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Book Reviews
January, 2008

The Writer at Work

Book Reviews – December
Narrowing the field so you can choose the write books
By  Billie A. Williams

une into IN reviews for the best of books about writing – all genres – from high adventure to haiku, from fact to fiction, cookbooks to commentary, and much, much more. Always check IN to see what's in. We only publish the best and our rating scale below is based upon the values of the three Es: Ease To Read, Educational, and Entertaining. If you have a how-to-write book that you would like us to read and possibly write a review about (we only publish reviews of books that we deem are best of the best) please send it to us. Our snail mail address can be found on our Contacting IN page.

Title: The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, The Ultimate Handbook Of Grammar For The Innocent, The Eager, And The Doomed.
Author: Karen Elizabeth Gordon
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN: 0-679-41860-1
IN Rating:     

Review: "Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language."
– Wittgenstein, Zettel 55

Karen Gordon's book The Deluxe Transitive Vampire is a cleaver, unique, witty, playful, and totally absorbing, painless look at grammar. Every rule is explained diligently, with clear, concise precision and her love of language is obvious.

Comments about Gordon's book range from unexpected delight to Doris Grumbach's comment about how rare it is to laugh while one studies grammar, I have to agree. Grammar with Gordon’s wit is a delight to read and a breeze to grasp.

"Attachments are what this book is all about, not so much rules to learn and break as relationships, myriad combinations through alluring guises that haunt most words and attract them to one another," Gordon says in her preface.

Start out with the Subject of a sentence " . . . it's what the sentence’s other words are gossiping about," writes Gordon. Using examples and pen and ink, Gordon illustrates a fantasy world where grammar is fun, not just fundamental. Then she makes it so, like some sprightly wisp with a magical wand. She uses phrases that evoke pictures in the mind, thus impregnating the grammar rule and its value rather than just stating it as rule, or mandate.

When naming nouns she livens the mix by using names for proper nouns that we don't often hear in grammar lessons. Names such as Dionysus, Bela Lugosi, Gertrude Stein, and Egyptology, are her examples. Never content to use the boring, you quickly see conformity is not in her repertoire of tricks and her delightful illustrations prevail. Imagine, if you will, a gang of rats complete with the leader precariously holding a pistol – that's Gordon's uncanny method of making things stick.

You may not plan to follow in Ann Rice’s footsteps, but after studying grammar with Gordon, you'll have all the terminology down pat. Guaranteed, you will never look at grammar in the same disparaging way ever again. I applaud it this method of taming the grammar monster and give our literary, erudite Transitive Vampire a hardy recommendation.

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Title: Writing Science Fiction And Fantasy
Author: Crawford Kilian
Publisher: Self-Counsel Press
ISBN: 0-7394-0670-1
IN Rating:   

Review: Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy is divided into three broad categories:

I. Knowing Your Genre
II. The Craft of Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy
III. Getting Published. 

With a very bleak introduction, the writer hoping to enter this field is turned back, and discouraged from writing in general, the Science Fiction or Fantasy novel in particular. The book concludes with samples, checklists, and worksheets, and an appendix of suggested reading and websites.

Appropriately, Crawford Kilian begins his exploration of Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy with an examination of the genre. "Writers read, and what they write is always a commentary on what they've read," Kilian says. But he encourages readers and would be writers to read broadly. Read everything and anything, not just Science Fiction and Fantasy as it opens a person's mind and broadens his knowledge base.

In Science Fiction or Fantasy, it would seem your basic theme is power and how you use it. Always, political in nature, it is about whom should rule, on what terms, and in other words – who holds the reins of power.

Kilian goes through a long drawn out set of rules for, and explanation of all the various genres it is possible to write in. Meanwhile, the reader/would-be writer is chomping at the bit to receive what the title promises. Kilian it appears is backing into this topic. He continues by covering the subgenres of Science Fiction and the subgenres of Fantasy.

Now the reader must endure speculation of the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy with a brush across first past, then present. Finally, if you are still with him on page forty-two, Kilian begins to give some hints about building your fictional world. In Part Two Kilian opens with what you can learn from any book on writing.

Part Two continues with topics of interest to the writer learning his craft, leading the writer on. There is some good writing information in this book, so not all is lost. However, if you acquired this book specifically to begin writing your Science Fiction or Fantasy novel, you may be sorely disappointed.

While it is a decent book, written in a pleasant, down-to-earth style, I cannot recommend it as a primer for writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Rather, it is simply a good book on writing in general.

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Title: Word Work, Surviving And Thriving As A Writer
Author: Bruce Holland Rogers
Publisher: Invisible Cities Press
ISBN: 1-931229-17-1
IN Rating:     

Review: "Being a writer means risking self-exposure, means daring to embarrass by what I find myself sharing with a room full of strangers, with the world," Bruce Holland Rogers says in Word Work. "Exploit your supposed weaknesses in a way that makes them as useful as your strengths," he encourages as he discusses writers as Hunters(those with ADD) and Farmers (those who plod along never straying from their tried and true path to make hay while the proverbial sun shines).

The Hunter notices and follows his distraction, while the Farmer is the part of the writer that finishes the task before deadline. I find this an Interesting analogy and only one of many used throughout the engaging text of Word Work.

Rogers talks of procrastination and beginning, about outlining and note taking with ease, and about the intimidation of getting the first sentence onto the blank page. He explores the causes, one of which he says is the fear of what other's may think and what critics imagine your underlying message might be instead of what the author had in his mind when he wrote.

Chapters about procrastination compared to war and as armour for your writing, guide your immersion into the craft of writing. In a chapter titled When, Where And With What, Rogers peeks into the lives of other writers to let readers see their work habits and perhaps adapt, refine, and adopt them as their own.

One example is the South African Playwright, Athol Fugard, who grinds his own ink and selects a new pen for each project, which he then retires when the play is finished. Rogers sees that as ritual and compares that ritual to the pencil sharpening ritual of others. The pen laid to rest or retired gives finality to the finishing of a piece. He suggests that perhaps you as a writer may find something equally memorable for yourself to mark the end of one piece before you begin another.

Rogers explores topics such as writing environment, setup, and materials, as well as dealing with rejection, how to get the most out of workshops, what to do with reviews – the good the bad and the blah. Word Work provides answers and questions to ponder. It gives the wannabee writer methods to apply and actions to take. Word Work is informative, engaging, enlightening, energizing, and a downright good read. I highly recommend it.

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Billie A. Williams lives in Amberg, a small rural northern Wisconsin community. She has published over fifteen novels ranging from Cozy Mystery, Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Young Adult Historical Adventure and more. She writes a “Whodunit?” Column for Voice In The Dark Newsletter for the and is owner/manager of three writing groups. Go to for more information about her writing.

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Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

The Write of Passage
The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

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