Good Things to Read – Great Essays From Around the Web

Looking for something good to read that’s shorter than a book but longer than a blog post? Here are a few well-researched, well-written essays and articles from the past few months that I keep coming back to:


Stephen Hawking Thinks These 3 Things Could Destroy Humanity – via livescience

No. 37: Big Wedding or Small: The 36 Questions That Lead to Love, by Daniel Jones, author of Love Illuminated and editor of Modern Love – via the New York Times

Is AI a Threat to Humanity? by Greg Scoblete, by Greg Scoblete – via CNN

On Writing

On Writing: Being Nestless, by Kimberly Brock, author of The River Watch – via Writers in the Storm

24 Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing, by Curtis Sittenfeld  – via Buzzfeed


The Town Without Wi-Fi (a fascinating look at the National Radio Quiet Zone), by Michael Jay Gaynor, with photos by Joshua Cogan – via The Washingtonian

Bad Luck

Home Sweet Homewreck: TheWorst Reno Story You Will Ever Hear, by Richard Warnica – via the National Post


The Murder That Has Obsessed Italy, by Tobias Jones – via The Guardian

Moral Dilemmas

When a Stranger Threatens Suicide, by Cynthia McCabe – via The Washington Post

Health & Psychology

Blackness Ever Blackening: My Lifetime of Depression, by Jenni Diski, via Mosaic Science

Why Are Palo Alto’s Kids Killing Themselves, by Diana Kapp, via SFGate


What to Call Her? (on being “adopted” by Doris Lessing), also by Jenni Diski – via London Review of Books


How Hollywood Keeps Out Women, by Jessica P. Ogilve, via LA Weekly

Burn After Reading, by Gabriel Thompson, via Harper’s

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Murakami on Writing

Haruki Murakami on Kindness and Clarity

Why clear explanations are a matter of kindness, not to mention good storytelling

I recently came across Paris Review interview with Haruki Murakami. When asked how he chooses his story line and his voice, Murakami says,

I get some images and connect one piece to another. That’s the story line. Then I explain the story line to the reader. You should be very kind when you explain something. If you think, it’s okay; I know that, it’s a very arrogant thing. Easy words and good metaphors; good allegory. So that’s what I do. I explain everything very carefully and clearly.

I love the way Murakami connects authorial kindness with the reading experience. There is no place for arrogance in good storytelling. If you come from a place of, “The reader can figure it out,” you may be coming from a place of arrogance. Yes, reading is an active experience that requires thought, but reading should not necessarily require high wire acts of mental gymnastics.

Often, a lack of explanation comes not from arrogance, but from a genuine misunderstanding of what has actually made it onto the page. In this case, you’ll be well-served by having a trusted reader explain the story as he or she sees it. Listen openly, not defensively. Then, look for the missing links. What did you think was on the page that your trusted reader hasn’t figured out? If the reader’s experience of the story differs wildly from your intent, it can be tempting to blame the reader. “It’s there!” you might say. “On page 67, I mentioned how…”

But remember this: it isn’t the reader’s job to understand things that are opaque, to “get” something that is buried under layers of overwriting. No, it is the writer’s job to make things clear.

When you think about how to present your story to the reader, carefully and clearly should be your mantra. Carefully because each word matters, and clearly because clarity is the sign of a well-thought out story and a strong narrative voice. One of the highest compliments I can put in the margins of a book I’m editing is, “Yes, direct and clear!”

What the reader wants is:

  • clarity of story line
  • clarity of character motivation
  • clarity of language

Whether you’re writing a very literary novel, a mystery, or a memoir, most readers will appreciate directness. Tension arises from the choices characters are confronted with, how they respond to those choices, and the way in which the various puzzle pieces of your story are aligned–not from a sense of confusion intentionally introduced by the author.

I think Murakami is the perfect writer to deliver this message, because his novels are so complex and nuanced. His books are proof that one can be both straightforward and intellectually challenging; one can write with clarity and complexity. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Read the Paris Review interview with Haruki Murakami here.

Read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Norwegian Wood.

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First Draft Vs. Final Draft: Notes on the Art of Revision (Writing & Publishing Podcast)

The latest episode of the Writing and Publishing podcast examines the difference between an inspired first draft and a compelling final draft.

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How to Find a Literary Agent

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts while spring cleaning. I enjoy the format so much (particularly a podcast called The Heart of Organizing) that I decided to start my own podcast. It’s now live, and the first episode is How to Find a Literary Agent. In this 8-minute podcast, I talk about 5 things you can do to find the right literary agent to represent your book (hint: it does not involve giant indexes listing thousands of names and addresses).

Why is it so important to work with a good literary agent?
Signing on with a literary agent is the first step toward publication with a major publisher. Most publishers won’t even glance at unagented submissions. Your agent will be your partner in all things publishing. She’ll get your book out to the right editors, negotiate your contracts, and serve as your liaison for foreign rights.

She’ll handle all sorts of rights for each book–audio, book club editions, reprints, and more. I’ve been with my own agent since 2004, and I feel so fortunate to have found her. Without her, I would have had a very different (and I imagine far less satisfying) writing career.
Go here to listen to the podcast. If you like what you hear, you can click “follow” on the podcast page, so you’ll know when new episodes are added.

As always, happy writing!

Michelle Richmond

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CLMP Firecracker Awards

The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses has announced the shortlist for the 2014 Firecracker Awards, which celebrates small press and independently published books. Here are the finalists in fiction and creative nonfiction:


The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf Press)
Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio (Tin House Books)
The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson (Tin House Books)
Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye (Two Lines Press)
Surrendering Oz by Bonnie Friedman (Etruscan Press)


Hum by Michelle Richmond (FC2, an imprint of University of Alabama Press)
List by Matthew Roberson (FC2, an imprint of University of Alabama Press)
Search for Heinrich Schlögel by Martha Baillie (Tin House Books)
Sister Golden Hair by Darcey Steinke (Tin House Books)
Song of the Shank by Jeffery Renard Allen (Graywolf Press)
Songs for the Deaf by John Henry Fleming (Burrow Press)
Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard (Open Letter)
The Family Cannon by Halina Duraj (Augury Books)
The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov (New Vessel Press)
Us Conductors by Sean Michaels (Tin House Books)

I’m delighted that Hum received a nod, along with another FC2 title, Matthew Roberson’s List. View the complete shortlist for the Firecracker Awards here.

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