I have recently review your book "How to Grow a Nove"l.
Please tell us a bit about how you came to present this work?
I found it full of valuable information for new and not so new
writers, by the by.
I have been teaching writers one-on-one for a very long time.
Some have been very successful, James Baldwin, Jack Higgins,
David Frost, Elia Kazan among them. In the early 90s I started
teaching groups of writers, but I started to clone myself in
computer programs for writers (e.g. WritePro, FictionMaster,
FirstAid for Writers) and then in a book called "Stein on
Writing," the success of which all over the world took me
by surprise. My publishers in the US, Britain, and Europe asked
me for more, so I wrote "How to Grow a Novel" with
actual examples from what I taught writers who made it all the
way to the top.
Impressive credentials! Sol, what inspires you to write?
You can't keep me from writing. From the time I had my first
poem published (a very long time ago), writing as been my number
one joy in life and still is.
Chuckle. Writers do tend to be driven do we not? Please tell
us how long have you been writing?
My first book was published in 1941. I wrote it when I was 13.
The publisher asked me to come down to his visit. I did. He looked
at the kid and said, "Why didn't your father come himself?"
That is a wonderful tale! And you have never stopped writing
I suspect. Please fill us in on what does your daily life looks
I write every morning first thing. Some writers are nightingales,
and write half the night. I'm a lark. Afternoons and evenings
are devoted to correspondence, friends, children, love, theater.
What did you do first Sol? Did you first write your book or did
you seek out an agent or a publisher?
The situation in publishing was very different when I first came
on the scene, so I will answer for today's publishing environment.
My advice is make your book as good as you can before soliciting
an agent, and always get yourself a good agent before trying
to get the book published yourself. Then, just in case you don't
succeed in the commercial arena, you can self-publish your best
work, not a work that still needs overhauling.
Sounds like very good suggestions. Please tell us something about
yourself, about your life.
I'm a perfectionist. Saul Bellow, who won a Nobel Prize for his
writing, read my last published novel in manuscript in draft
#11. He liked it. Nevertheless, I wrote two more drafts before
submitting it. Today, many beginners try to publish before their
stories are ready. The craft of writing is akin to brain surgery;
you are working to affect the brains of thousands of people you've
never met. Would you want to have your brain operated on by a
beginner surgeon? Or would you have wanted him to study for years?
Craft consists of what hundreds of other writers have learned
over the centuries. Why reinvent the wheel? There are computer
programs that have helped writers I've worked with http:
that convey the craft techniques of this profession, writers
conferences, lots of places to learn the brain-surgery of writing
fiction and nonfiction.
Thank you for all your excellent advice and suggestions for beginning
writers. Lets turn now to a couple of specifics about character
development while writing. Do you find that your characters 'come
alive' as you are writing? Do they take over and direct the tale
as you go along?
I invent my characters and think about them when I am not writing,
but eventually they seem to take on a life of their own. I wrote
four novels about a lawyer named Thomassy, a fictional character,
and my publisher actually got letters from women who wanted to
so many of us whether we write or only read what has been written
have been inspired by a particular authors or authors. Please
tell us who is your fav author(s), how did this(those) writer(s)
inspire you and your writing?
I've learned from a lot of writers, but Graham Greene influenced
me a great deal. So did Mark Twain with his candor and feistiness.
Ah, a kindred spirit. I have long enjoyed Twain. What advice
do you have for aspiring writers Sol?
Work at learning craft. Don't write from the top of your head,
which is only good for growing hair. If you wanted to play the
piano, you'd take lessons and study piano-playing and practice,
practice, practice? Do you believe writing is different?
As before Sol, what good suggestions you have for aspiring writers.
Most writers published or not say they realize rewards from their
writing. What rewards do you enjoy from being a writer?
Joy in the writing now that I know what I'm doing. The money
is secondary. With the hundreds of writers I've worked with,
a very few put money first and succeeded. Those who put the writing
experience first wrote the books I loved, too.
Indeed. Can you tell us what are you writing at the moment?
I'm writing my tenth novel, also a book about courtesy (not etiquette!)
as the lubricant of all social behavior. I've just written an
essay about my lifelong friendship with James Baldwin, which
will probably be published together with a play that we collaborated
on a long time ago. Both A&E Biography and C-Span have recently
filmed me talking about this writer/editor relationship that
resulted in Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son," which
was picked by the Modern Library Board as one of the 100 best
nonfiction books of the century. I love writing dialogue (I was
a playwright before I was a novelist) and am tempted to go back
to a Broadway that has changed a lot since I had plays performed
Marvelous! Look forward to doing the review. Thank you so much
for sharing your time and thoughts with us Sol.