Author Guest Post
How & What To Learn From Other Writers
By: Donald Levin
You’ve probably heard time and time again that the two best ways to improve as a writer are to write and to read. Everybody can understand why writing a lot helps . . . if you don’t write, you won’t get better, just like if you don’t practice the violin you’ll never improve.
But did you ever wonder how you’re supposed to improve by reading? There are many reasons for that. But in this post, I want to suggest one important strategy for reading other authors that will virtually guarantee you’ll get better. Simply put, that strategy is this: find an author who does well what you want to do, ask yourself what are that author’s strengths, and then analyze the works to discover how the writing accomplishes those strengths.
Here’s an example. One of the big events of the year at the school where I work is a lecture series held every April that brings in a guest writer to give a free public reading. In my former role as chair of the department that hosts the event (I’m now a dean at the college), I was the emcee for the evening, which meant my job was to preside over the gathering and sometimes introduce the writer.
A few years ago the guest author was a certain crime novelist who shall remain nameless. Rarely had our past writers (mostly literary novelists and poets) provoked the kind of passionate public excitement that this writer did. For months before the reading, I was fielding phone calls from the public as their anticipation mounted. They couldn’t wait to see him; his readership idolized him.
To prepare my introduction, I gave myself a crash course in his works, reading through all his series as well as his stand-alone books. As a crime novelist myself, I read with a double vision: looking not only for what I could use in my introduction of him, but also for what I could learn from him for my own writing. After all, he was fabulously successful as an author, and I wanted to discover some of the secrets of his success. In my heart, of course, I hoped I could get some of his magic to rub off on me and my works.
While many aspects of his writing turned me off—his cliched use of sex and violence, for example, as well as the (to me) deadening similarity of plots and situations—I found much to learn from him, both in terms of what to avoid and what to do.
Primarily, what I learned had to do with what I felt were his real strengths: how to create characters that leap off the page, how to manage multiple plot lines, and how to move the story along quickly and effectively.
One of the things that struck me most about the phone calls that came in about him was the fanatical devotion this guy’s readers had to his characters. Where did that come from, I wondered? In my reading, I discovered he has an incredibly deft touch in populating his fiction with people whom his readers recognize from their own lives. He lets his characters talk in voices that are recognizable and real, and he paints thumbnail portraits of how they look and act in ways that resonate with his readership.
Another strength was the way he handled three, four, and even five interrelated plot lines at a time, juggling incidents from his private detective main character’s personal life with his current cases and his ever-present past that he struggles to outrun. Analyzing his work was like taking a master class in how to move plot threads along. I saw how he started scenes at the optimum moment, how he shaped them for maximum effect, and how he ended them with enough suspense to get the reader to turn the page. I saw how he jumped into a chapter or section using a juicy exchange of dialog, and how he used transitions to get the main character from one place to another most efficiently.
As I sat down to revise my latest mystery, The Baker's Men, I found myself putting these lessons into practice time and again. It’s another reminder of how much we can glean from deeply reading authors who—whether we like their work or not—are at the top of their crafts.
Did all this turn me into a best-selling author? Sadly no. But it did help me improve my books in important ways. And that’s good enough for me. Are there lessons you’ve learned from your favorite authors? I’d be interested in hearing about them.
About The Author
You can visit Donald Levin’s website at http://donaldlevin.wordpress.com.
The Baker's Men by Donald Levin
Book 2: The Martin Preuss Mystery Series
Publisher: Poison Toe Press
Publication Date: April 20, 2014
Format: Paperback - 338 pages
Kindle - 821 KB
Genre: Mystery / Crime Fiction / Police Procedural
BUY THE BOOK: The Baker's Men
BUY THE SERIES: The Martin Preuss Mystery Series
Book 1: Crimes of Love
Book 2: The Baker's Men
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Pump Up Your Book Tours.
Discuss this book in our PUYB Virtual Book Club on Goodreads.
Struggling with these questions, frustrated by the dizzying uncertainties of the case and hindered by the treachery of his own colleagues who scheme against him, Preuss is drawn into a whirlwind of greed, violence, and revenge that spans generations across metropolitan Detroit.
My Book Review:
Easter Sunday 2009 ... Ferndale Detective Martin Preuss is called out during the evening to investigate an after hours shooting at the Cake Walk Bakery. With one employee murdered, and another seriously injured, is the bakery shooting a random robbery attempt gone wrong? As Detective Preuss conducts an investigation into the shooting, he discovers that there is an intricate web of mystery surrounding the motive, and the possible people who could have been involved in committing the shootings, including local drug gangs and a radical Iraqi terrorist element connection. Balancing the frustrations of the investigation, the treachery and betrayal within his own police department, and his close relationship with his young son Toby, Detective Preuss is determined to solve the case at any cost.
In The Baker's Men, the second book in The Martin Preuss Mystery Series, author Donald Levin weaves a riveting mystery / police procedural tale that follows Ferndale Police Detective Martin Preuss' latest investigative adventures.
Set in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, The Baker's Men is a fast-paced, action packed, and gritty crime / mystery tale that easily draws the reader into Detective Preuss' investigation of the Easter night bakery shooting.
Author Donald Levin provides the reader with a gripping storyline that has enough mystery, suspense, drama, treachery, betrayal, and intriguing twists and turns that keeps the reader guessing, while weaving an intricate and complicated web of what the motive of the crime could have been, and the a spectrum of possible participants who could have been involved in committing the crime. And if that isn't enough to captivate the reader, the author adds a wonderful touch of sensitivity and humanity into the storyline with the heartwarming relationship between Detective Preuss and his young son Toby, who has Cerebral Palsy.
This is an exciting story police procedural / crime mystery story that has realistic characters; witty dialogue and interactions; rich descriptions of the setting that transports the reader to the suburbs of Detroit; a fascinating in depth behind the scenes look at police procedural and investigative techniques; and a complicated storyline that draws the reader into the criminal world of drug gangs, terrorist plots, and local greed and betrayal. The author provides a story that has a wonderful balance between the crime investigation and the backstory into Detective Preuss' life and investigative style. This is the kind of mystery series that easily keeps the reader captivated, guessing, on their toes, and wanting more!
Even though The Baker's Men is the second book in The Martin Preuss Mystery Series, it can be a standalone read, but why not do yourself a favor and read this riveting series in sequential order so you can follow Detective Pruess on every new investigative adventure!
RATING: 5 STARS
Virtual Book Tour
Brenda’s Books and Blog – Author Guest Post
Thursday, October 2
Readalot – Book Spotlight
Friday, October 3
Bound 2 Escape – Book Spotlight
Monday, October 6
Deal Sharing Aunt – Book Review
Tuesday, October 7
Jane Reads – Book Spotlight
Thursday, October 9
Mystery Thrillers and Romantic Suspense Reviews – Book Spotlight
Friday, October 10
My Life, Loves and Passion – Book Spotlight
Monday, October 13
The Writer’s Life – Author Interview / Book Spotlight
Thursday, October 16
Book Readers – Author Guest Post
Friday, October 17
As The Page Turns – Author Interview / Book Spotlight
Monday, October 20
The Story Behind The Book – Author Guest Post / Book Spotlight
Thursday, October 23
Life According To Lina – Book Review
Friday, October 24
Lilac Reviews – Book Review
Monday, October 27
Read My First Chapter – Book Excerpt
Wednesday, October 29
The Crime Scene – Book Review
Friday, October 31
Jersey Girl Book Reviews – Author Guest Post / Book Spotlight / Book Review