George Bauman

"Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." Gene Fowler penned this observation, and most writers published and hopeful would agree with him.

Each time a new book hits the market that can help the aspiring writer, this is cause for rejoicing. One of them just might be the tool that puts that hard-working scribbler into print.

This month there are two worth noting: The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner and A Writer's Book of Days: A Spiritual Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves. Both are worth picking up, for very different reasons.

While each offers practical advice, the Reeves book has holistic insights into the creative process. Let's look at the inspirational first, for many writers need encouragement more than practical advice.

A Writer's Book of Days is a guide of prompts to get you going. Reeves is a cheerleader who writes, I found that it's easier to begin the writing when a prompt is supplied. The book, truly a book of days for writers, contains a writing-practice topic for every day of the year, such as for January 13, After midnight ; December 26, Write about something sacred ; and April 12, Dubious intentions. Many writers have the best intentions upon sitting down, but feel they lack something to write about. Reeves directs that desire to write by offering daily topics daily, and then encouraging the writer to take them wherever their own personal response leads. Just write! Make mistakes who cares when you're practicing your writing? She offers lots of writing tips in an easy-to-use format, and includes many quotes from other writers, including this one from Natalie Goldberg: Don't just put in your time. That is not enough. You have to make a great effort. Be willing to put your whole life on the line when you sit down for writing practice. Developing a writing habit and a writing style is what's important. Not talking about it.

Betsy Lerner's book, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, takes a different approach. She's a veteran editor and publishing insider, and when she writes about the relationship between publishers and writers, the reader feels privileged, as though forbidden secrets were being divulged on how to get published.

She believes that the best editors must work with the writer, not just the writing, much as Maxwell Perkins did with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe. In fact the title of this book, The Forest for the Trees, comes from a Perkins quote as he was writing to Marcia Davenport.

Lerner's book is not a how-to-write book. Instead she offers advice from the all-important editor's perspective on how to finish a project when all looks hopeless, on what to do when your neuroses get in the way, on how to break through a between-projects stall. The first half of the book addresses The Writer, The Writing. It's broken into chapters such as The Ambivalent Writer, The Natural, The Wicked Child, The Self-Promoter, and The Neurotic. The second half of the book deals with the publishing process, including up-to-date answers to the questions that all writers have about the interaction between themselves and publishers and agents. She discusses the recent mergers of publishing conglomerates; online bookselling, downloading books from the Net, and more. Lerner is good because she can see what the writer sees, and moves from there to what the author needs to see. She understands delusion. Her book encourages clear-sightedness when writers deal with publishers.

So, all you writers out there, finish reading about other writers' success, and go to work. One day at a time. Every day. Write. Write. Write.

And read good books about writing.

George Cowmeadow Bauman is the co-owner of Acorn Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio.

"Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." Gene Fowler penned this observation, and most writers published and hopeful would agree with him. Each time a new book hits the market that can help the aspiring writer, this is […]

Normal cats may have nine lives, but this is the 23rd life for Lilian Jackson Braun's cats, who are back with another episode in the life of the good folks in Moose County, 400 miles north of everywhere. These books can be found in the mystery section, but readers know that the stories are more about Jim Qwilleran and his two precocious Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum. Qwilleran is a former journalist from down below, but became the benefactor of an entire region when he inherited a fortune and established a foundation to give away the money. Now he writes a popular column and generally involves himself in the lives of his neighbors, including his librarian friend Polly.

This latest finds Qwill and the Siamese on the trail of a murder. The old Pickax Hotel has been renovated after being bombed, and grand opening ceremonies have been timed to coordinate with other activities guaranteed to excite the northlanders. A Chicago jewelry dealer, accompanied by his attractive young niece, is visiting to buy the antique jewelry of wealthy, elderly women in town and to offer quality pieces for sale. And the eagerly anticipated Scottish gathering and highland games have the town abuzz. Qwill is honoring his Scottish ancestry by getting out his best kilt.

The jewelry dealer, however, is found murdered, and the champion of the claber toss at the highland games is considered the chief suspect.

The cats start generating clues by stepping on the phone as it's about to ring, yowling in the middle of the night at the exact time the murder takes place, chewing on pencils, hiding gum wrappers, and stealing the pennies intended to be dropped into an antique mechanical bank (thus the title of the book).

Readers of this best-selling series will welcome the return of the entire litter of unusual people. But be cautious about wearing a kilt and having cats on your lap!

George Cowmeadow Bauman is the co-owner of the Acorn Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio, and wrote this with two Siamese cats sharing his desktop.

Normal cats may have nine lives, but this is the 23rd life for Lilian Jackson Braun's cats, who are back with another episode in the life of the good folks in Moose County, 400 miles north of everywhere. These books can be found in the mystery section, but readers know that the stories are more […]

Our Fathers is a dense, literate novel set in Scotland. This comes as no surprise since its author, Andrew O'Hagan, is himself a Scotsman and was named Scottish Writer of the Year in 1998.

James Bawn is the narrator, a 35-year-old man traveling from Liverpool to see his dying grandfather in Ayrshire county. Though his father was an angry, abusive alcoholic, his father's father was a successful socialist politician whose grand vision and equally grand speaking voice made high-rise apartment buildings a postwar seaside reality. Granda was a priest of steel decking and concrete. But now the buildings are being demolished, and the old man also suffers decline. He rails at everyone who will listen, and often on the balcony to those who don't. Granda always wanted the world to hear him. This book gives voice to Granda, towering over his son and grandson, as the buildings he saw erected towered over the village's past.

James credits his current life to having had a childhood which was dotted with lucky islands, chief among them being his mother, his books, and his grandparents.

Of his mother, he writes of meeting her frequently after her morning shift in the bakery to share fresh baked buns, a respite from anger in the house.

James retreated into books, only to be told by his screaming father that books were only good for boring bastards who don't know how to enjoy themselves. His grandparents, to whom he fled when he could no longer endure his father's alcoholic rages, gave him room to live. They also gave him stories of the family's past, including that of his grandfather's mother, who led rent-strikers during World War I in a battle against slumlords.

O'Hagan is a lyrical writer, whose poetic turn of phrase creates an unforgettable image with a minimum of words.

Our fathers were made for grief. And all our lives we waited for sadness to happen . . . We had only the prospect of living in their wake . . . O'Hagan speaks for many of us as he concludes, Maybe there is no such thing as an ordinary trip home. ¦ George Cowmeadow Bauman is the co-owner of Acorn Books in Columbus, Ohio.

Our Fathers is a dense, literate novel set in Scotland. This comes as no surprise since its author, Andrew O'Hagan, is himself a Scotsman and was named Scottish Writer of the Year in 1998. James Bawn is the narrator, a 35-year-old man traveling from Liverpool to see his dying grandfather in Ayrshire county. Though his […]

Michael Korda has been at the heart of the book business both as an editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster and as a best-selling author. For over 40 years he has been on the inside of American publishing, from the time when it was perceived as a gentleman's occupation through the show-business-driven '90s, from the time when editors were the premier decision-makers to today's accountant-dominated industry. Max Schuster once told Korda, This is commerce, you see, as well as culture.

Although Another Life is written as a memoir, Korda's emphasis is on the people he's worked with over the years. Presidents and royalty, great writers and unknowns have all benefited from Korda's editing. And we benefit by Korda having such a good memory and a talent for storytelling. From the '60s to the '90s, Korda documents the publishing approach to creating bestsellers, finally concluding, "The celebrity autobiography was well suited to the growing symbiosis between books and television. Give the reader a break, was Dick Simon's dictate to every editor at Simon and Schuster."

Korda applied this wisdom to the books he edited, but also to this book he's written for us now. The stories flow. He drops celebrity, publishing, and writers' names as we would those in our own office, for his office really did see all those noted people. His anecdotes convey both the positive and the less-than-sterling behavior of those he worked with. He also offers lots of book trivia, including the tidbit that Catch-22 was originally titled "Catch-18," until it was discovered that the new novel from Leon Uris was called Mila-18.

This is a fun and fascinating look into the business that generates all those books we read.

George Cowmeadow Bauman is the co-owner of Acorn Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio.

Michael Korda has been at the heart of the book business both as an editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster and as a best-selling author. For over 40 years he has been on the inside of American publishing, from the time when it was perceived as a gentleman's occupation through the show-business-driven '90s, from the time […]

Cat on the Scent, the seventh mystery co-written by Rita Mae Brown and her feline collaborator Sneaky Pie, features all the traits of purebred fun.

Recently Disney telecast a version of these mysteries, called Murder She Meowed. It was wonderful to hear the voices of Mrs. Murphy and Tucker, the cat and corgi sleuths who bring clues like gifts to their house-sharer, Mary Harry Harristeen. She's the postmistress of Crozet, Virginia, and thus privy to the town's news and gossip (and clues!) when residents pick up their mail. Crozet is shocked when a wealthy resident is shot during a Civil War battle reenactment. Of course Harry and her pets which now include another cat, Pewter get involved in solving the shooting, the first of several to rock the close community.

The sheriff considers the amateur detective a busybody, but concedes a fair amount of past success, little appreciating that her furry friends really deserved the credit. Lassie-like, they uncover and deliver clues, or coax humans to the evidence. Brown gives such intelligence to her animal characters that soon the reader begins looking more to the four-legged for insights into human behavior. The hilarious highlight of the book is a scene straight out of Disney the three animals collaborating to drive a car containing a shooting victim.

The antics of the animals, Brown's witty observations, the history-revering Virginians, and the Blue Ridge setting make this a pleasurable read for lovers of this popular genre. Enjoying it with two dozing cats on your lap, as I did, made it all the more perfect.

George Bauman is the co-owner of Acorn Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio.

Cat on the Scent, the seventh mystery co-written by Rita Mae Brown and her feline collaborator Sneaky Pie, features all the traits of purebred fun. Recently Disney telecast a version of these mysteries, called Murder She Meowed. It was wonderful to hear the voices of Mrs. Murphy and Tucker, the cat and corgi sleuths who […]

Review by George Cowmeadow Bauman In 1997's Booknotes, Brian Lamb collected a number of his interviews with writers who had appeared on his TV program of the same name. Now the man responsible for the oxymoronically named Book TV is at it again compiling irresistible reading for fans of C-SPAN's Booknotes program, and for anyone interested in good writing and interesting lives.

Booknotes: Life Stories is being published to celebrate the program's tenth anniversary, and it is Lamb at his finest. He's collected 75 interviews with biographers who responded to Lamb's questions about their subjects and the process of turning inspiration into print. Included are Susan Butler on Amelia Earhart, Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King, Jr., and Norman Mailer on Lee Harvey Oswald. Walter Cronkite, Frank McCourt, and Katharine Graham discuss their own lives, public and private. Lamb describes his interviewing style in the book's Introduction: I'm not in that chair on behalf of intellectuals; my job is to ask questions on behalf of the average George and Jane, Cathy and Jim. In the interest of making the collection more readable, Lamb's questions have been deleted. The biographers' comments about their subjects are conversational.

An appendix lists all of the Booknotes interviews over the ten-year run of the program. It's an impressive collection of the best nonfiction writers during that period.

Readers who enjoy American history will find a wealth of material here. Historical misunderstandings are corrected. For example, Paul Revere never said, The British are coming! The colonists still thought they were British. Instead, he shouted, The regulars are out! Whether Booknotes: Life Stories is read for enjoyment or is used as a reference, it will cause the reader to give thanks for the national literary treasure known as Brian Lamb.

George Cowmeadow Bauman is the co-owner of Acorn Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio.

Review by George Cowmeadow Bauman In 1997's Booknotes, Brian Lamb collected a number of his interviews with writers who had appeared on his TV program of the same name. Now the man responsible for the oxymoronically named Book TV is at it again compiling irresistible reading for fans of C-SPAN's Booknotes program, and for anyone […]

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