Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

Lawrence Block Writes (and Writes) About Writing

 

Some writers write. Some writers write about writing. But Lawrence Block does both. And he’s damn good at both. No wonder I still hate him.

Like many a starting writer, I tried to figure out how to write by reading books and amgazines about writing. Some were helpful. A good many, however, were next to useless. And not all of those were written by obscure writers you’d never heard of.

But Block is a true rarity — his real work is as good as it gets, and his books about writing are just as good: clever, pointed and witty, hitting just the right spot between muscular and casual, delving into not just getting those words on paper but what to do once you get them there, as he relates his own adventures and misadventures in the publishing jungle. In fact, they’re all just so damn enjoyable you may almost forget that hollow feeling in your stomach that says you’ll probably never ever be as good as this guy.

* * * * *

Block’s first foray into writing about writing was way back in 1958, when Block was a college student and working at a slightly dubious New York “literary agency,” plowing through the slush pile. He sent off a diatribe against awkward verbs and unweildy adverbs in dialogue tags, entitled “Gloomily Asserted Smith.”

The article was eventually published in something called Author and Journalist, and was possibly his first sale of a non-fiction piece.

Seventeen years later, after a long, slow climb up the charts, learning all the way, Block became the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest, and held that position for fourteen years, from 1976 to 1990, and even ran a popular seminar called “Write for Your Life” for writers with his wife Lynn for several years.

Block — ever the publishing entrepreneur — has seen to it that the books have all been more or less available in one form or the other for years, regularly reprinted and occasionally updated and revised.

That’s a lot of writing about writing. By now Block has written more about writing than some writers have written, period

ESSAYS & COLUMNS

  • “Gloomily Asserted Smith:” (1958, Author and Journalist)
  • Assorted columns (1976-90, Writer’s Digest)

BOOKS ABOUT WRITING

  • Block, Lawrence,
    Writing the Novel from Plot to Print | Buy this book
    Cincinnatti: Writer’s Digest Books, 1978.
    The first of what would turn out to be a long string of books. Regularly reprinted, and eventually updated in 2015 to include digital publishing, but this one remains a stone cold classic, timeless and absolutely essential.
  • Block, Lawrence,
    Telling Lies For Fun and Profit | Buy this book Kindle it!
    New York, New York: Arbor House, 1981.
    Is that a great tile or what? A collection of Block’s columns from Writer’s Digest, one of the very best books on fiction writing ever written. Sue Grafton, no slouch herself, said it “should be a permanent part of every writer’s library.”
  • Block, Lawrence,
    Write for Your Life: The Book About the Seminar | Buy this book Kindle it!
    Lawrence Block Productions, 1986.
    Revised, 2014.
    Boasting perhaps the most cockeyed genesis of all his books on writing, this one was a self-published book about Block’s own “Write for Your Life” seminars that he and his wife Lynn presented for several years, which in turn were inspired by his previous books on writing which were based on his columns from Writer’s Digest, but still contains a hefty serving of writing advice, wry asides and pointed examples, although Block now feels the original version was perhaps a little too “Gee Whiz” for more modern sensibilities. So he revised it in 2014, and gave it a new subtitle: “The Home Seminar for Writers.”
  • Block, Lawrence,
    Spider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers | Buy this book Kindle it!
    New York, New York: Quill, 1988.
    Picks up where Telling Lies for Fun and Profit left off, offering tips on increasing your creativity, setting up a place to write and tons of other insights.
  • Block, Lawrence,
    Afterthoughts | Buy this book Kindle it!
    Open Road, 2011.
    Anyone interested in writing, crime fiction or Lawrence Block would do well to check out this jigsaw puzzle memoir, consisting of assorted introductions and afterwords from the countless re-issues and collections over a long, distinguished and still thriving and throbbing career. Not a formal memoir, perhaps, but a cheeky, spunky and fascinating look at the works.
  • Block, Lawrence,
    The Liar’s Bible: A Handbook for Fiction Writers | Buy this book Kindle it!
    Open Road Media, 2011
    More essays on writing, gleaned from the author’s fourteen-year run as fiction writing columnist at Writer’s Digest.
  • Block, Lawrence
    The Liar’s Companion: A Field Guide for Fiction WritersBuy this book Kindle it!
    Even more columns from Block’s run as a columnist for Writer’s Digest, plus an illustrated biography of the author, including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the authorís personal collection.
  • Block, Lawrence,
    Write for Your Life: The Home Seminar for Writers | Buy this book | Kindle it!
    Lawrence Block Productions, 2014.
    An updated and revised version of the original, still packing oner helluva punch. Gee whiz.
  • Block, Lawrence,
    Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel | Buy this book Kindle it!
    LB Productiions, 2015.
    Long awaited update of 1978 classic, dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age. But Block, still one of publishing’s shrewdest tacticians for decades, holds true to his original thesis, that every novel is different, and so is every novelist; his aim is to give you the tools to enable you to find your own way. Absolutely essential.

ALSO OF INTEREST TO WRITERS

  • Afterthoughts (2011) Buy this book Kindle it!
    Anyone interested in writing, crime fiction or Lawrence Block would do well to check out this jigsaw puzzle memoir, consisting of assorted introductions and afterwords from the countless re-issues and collections over a long, distinguished and still thriving and throbbing career. Not a formal memoir, perhaps, but a cheeky, spunky look under the lid at the works.
  • The Crime of Our Lives (2015)  Kindle it!
    Block does it again, cobbling together a book out of bits and pieces of other books. His previous instant book, Afterthoughts, cleverly rounded up the introductions he’d written for his own books; this one rounds up the articles, essays and introductions he’s written over the years for other people’s books. It makes for a fascinating and entertaining account one man’s take on crime fiction over the years. Witty, provocative, cranky and affectionate, it’s a cheeky and rollicking read not to be missed, as Block pays tribute to, among others, Chandler, Hammett, Westlake, McBain, Gar Haywood, Spillane and Gorman. And some cat called Poe.

RELATED LINKS

List respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.

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