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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week we talked about the stories of How We Got into Writing. They were great fun—all those busy four-year-olds cooking up stories, all those mad teens clacking away on typewriters under the raised eyebrows of the taken-aback, even some of us who came to this craft recently and are only now discovering the fascination of it. What maniacs we all are, utterly devoted to this simple world of words!

    So this week let’s think about different stories: this time about those marvelous, convoluted degrees of separation that separate us all from each other—and from the authors we love.

    How many degrees of separation are you from your literary idols?

    One of the writers I love best is the extraordinary early-twentieth-century Danish writer, Isak Dinesen. Famous in our time as the author of Out of Africa—starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford—which is the memoir of her life on her coffee plantation in Kenya, Dinesen was known throughout Europe for decades before that 1985 movie as the author of some of the most wonderful, gothic, mystical literature ever through her collections of short stories, Seven Gothic Tales, Winter’s Tales, and Last Tales. She also wrote a companion book to Out of Africa—even more beautifully-rendered stories of Africa—Shadows on the Grass, as well as many wonderful essays (and a ‘potboiler’ mystery, The Angelic Avengers, under the pseudonym Pierre Andrezel). She was interviewed as Baroness Karen Blixen, her real name, by The Paris Review in 1956, only a few years before she died.

    One of the people Dinesen knew in Kenya was a young American woman, Beryl Markham, who’d been raised there by her father. Markham was a teen when Dinesen was an adult (she makes a brief appearance in Out of Africa under the name Felicity), and she was always deadly jealous of Dinesen, particularly of her love affair with the coveted Denys Finch-Hatton. Markham has claimed Finch-Hatton was in the process of leaving Dinesen for her when he died and, in fact, that Finch-Hatton invited her to join him on his fateful plane ride. Markham was studying at the time to become a bush pilot, delivering mail and supplies around rural Kenya in the early days of the airplane, and eventually became the first woman to cross the Atlantic in a plane from east to west. Markham wrote a gorgeous memoir chronicling that trip, West with the Night, in the style of one of her lovers, the quintessential Antoine de Saint Exupéry.

    However, when Markham was old, her third husband, LA scriptwriter Raoul Schumacher, came out with the claim that, in fact, he had written West with the Night. This claim got quite a bit of coverage in works written about Markham in the 1980s (when West with the Night was rediscovered and republished), especially by the biographer Errol Trzebinski.

    In fact, the LA writer Scott O’Dell, author of the Newbery award-winning Island of the Blue Dolphins and friend to both Markham and Schumacher, made quite an issue out of Schumacher’s assertion, trying very hard to have it verified in order to force Markham to give up her claim to authorship. He failed—to this day, nobody knows for certain who wrote West with the Night, although most agree somebody edited it into its final polished form.

    As it happens, O’Dell and his wife, the author Elizabeth Hall, were close friends of my aunt and uncle, who helped raise me. From the time I was quite young, I had autographed copies of Hall’s children’s books on my shelf, along with Island of the Blue Dolphins (which I’m afraid I found intensely dry and unreadable until I was an adult). My aunt and uncle even took in Hall’s daughter when her marriage ended in the 1970s and helped raise her baby daughter in their home for her first year of life. Hall’s granddaughter is still a close member of our family—she and I spoke together at my uncle’s funeral several years ago.

    And all that makes me four degrees of separation from one of my greatest literary idols of all time, the brilliant Isak Dinesen.

    So think about it: who are your literary idols? What stories can you tell? And how many degrees of separate stand between the two of you?

    NEXT WEEK: We’re tearing up our front yard—because we don’t like to live uncomplicated lives—and building the hardscape that our house has been missing for five years, so I’ll be here in absentia with: What Does Writing Mean to You?

    The Art and Craft of Fiction:
    A Practitioner’s Manual

    by Victoria Mixon

    “The freshest and most relevant advice you’ll find.”—Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    “Wonderfully useful, bracing and humorous. . .demystifies essential aspects of craft while paying homage to the art.”—Millicent Dillon, five time O. Henry Award winner and PEN/Faulkner nominee

    “Teeming with gold. . .makes you love being a writer because you belong to the special club that gets to read this book.”—KM Weiland, author of Outlining Your Novel

    The Art and Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual
    by Victoria Mixon

    “This book changed my life.”Stu Wakefield, Kindle #1 best-selling author of Body of Water and Memory of Water

    “Opinionated, rumbunctious, sharp and always entertaining. . .lessons of a writing lifetime.”—Roz Morris, best selling ghostwriter and author of Nail Your Novel

    “As much a gift to writers as an indispensible resource. . .in a never-done-before manner that inspires while it teaches. Highly recommended.”—Larry Brooks, author of four bestselling thrillers and Story Engineering

    “I wish I’d had The Art & Craft of Story when I began work on my first novel.”—Lucia Orth, author of the critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop


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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .

SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .

LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .

BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .

SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .

SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .

M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .

DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .

ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .

STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .

GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .

JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .

LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .

JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .

LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .

ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .

ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .

In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.