“Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft” by David Morrell

Distinctions are often made between writers of “literature” and writers of popular fiction. The two seem to come together in David Morrell, author of Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing. Morrell writes thrillers–lots of them–including First Blood, which gave the world Rambo. But Morrell was also a longtime literature professor. He is as likely to quote E.M. Forster as he is Lawrence Block; Steve McQueen appears on the same page as Henry James. Lessons is a lovely examination of writing and the writing life. To read it is to put oneself in the company of a writerly raconteur. Toward the beginning of the book, he discusses Hemingway’s bizarre upbringing, wartime experiences, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Toward the end, he reveals the secret to bribing the dispatchers and drivers who supply airport bookstores (a hint rarely, if ever before, reported in a writing book). With chapters devoted to plot, character, research, structure, viewpoint, and dialogue, Morrell covers all the basics. But this is less a how-to book than a written rendition of an intimate university writing workshop. “There are no inferior types of fiction,” Morrell implores, “only inferior practitioners of them.” –Jane Steinberg –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly
In this literate, encouraging how-to, the bestselling author of First Blood and The Brotherhood of the Rose (among 15 other novels, as well as some nonfiction, stories and scripts the two named made it to the screen) offers would-be writers advice on plot, character, structure and beyond. With blurbs from Peter Straub and Dean Koontz, Morrell’s foray into the literary do-it-yourself field is sure to grab the attention of readers who want to write their own thriller, but there’s food here for any hopeful scribe, whether it be a delicious skewering of former Paramount Productions head Don Simpson (said to have coined the term “high concept”) or a reflection on E.M. Forster’s assessment that all good plots are mysteries. And because Morrell is an avid reader and a former English literature professor, the textual examples he employs Hemingway’s descriptions, Twain’s dialects are rich and varied. Write because you have to; remember that characters need to control plot and that description must “serve the requirements of your story”; don’t get discouraged when you fail; and send to editors whose tastes runs toward your kind of fiction: these are a few examples of Morrell’s advice. So it’s not earth-shattering but it is careful and thoughtful, and at times, inspirational.

About David Morrell:

David Morrell is the award-winning author of First Blood, the novel in which Rambo was created. He was born in 1943 in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. In 1960, at the age of seventeen, he became a fan of the classic television series, Route 66, about two young men in a Corvette convertible traveling the United States in search of America and themselves. The scripts by Stirling Silliphant so impressed Morrell that he decided to become a writer.

In 1966, the work of another writer (Hemingway scholar Philip Young) prompted Morrell to move to the United States, where he studied with Young at the Pennsylvania State University and received his M.A. and Ph. D. in American literature. There, he also met the esteemed science-fiction author William Tenn (real name Philip Klass), who taught Morrell the basics of fiction writing. The result was First Blood, a ground-breaking novel about a returned Vietnam veteran suffering from post-trauma stress disorder who comes into conflict with a small-town police chief and fights his own version of the Vietnam War.

That “father” of modern action novels was published in 1972 while Morrell was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. He taught there from 1970 to 1986, simultaneously writing other novels, many of them international bestsellers, including the classic spy trilogy, The Brotherhood of the Rose (the basis for a top-rated NBC miniseries that premiered after the Super Bowl), The Fraternity of the Stone, and The League of Night and Fog.

Eventually wearying of two professions, Morrell gave up his academic tenure in order to write full time. Shortly afterward, his fifteen-year-old son Matthew was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and died in 1987, a loss that haunts not only Morrell’s life but his work, as in his memoir about Matthew, Fireflies, and his novel Desperate Measures, whose main character lost a son.

“The mild-mannered professor with the bloody-minded visions,” as one reviewer called him, Morrell is the author of thirty-two books, including such high-action thrillers as The Naked Edge, Creepers, and The Spy Who Came for Christmas (set in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives). Always interested in different ways to tell a story, he wrote the six-part comic-book series, Captain America: The Chosen. His writing book, The Successful Novelist,analyzes what he learned during his four decades as an author.

Morrell is a co-founder of the International Thriller Writers organization. Noted for his research, he is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School for wilderness survival as well as the G. Gordon Liddy Academy of Corporate Security. He is also an honorary lifetime member of the Special Operations Association and the Association of Intelligence Officers. He has been trained in firearms, hostage negotiation, assuming identities, executive protection, and car fighting, among numerous other action skills that he describes in his novels. To research the aerial sequences in The Shimmer, he became a private pilot.

Morrell is a three-time recipient of the distinguished Bram Stoker Award. Comic-Con International honored him with its Inkpot Award for his lifetime contributions to popular culture. The International Thriller Writers organization gave him its prestigious ThrillerMaster Award. With eighteen million copies of his work in print, his work has been translated into twenty-six languages.

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