THE LIAR’S COMPANION is a collection of columns Lawrence Block wrote for Writer’s Digest magazine from 1987 to 1990. This was before Block was a Grand Master of the mystery genre, so they’re written from the point of view of someone who is a full-time writer, but not a household name. Although the columns are old, they feel fresh. Block tackles enduring subjects with solid advice and a kind tone.
Most of the columns are about craft matters–how much research to do, how ideas become plot, the danger of writing in present tense, and how to write three-dimensional characters. Block covers beginnings, middles, and ends in three short chapters that are as good as entire books on the topic. He often addresses his fictional students by name, and lets them ask questions as proxies for the reader. Some people might find this too cute by half, but I loved it. It made me wish I could sit in that imaginary classroom and be Mr. Block’s student.
Several of the collected columns aren’t about craft matters, but about a writer’s lifestyle. Block made several visits to artists’ colonies, where he stayed up to six weeks. These colonies are idyllic retreats where writers and other artists are given unstructured free time to create. Block details how heavenly an artists’ colony is when the work is going well, and how hellish it is when the work is going poorly. He also frequently mentions his novel, RANDOM WALK, which was published around that time. The novel was a departure from his earlier work (The Matthew Scudder series) and Block alternates between extraordinary pride in the book and terror at how it would be received.
THE LIAR’S COMPANION also discusses touchier issues–joining writer’s groups, dealing with agents, and the agony of reviews. Block likes critique groups in theory, although he’s never joined one. His column on agents is a bit outdated. The agent’s role has changed too much in the last twenty years for this column to be helpful. However, his take on book reviews is timeless. Then, as now, it is best to ignore them if you can. If you can’t ignore them, try not to take them personally. Reviews don’t do much to sell books anyway.
Block says that writing about writing made him a better writer. Teaching others how to apply certain techniques made him aware of how he was using them in his own books. I’m so glad that writing these monthly columns made Block the writer he is today. I learned so much from reading Block’s collected columns that I can honestly say reading THE LIAR’S COMPANION made me a better writer, too.
THE LIAR’S COMPANION can be found here.
rating: 5 stars
This book is best for: intermediate writers
I recommend this book.