“In the Palm of Your Hand” Review

4-star rating

I dabble in writing poetry, so years ago a now-deceased poet-acquaintance recommended I pick up a copy of Steve Kowit’s book. At the time, I couldn’t get more than a few chapters into Palm because I wasn’t ready for it. It went back on the shelf.

Since then, my poems have been well received, even sweeping the poetry awards at a local writers’ conference last year. So a few months ago, I decided it was time to give the book another try. Four chapters in, I stalled out again, but after a few weeks away from it, I decided to keep going. I’m glad I did.

The book’s two subtitles, “The poet’s portable workshop,” and “A lively and illuminating guide for the practicing poet” turned out to be accurate. Chapters 2 to 27 (of 30) end with exercises to encourage the reader to practice the topics discussed, and it was the exercises in chapters 2-4 that caused me to put the book down. Kowit was asking me to do things I wasn’t comfortable doing, dredging up old, perhaps unhappy memories. While this sort of material can certainly produce powerful poetry, this demand this early in the book is one of my few major complaints. Perhaps for the “practicing poet,” this kind of work is less challenging, but for the novice, particularly someone uninterested in revisiting those times, this can be intimidating enough to cause him or her to stop reading and stop trying. It would have been better, for this reader anyway, if these chapters had been placed later in the book.

To read the rest of this review, please click here.

“The Elements of Grammar for Writers” Review

3-star rating

This little book is outdated in some ways, yet it has certain charms and retains some value.

Written in 8 BG (“Before Google”)—that is, in 1990, when BG still referred to the Brothers Gibb, personal computers were a new thing, and the internet was mostly a gleam in technologists’ eyes—it’s amusing to see references to hand-written student papers and reminders to make sure you use a new typewriter ribbon when getting a paper ready to turn in.

It was also clearly written primarily for college student writers facing the near-future prospect of having to write papers for employers, not just professors. And it relies on memorization of some rules (only a few, mercifully) and tables and appendices in which the reader can look up grammatical terms and irregular verb forms, because, of course, at the time there was no Google to ask and get 3,578,227 possible answers in 0.0286 seconds.

These quaint antiquities aside, this little book’s first five chapters, and parts of the sixth, do have some value. For example, Chapter 1 kindly clarified for me exactly what a comma splice is, and Chapter 2 reminded me that what I’ve been calling a gerund (like “calling” just now) is actually a verbal, not a verb. Well, dang!

Professors Funk, McMahan, and Day, the authors of this little tome, are still at it. The 9th edition of this book’s replacement is available on Amazon, but at nearly $50 a copy, I have a hard time believing it has the same value as this one, also available on Amazon for a mere $4.59.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 9 and 10, 2012

Plenty of ground and great stuff to cover today, so let’s jump right in.

CRAFT

Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) right when she says there aren’t very many articles on Foreshadowing out there in the blogosphere, so hers today, on that and “its black-sheep cousin, telegraphing,” is a very useful review of what they are, how they differ, and when to use or not use foreshadowing. Check it out.

KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) piece on How to Keep Your Fight Scenes Interesting is another one covering a rarely-discussed topic. As she notes, maybe it’s a surprise that a fight scene could be boring, but it can, and she offers a couple of easy techniques to keep your reader dodging those flailing fists along with your hero.

Our last selection today comes from Kelly Nichols, one half of the team who goes by the pen name P J Parrish. “Heed this advice now!” she warned desperately on The Kill Zone is a hoot, particularly if you, like me, are death on overusing adverbs and on dialog tags that explain too much. Tell us how many adverbs you found in Kelly’s post in the Comments below. Not all of them end in –ly, by the way.

WRITING TOOLS

Keith Cronin (@KeithCronin) loves how-to books, at least when they deal with writing. Who knew? Well, now we do, and in his Confessions of a “How-To” Junkie on Writer Unboxed he lists a baker’s half-dozen (OK, 7) of his favorites. Like me, you’ve probably read some of the books on his list but not others, and agree with some of his selections and not others. No matter, the main post and the comments are a good resource list for your own future reading.

Mike Fleming (@hiveword) guest posts about, or perhaps I should say, advertises his new—and free—online fiction organizing software called Hiveword on The Bookshelf Muse. I haven’t tried this tool and don’t know anyone who has, but if nothing else, Mike makes a case for planning before writing in Plan Ahead With The HiveWord Writing Tool.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND MARKETING

Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) provides some very practical and QuickTips for Contests & Giveaways on The Book Designer. These ideas take away some of the mystery about marketing one’s book on line.

THE WRITING LIFE

At a recent writers’ meeting, we got to talking about the member of one group who seemed to be using the group as a place to vent her frustrations and stresses with a part of her life. She claimed, the group leader said, to want to write a book about what she was going through. While it seemed at first that she wanted to approach Writing as Catharsis, we learned later that maybe that wasn’t her primary motivation. Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) takes on this topic in his latest post. While not all writing is, or needs to be, cathartic, if done for the right reasons, it can help a writer make sense of his or her world.

BUSINESS

Today’s last post is no surprise. Last time I wrote about the settlement between Google and some of the “Big 6” publishers over Google’s scanning of books. Yesterday Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) posted on Writer Beware® Blogs Writers Slam Secrecy of Book Publishers’ Deal With Google. The post is mostly a copy of a joint press release from the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Writers Union, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America about their letter to the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, asking them to reopen an investigation on possible violations of federal law. The issue is still whether authors are going to be paid for their work if a reader accesses it through Google’s Book Search project. As I’ve noted before, this story is far from over.

Have you found any great stuff out there on the web? Share it in the Comments below.