I thought I might review a few books that have to do with writing. Hope you don’t mind some strong opinions.
Ray Bradbury: Zen in the Art of Writing: RATING = C+: I was disappointed in this book. I’d heard the title mentioned years ago and built up an image of what a fine book it must be from Bradbury. Maybe I expected too much. The essays are almost all ones I’ve seen before, and most are quite slight in content. Bradbury talks much about his technique of writing down a series of evocative nouns, (the fog horn, the attic, etc.) and then using them to trigger a story. I've tried this and it works. But there wasn't much else of help. The book is a "cheerleading" work, meant to keep up the writer's spirits while they languish in the slush pile. There was considerable autobiographical material on Bradbury, which I liked. The title essay is the strongest.
James Sallis: Difficult Lives: Jim Thompson - David Goodis – Chester Himes: RATING = A: I've mentioned Sallis's work before, primarily for his mysteries. Difficult Lives¬ is a non-fiction biography of three 1950's detective novelists, including Himes, who was black. The book was issued by a small company called "Gryphon Press," but deserves a wider audience. I thought it was excellent, poetical in places, and with strong insights into the characters of these writers. The portraits of the first two, Thompson and Goodis, are also filled with their connections to alcohol, which many have noted seems to be a close friend/enemy of some writers. I asked Jim about Himes and alcohol, and he said there probably was a connection but that he didn't have enough information to be sure. Recommended, if you can find a copy.
Tim Underwood & Chuck Miller, Editors: Feast of Fear; Conversations with Stephen King: RATING = C+: This book spans King's career and the interviews are generally well done and ask the right questions. The downside is that all of it has been said before. I didn't learn anything new about King, but I'd say it would be hard to do so considering his saturation point has long since been reached. This is mainly only for hardcore King freaks.
Douglas Winter: Stephen King: The Art of Darkness: RATING = B: This is an old book (1986) but if you like King then you’ll probably enjoy it. It was easy reading and gave a good amount of biographical background. I read it because of my interest in writers in general, but didn't find terribly much of use here. It pretty much is what it seems, an ode to Stephen King.
Jack Woodford: Trial and Error: RATING = D-: If you’ve ever thought about writing, then I urge you desperately to never touch this book, and if you are ever given a copy throw it immediately in the garbage. This is the worst type of cynical tripe, utterly useless to anyone who wants to write serious material. If you follow its directions you might find yourself selling a few things here and there. If you have some talent you might even sell quite a bit. But none of it will be memorable, and unless you are totally without soul you will despise yourself for it. Woodford insults readers, writers, editors, and just about everyone else you can name. I have no doubt he is showing the writing world as he saw it, and a bleak and terrible hell it is. He never lies and tells anyone that he’s going to show them how to write, only how to make money from writing. (That’s why he gets a D- instead of an F.) He tells you to throw out your vocabulary. Even a person with a high school education knows 1000s of more words than he needs. He says never to rewrite. He says to steal time from your other job to "knock off" a short story or two. He is the archetype of a hack. In the end I feel sorry for the fellow. His real name was Josiah Pitts Woolfolk, and he died with $56 dollars to his name. He had been in Federal prison for a time for mail fraud, and in the end was typing but not selling from a seedy hotel in Richmond, Virginia. He died at 77, with his one apparently memorable piece of writing being this book. How depressing.