Blood on the Forehead: What I Know About Writing

This is one of the worst books I’ve read about writing. I got hipped to Kerr because she’s supposedly the inspiration for Carol in Price of Salt by the immensely talented Patricia Highsmith. Sadly, Kerr has nothing to offer a discerning reader/writer in any of her many permutations.

The book seems to be created out of an urgent need for cash. There are perhaps 20 pages about the craft of writing wedged in betwixt too many pages of Kerr’s not so great short stories or a few chapters of her tepid novels.

I had hope in the beginning: “The difference between a short story and a novel is the difference between a visit to a nearby town and at trip to another country. To visit the nearby town you don’t pack much, you don’t have as far to go, fewer people are involved, and you take a direct route to your destination.”

Perhaps the most helpful piece of information conveyed was her technique for using posterboard to list out the elements of her stories before she began: NAME, AGE, DESCRIPTION, BACKGROUND, HABITS, BEGINNING, END.

Then she does dumb stuff like qualify her sources: “The famous writer W. Somerset Maugham wrote: ‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.'” Did we really need the explanation that Maugham was a famous writer? Didn’t we already know that? This book is clearly not aimed at people like me, lit-nerds.

Possibly the worst abuse she inflicted on my eyes was her explanation of why she assumes a male point of view. “Teachers have told me that boys prefer to read only stories that boys tell. Girls like both. So if I use a male voice, then everyone’s happy.” Except me, frustrated and banging my fists against the willful ignorance of people perpetuating harmful stereotypes.