Saturday, August 17, 2013


A student stops me in the hallway. He wants to know what writing manuals I recommend. He's about to get on an airplane and return to Germany where he feels cut off from other writers.

Three titles come to mind, immediately: Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing, Stephen King's On Writing, and Jory Sherman's Master Course in Writing (High Hill Press, 2011).

The instructor standing next to me, a game designer and speculative fiction writer, nods at the Bradbury, nods at King, and then says, "Jory who?"

We’re at Shared Worlds, a speculative fiction writing and world-building program. The first two titles, the Bradbury and King, make a certain sense in that context. They are, essentially, predictable. But Master Course in Writing? By a Spur Award-winning writer of westerns?

Bradbury duct tapes a hand grenade to your creative bicycle, pulls the pin, and shoves you into the big, scary world of writing. King weaves his tough childhood and his relentless commitment to craft and storytelling with practical advice. And Sherman… he takes you inside the flow of the creative experience, holds your hand as you take your first tentative steps into the dark caves, stays by you as long as you need him to, and sets you free so you can see the dancing lights.

"In the cavern of my mind, there were stories that cast shadow on the wall," writes Sherman, midway through Master Course. "I could follow those shadows into the deeper recesses of my mind and discover stories lurking in the recesses and passages of that vast cave."

And in that vast cave "there was always a lamp" and that lamp "could be lit" and "its light could illuminate the stories that lurked and loomed in those dark recesses."

That’s what this book does—it takes you into the magical darkness and shows you the lights, your lights, your stories.

In Master Course, Sherman is both lamplighter and just another spelunker who's been there before and who is willing to show us how to light our own lamps.

Right now, I want to quote the book extensively. I want to write for hours and across many pages about this book. I want to hold it under your nose and point out wonderful passages.

I'll restrain myself.

But only a little.

The book is too good for too much restraint.

"Writing is writing," writes Sherman in his Introduction. "Except when it's magic."

These simple lines are emblematic of the writing throughout—simple, present tense, tip-of-the-iceberg sorta stuff.

Makes you think.

Writing is what it is. But it is also something more. Much, much more.

"I believe that every human being," says Sherman a few lines later, "is a natural born storyteller."

Sherman isn't saying, dismissively, "Meh, anyone can do that." He is saying everyone has it in him or her. There's a difference there, a big one, an open, egalitarian bent that fits with everything that follows in Master Course.

After the introduction, five lessons guide the reader from the naming of that shadowy idea in the back of her mind through to building one scene upon another scene. I’ve run through the lessons many times. The ebb and flow of Sherman’s prose, the intimate, right-there-with-you tone, has a way of opening the floodgates and sending me off on gloriously thick word floods!

Next, there are ten essays on craft with topics ranging from character to hypnotic writing to scene, two short stories, and an essay on the Ozarks. Any one of these I’d buy separately.

It’s hard to believe this book has only been out since 2011. Always fresh and new, it still feels as though it has always been there, on my shelf, on my desk, woven into my creative process. A lean 113 pages, this slim volume extends well beyond itself.

Lastly, Master Course in Writing brings us deeply into the world of one of the great literary figures of our time and into the timeless creative process of a great storyteller. Master Course is a privilege and a thrill.


  1. Jeremy - I earned my MA from Seton Hill University's unique Writing Popular Fiction program, and we were recommended King and Bradbury. Now I will recommend these two books to add to their resource list. I'll also get them for my shelf. Thanks so much! Storytelling is an art indeed, and while everyone has that spark in there, only those called to "enter the mind caves" will finish a first draft, struggle through revision after revision and put all the hard work in to present magic to the world. Thanks!

  2. Jeremy, I'm sorry I have been gone all day long and have not been able to promote this post as much as I would like to have. It's just an excellent tribute to Jory Sherman! I had the privilege of editing some of Jory's work with Rebecca Vickery's publishing company, and I have to say, many was the day I got so caught up in the story I had to stop myself and go back to edit (but there was not much for me to do in Jory's writing, for sure!)LOL

  3. Master Course in Writing is indeed a wonderful book for such a slim volume. But there's something valuable on every page.

    I, however, did not know about Scene and Story.

    Thanks so much for this post.

  4. I'm gonna have to get me one of these.

  5. Yes. Scene and story. And as Jory is going through financially hard times, if you can't contribute to his fund, buy every Jory Sherman book you can get your hands on. Sometimes the PayPal balance is the only monetary balance he has that's in the black.

  6. An excellent post, Jeremy, illuminating some of the magic of Jory's prose. At heart, Jory is a poet - not all writers are - and that makes his words sing. I'll take Chuck's words to heart, too.

  7. Marvelous information, Jeremy. I had no idea Jory had written these two books. I must have them.

  8. Gina Felice Sherman (Jones)August 18, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    I am so glad my dad's books are catching on in the greater literary world, and extending far beyond the reaches of Western writers. He has written so many other great works that still need to be read; like his poetry, and also his works for education on behalf of drug prevention. His works and talents are extensive and I appreciate the writers discovering who he is and what he has to offer the literary world.

  9. I have always been a fan of his fiction. I was unaware of the other offerings. The lyric beauty of his work begs them to be read over and over. Thank you so much for this posts and more wonderful books to add to my collection. Doris

  10. As another talented writer said, Jory paints pictures with words. He is a master storyteller, so it's appropriate he should write the Master Course in Writing. If you've read any of his books, you know his complete mastery of words. And, he has helped so many other writers. I can vigorously recommend his book.