General · Writing

J is for Joy

Joy is the reason I write. When it’s going well, it’s a high like nothing else. When it’s not going, well, nothing could be more frustrating. But I usually manage to find my zone afterward.

It’s when all I am aware of is the character and the scene. I know what the character is feeling. I know what he sees, what he see smells. I am barely aware of the keyboard and typing stuff into the computer.

It’s like I am not even telling the story. It already exists, the character whispers what happens into my head and all I have to do is write it town.

I write for those moments. It’s intense. When I come out of it, I need a moment to fit into the real world again.

It doesn’t happen like that all the time, but it happens often enough and I wish it would happen more often.

Afterward, I always find spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes because I am not paying attenuation to stuff like that. I find words that I’ve used too often, other descriptions that don’t quite work. It’s not perfect. But it’s still not bad and mistakes can be fixed.

Still. Even when the writing isn’t going well, the joy is why I always continue.

Book Review · General · reading · Writing

Book Review: Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers by James W. Hall

From Goodreads:

What do Michael Corleone, Jack Ryan, and Scout Finch have in common? Creative writing professor and thriller writer James W. Hall knows. Now, in this entertaining, revelatory book, he reveals how bestsellers work, using twelve twentieth-century blockbusters as case studies—including The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jaws. From tempting glimpses inside secret societies, such as submariners in The Hunt for Red October, and Opus Dei in The Da Vinci Code, to vivid representations of the American Dream and its opposite—the American Nightmare—in novels like The Firm and The Dead Zone, Hall identifies the common features of mega-bestsellers. Including fascinating and little-known facts about some of the most beloved books of the last century, Hit Lit is a must-read for fiction lovers and aspiring writers alike, and makes us think anew about why we love the books we love.

Hit Lit explains or attempts to explains what American bestselling books have in common. It talks about 12 books:

  1. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. 1960. 134 editions, over 140,000,000 copies sold.
  2. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. 1956. 10, 670, 302 copies sold.
  3. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. 1966. About 30, 000, 000 copies sold worldwide.
  4. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. 1936. Close to 30, 000, 000 copies sold in the 1990’s.
  5. Jaws by Peter Benchley. 1974. By 1975, more than 9, 275, 000 copies sold.
  6. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. 1992. About 50, 000, 000 copies sold worldwide.
  7. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. 1984. 5 to 6 million sold.
  8. The Godfather by Mario Puzo. 1969. By 1975, over 12, 000, 000 copies sold.
  9. The Firm by John Grisham. 1991. Spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
  10. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. 1971. Four years after publication, 22, 702, 097 copies sold.
  11. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. 2003. 81, 000, 000 copies sold.
  12. The Dead Zone by Stephan King. 1979. King’s first novel to break into year-end top ten.

I have not read any of these books. I cannot say if what he says about them is true. Really, I ought to read a few just to see if I agree with him. I even teased this book yesterday.

He says all of these books have 12 things in common.

  1. An Offer You Can’t Refuse: page-turner
  2. Hot Buttons: something people can’t help but argue about.
  3. The Big Picture: sweeping backdrop
  4. The Golden Country: a lost Eden, the true homeland the MC has lost.
  5. Facts: He says people want to learn about other stuff from novels. I don’t agree.
  6. Secret Societies: secrets about the ocean, about the bedroom, conspiracies and groups no one else knows about.
  7. Bumpkins vs Slickers and vice versa: people move back and forth from the country to the city, from the city to the country
  8. God: the characters have doubts about god and religion.
  9. American Dream/Nightmare: rags to riches, and conversely, riches to rags.
  10. Mavericks: rebels, loners, misfits, trailblazers, free spirits, nonconformists, bohemians. characters who are slightly out of step with their world.
  11. Fractured Families: characters are missing some part their family. parents, siblings, children.
  12. Juicy Parts: sex.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse is basically good stuff that keeps you turning the page. It’s speed, tension, danger and characters you are in love with. It’s something dangerous going on with the character and you can’t look away because you want to know what happens next. It’s everything that makes you turn the page. This, I have no problem with. He also talks about how these books are movie-friendly. They are high-concept. Basically, that’s when you sum up the drama of the book quickly. It helps the marketing, he says, and word of mouth, too.

I suppose it makes sense, but I am not sure I like the idea that for a book needs to high-concept in order to succeed.

I don’t agree with the facts thing. He says people want to learn from novels. Learn about other people, other ways of living, things like that. Like how live in a small town, how you live in a large city, gossip. I don’t agree. I mean, there have been plenty of bestsellers that you can’t learn anything from. He says you learn stuff about gods and feminism, Mary Magdalene and the Hebrew alphabet from The Da Vinci Code. And he says the number of books that have shown saying Da Vinci Code is wrong is just proof of that, but I don’t know. The Hunt for Red October is apparently filled with stuff about submarines and government protocols for this, that and the other.

A writer’s research should be good, but it’s hard to believe facts are a factor in bestsellers. They add details and they are important. But people don’t read novels to learn. Do they? I mean, I don’t. Someone tell me I am not alone.


Also, I do recommend this book. It’s pretty interesting. Also, I got it as an ARC.