First, some business to square away – I’m teaching a couple of courses I’d like everyone to know about. If you or someone you know would like to register, follow the links I provide below.
The first is an in-person weekend class and workshop at Book Passage in Corte Madera on December 1st & 2nd. The class is titled Character Spines and Story Lines, and will focus on how to integrate character with story to create focused, compelling, character-driven plots.
The second is a ten-week online course, beginning January 16th, offered through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. It’s titled The Outer Limits of Inner Life: Building Consistent but Surprising Characters, and covers the art of characterization from conception of the character through development and execution on the page.
They've also created a swift little video for the rollout, in which I characteristically talk far too quickly about nothing much:
Follow the links to purchase the titles, and remember there are two days left of the special November promotion in which The Devil's Redhead (and 99 other stellar titles) are all available for $3.99 or less (TDR is a lean, mean $2.99).
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Now, to our regularly schedule programming:
I had a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. I got to meet my girlfriend Mette’s parents for the first time – they spend much of the year abroad, living for several months in Bergen, Norway, another several in Izmir, Turkey – and spent several restful days at a lakeside cottage in the Putnam Valley (not far from Sleepy Hollow), eating sumptuous meals, hiking in the woods, and listening to vinyl on our host’s knockout stereo (his record collection ranged from Bowie to Herbie Hancock to Fela to Sonny Boy Williamson to, well, you get the picture).
I also received from my editor at Penguin, Tara Singh, a jpeg for the finalized cover up my upcoming book, The Art of Character:
Oops. My apologies. I tried to post the cover, but I only have a pdf file,
and apparently I need a jpeg or similar file. I'm going to try something here -- let's see if it works. If not, sorry.
The cover was completed after I was able to scrabble together some blurbs from assorted friends, colleagues, comrades in arms. Given the rather ragged path to publication this poor little book has endured – I’m on my third editor, for example – I was given a very narrow time window (two weeks) to gather these quotes, which all but guaranteed that we’d come up short-handed.
All the writers I know are super-busy, and asking for a quote in such a short time frame was almost embarrassing. Many of the writers I asked simply couldn’t oblige, but luckily there were a significant, generous few who were able to take the time and respond.
As you know, this past year there was a rather heated debate over the use of “sock puppets” to praise one’s own work and, in extreme cases, attack the work of others. Alexandra and Martyn both posted blogs here on the topic. And the resulting discussion all around the web brought into high relief the entire issue of garnering favorable opinion for one’s work – whether in the form of friends writing Amazon reviews, writing reviews oneself under pseudonyms, or good old-fashioned, genuine third-party praise.
Barry Eisler, in addressing the sock puppet phenomenon, put it in the context of acquiring blurbs, a system he considers “irredeemably corrupt.” I’m not quite as jaundiced as Barry, but I’m no fool. I realize that many cover quotes are written as personal favors or as a kind of quid pro quo for kindnesses or acts of generosity provided elsewhere. I also know they don't always reflect a genuine knowledge of the work. As Robert B. Parker famously remarked: "I'll blurb the book or read it, not both." (I'm paraphrasing.)
I think most people understand all this. Readers don’t take cover quotes as gospel any more than they read Yelp reviews without a certain reasonable skepticism. Ultimately, we evaluate several reviews and/or blurbs, "weigh the source," glimpse at the book ourselves, and form our own opinion.
That said, I was absolutely overwhelmed with the generosity, kindness, and respect my fellow writers showed my humble little book. My editor was frankly stunned – and ecstatic. Here’s a sample:
"David Corbett has written a wise, inspiring love letter to all the imaginary creatures inside our minds—so we might conjure them whole on the page. I predict that massively underscored copies of The Art of Character will rest close at hand on writers’ desks for many years to come." —Cheryl Strayed, Best Selling Author of Wild
“I once made the mistake of writing a story with David Corbett. The man smoked me. He can delineate the character and personality of an accordion in three strokes. I didn't even know accordions had character. This act of generosity and wisdom from a very good writer will help anyone who is staring at a blank page, any day, any time. Highly recommended.” —Luis Alberto Urrea, Pulitzer Finalist and Bestselling Author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter
“Corbett’s The Art of Character is no "how to" book or "writing by numbers" manual. It is a writer’s bible that will lead to your character’s soul.” —Elizabeth Brundage, Best Selling Author of A Stranger Like You
Indispensable. Few are the writer’s guides that are written as beautifully, cogently, and intelligently as a well-wrought novel. This is one of those books.” —Megan Abbott, Edgar-Winning author of The End of Everything
"David Corbett's The Art of Character belongs on every writer's shelf beside Elizabeth George's Write Away and Stephen King's On Writing. An invaluable resource for both the novice and the experienced hand, it's as much fun to read as a great novel." —Deborah Crombie, New York Times best-selling author of Water Like a Stone
"The topic of character development begins and ends with David Corbett’s The Art of Character. This is the book on the subject, destined to stand among the writings of John Gardner, Joseph Campbell, and the others of that select few whose work is fundamental to understanding the craft of storytelling." —Craig Clevenger, author of The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria
"David Corbett's The Art of Character offers a deep inquiry into the creation of character for the novice writer, with valuable nuggets of wisdom for the seasoned storyteller. If you are a writer, it should be on your desk." —Jacqueline Winspear, National Best Selling Author of A Lesson in Secrets
“Clear-headed and confident, David Corbett takes us through the steps of characterization in a manner that resists formula while at the same time demystifying a process that has likely daunted every writer since Homer. “ —Robin Hemley, Award-Winning Author of Turning Life into Fiction
“David Corbett has combined his unique talents as a gifted writer and an extraordinary teacher to create a superb resource on character development. Deftly crafted and impeccably researched, The Art of Character is a thoughtful and insightful book that is immensely readable and practical.” —Sheldon Siegel. New York Times Best Selling Author of Perfect Alibi
"It is rare to find the deep philosophical questions of literature (and life) met with such straight-forward and inspiring instruction. But David Corbett is that writer, and The Art of Character is that book." -—Robert Mailer Anderson, author "Boonville"
“This fine book is about as thorough an examination of character and what it means in all sorts of imaginative writing as you're likely to find anywhere.” —Robert Bausch, Prize-Winning Author of Out of Season
Yes, they all could be lying, or exaggerating, or simply doing me a good turn. But I think, when readers look inside the cover, they’ll be able to determine for themselves whether the praise was warranted or not. In the meantime, I’m basking in the glow – and feeling very fortunate indeed.
So, Muderateros – how do you appraise the value of cover quotes on a book you’re thinking of buying? Do you agree with Barry Eisler that the system is so ridden with underhandedness as to be worthless? Or does the opinion of a writer you admire still carry weight?
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Jukebox Hero of the Week: I mentioned that I got to listen to Fela this weekend at my lakeside hideaway. For those of you unacquainted with this African megastar-hero’s work, this is an excellent introduction – “Zombie,” from 1976: