I am a fan of New Journalism. In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books, one that I’ve reread many times. I’m a huge fan, too, of Joan Didion. Her prose is exquisite in just about everything she wrote. And I have devoured the works of later writers such as Ted Conover, who wrote Newjack, and Alec Kotlowitz, who wrote There Are No Children Here, among others who have been called New Journalists.
It was a term often attributed to Tom Wolfe about his own work, among others, from the 1960s and 1970s, but New Journalism dates back at least to the nineteenth century. And some of the great writers of nonfiction of the earlier decades of the twentieth century in particular are my heroes. People such as Ernest Hemingway, working as a journalist during the Spanish Civil War, as well as his nonfiction books Death in the Afternoon and A Movable Feast, and Joseph Mitchell, who wrote Up in the Old Hotel, and other works, often for the New Yorker. Both of those great writers, and I’m sure others, laid the groundwork for Wolfe and the later twentieth century nonfiction writers by creating works that packed the kind of rhetorical and emotional punch that readers were used to expecting in fiction, but had not looked for in war stories and stories about the eccentricities of mid-century New Yorker City dwellers.
So, I love new journalism, and I remember enjoying Wolfe’s The Right Stuff up until the moment when he completely lost me. I remember it well. That moment came when he told me what Ham, the first American astronaut who orbited the earth in a Mercury capsule in January of 1961, felt and thought about the trip. I bought the accounts Wolfe offered of Chuck Yeager, ace pilot, and the men who, unlike Yeager, were chosen as astronauts for the Mercury missions.
But I knew for a fact that Wolfe had not interviewed Ham, because Ham was a chimpanzee.
And with that one choice, to invent the thoughts and feelings of a chimp, Wolfe lost me. He went in the blink of a chimp’s eye from The Right Stuff to wrong, wrong, wrong.
It can happen to any writer, and obviously by alienating me as a reader, Wolfe did no damage to his career. But there are many ways for writers to put a foot wrong, particularly now that there are so many choices to make, not only about what they write but also about their career paths and the skills necessary to accomplish their goals.
Which is why award-winning and bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch has curated a StoryBundle for writers called The Write Stuff. And talk about packing a punch, this bundle of ten books and lectures on the stuff that writers absolutely need in 2023 delivers a heck of a wallop.
As Kris puts it:
These days, anyone can write and publish a book. The rise of electronic books has made publishing easy and quick. However, not everyone can have a writing career.
Writing careers take patience and a willingness to learn. Writers must learn the basics of craft, which they’ve always needed to know. But now, writers also need to learn how to run a small business. They must also understand that at times, they’ll have to try a few other things to keep their writing business afloat.
Through it all, they must maintain their enthusiasm and avoid pitfalls that have prevented promising writers from having actual careers.
It’s that time of year when writers need a boost. Look no further than The Write Stuff for a firm push to get you going on your first novel, some wisdom about creating characters, advice on how to be productive, and getting down to brass tacks, Dean Wesley Smith has a workshop on “How to Make More than Coffee Money” from your writing. Kris herself has a new book in the bundle on How Writers Fail: Analysis and Solutions.
There is lots for everyone at every stage of a writing career. Avoid the pitfalls (such as channeling chimp emotions), absorb the wisdom, and then get writing!