programs to have, where you’re working on a document and want to add a note to a word or section to remind yourself when you come back to it later to change or add, or just do something to it, but not at this particular moment in time. The Comments option allows this. You can find it under the Insert menu or you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Alt+M. It will highlight the word and pop up a section at the bottom of the page, numbering the comments by “ACTs,” allowing you to add as many comments as you wish, forming a list for easy reference. You can choose the color of the highlight option, though yellow is the least distracting I find. There’s probably also a way of numbering the comments differently, but I’m fine with my “ACTs.”

And now I feel comforted in knowing I can leave lots of comments, thoughts, and ideas, as well as changes I will want to make during future drafts and edits.

If anyone has anything else they’d like to share on this subject, please do.