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Blog: Rae Looks Again

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

How to Write A Damn Good Novel

Introducing James N. Frey – a Guide to Dramatic Storytelling

I first met James N. Frey in a workshop he taught at the coast in Oregon. It was early in my writing career, and he was the first in-person teacher I had the privilege of working with. I had a feel, by that time, for the shambles of the publishing industry – companies buying other companies, agents acquiring clients and then unable to make use of their usual connections to get book deals for those clients.

I was wary of the industry but dedicated to the idea that writing could bring important ideas to life and be a catalyst for change on behalf of the people I knew and loved.

I had a feel for the rhythms of storytelling but couldn’t have explained them to anyone else. I had practiced the rhythms of the pithy joke, the rhythms of an essay, and the rhythms of myth. I knew that the beat of a piece led the reader from page to page.

I had started to use this knowledge to write a novel.

And then, I met James N. Frey. He had the vocabulary I needed to understand the beats of a longer story. He had the knowledge of mythic heroines and the movement of their story from call to action through conflict, the inexorable rise to the climax and the satisfying resolution.

And James N. Frey knew how all of this had to be tied to the through-line of my premise – the core that held my story together.

When I got home from that workshop, I also had James N. Frey’s book – How to Write a Damn Good Novel, to help me recall all I had learned from him. We had discussed every aspect of being a writer, from the design and development of character to the hard and satisfying fun of the rewrite and the search for action and emotion in prose.

James N. Frey cared about each person in that workshop. He helped each one move toward success. The book I started in his workshop was A Fool’s Gold. When I had finished a sixth or seventh draft, he read and critiqued it and made it better. And I know that I am not the only student he treated with such thoughtful care.

Since that workshop, I have taken other workshops with very thoughtful and clear teachers. I learned a great deal from each one of them.

The building blocks of storytelling success came from that first encounter with James N. Frey, from the writers’ vocabulary and the storytelling knowledge he gave all of us during that week in Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

Since that year, James N. Frey has had many successful students. He has written How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, The Key: How to Write a Damn Good Novel Using the Power of Myth, How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, and How to Write a Damn Good Thriller.

He is the author of nine novels, including the Edgar Award Nominee A Long Way to Die.

Learn more about him at his website:

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

Larry Brooks and the Structure of Story

I have gone to Larry Brooks again to remind myself of the most efficient and creative way to get into story. This time, I re-read Larry’s book, Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves. Larry is one of the generous teachers who, in a classroom setting, is patient and kind, but clear about what does and doesn’t work.

In his writing, Larry has patiently and clearly elucidated the process of thoughtful deepening of your initial really cool story idea. He helps you create a lightning concept and a hot story.

Persevere. Larry’s Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves employs sentences with important parenthetic asides, but pay attention. The heart of Larry’s teaching is in there.

Get these ideas in your head and your gut. You will be a better storyteller. You will find a way to write exactly what the reader needs. Readers will turn your pages into the night, hoping your heroine learns what she has to learn in order to come out whole and strong.

Look also for Larry's suspense novels. Fun reads and fine examples of what he teaches us all.

P.s. You are not looking for Larry M or Larry W, though they may be great fellows. You want the real Larry Brooks.

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Bill Cameron, mystery writer

Bill Cameron will be a presenter at Southwest Washington Writers Conference at the Walton Science Center in Centralia, Washington on September 10 and 11 of 2021.

If you get a chance, you should hike up there and meet him. He thinks deeply about what he’s doing, and then he writes a mystery that keeps you reading. Bill Cameron has won many well-deserved awards for his writing.

Woody and I met Bill Cameron while I was hosting a writers’ salon at the Heathman Hotel. He had just written Lost Dog, his first mystery novel. I had just read it and was delighted to find that my local park’s playground (his setting for a body-find) was a lot scarier than I ever imagined. Woody read Lost Dog, too, and has read every mystery of Bill’s since.

Not too many years later, Bill came to the rescue of a writers’ conference by filling in for the guest speaker who had become ill. Bill’s talk about character creation was a home run, which is why he since has been a speaker at many writing conferences.

Down a couple of years and Bill and I began meeting to share stories, then worked together for several years, teaching an after-school writing club at a local middle school.

We both like middle school students for many reasons. They push your buttons to see what you might do, they still want the world to be just, they want to understand villains and good guys, and they have fresh ideas about what makes a good story.

And the students loved it when we put out an anthology of their stories, and helped them learn to read aloud more dramatically, present their stories to others, and enjoy the accolades of their fellow writers and their families.

Each year, we had these events at 60th and Division, the Rain or Shine Coffee House, the same coffee shop where Bill and I met to critique each other. We all had a great time.

Thank you staff at Rain or Shine, and to Theresa Snyder at the print shop at Mount Hood Community College. You both were patient and fun. And thank you to our students. We really enjoyed our time with you.

Meanwhile, both of us were working on the next novel, and the next mystery. Bill came out with more stories featuring Detective Skin Kadish. His novel, Chasing Smoke became a huge hit.

And then, he wrote another winner. One afternoon at the coffee shop, Bill’s phone kept chiming. Each chime was a report to him of another sale of his hot novel, Day One.

And then came the torrent of emails. “Why did you kill him?” A beloved character had died and all of Bill’s fans were ticked off.

Does that tell you how well he writes?

And among his presentations at the Southwest Washington Writer’s Conference will be a talk on creating characters.

Another presentation covers what you hope to learn about world creation, which, as Bill says, is for all fiction, not just science fiction and fantasy.

So, I urge you, get your thumb out and hitch-hike to this very affordable event.

And go look for Chasing Smoke, County Line, Day One, Property of the State. His newest novel, Crossroad, gives us a new detective.

When Bill and his wife, Jill, moved to the Eugene area, Woody and I were saddened, but we keep track of his work, and we read his online tales of The Adventures of Bill as the Cat Valet. We look for his stories, and hope that cat allows him time to work.

Go to to see all of his works, including short stories that are also stunning

There’s a new novel coming out soon. We can all look forward to that.

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