Thursday, August 20, 2009

Write with Fire (A Book Review)

Charles Allen Gramlich is a professor of psychology at Xavier in New Orleans, a blogger (Razored Zen) and an author of four published novels and numerous articles. After reading The Walking Man’s praise of his writings, I ordered a copy of his newest book, Write with Fire.” I read the book while flying to North Carolina last week. As one who tries to read a couple books on writing a year, I was more than happy to read what a fellow blogger has to say about the craft.
Charles Allen Gramlich, Write with Fire: Thoughts on the Craft of Writing (The Borgo Press, 2009), 247 pages.

Writing with Fire is a collection of essays, many of which have been previously published in magazines, newsletters and online journals. The independent nature of each essays means that information is often presented several times within the book. Some may find this obnoxious, but the repetition helps to remind the reader of what’s important. At least it helps me. Gramlich stresses that writing is hard work. It requires time, a commitment to finish what you start, and multiple drafts. I found it refreshing that another writer, with more publications than me, still has trouble with certain problem words such as affect/effect and lay/lie. In order to improve his skill, Gramlich keeps a lists of words with which he struggles. He also gives out this list to his students to help them in their papers and included a list for his readers benefit. In addition to discussing the mechanics of writing, Gramlich provides suggestions for connecting with editors and publications (including examples of query letters). He also gives us an insight into his personal writing habits, bits about his life including the turmoil after Katrina, and brief essays on some of his favorite authors. There is something for everyone here, including a bit of parody. Some essays are designed for those who are just beginning to write seriously while other essays could be more helpful for skilled writers wanting to refine their craft.

Gramlich has an equation that's a key to writing success. RQW3R (read, question, write, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite) is a variation of the study equation SQ3R (study, question, read, recite and review). Again, there is no short cuts, good writing requires multiple drafts.

For me, the essays on creating suspense were the jewels of the book. Gramlich’s genre of choice is fantasy and horror. I found his insights into “writer’s groups” helpful. I’ve never belonged to a writer’s group (unless it’s you folks who read my blog) and was surprised to find that he found value in such groups, while pointing out the pitfalls. I also found his discussion of how blogging relates to writing to be helpful. Gramlich concludes his work with a list of books on writing that he has found helpful and I’ve was pleased to see many familiar names there. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ray Bradbury had published a book on writing, Zen and the Art of Writing. It’s being added to my reading list.

Over the years, I’ve written a few reviews of books on writings:
Patrick McManus, A Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor
Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook
Lynne Truss, Eat, Shoots and Leaves
William Zinsser, Writing About Your Life


  1. This is one interesting point of view on writing that I never really considered, Sage. It has mechanics to it, but you seem to feel more beyond that and I like that you are getting something out of this new find! :)

  2. Sometimes, it seems to me that the old wisdom is still the best: In order to become a good writer, one must a)read a lot of good writers and b)write a lot, no matter how crappy the effort might turn out to be.


  3. This is the book I'll never read, considering how much I dislike writing. I've stories coming to me all the time, yet I can't write; I wish someone can read my mind, literally, and write out all the stories. Yeah that'll be cool.

  4. Michael, I always seem to get soemthing out of books on writing, possibly because I got so little out of English classes in High School and college (some of that was my fault).

    Randall, I added a paragraph (RQW3R) that demostrates what you said. To him, writing is hard work and ones who are good at the craft are also readers.

    Mother Hen, you need a ghost writer! Or a secretary that can take dictation.

  5. Thanks very much for the review. I'm glad you found some useful stuff in there. I remember how kind of excited I was in figuring out some the stuff I put in the suspense essays. It was like, "wow," so that's what's going on. It definitely is a varied book. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Of course, before anything, there's the must-have famous little book by Strunk and White (Elements of Style)...which never goes out of style by the way!

    I would love to get my hands on the suspense part of this book and the blogging section would be interesting as well. Thanks for the know I'll look into it!

  7. Okay, once again you sold me another book. You are hard on my pocketbook. ;-)

    Thanks for pointing this one out to us.

  8. I ought to read this book. It might help me to get back to my unfinished novel!