025Since other indie writers all seem to be posting writing advice, it’s about time I did too.

What do I think you should do if you want to write a novel?

I think you should get a John Grisham novel, then read it carefully – the way a writer reads – trying to understand how Grisham does what he does.

Don’t be put off by the disparaging comments of the literary/academic community about John Grisham. They see him as someone who debases himself by creating stories that sell lots of books. In the 19th century, the same people said the same things about Charles Dickens, for the same reasons.

When it comes to producing stories with engaging characters that hold the attention of readers, there is no-one better than Grisham. He is the Dickens of our time.

As with Dickens, secondary Grisham characters often steal the show. For example, take a look at paralegal Deck Shifflet in The Rainmaker. A one time “insurance assessor” (meaning he handled personal injury insurance claims, as I did for 40 years) turned paralegal, Shifflet was, for me, mesmerizing every time he re-appeared on a page. The law clerk Nick Viola in my novel The Birdcatcher owes much to Deck Shifflet.

But there are other writers who are as good as Grisham. I only recently discovered Daniel Silva and his Gabriel Allon novels. Allon is a new James Bond, but a more realistic one, a reluctant spy/assassin drawn into Israel’s seemingly endless world-wide vendetta with its enemies, who would rather be working on art restorations, his chosen vocation.

Silva too has a gift for dropping secondary characters onto a page with a few words, alive and ready to run. And when it comes to plot, he might be the best of all.

There must be contemporary women who are just as accomplished, but I don’t read enough contemporary fiction to know who they are.

Some years ago I attended a 4 day workshop for writers at the University of Toronto, where a woman in my group who wanted to write historical romance fiction came to me for advice.

That week she had arranged, and paid for, a formal meeting with one of the authors conducting these seminars, a man much older than her, and had asked him what she should be reading. He told her that she should be reading Hemingway, Faulkner, etc. What did I think?

Mildly appalled at his incompetence, I told her to ignore him and read the historical romance writers she liked most, with the goal of learning to do what they do.

Just read the writers you like, and you will learn what you need to learn.

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