word craft


Summer Blog Series: C.M. Surrisi

From Avi: As I did last sum­mer, I’ve invit­ed 13 admired mid­dle grade authors to write for my blog for the next three months. I hope you’ll tune in each Tues­day to see who has answered these three ques­tions. You should have a list of ter­rif­ic books to read and share and read aloud by the end of the sum­mer … along with new authors to follow!

Your favorite book on writing:

Writing Fiction by Janet BurrowayI am some com­bi­na­tion of a plot­ter and a pantser. Some­times, I am all about struc­ture, plot points, beats, ris­ing action, and all the Freytag’s Pyra­mid ele­ments. Oth­er times, I am feel­ing my way through the char­ac­ters, their tri­als, tribu­la­tions, reac­tions, and change. I read through a man­u­script from the begin­ning over and over and tweak it to see if it is hold­ing togeth­er with the new bits.

Over the years, the craft book that has endured for me is Writ­ing Fic­tion: A Guide to Nar­ra­tive Craft by Janet Bur­rowayEliz­a­beth Stuck­ey-French.

I used this book exten­sive­ly dur­ing my MFA stud­ies and cit­ed it in my the­sis because, unlike any oth­er craft books, it doesn’t just offer an axiom and or an exam­ple, it explores why the exam­ple demon­strates the prin­ci­ple. For exam­ple, when peo­ple tell you to “use active verbs,” they often say, “because they keep the read­er engaged.” The Bur­roway book will go one step fur­ther to explain why they keep you engaged. By the way, it’s because active verbs stim­u­late a dif­fer­ent part of the brain than do nouns and non-active verbs. Active verbs reg­is­ter in the brain where the action would be felt if you took it. So, this book pro­vides prac­ti­cal writ­ing tech­niques, con­crete exam­ples, and deep­er expla­na­tion. It’s also not text-bookish. 

Reading aloud from my books:

I have always rec­om­mend­ed read­ing my nov­els out loud because they are sus­pense­ful. How­ev­er, since I have writ­ten The Bones of Bir­ka: Unrav­el­ing the Mys­tery of a Female Viking War­rior, I have come to appre­ci­ate that non-fic­tion can be a heck of a sus­pense­ful read. The book is packed with excit­ing infor­ma­tion sur­round­ing a con­tro­ver­sial archae­o­log­i­cal find, laced with his­to­ry and sci­ence that is fun to learn. Plus, at almost every page turn, it rais­es good ques­tions for discussion.

Where do you write most often?

I have a messy desk for writ­ing busi­ness, and when I am going through copy edit­ing on non-fic­tion it takes over the entire din­ing room table. But when I com­pose, I choose a serene and Zen­like place. That is my liv­ing room with its big round win­dow onto the universe.


About Bri­an’s recent book, Car­rie Fire­stone, author of Dress Cod­ed wrote, “A bril­liant por­tray­al of how easy it is to get sucked into a tox­ic friend­ship and how painful the con­se­quences can be. It’s an emo­tion­al­ly riv­et­ing swim through dark waters that ends with a long, deep breath and a poignant reminder: There’s always a way out.”

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