Category Archives: Writer’s Life

My 50 Favorite Novels

Introduction

I thought I’d have a little fun today and compile a list of my 50 favorite novels.

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First off, the rules.

I didn’t include any short stories, short story collections, poetry collections, screenplays, plays, nonfiction (creative or otherwise), or graphic novels. Every book on this list is a novel (well, there is one novella).

Also, this is a list of my 50 favorite novels, not a list of the 50 best novels in terms of literary merit. Nostalgia, my own personal taste, and the fact that I’ve only read a smidgen of the novels that have been written limit this to a very arbitrary list.

Without further ado, the list!

My 50 Favorite Novels

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  1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  6. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  7. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
  8. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
  9. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
  10. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  11. Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale by Chuck Kinder
  12. Skagboys by Irvine Welsh
  13. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
  14. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  15. Native Son by Richard Wright
  16. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
  17. Women by Charles Bukowski
  18. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  19. 1984 by George Orwell
  20. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  21. The Plague by Albert Camus
  22. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  23. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
  24. The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson
  25. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
  26. The Group by Mary McCarthy
  27. Drop City by T.C. Boyle
  28. The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight
  29. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  30. Junky by William S. Burroughs
  31. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
  32. Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley
  33. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  34. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  36. NW by Zadie Smith
  37. The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini
  38. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  39. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  40. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  41. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  42. The Fall by Albert Camus
  43. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  44. The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis
  45. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  46. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  47. Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  48. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  49. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  50. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Feedback

Now, here’s where I turn it back to you with a few questions:

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How many of these novels have you read?

Do you hate any of the books on this list? Why?

What’s on your list of 50 favorite books?

Comments and feedback are always appreciated!

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

The Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Writing

Introduction

I didn’t start writing until I was twenty.

I don’t mean I didn’t start taking writing seriously until I was twenty, I mean I didn’t write anything that wasn’t for a school assignment until I was twenty.

No short stories.

No poems.

No novels.

No nonfiction.

OK, scratch that last one. I did write about thirty pages of a memoir on my old IBM Aptiva. I have no idea where that partial manuscript is, and that’s probably for the best.

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When I transferred to Beloit College, I decided to become a Creative Writing major because it seemed like fun, and it was, but back then I had many, many, MANY misconceptions about what being a writer meant.

Top Ten Things I Wish I Knew About Writing As A Twenty-Year-Old Absolute Beginner

1. Writing is rewriting.

You just finished your novel. Great. Now the fun really begins.

2. Rewriting is not a quick process.

God may have created the Earth in six days; however, you will not complete your manuscript in anywhere near that time frame.

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3. Working with an editor isn’t optional, but necessary.

My short stories wouldn’t have been published without the assistance of Rairigh Drum, who was my developmental editor. My screenplays wouldn’t have attracted the attention of a New York Times best-selling author and a screenwriter who has worked with Spielberg without the assistance of a developmental editor. My non-fiction book wouldn’t have…you get the point.

4. Writing well isn’t enough, you need to think like an entrepreneur to get noticed.

Is it ugly? Yeah, maybe, but the days of the pure writer who refuses to attend to the business end of things is over. Those writers are doomed to obscurity.

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5. Success doesn’t come overnight.

Trust the process. If you know that you’re good, go out and prove it. Stay the course, and don’t lose your confidence if you don’t rapidly advance.

6. Networking with other writers (and, if possible, with editors, publishers, and agents) can open up many doors.

Remember that saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Well, it’s both. Don’t be isolated.

7. Most publishers will have zero interest in your writing and will reject it, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have talent.

Publishers and agents receive an incredibly large amount of submissions. They also usually have very strict criteria about what types of work they publish/represent. Receiving rejections is inevitable. I’ve had over 60 short stories and poems published and scout publications carefully, and still only have an acceptance rate of about 25-30%.

8. You can’t half ass your way to quality writing; you have to whole ass it.

If you’re planning on going through the motions, just put down your pen and give it up.

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9. Not all writers are miserable people, and you don’t have to be miserable to write.

Although I won’t lie, sometimes it helps. 😉

10. You don’t have to drink to excess to write well, but sometimes it can be fun.

Nostrovia!

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Conclusion

“He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory.” – Lao Tzu

Don’t make mistakes based on incorrect perspectives about being a writer.

Make writing a consistent habit, work with an editor that you can trust, network, realize this is a process, and try to keep a sense of humor. If you do all that, and you have some talent, you’ll be more than fine.

What Do You Wish You Knew When You Started Writing?

Leave a comment below!

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In Need Of An Editor?

Check out my editing services page.

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

I Want To Write, But I Don’t Know How To Start

Introduction

Many of you, I’m sure, have started to write.

Some of you, have achieved a bit of recognition. Maybe you’ve had some short stories or poems published in a few literary magazines. Maybe you’ve self-published a book and sold a good number of copies.

Sorry, this post isn’t for you guys. This post is for those who want to write, but haven’t embarked down that path yet.

Because they don’t know where the hell to start.

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Where to Begin

KISS. It’s an acronym a future writer would do well to heed.

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And no, you don’t need to become a knight in Satan’s service.

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Keep it simple, stupid.

What does that mean? Here are a few examples of rookie mistakes that you’ll want to avoid.

Don’t Write That Novel…Yet

Have you tried to write a novel? Did you get a few thousand words in and then not know where to go from there. Frustrating, isn’t it?

If you’re just getting into writing, don’t attempt something as monumental as a novel.

Especially if you don’t have an idea that makes you want to practically burst with excitement.

Instead, start with short stories. Master the narrative arc. Get familiar with setting, dialogue, internal monologue, and character development.

So yeah, that epic 150,000 word novel. You may want to put that on hold.

Unlimited Freedom Isn’t Always A Good Thing

You can literally write about anything. That’s great, right?

Wrong.

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Beginners often find that they can’t think of a compelling idea. That’s where writing prompts come in.

If you’re a beginner, writing prompts can be a nice tool to help focus, allowing you to focus on writing, not on generating ideas.

The New York Times produced a list of 500 writing prompts. To read it, click here.

Setting Goals

Realize that you’re not going to become an overnight sensation. At least not in the course of your first night writing.

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When you’re just starting out on your writing career, you may find it helpful to set little goals for yourself. Once you achieve your goals, you’ll find that your confidence increases. Your increased confidence will spur you on to write more and write better.

Here are a few goals you may want to consider targeting:

1. Writing 1000 words per day for a month.
2. Completing three short stories.
3. Crafting three works of creative non-fiction.
4. Submitting your writing to ten literary magazines.
5. Achieving your first acceptance in a literary magazine.
6. Learning how to use Duotrope to find literary magazines that publish writing similar in style and content to your own writing.
7. Receiving your first sincere compliment (close friends, romantic partners, and family don’t count).

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Conclusion

If you’re new to writing, there are four main things that you want to do:

1. Keep it simple, stupid.
2. Start with short stories.
3. Utilize writing prompts.
4. Set appropriate goals.

How About You?

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For the more established writers who read this post anyway, what methods did you use when you started writing? Did you find them helpful, or were they more of a cautionary tale? Share your thoughts in the comments!

How To Keep Writing When Everything Around You Is A Mess

Introduction

I’ve said it, and pretty much anyone who writes about writing says it, you need to write daily. 1000 words. An hour. As many words as you can fit on the page in as much time as you can possibly spare.

Yeah, that’s all well and good in a perfect world.

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But your world isn’t perfect, is it? Neither’s mine. Who can really say that they don’t have any major challenges in their life?

So, how do you keep writing when it feels like the world’s crumbling at your feet; or, if your life isn’t so bad, how do you keep writing when your life could use a tune-up.

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Solutions

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Fix Your Shit

If you’re unable to write because of too many crazy things going on in your life, then don’t write. Solve your problems first. Besides, you can’t write 1000 words a day if your computer…and your grandparents’ typewriter…are confiscated by repo men.

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Phone A Friend

When life’s at its worst, know that misery loves company. Get on your phone and dial a buddy. You can ring the wisecracking one to get you out of your slump, or the understanding one if you need a shoulder to cry on, but ring someone to get out of your own head and elevate your mood. Then, after they’ve served their purpose, hang up and write!

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Power Through

If your problems aren’t going away anytime soon, then just say “fuck it” and go ahead and write. Put your feelings on the page if it’s a confessional work, or write from a fictional concept to take a brief reprieve from your stressors. Being productive can sometimes be the best cure for mental anguish.

Seek Professional Help

I’m not a psychiatrist. I don’t even play one on TV. If things are really bad, get yourself to a trained professional who can help you get back on track. Who knows, your psychiatrist may even know an agent, and if that won’t get you to start writing again, I don’t know what will.

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Conclusion

We’re all unique. Each of us responds to adversity in different ways. Find the way that best handles your situation, and go with it.

How About You?

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What method do you use to keep writing when life becomes overwhelming? Share it with our readers in the comments section.

As always, I’m Alfonso, and I’m fighting the good fight with you!

Do You Need A Degree To Be A Writer?

School Days

I’ve always been a writer. In what seems like a former life now, I used to be a teacher.

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When I was teaching, my students knew I was a writer.

Probably because I wouldn’t shut up about it. You know those bartenders who are actors or those waiters who are musicians. Yeah, I was that guy.

My students got a kick out of me (and hopefully learned a little something). They were all great in their own ways (well, almost all were); however, many years later, I find that some of the most memorable students were the writers. Of course.

When I was teaching, students with a talent and passion for creative writing were always eager to share their stories and other writing with me.

You may want to replace the word eager with desperate. But hey, we writers want to get read, otherwise what’s the point, right?

Rashad’s science-fiction short stories were incredible. Of course, the factual descriptions involving smoking cigarettes were inaccurate. But I suppose that’s a good thing for an 8th grader.

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Jibriel’s screenplays for short films were excellent. He wasn’t a student of mine, or even in my school, but word about my second career spread and Jibriel sought me out. I’m glad he did.

Should Rashad, Jibriel, or any other aspiring writer pursue a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing or an MFA?

The answer, for most writers, is no. Here are five reasons why I think you should probably skip the MFA or BA in Creative Writing:

1. Writers Hate Other Writers

What kind of person really wants to be around other writers all the time?

You love writing now, but how would you feel about it if you were talking about writing all the time? Would studying creative writing that intensely sap your interest?

And, of course, there are professional jealousies.

Could you handle other writers in your program receiving more recognition than you?

Could you handle your own creative writing being judged harshly by other writers in the program? Would this discourage you?

2. Never Ending Student Loans

Are you ready to embrace debt?

Because that’s what you’ll face unless you’re from an affluent family, can land a scholarship, or attend a low-cost state or city university.

3. Insularity and Lack of Adventure

If you want to write something worth reading, then you’d better have a wide array of experiences.

I suppose interesting stories can be written about downing vodka shots for Adderall, grinding to Teach Me How To Dougie at a frat party, or performing a bell run. Maybe.

But remember, the only thing that’s positively more boring than stories about writers are stories about students in MFA programs.

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4. You Can Do It Yourself

Writing is an art, not a science. Therefore, some degree of natural talent is extremely useful. If you have talent, all you need to do is hone it. If you don’t, cut your losses.

Write consistently, embrace honest critiques, dedicate yourself to continual improvement, read as much as you can on improving craft, and soak up an array of interesting experiences.

If you do all of the above, you’ll soon be writing better than many who undertake formal study in creative writing.

5. These Programs May Stifle Creativity

Want to be confined to writing in certain forms, on certain topics, or within other parameters that limit the creative process? Hell no.

Conclusion 

If you’re really really really serious about being a writer, then you can ditch the creative writing program without any negative consequences.

And if you’re not serious, why are you wasting your time reading this blog?

Like What You Read? Like What You Read!

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If you found this post helpful, please do me a solid and like and subscribe. If you’re really looking for a way to get on my good side, then share this post on social media!

If you’re not sure if a creative writing program may be right for you, leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to shoot a helpful answer your way.

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Being Solitary: How Others Are The Key To Your Success As A Writer

“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own…I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.” – Former U.S. President Barack Obama

I opened this post with President Obama’s quote because it can be applied perfectly to writers. From my position as publisher and co-founder of Beautiful Losers Magazine, I have seen that some of the best poets and short fiction writers are not in The New Yorker, Granta, or The Paris Review. Of course, that is not to say that the writers featured in those magazines are not exceptional talents, because by and large they are, but only that many talented writers are never discovered by the readership of these magazines. In many cases, these writers are equals to their more established peers in creativity, knowledge of the nuances of craft, and work ethic. So why are some writers exalted and others remain in obscurity? Perhaps because no one gave them some help along the way.

Writing can be seen as a solitary profession, and to some extent it is, but there are many instances where receiving help can be the difference between success and anonymity. Here are a few ways in which others can help you along in your path as a writer:

1. Editing. Every writer needs an editor. My short fiction wouldn’t be nearly as good if my editors Rairigh Drum and Lauren Rubin didn’t examine every piece that I write and offer constructive suggestions towards improving them. The same holds true for my forthcoming book with Vakasha Brenman. Writers have a blind side when it comes to their own work. To gain an agent’s representation or get writing accepted in competitive literary magazines, working with an editor is mandatory. It’s my mission to help talented writers succeed in the literary game, and I want to help 100 writers who have never been published before have their work published. That’s why I offer editing services. If you have an unpublished manuscript that needs a thorough edit, I want to help you. You can read more about my services by clicking here.

2. Networking. Your manuscript may be well-written and edited to a publishable standard; however, that doesn’t mean that you will automatically be able to attract an agent’s interest and be on the fast track to a contract with a big publisher. If you are completely divorced from the network of writers, voracious readers, agents, and publishers, you are missing a golden opportunity to advance. Forming friendships with other writers, influential readers, or those involved in the business of literature can have immense benefits, not the least of which is putting your manuscript before a person in a decision-making position.

3. Inspiration. It happens to all of us, we start writing and hit a wall. Our mood drops, the ideas stop coming, and the frustration sets in. This is where friends, family, and romantic partners come in. The next time your writing hits a wall, get connected with others, and watch how easy the words will come to you when you resume your writing.

What other benefits do you find from turning to others? Comment below to share your thoughts.

If you found this post helpful, please like, comment, repost, or subscribe to my blog – all are appreciated!

Five Benefits To Starting A Literary Magazine

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It’s been a while! I apologize for the lack of posts, but I’ve been extremely busy with other projects since last November. Quick update: I’ve been commissioned to write a screenplay for Supersonic Productions and a non-fiction book for a New York City-based nonprofit. In combination with my duties as co-founder and publisher of Beautiful Losers Magazine, free time has been at a minimum. Still, no excuses, right? On with the show!

Right here on WordPress, when I was scrolling through my feed, I found an incredibly talented writer named Dario Cannizzaro  We became friends, and he introduced me to his friend Austin Wiggins. They told me about their plan to start a literary magazine, and I was intrigued. I had started a couple of literary magazines in the past, but they had fizzled out for various reasons. Now, with a couple of high-character partners, we set out to start a literary magazine, and the rest is history.

Has running a literary magazine been easy? Not always! But it has definitely been worth it, and for many writers, choosing to start a literary magazine can be an incredibly valuable experience. Here are a few reasons that I’ve found as to how starting a literary magazine can be extremely beneficial for writers. If you know of any that I’ve missed, make sure to leave them in the comments below. Hope this helps!

  1. Networking. If you’re not Cormac McCarthy or Junot Diaz, you probably could benefit from gaining some new contacts to help advance your writing career. Running a literary magazine affords you the opportunity to network with talented writers. If you accept an author’s work, or even if you send them a personal rejection, you can start a conversation that can lead to some incredible contacts with ties to editors, publishers, and literary agents. Personally, I’ve become good friends with someone who’s collaborated with elite-level Hollywood directors. Pretty good for a budding screenwriter, right?
  2. Immersion. I understand that you might have to hold down that 9-5 until your literary dreams come true, but what are you doing on your time off? Starting a literary magazine gives you the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in the culture of writers. You’re responsible for reading countless submissions, so that means putting Netflix aside, logging off Facebook, and learning from your contemporaries.
  3. Credibility. If you’re submitting short stories or poetry to literary magazines, or manuscripts to literary agents, running a competitive literary journal shows that you have some skin in the literary game. If a journal or agent is on the fence about your work, this could be what tips someone in your favor.
  4. Friendship. Whether you choose to go solo or partner with others on your litmag, your dedication will likely attract the attention of other likeminded people, and many of the most valuable friendships of your life may develop.
  5. Discipline. Starting a literary magazine is a form of leadership. Your readers are dependent on you putting out excellent content. Your writers are dependent on you screening submissions in a timely fashion. As a writer, discipline is critical, even more so than talent. Working day in and day out on your magazine can instill the necessary work ethic needed for success in the literary game.

Have any questions about starting a literary magazine? Comment below and I’ll do my best to share my thoughts! If you found this post helpful, please like, comment, repost, or subscribe to my blog – all are appreciated!