Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

‘Writing Is Selection’: John McPhee on the Art of Omission


Leaving things out is something a writer learns…

There’s a quote in today’s re-blog that I really like:

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Happy reading :-)

Longreads Blog

Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got.

-John McPhee, writing in the The New Yorker, on the art of “greening,” or whittling down your writing, and deciding what to leave out.

Read the story

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New #SciFi Site ~ Join & Get a #FreeBook :-)


There’s quite a bit of divergence of opinion about the “genre” of my short novel, Notes from An Alien.

My “co-author” (who’s also a character in the story) lets you have your choice between fiction and non-fiction

My Best Friend calls it a Documentary Novel

I think most folks think of it as Sci-Fi, from the title and the fact that folks in the story do fly in spaceships

I think many of the leading characters of the story would call it a Family History

It is for sale but will also always be free

Which brings me to a free sci-fi novel I got the other day. Discover Sci-Fi Contest

It was given to me by a new WebSite—Discover Sci-Fi—all I had to do was give them my email and be willing to receive their newsletter

Perhaps showing you the welcome email I got will be the most efficient way of letting you know what they’re about:

“Discover Sci-Fi is much more than just another discount book website, because it’s coming from us personally—a new breed of science fiction authors who want to forge a closer, direct link with our readers.

“Why does this matter? Because we’re not just promoting books, we own the books, so we’re able to offer unique deals you won’t find anywhere else, sneak peaks and inside looks, and offer direct access to the inner thoughts of some of today’s bestselling science fiction writers. Not to mention amazing monthly contests for stuff you won’t find on any other site.

“We’d like to extend a very personal thank you for joining from Matthew Mather, Nick Webb, Samuel Peralta, Nicholas Sansbury Smith, Michael Grumley, Evan Currie, Autumn Kalquist, Jay Allan, Darren Wearmouth, Joshua Dalzelle, and the whole team at DSF.

“You’ll be receiving weekly emails from us, each week a new inside-look article from one of our top-selling authors, along with new book deals, discounted and free book offers not found anywhere else. Of course you can unsubscribe at any time. 

“And, if you want to tell people about our new project, we’d really appreciate it–just send them to our website.”

I’m personally very glad to see a group of authors get together and take charge of their futures—it’s happening more and more

The only question I have about their site is, when will there be more than just the sign-up page :-)

I really can’t complain—they’re probably real busy getting all the internal goodies ready—I already have a free e-book—more will undoubtedly be revealed in future emails from them

But, there is their blog and, I really should mention, if you sign-up for the newsletter and claim your free e-book, you’re also entered in their $100,000 GiveAway which includes, at least, a bunch of signed copies of their books and will be held on the 28th of February

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If you don’t see a way to comment after this post, try up there at the top right…
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
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The Meta-Recipe


Show? Tell? Follow the “Rules”?

Today’s re-blog draws parallels between Writing and Cooking :-)

M.C. Tuggle, Writer

A Moveable Feast

Things got a little heated at the last meeting of our Sci-Fi/Fantasy critique group. One member said that the manuscript under review did not work. The reason, he insisted, was that a scene lasting two paragraphs of a ten-page story was exposition, and as everyone knows, “showing is better than telling.”

I disagree. Sometimes you enhance the pace with a little exposition. For example, does the reader really want a vivid, sensuous accounting of your protagonist fixing dinner? I’d say no — unless it’s central to the story.

And that’s the thing. A vital part of the writing craft is knowing when to apply the right rule. Even the best rule should not be mindlessly followed off a cliff.

Bill Daley, the Chicago Tribune’s food writer, recently offered what I call a “meta-recipe” for aspiring cooks. He calls it “10 steps six cookbook pros say you should follow to…

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What Are Folks in Institutions of “Higher Education” Reading?


I know the visitor map on this site (down, on the left, in the side-bar {if you’re not on your phone…}) shows folks coming here from all over the world; yet, still, most of my traffic is here with me in the USA.

So, for those folks from other places on our planet, I hope knowing about something in my country can translate into a valuable perspective in your country

The “top”, “most respected” institutions of “Higher Education” in the USA are called the “Ivy League“.

What that term means certainly isn’t only the ivy that may be growing on the walls of buildings at certain Eastern institutions known for “‘academic excellence’, selectivity in admissions, and a reputation for social elitism”—check out that last link—but, these places do exist and people attend them and many of them become quite influential in American politics and business.

So, there’s an article on The Washington Post that addresses What Ivy League students are reading that you aren’t.

While I urge anyone to go read the full article, I’ll excerpt a few bits of it:

“If you want an Ivy League education, you could fork over $200 grand or so and go to Cornell or Harvard for four years. Alternatively, you could save a ton of cash by simply reading the same books Ivy League students are assigned.”

Then, they reference the Open Syllabus Explorer, a database of about a decades-worth of books assigned in over a million college courses in the USA.

Another excerpt:

“There’s an ‘intellectual judgment embedded’ in the lists of books college students are required to read. The most frequently-assigned books at the nation’s universities are essentially our canon: the body of literature that society’s leaders are expected to be familiar with.”

There are a number of fascinating charts and a very cool map in the article that are worth checking out (if you have any interest in “higher education” in the USA…).

But, I want to share a few comparisons:

While, in all the schools in the database, the top three most-assigned books were The Elements of Style, The Republic, and Campbell Biology,  the top three most-assigned in the Ivy League were The Republic, The Clash of Civilizations, and The Elements of Style.

The full article has a graph with the top ten in each category

Then, they compare the top ten most-assigned English Literature books.

The top three for all the schools are Frankenstein, Canterbury Tales, and Paradise Lost.

For the Ivy League schools, they are Canterbury TalesParadise Lost, and Persuasion.

Again, the article has the top ten.

And, I should mention that The Open Syllabus Explorer shows Many more than ten in each category

Two more brief excerpts:

“The folks who built the Open Syllabus Explorer are the first to admit that their data are incomplete and likely contain a fair number of errors.”

“Still, with more than 1 million syllabi in the database, it’s currently the best approximation we have for what students are actually reading in college — and for the books that are informing the leaders of tomorrow.”

So Two questions:

If you went to an institution of “higher education” were you assigned any of these books?

And, if you’re from a country other than the USA, did this post have value for you?

>>> EDIT after publication: I tried to replicate what The Washington Post gave for the top assigned books to Ivy League students in the data base

I don’t really know how they got the results they reported

Perhaps it’s best to stick to what is presented directly in the Open Syllabus Explorer

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you don’t see a way to comment after this post, try up there at the top right…
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Self-editing masterclass snapshots: key character disappears, how should I handle it?


Ah, characters that do things that trouble their authors…

Today’s re-blog has Roz Morris revealing a bit of a student session dealing with a tricky character…

Nail Your Novel

guardI’m running a series of the smartest questions from my recent Guardian self-editing masterclass for novelists. Previous posts have discussed how much extra material we might write that never makes the final wordcount, how to flesh out a draft that’s too short and a problem of pacing if much of the plot concerns the fallout from one event. Today I’m looking at another interesting problem:

Important character disappears – how should I handle it?

Character departureOne writer had a key character who vanishes from the narrative. Her novel was based on family history and she had a character who was significant for the early chapters and then drifted away.

The character didn’t die, and didn’t have a formal farewell event to create a definite exit from the story world. There was just a period where they ceased to be involved. The writer was worried that this might look like…

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