Welcome back author Zvi Zaks
to the Book Boost!
He's here to chat about writing--the old fashioned way--and here's what he had to say...
In a recent interview on NPR's 'Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me,' (a wonderful satirical news program that people who like Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert will definitely enjoy), the renowned author John Irving mentioned that he writes all his novels by longhand. Years ago, he used a typewriter, but getting it repaired in the age of computers grew too difficult.
Longhand. He uses a pen and paper. It's just a shame the interviewer didn't ask if he used a quill and inkwell.
By the way, he uses a computer for matters like searching for information, but chooses not to for his writing.
Yes, there are advantages to writing longhand. You never have to call tech support for pen and paper, and if the power goes out, you can light a candle and continue your work. Nevertheless, this concept blows my mind. Evidently, he does not need to revise his stories, or, at the most, revises them only once or twice. He knows what he is going to write, and is so skilled that he can put it on paper the first time. (He also says he knows the last line of his books before he starts writing, though sometimes he thought it was the first line).
When word processors were still an extravagant luxury, I wrote stories on a typewriter (giving a clue to my age). And rewrote them and rewrote them time and time again. When computers became commonplace, I rejoiced--this was what I needed to become a successful writer (obviously not my day-job). Now I could review my stories and make improvements without having to retype a whole page or more. Moreover, I could move entire sections of text from one part of the story to another. The programs even checked my spelling with (almost) no effort on my part.
Yet I still wasn't getting published. Here I had the latest technology and some pretty good ideas, and John Irving was making do with pen and paper and some pretty good ideas. Yet he was wildly successful, while no one even looked at my efforts. What did he have that I didn't?
The answer is obvious. He had an innate skill for writing, and I didn't.
Skills can be acquired, but it's a long and difficult process. Criticism from fellow writers is a huge benefit, but in-person writers' circles are cumbersome. However, the internet makes it easy. Online critique websites gave me lots of valuable, and sometimes painful feedback, though learning which suggestions to follow and which to ignore proved tricky. Eventually my work improved enough to sell a few short stories.
What I really wanted was to publish a book, but the pile of rejections almost had me ready to give up (I didn't want to self publish.) The problem may have been my query letters. Someone tipped me off to another site which gave superb tips on how to write a good query.
Now I have three published novels, two about artificial intelligence and one a unique take on the vampire legends. The first was published when I was 68, proving that it's never too late to pursue your dream.
But I am still in awe of someone like John Irving.
A Note from the Book Boost: I've been there Zvi and I commend you for keeping at it and pursuing your dreams (no matter your age). It is never too late to learn and grow a new skill. Welcome to the world of publishing and may you live long and prosper. Please tell us more about your latest.
Confirmed rationalist Dr. Eli Rothenberg thought he had left fantasy and talk of childhood psychic gifts in the past.
However, a crisis of conscience sends him to Europe on a research grant, and Eli finds himself pursued by an ancient vampiric entity, the ghost of Hitler. A Hasidic Jew he'd met while traveling tells him he must embrace Jewish lore to fight this monster.
To Eli, this is a betrayal of his principles, but gradually he must accept his destiny and religious heritage. By joining a tightly-knit traditional Jewish community and meeting with spiritual warriors--Perceptives--of all faiths, he hones his skills.
After months of training and doubt, Eli goes to the sites of the death camps in Dachau and Auschwitz where he must confront and defeat a power of pure evil.
The gas chamber and ovens were in a red brick structure that resembled a duplex residential house, but no family ever lived there. My stomach churned as I entered. Shmuel still followed me, his expression unfathomable. The strange tone I had heard earlier hovered faint and mournful within the crematorium. I looked around, but couldn’t see its source.
Inside, a sign stated that the Nazis would murder prisoners by hanging them from the building’s rafters. Below the sign loomed three ovens with pallets in front of each. A glimpse of a murdered man being cut down and placed on a pallet flashed in front of me and I stiffened. These visions are a sign I’m too stressed out, I told myself, but their vividness scared me.
To the left of the ovens, an open green door led to the gas chamber. Walking inside unnerved me. The gas chambers were designed to resemble showers and the victims had been told they would leave this gloomy room afterwards.
The thought that a similar trap waited for me made my heart race. I looked around, half expecting the door to slam shut, but the portal remained open, as did an exit at the other end of the room. I chided myself for giving into silly fears. People milled about, silent, unimpeded. I saw no traps, but the nozzles in the low ceiling for Zyklon B gas, holes that looked nothing like shower heads, were horrible enough. I couldn’t speak. My chest felt too tight for me to breathe.
Rectangular dark bricks made up the floor. Metal plates with holes, presumably drains used by the Nazis to wash the “showers” after each batch of murders, lay scattered throughout. Brown stones comprised walls with two small, barred windows close to the floor, connecting to the outside through about two feet of rock. Thick glass on both sides of the wall must have sealed the chamber, though now the windows opened to the outside.
A fourth flashback—naked men and women with crying children. The people banged on the doors while gas hissed from the nozzles. The vision lasted a full ten seconds, and left me scarcely able to stand. This one had sight and sound. What next? Would I smell poison gas? I felt Shmuel’s hand on my arm steadying me. His face showed a strange mixture of concern and anticipation.
A sign in the corner claimed the Nazis never used this gas chamber for their murders. I don’t believe it.
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