Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Review: Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead: The Bumpy Road to Getting Published by Maralys Wills

November 1, 2011

reviewed by David McDonald

Damn-the-rejections-cover trash can with wadded up papers insideYes, it’s a how-to book all right, but not just about dealing with the rejection of a manuscript. The goal of Damn the Rejections Full Speed Ahead: The Bumpy Road to Getting Published (Stephens Press, 2008) appears to be preemptive, an instruction manual on how to write so as to minimize the chance of rejection.

That’s right: yet another tome on technique, writing dramatic scenes, developing characters, how and when to research, the do’s-and-don’ts of collaboration, writing query letters, preparing proposals, and, last but not least, marketing in all its facets, peddling to agents, publishers, self-publishing on the Internet.

But this one is different. Maralys Wills brings us in close, really hunkers down. She confides in the reader. She shares how she has learned, often the hard way, to craft a compulsive read. This type of intimacy to the fledgling (or floundering) writer is something she has in common with a fellow teacher, Stephen King. She refers with great admiration to his seemingly ubiquitous work, On Writing. But Wills does not share his attitude. She does not believe that “books about writing are filled with bullshit.”

Wills shares what works for her, and what doesn’t; how to make the most of being “in the zone”; how to deal constructively with a long hiatus or writer’s block; how to channel persistence, foster patience and build self-confidence. The familiar instructional staples on writing craft are laced liberally with anecdotes of tragedies and triumphs, both personal and professional. She offers tips that are lean, incisive and practical.

She employs by example all she has learned thus far through memoir, fiction, nonfiction, and even reportage. By way of her experience in these different genres, she ends up with an entertaining hybrid. (Incidentally, this isn’t Wills’ first “how-to”; she also wrote a party-game book that took quite a while to find a suitable publishing house.)

As a screenwriter I took particular interest when she spoke of the irony surrounding Schindler’s List and how the story was brought to light about a shop-owner, survivor of the Holocaust, a “caretaker-of-history [who] had tucked away his memorabilia in the back of his store and kept is safe…none of that would have happened without the passionate Jewish man who kept the story alive.” A weird twist of fate brought Oskar’s shrewd, courageous sacrifices to life and earned Spielberg a singular gold statuette for direction. The point is: if there is any consistent thread weaving through the thoughts, devices, tips, tricks, chidings, admonishments and encouragements that Wills lays down for her readers, it is just that: keep the story alive, even against one’s better (or worse) judgment.

Wills uses short chapters which is perfect for her style: precise, pragmatic, avoiding theories and philosophies of creativity which, admittedly, works very well for some teachers of the craft, among them John Gardner, Natalie Goldberg and Dorothea Brande. And because the writing is so spare, each chapter gives you a lot to chew on.

Yet she gives curiously casual regard to her successes, ending the book with a chapter entitled, “The Payoff,” where still she questions her efforts: “Why am I doing this?..When my writing income is about a nickel an hour…when no university is clamoring to drape me in purple and make me its commencement speaker…”

It was her zinger of an answer that spoke to me, the mantra of those of us who discover we have no choice but to write:

“I am most alive when I’m writing.”

‘Nuff said.

–David McDonald is a guest reviewer this month.

Carolyn Hayes Uber
President, Stephens Press, LLC
Las Vegas Review-Journal Book Division
1111 West Bonanza Road, Las Vegas, Nevada 89106
[T] 702.383.0486 :: [E]cuber@stephenspress.com
[W] www.stephenspress.com :: [B] www.workingtitlez.com

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eager Writers! Where Are You?

Next weekend, hundreds of writers are coming to the Writer's Convention in Newport Beach. I'll be teaching there--but unless you've sent me an Advance Read manuscript, we won't have much time for a personal chat.

Yet in three weeks I'll be in Vermont, at the Landgrove Inn--with editor Carolyn Uber--and we'll have THREE DAYS to give you and your manuscript all the time you need. Three days with three other writers and no interruptions. October 10-October 13.

Three days of great food in a fantastic setting--brilliant red and orange leaves everywhere--and the editor and I ready to give you our full attention. All at a reasonable price. So now I have just one question: WHERE IS EVERYBODY?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Three Days of Heaven

Three days to get personal feedback on your manuscript. Three days of writing tips from an editor (Carolyn Uber, Stephens Press), and 12-book author and teacher (Maralys Wills). Three days of gourmet meals. Three days of the country’s most spectacular scenery. Three days of author inspiration.

Come join us in Vermont, October 10-October 13. The Landgrove Inn. (802) 824-6673. Or, (800) 669-8466. Or vtinn@sover.net. Only $700+tax and service—for 4 nights, 3 days of room, board and all-day workshops.

We’ll see you there!

Thursday, August 4, 2011


The leaves are red, orange, and scarlet. The Inn is quaint, with gourmet meals. And an editor and twelve-book author are there, ready to give you personal, in-depth help with your manuscript.

Come to Vermont at the height of the leaf-peepers’ season—October 10-13--Columbus Day. Carolyn Uber, senior editor for Stephens Press, and Maralys Wills, author and teacher, will give you the help you need to produce a great manuscript. Three days—the kind of writers’ workshop you’ve always dreamed of. Personal help from the experts.

Contact Landgrove Inn: vtinn@sover.net. Or call them: 1-800-669-8466

Or e-mail me: Maralys@Cox.net.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Last month I was a speaker at a Wyoming writers conference. I also critiqued seven Advance Submissions—whose qualities ranged from poor to nearly professional.

Yet one thing they all had in common: nobody knew where to begin.

I still remember some of those slow starts: a young woman taking cookies to her aging grandmother; another girl traveling to Florida on a train, idly musing about her changing life; a couple setting up a tent on the beach; a young girl driving into a strange town, reasons unknown.

Nothing happening anywhere.

Compare these beginnings to the start of a book whose author I recently interviewed: In Las Vegas a young woman falls out of a tour helicopter and lands in the middle of the pirate show on Treasure Island.

Now THAT’S a beginning.

Not all beginnings need to be this extreme. But the book must open in the middle of something dramatic. A beginning can be compared to someone dropping into a rushing river, and any minute he’ll plunge over the waterfall.

Beginnings start at a moment of crisis, after which the characters’ lives change forever, and nothing will be the same.

When I speak to memoir writers I ask, “What’s the most dramatic thing that ever happened to you?” and when they explain, I say, “Start there. Then backtrack and tell us how you got there and why this terrible, or amazing thing happened.

Think of the book “Into Thin Air” in which a mountain climber attempts to reach the top of Mount Everest. Guess where the book starts . . . at the top of Everest. So you know the hero reached his goal, but the interesting story questions remain. How did he get there? What happened along the way? What about the people who never achieved their dreams--who instead may have died?

If you need examples of great starts to novels, you might look at my book, “Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead,” and read the chapter on Beginnings. I’ve got some great ones.

Meanwhile, in your own work, as you begin Chapter One, think DRAMA. CATASTROPHE. EXCITEMENT. PERIL. Anything less won’t do.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I just made a classical writer's mistake. I rushed out to the family room to tell my husband the fantastic name of a new book I intend to write, starting today, and he said, “EEEYOOOGH!” Exactly the way a teenager says "EEEYOOOGH!" when you suggest he abandon his texting and start writing his term paper. Or maybe that he pull his jeans up to somewhere near his waist.

I don’t know how to spell that sound, but I recognize it when I hear it--and so do you! Every published author has heard that dismaying noise at one time or another, so we all know how it strikes the ear, even if we can't capture it letter by letter. It’s the sound of No Way, You’ve Got to be Kidding, or worse . . . That’s a Rotten Idea If I’ve Ever Heard One.

My idea for the new book fizzled like a party balloon with a tiny pin prick. The creative air seeped out, faster and faster, and I just stood there, dismayed. And finally I even said it. “Well, I’ve just broken the first rule of creativity.” Rob simply looked at me. He doesn’t know the rule, and he wouldn’t care about it if he knew. But he’ll gladly give me his first reaction to what he considers a bad title.

Have you caught on to the rule?

In case you haven’t, the rule is, Never share the first blush of a creative idea with ANYONE. Not until you’ve got it all down on paper, until the thing is mostly written and you can’t unwrite it.

If it was a dumb idea in the first place, you’ll soon know. If it wasn’t a dumb idea, you risk letting someone kill your baby while it’s still in the womb.

Everyone who writes knows this rule, and no one better than I. My inner voice said, “Don’t share this,” and I should have listened, but I didn’t, I rushed out to expose my great idea to toxic fumes. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

I finally said, “Nora Ephron’s published book is called, ‘I Remember Nothing.’ Do you think that’s a good title?" And he said No.

Well, that was some comfort, anyway. I’m sure Ephron has sold a million copies of this very funny book with the dumb title. Except I happen to love it, bad title and all.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Probably not. If you have doubts, you are certainly not ready.

It’s an impatient world out there—too many of us with too much to do. Too many newspapers to read, phone calls to make, e-mails to answer, meals to cook, minutes to spend exercising, dishes to wash.

And besides, you’re writing a book. (Or maybe something shorter.)

How much time did you give your writing? One edit? Two? Possibly three?

How many people have read it? And what did they say?

“This is interesting.” “I like it.” “You’ve done a good job.” “Nice article.” “An okay first chapter.” “Keep going.”

“Interesting” doesn’t cut it. Nor do any of the other comments. These people are your friends, and they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But their level of enthusiasm is tepid. And you know tepid when you see it.

Your piece is clearly not good enough. None of these people are raving. So all you’ve done is make a decent first start. A dent. But the thing is not publishable. Not even close.

If you go “out there” with this work, even spend money to get it published, nobody will make the effort to read more than a few pages. (Except, maybe, your three best friends and your mother.) You will have spent time and energy on a piece of writing that needs lots more work.

Now wait!! Don’t throw it away. Your idea is probably worth keeping. It’s worth re-working. It’s worth cutting, enriching, dissecting, made funnier. You are no dummy, you doubtless have unusual and interesting thoughts. Your work deserves to be read by others. Trust me on that one. Or rather, trust yourself. If you’re reading this, you are not a throw-away writer.

The stark reality that few of us fully grasp is—good writing takes a ton of work. More work than any newbie ever imagines. It takes more refinement, more re-working, more polishing than most of us dreamed would be necessary. It takes more tweaking than a Lamborghini.

But all that effort is a must. Unless you’re willing to edit obsessively, your piece will never be ready for the larger world. Which means most people won’t read it. So what’s the point?

Okay, then, you’ve gone over your work a dozen times. It’s finally begun to thrill you, to capture even your over-exposed attention. You honestly believe it reads like the best stuff you’ve seen elsewhere. So you give it back to your friends.

Geronimo! Their critiques have changed. “This is great!” “I love it!” “Powerful!” “I’ve given it to all my friends!” “Wonderful!” “Couldn’t stop reading!” “I stayed up all night!”

These are the critiques that should send you to a publisher. Immediately.