Posts Tagged ‘Writers’

Writers’ lib, Crusie style

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
Writers' lib, Crusie style

Jennifer Crusie has a new and delightful take on the old saw Publish or Perish: just as you don’t have to get married to validate yourself, you don’t have to publish to validate your talent.

Jennifer Crusie“Just as women had to give up being married as a life goal before they could lead full lives as women, so writers must give up being published as a career goal before we can lead full lives as writers.”

Her suggestion about getting published? Don’t make that your only objective. “When we write the stories we need to write, we take back control of our lives because we’re meeting our own needs, not looking for validation elsewhere.”

To draw a parallel of our own, Crusie sounds a lot like Marsha Sinetar in her book Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow: write what you love and maybe the editors will follow. No guarantees from the management, but at least you’ve liberated yourself.

The accidental publicist

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
The accidental publicist

First we had cavemen sitting around the fire telling stories. Then gossips and reporters. Then came chat and blogs and we cycled back to citizen journalists.

With the rise of social media we now have citizen publicists. Like volunteer journalist, they want to speak their mind. When they listen, they want to hear what their peers are saying, not just the company line. And through the really big amplifier called the Web they can have an outsized influence on our work.

As creatives, we want to reach them.

FireOur agency regularly counsels clients who want to join the social media wave but are afraid of getting swamped. There are too many networks and monitoring them is a time-sink. So for those clients who want to dip a toe into online communications, we’ve developed an approach called the Social Media Platform that allows organizations to engage their audiences as well as publish their ideas.

It’s a perfect fit for artists, photographers, writers and other creatives who can’t afford a publicist.

Here’s the strategy: Organizations need to monitor and influence what people are saying about their brands. So do creatives, with the added task of promoting their work far and wide. We social media because that’s where our future editors, clients and benefactors hang out. With a social media platform we can harness the power of peers, asking influentials who like our work to spread the word. The social media platform is no substitute for a full-blown marketing campaign that uses advertising, direct mail, media relations and microsites. But it offers creatives a turnkey operation that allows them to join, monitor and influence the online conversation.

quest-for-fire_lHere’s how it works: The platform is an integrated collection of social media networks and tools. It includes the major social and business networks—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare and YouTube—but has room for numerous sites, forums and communities. At the heart is a white-label blog without branding for an independent look and feel. With the blog creatives can manage reputations, disseminate key messages and establish expertise in the market—this might apply more to non-fiction than fiction writers. Creatives who’ve already built a reputation can use the platform to solve issues before they become wide-spread problems.

There are six parts in the process of establishing a social media platform:

  1. Create. We start with a blog hosted on an independent site. Posts and comments radiate from the blog to the major social and business networks. The system notifies the blog administrator each time someone from the outside posts a comment. For your peace of mind, comments can be approved, edited or deleted before anyone on the ‘Net sees them. Tools: WordPress software, web host.
  2. Listen. Tapping into the online conversation about our brand is essential. Specialized search engines allow us to listen to what people are saying about our work. PR people call it reputation management. Tools: Social Mention, Google Alerts, Gmail to verify social network accounts.
  3. Contribute. Based on your expertise, you can contribute original text, slides, photos and video. Crowdsourcing allows you to obtain feedback on work. You can even use your network to float ideas for future projects. Tools: those listed above.
  4. Publicize. Blogs are like parties. You have to invite the right people to achieve critical mass. We start with the internal audience, your friends and business associates, and add editors, writers and bloggers in traditional and digital media. Tools: LinkedIn, Twitter.
  5. Monitor. The conversation is ongoing. The monitoring needs to be, too. But checking multiple sites dozens of times a day can get crazy. A dashboard can simplify the process: Tools: HootSuite, TweetDeck.
  6. Evaluate. You’re not a major corporation. The goal isn’t to fill spreadsheets and generate charts that dazzle but yield no useful information. We measure the volume and tone of comments but take everything with two grains salt. Tools: Twitrratr (Twitter rater), Twendz (Twitter trends), Tweet Level.

Does the system work? Yes. Our agency is seeing a good adoption rate from editors and bloggers as well as retweets of original material. Why does it work? Because it leverages three potent forces in our society: the shift toward digital media, people’s desire to hear recommendations from peers rather than companies and journalists’ need to discover leads rather than waiting for pitches.

That’s almost as good as telling stories around the campfire.

The dance of leadership

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
The dance of leadership

What does it take to create a trend, a movement, a runaway success? Leaders? Followers? Or someone in between? An important question for creatives, marketers and others who try to harness the wildfire properties of the Internet.

Along comes Derek Sivers, a musician who founded CD Baby, which became the largest seller of independent music on the web. From this three-minute video clip he calls “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy,” Sivers has extracted several lessons in inspiration and group-think that apply to artists as well as executives.

DerekSiversThe first is obvious. The second is amazing, maybe even a little unsettling.

We need leaders. But we might need what Sivers calls the first follower even more.

It takes guts to be a leader. But it also takes guts to be a follower (just ask the apostles). The dancing guy has no effect on the people around him except to provide mild amusement . . . until a second person overcomes his aversion to risk and gets up to dance. And then a third, and then. . . .

“The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader,” Sivers says, echoing Malcolm Gladwell’s contention that any viral movement is spread not by the creator but by people he calls mavens–those with both the contacts and the social standing to gain the attention of followers. It’s those first followers who use their influence to help the movement achieve critical mass–or to use Gladwell’s term, the tipping point.

“We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective,” Sivers says. “The best way to make a movement . . . is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.”

A heartbreaking life of staggering generosity

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010
A heartbreaking life of staggering generosity

An eerie thing happened on September 14, 1982. I received a letter from John Gardner that morning about a pack of short stories I’d left with him to critique, at his suggestion, even though I wasn’t one of his students. Later that day, as I sat on the rim of the copydesk, the city editor swiveled in his chair and, pointing to the computer, said, “Look at this.”

It was an AP story reporting that the novelist had died in a motorcycle accident on his way home that day. He was forty-nine. The story sounded like something from his latest novel.

Gardner was well-known in and out of literary circles for his outsized characters and their philosophical rants. Some of his books, like October Light, made the bestseller lists. A few months before his death the New York Times led its book review section with commentary on his last novel, Mickelsson’s Ghosts, a work I had just finished reading.

John Gardner explainsI’d met him earlier in the year in a class at a local university. The professor had invited Gardner to talk about fiction and, as a bonus, he’d read and commented on the first page of our latest submissions. He had a shock of white hair that flowed over his forehead and small, wrinkled eyes. His pipe kept going out as he talked. Later the professor invited some of us to his apartment to continue the discussion. Sitting on the floor, our backs to the tiled fireplace, we listened as Gardner talked about his work.

Some of the discussion was funny. “Why did you sell the short story on Julius Caesar to Playboy?” “Because they offered the most money.” Other parts were more serious. Gardner didn’t give a toss about genres; he didn’t care whether people considered his work popular or literary, thoughtful or entertaining. He wanted to be known as a storyteller. He constantly courted the ancient arts, rewriting epic tales like Beowulf from the monster’s point of view. (Years later, Hollywood would turn his novel Grendel into a movie, the closest to populism the author ever got.)

John Gardner typewriterEmerging from the dream
For emerging writers Gardner is best known for his view that fiction should remain a “vivid and continuous dream” in the mind of the reader, uninterrupted by extraneous detail. Yet his books were crammed with characters philosophizing about life. He seemed obsessed with philosophy and argued constantly against nihilism, a doctrine that nothing is knowable, that rejects all distinctions of moral value. In his work of criticism, On Moral Fiction, he called for books with “just and compassionate behavior,” art that “establishes models of human action.” He may have identified deeply with Grendel, the monster who finds himself cast out of heaven because he’s ugly, comes from a bad family and asks too many questions.

While his characters were not always models of behavior, Gardner was a kind and generous man, lending his time and name to aspiring writings. I met him that May in class and shared an evening with friends, but I wasn’t his student. Yet he invited me to his home in Susquehanna to discuss and critique my work.

I arrived on a fine spring day to find the novelist in a farmhouse on the edge of town, nestled in the hills the locals call the Endless Mountains, purplish gray and draped with mist like the webs of tent caterpillars. The clapboard house had curlicues over the porch; it looked like an old train station.

Inside sat Gardner’s son Joel, a photographer, and Susan Thornton. She and John were to be married—the week he died. A visiting colleague handed him a few short stories and a novel for comment. They talked about producing plays in Susquehanna and about a literary magazine on which he was working.

Gardner went into his study to concentrate on the story. His desk consisted of a door resting on two sawhorses, covered with pipes and papers. He hunched over the story, making quick notes with a pencil. Then he and Susan had to leave. He apologized over and over for giving me so little time.

Mickelsson's Ghosts AMZA life in fiction
Back in the living room, I asked Joel how much of his father’s work was autobiographical—a questions many writers hate but I was too young to know at the time. Not much, Joel said, but then he opened the door to the dining room. It was long and sparking with new plaster walls and thick with beams. The mead hall from Grendel, the house from Mickelsson’s Ghosts. I felt a chill, as if the spirit of those characters were looking over my shoulder.

There were other similarities. The main character in that book, Peter Mickelsson, is a professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton who is battling a failing national reputation and the IRS, which is after him for back taxes. He lives in Susquehanna and is going through a divorce. That much mirrored Gardner’s life. But Mickelsson is going mad, his mind enflamed with the ghosts of Martin Luther and Nietzsche, his wife, his son, two lovers and a murderous couple who used to live in the farmhouse. Joel smiled at this and said his father made up most of the book.

John Gardner hatThe lion of literature
Whatever its condition at the end, Gardner’s career in fiction got off to a slow start. He was born on July 21, 1933, in Batavia, New York. His father was a dairy farmer and lay preacher, his mother a high school literature teacher. His first novel sold about 1,000 copies but The Sunlight Dialogues became a bestseller in 1972 and October Light won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976. He raced motorcycles, survived surgery for cancer of the colon and married twice. He lectured at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. He settled in rural Susquehanna, on a thirty-acre farm. Writers sought his comments on fiction and his clout with publishers.

A gifted writer with a marvelous ear for dialogue, he had always written interesting books. But with Mickelsson’s Ghosts he reached the top of his form, merging his beloved philosophy with a strong story line. He also seemed to have mellowed from the harsh critic of his youth to a man who wanted to say good things about others. People said he was trying to find his place. Others found him humble and generous.

The day I visited him in the Endless Mountains he sat on the couch and chatted in a smooth and quiet voice about new projects. I told him I’d had trouble finding his work in the local bookstore. It wasn’t filed under “fiction.” Concerned that his backlist had gone out of print, I asked the clerk if she carried Gardner’s books and she led me to the back of the story. There they were, filed under “literature.”

Gardner threw back that great mane of white hair and howled with delight, much like I imagine Grendel might have done.

The blog stops here

Friday, July 16th, 2010
The blog stops here

The growth of blogging among adults has flattened and continues to decline among teens. That has implications for writers as well as marketers.

A pair of surveys from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows a rapid decline in blogging among teens and young adults and a modest rise among people 30 and older. To quote the study: “In 2006, 28% of teens ages 12-17 and young adults ages 18-29 were bloggers, but by 2009 the numbers had dropped to 14% of teens and 15% of young adults. During the same period, the percentage of online adults over 30 who were bloggers rose from 7% in 2006 to 11% in 2009.”

Overall, blogging has leveled off among adults over the past few years, hovering around 10-12% of Internet users.

Amanda Lenhart, lead author for the studies, told me that among those under 30, the shift away from blogging follows their migration to newer social networks and technologies such as mobile devices. “We attribute some of the decline among young adults to the move away from MySpace, which made blogging a prominent feature of a profile, to Facebook, which does not offer the same opportunities to engage in an activity that the site terms blogging.”

Researchers elsewhere have measured the same declining interest in blogs, but for other reasons:

  • A year ago Adweek reported that Internet use had reached a plateau and the growth of blogs had flattened. According to Forrester Research, the number of households with Internet access grew 3 percent from 2008 to 2009. Slightly less than 20 percent of respondents reported reading blogs, the same figure as 2008.
  • That week ReadWriteWeb reported research from Universal McCann that showed blogging has reached a saturation point. “UM notes that 71% of users report reading blogs—an increase of only 1% since [2008].”
  • In February 2010 HubPages’ Larry Freeman wrote that growth in U.S. traffic at major blogging sites WordPress and TypePad has flattened. The one contradictory statistic: U.S. traffic at Blogspot has grown by about 40%.
  • In June The Economist reported that traffic at two of the most popular blog-hosting sites, Blogger and WordPress, is stagnating, according to media research firm Nielsen. “By contrast, Facebook’s traffic grew by 66% last year and Twitter’s by 47%.”

Anecdotal evidence from the B2B world supports the studies. In a post, Matthew Ingram says he knows of several entrepreneurs who have replaced their free blogs in favor of subscription-only email newsletters. And Michael Hickins reports on BNET that while the number of active communities at network storage company EMC has increased by nearly 30% over two quarters, the number of blogs has dropped by 70%.

What could lead to such a leveling of blog activity? Lack of time and attention to start. And the perception that the activity isn’t valued by others and doesn’t contribute to the writer’s income or ego. Maybe there’s a growing realization that, while anyone can become a publisher, not everyone wants to read our thoughts.

Citizen journalists are discovering what mainstream media have known for centuries: people’s attention is just as valuable and elusive as their time. Engaging it requires a lot more than a forum.

Libraries to present book, author expo July 10

Thursday, June 10th, 2010
Libraries to present book, author expo July 10

The Associated Libraries of Monroe County will present Monroe County Book Expo on Saturday, July 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Eastern Monroe Public Library in Stroudsburg, PA. The event will showcase the published works of Monroe County residents. It also strives to encourage aspiring writers and support the exchange of ideas about the creative process and the publishing business.

The expo will offer two feature presentations: a morning panel of authors and bloggers focused on helping writers get their work published and noticed and an afternoon discussion by Michael Ventrella on “The Pitfalls of Self-Publishing.”

EMPL branchParticipating authors must live or own property in Monroe County. They will be offered a space that measures about 36”x36” in exchange for each donated copy of one of their published works to be shared among the public libraries in the county. Authors will be able to sell copies of their publications, meet and greet readers and network with their fellow writers. Authors are responsible for the display, stock, financial transactions and any applicable taxes on the sale of their works.

Authors are required to register in advance for the event. Registration forms are available at each of the participating libraries: Barrett-Paradise Friendly Library, Clymer Library, Eastern Monroe Public Library (including Pocono and Smithfields branch locations), Pocono Mountain Public Library and Western Pocono Community Library. The form is also available online.

For more information, call your local library or Barbara Keiser at EMPL, (570) 421-0800, x13.

Rules of engagement: author Laurie King on marketing, Twitter and the power of social media

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
Rules of engagement: author Laurie King on marketing, Twitter and the power of social media

The author of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is buzzing over social media.

With a website, author and character blogs and a presence on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, Laurie R. King is a champion of social marketing. She posts in the voice of one of her characters, runs several writing contests for fans and invites readers to discuss the books among themselves. Her efforts go beyond promoting the work to promoting engagement with readers. That reveals an understanding of the collaborative nature of social media many corporations should envy.

“Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it,” she told me in an email that previews the interview here. But first, some background on the Californian who has become famous for portraying the life of perhaps the world’s most-famous detective, and the woman who has become, some would say, an equal or better.

LaurieRKingCreating a voice
Over the past 20 year Ms. King has written 20 novels, including two series, one featuring San Francisco police detective Kate Martinelli and a second with Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Her first book, A Grave Talent (1993), received the 1994 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and a 1995 John Creasey Memorial Award. She followed with the 1996 Nero Award for A Monstrous Regiment of Women and the 2002 Macavity Award for Best Novel for Folly.

Her books about Russell and Holmes have been applauded as “the most successful recreation of the famous inhabitant of 221B Baker Street ever attempted” (Houston Chronicle) “with the power to charm even the most grizzled Baker Street irregular” (New York Daily News). The first in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, appeared in 1994. The tenth, The God of the Hive, will be published on April 27.

She has more than 2 million copies of her novels in print.

Creating a buzz
To highlight the 20 books she’s written, and the publication of her newest novel Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel, Ms. King embarked this year on what she calls “Twenty weeks of buzz.” In addition to the traditional methods of promotion—book tours, radio and TV appearances—Ms. King has taken to the Internet with a passion usually reserved for her characters.

Her presence on the Internet is considerable. She created a website and a blog about her activities called Mutterings. She also created another blog, this one in Mary Russell’s voice, on MySpace. Mary, in character, posts regularly on Twitter (@mary_russell)—a technique used effectively by Helen Klein Ross (@AdBroad) to promote the TV show “Mad Men.” Ms. King writes as a guest blogger on other sites and runs a Yahoo! Group. She has a page on Facebook. She’s even posted author interviews and scenic footage of the British landscape where Mary Russell first met Sherlock Holmes on YouTube.

King beekeeper coverTo share her tastes in literature, Ms. King created an account on Goodreads, where some 3 million members recommend books, compare and discuss books.

She has also bolstered reader engagement with the creation of twin writing contests. To celebrate the publication of The God of the Hive, she authorized the 2010 Mary Russell Fan Fiction Writing Contest. The contest is also sponsored by the Letters of Mary Yahoo! group. Contestants are asked to write about a character in one of the Russell novels as a teenager. The second contest, to celebrate National Library Week, invites readers to create their version of the ideal library, complete with drawings.

She even runs contests for artwork about Russell, Holmes, and their world where fans submit and judge the works.

I interviewed Ms. King (who goes by LRK online) through a series of email exchanges on April 11 of this year. Here’s her reaction to the question about her social-media efforts, and their results.

Creating a community
“I have to say, it’s funny to be considered a ‘champion of social marketing’ since I never feel I know much about what I’m doing!” she wrote. “Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it. I’m kept in the loop of course, and I’ll drop in regularly, but making use of enthusiastic volunteers means that I don’t have to do all of the day-to-day work, while at the same time letting a group of key readers—‘fans’ if you will—have the fun of working with a writer they enjoy and making her job just a little bit easier.

King God of the Hive cover“I think a number of writers do this in some form or another—Dana Stabenow’s ‘Danamaniacs’ are a powerhouse of networking, for example—and so long as it is kept fairly clear which is the author speaking and which is one of the administrators, I find people are happy.

“Mostly I write and post my blog ‘Mutterings’ and stop in once a day on both the personal and fan Facebook pages. I visit regularly on the Virtual Book Club [a community on her site], reading the discussion and dropping in on some of the other threads, but I don’t tend to post a lot there unless I have something in particular to contribute—the VBC is a place for the readers to freely discuss and get to know each other, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m in charge of what they say. A great side-effect of the VBC is that whenever LRK readers meet at an event or a conference, they often already know each other remarkably well, even if they have never met in person.

“As for Twitter, Russell’s MySpace page and Goodreads, those I work with volunteers on, answering letters sent to me (or to Russell) through the sites, helping promote things like the recent Twitter Party (I helped set this up beforehand but, being in a far distant time zone, I had very little to do with it at the time.) That last, by the way, was an absolute gas—you can see the transcript of its silliness at What the Hashtag.

“All in all, I probably average an hour a day on this stuff, more when I’m producing something like ‘A Case in Correspondence’ or working up to a book launch. [“Case” is a series of communications between Mary Russell and other important people, a running mystery of sorts on Ms. King’s various sites, the significance of which won’t become clear until readers finish The God of the Hive.

“As for results, who can tell? Last year we put a lot of effort into online venues and I came onto the New York Times’ bestseller list at #9. This year, we shall see.”

‘In the field of writing, shame has no place’

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010
‘In the field of writing, shame has no place’

The conference wanted Molly Cochran to talk about finishing a novel. We’d expected her to list the things that get in the way of completion and provide a few tools to get the job done. Instead she started her talk at the Write Stuff with a bit of life-coaching: “In the field of writing, shame has no place.”

Then the author of Grandmaster (which won an Edgar Award) and other novels dug into the details: schedule a time to write every day, create an outline, write fast and be willing to write badly. A lot of us ignore this kind of advice because it’s overly familiar. What caught my attention was her opening line, that nod to years of turmoil, the kind that plagues writers of all ages and abilities.

MollyCochran“We all struggle at one thing or another,” she writes on her website. “I procrastinate, I get sidetracked, I write things that are meaningless, I wallow in indecision and despair. I really am convinced that most writers lie. They don’t like to say how hard it is to write a novel. They like for people, especially fans, to believe that it just blows out of them like a song on a spring day. And so when new writers attempt a book, they freak out when things get difficult and conclude that they personally must be deficient in some way, and then give up.”

And that, Cochran says, would be a shame.

“The truth is, ALL of us feel like that at some point in a book, and sometimes during the entire book. But we don’t tell other people that because we think we’re the only ones who are personally deficient.”

Her philosophy for dealing with feelings of defeat comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, who says that “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” “I wish every insecure writer in the world would recite those words at the beginning of every work session,” Cochran says. “What holds us back is the desire to be brilliant. But brilliance doesn’t occur on the first draft. Crud occurs. If you can write it badly, you can fix it. If you insist on only writing wonderfully, it’ll never get done.”

That’s a message whose time has come.

The art of the pitch

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
The art of the pitch

Authors Christie Craig and Faye Hughes of Write With Us Online have created a funny but pointed video (“How To Make The Perfect Pitch (Without Striking Out)”) for aspiring authors who want to sell their book ideas to agents and editors. Thanks to Kathryn Craft of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group for providing the lead.

The good word

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
The good word

Good writing can come from any place, not just fiction or poetry but ads, blogs and articles about business and science. It is muscular and inventive. It captures the heart and soul of characters, objects and readers. It nails that undefined emotion that’s been rattling around in our guts for years. And it’s largely invisible.

JohnPipkinGood writing lives in literature. Witness John Pipkin (Woodsburner) as he describes the fire that nearly consumed Concord: “Henry [David Thoreau] looks up . . . and sees a host of elfin flames leaping into the air, one upon the other, riding the wind. . . . The fire advances in a crooked line a dozen times the length of Henry’s arm. The pine needles, though quick to ignite, are easily spent, hardly fuel enough to sustain the flames for more than a few seconds at a time. And the fire knows this; it behaves in accordance with its own set of a priori truths. It must keep moving and consuming to survive.”

LaurieRKingIt lives in contemporary fiction. Watch Laurie R. King (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) as young Mary Russell verbally jousts with the legendary Sherlock Holmes: “A series of emotions crossed his face, rich reward for my victory. Simple surprise was followed by a rueful admission of defeat, and then, as he reviewed the entire discussion, he surprised me. His face relaxed, his thin lips twitched, his grey eyes crinkled into unexpected lines, and at last he threw back his head and gave a great shout of delighted laughter.”

Good writing lives in blogs, as Joyce Maynard (Labor Day) shows in this edited version of her essay, “In the kitchen of discontent”: Seven years after I separated from my children’s father it was still hard going back to our old house. For the first time in ages, I stepped into my old kitchen. A bitter taste rose in my throat, like what happens when you think you’re going to throw up, but you don’t. I stepped into the hallway and glanced at the bed where all three of our babies were born. I went back in the kitchen, ran my hand over the wood of the kitchen counter, where I must have prepared a Joyce Maynardthousand meals, and looked out the window, to an eerie and beautiful streak of light from a full moon slashing across new fallen snow. I remembered another full moon night, when my husband and I had skated on black ice on the pond down the road, and another full moon night, when we’d fought so bitterly I paced the rooms of this house until dawn, lying down briefly next to first one of my sleeping children, and then another, unable to find sleep.”

It’s kindled by contemporary poets like Barbara Aline Blanchard (I Was a College Dropout), who writes in “Jealousy” about an ex: “She has knots in her eyes/trying to be civilized.”

Good writing thrives in mystery fiction, as in this excerpt from P.D. JamesThe Lighthouse: “This was the air of late October, still unseasonably mild with the first chill of autumn, the air faintly scented, as if the dying light had drawn up from the headland the concentrated sweetness of the day.”

You can find it in the complex and contradictory emotions of the characters that populate novels of suspense. Martha Grimes is famous for climbing inside heads to view life at the granular level, as she does with Inspector Richard Jury in The Old Silent: “Jury’s mood was as black as the biscuit Wiggins was now crumbling into a cup of water, and, irrationally irritated by his sergeant’s pursuit of some elusive and Platonic Idea of health just as he was reading of the kidnapping of one boy and the disappearance of the friend who had been with him.”

You can see it in the work of Ruth Rendell, as in these lines from Wolf to the Slaughter: “The shop squatted under a towering wall of brown brick. It seems to lurk there as if it had something to hide.” And this passage that fuses weather and emotion in a glowering tangle: “A high east wind blowing for a day and a night had dried the streets. The rain would come again soon but now the sky was a hard bitter blue.” With Rendell, even optimism carries a delicious menace.

BrettArendsFiction isn’t the only place good writers come to rest. Two lines from Wall Street Journal writer Brett Arends illustrate that point: “The economy seems to have staggered up from its death-bed (at least for now). And the mother of all fiscal adrenaline hits hasn’t even entered the bloodstream yet.” And Barron’s Alan Abelson is always the delightful iconoclast, as when he holds forth on wayward personalities: “Shakespeare was wrong. A rose by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet. Suppose, by some nomenclatural misadventure, a rose was called a stinkweed? Does anyone really believe that his or her olfactory response wouldn’t be influenced by the mental abhorrence triggered by the very word ‘stinkweed’?” Overwrought? Yes. On target? Oh yes.

Beauty isn’t always truth and truth isn’t always beauty, at least not in the Judeo-Christian West. But good writing reveals the truth that lies at the bottom of the well. And when we read it, we experience a moment akin to a religious experience, or a good session with the therapist. All is revealed, and remembered, at least until the medication wears off. Which makes what these writers do all the more valuable.

Describing those invisible emotions with precision is an art. Nailing the zeitgeist is a calling, and few do it better than these authors, or business writers Allan Sloan and Stanley Bing. “My bank came up with a way to spare me the shame of overdrafts,” Bing writes in a cheeky essay in Fortune about the financial crisis of 2008-09. “What favor will they do for me next?” That’s the setup. Not wishing to keep us waiting, he delivers the punch line in the opening paragraph: “You know, we don’t thank our bankers nearly enough.”

Or our writers.