Writing Resource 8/100: Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit - Lawrence Block book cover
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit – Lawrence Block

I’ve said before that some of my favourite cultural items are quite possibly not on my shelf. I’m a fool to myself for ‘lending’ my most treasured possessions to friends who have not had the chance to encounter them. I think the three things I’ve given away (and repurchased) most often are Joe R Lansdale’s The Bottoms in literature, Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations in music, and Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit to anyone I know who says they are interested in writing: I know it was the book I packed into my son’s belongings when he went up to start his university studies in Creative Writing and Literature.

I’m giving another publishing session tomorrow night (29/11/18 at this time of writing) where I give an overview of publishing today in print and online, an overview of the publishing process across self/ small-press/ independent and mainstream, advice on working with editors, designers and agents, and provide some tips gained from some of my favourite writers. I also cover some resources which may be of use to those in attendance. I tend to treat that section in the same way I would on recommending shoes: try them on and see which ones are best for you. The only one I out-and-out endorse is this book.

Why do I think Telling Lies for Fun and Profit is the single best resource for would-be, kind-of, or actual crime/ mystery writers?

There are three main elements I think a writer’s manual should have to be of real value:

  1. Credibility: I’ve seen too many adverts selling ways to ‘make a million, the way I do every day – just pay x for this guide‘, when it’s clear that if the individual making the offer has ever seen a million it’s if they got it in change from their old one hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollar bill (I’m making no comment on nationality of the scammer in question – that’s just the highest denomination I could find…). It’s the same with so many ‘author’ offers: particularly in online offers – what have you done to prove you know what you’re talking about? (I’m conscious the same could be said of my own workshop presentations – I can only say that I offer it as a 25 year publishing veteran, rather than the relatively new-to-publishing author I am). There’s no danger of that with Lawrence Block: his credentials are impeccable: with 10+Edgar Awards, 12+ Shamus Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Gumshoe recognition. As is likely very clear from anyone who has read this blog before, Block is one of my favourite authors of all time, and if you haven’t read any of his novels or short stories, rush out and do so now. So, yes – the man has the credentials to make you listen to what he has to say.
  2. Usability: just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you can teach it;  to make your knowledge and skill transferable to others. Just look at Diego Maradona‘s football management career…but TLfFaP is stuffed with invaluable advice. Whether it’s on what it means to start your fledgling career as a writer, understanding the marketplace, the disciplines of being a writer, tips and tricks, or more formal elements of the craft of writing: across 47 chapters, there really is a whole lot of material to help any would-be author in their pursuits. Here’s just one example around a practical area so many of us struggle with, (he said judgmentally, his manly fingers typing this with a force of belief which caused his eyebrows to rise like aroused caterpillars) the adverb and other elements that just make dialogue stand out, and not in a good way…

While I would not normally paste in so much of an author’s content (and note how I have done so with an avant-garde jazz styling) Mr. Block has kindly given me permission to do so – and I feel no guilt in doing so given this is only one of the aforementioned 47, each as good as the next.

With permission from the author
With permission from the author
With permission from the author
With permission from the author
With permission from the author

3. Readability: so the street cred’s there, and the content is good stuff. But I worked in academia for long enough to know that you can have the best, most-correct, text but if it lies there unread because it’s just so damned dry then it’s not really much use.

Hopefully what starts to emerge from the page scans above is that the writing has all of Block’s trademark humour you find in much of his fiction. It’s not just the witty way it’s written, it’s the way it’s presented – so not just chapter after chapter of advice, instead you’ll find class discussions as Block explains his point to some particularly inquisitive students in presumably fictionalised lecture situations. You’ll get advice letters, some juicy inside information which is most likely complete fantasy, bullet pointed lists, and arguments with his publishers…if you’ve read Block’s work you’ll get insights into the mechanics and thought processes behind published, and not-published material, generously shared, sometimes warts-and-all.

In the first of this series of resources I offered up the late William Goldman’s memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade as an example of a vastly experienced writer who is prepared to pull back the curtains to reveal his art and does so in an ego-free, reader-friendly way which sucks you in as much as any work of fiction would. What Adventures is to movies, I find Telling Lies for fiction writing.

A final anecdote involving me, because, hell, it’s my blog and I have an ego. When I had my first short story accepted for publication some eighteen years ago I jotted off a ‘thank you’ note to Lawrence Block. I wanted to do it because I meant what I said in it- without this book I wouldn’t have had that story published. I also meant it when I said I didn’t expect a reply, but I got one of congratulations and encouragement.

Telling Lies is a book I go back to (and as said at the beginning of the article have bought repeatedly) again and again. Without it, I wouldn’t have published either of my books but in particular You Could Make a Killing – the influence of both Lawrence Block’s short fiction writing and this manual are inescapable (if inferior) in the collection. For that reason (and far too many years in marketing) I take the liberty of including the link to my book below, but really – if you don’t have it, go out and buy a copy of Telling Lies for Fun and Profit; it’s available on Kindle now, and if you’re a writer of any level, if you want to be a writer, or if you just want to know a bit more about how writing ‘works’, it’ll be worth every bit of currency it costs you to buy – even if you’ve got a million of them.

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