You Must Be This Tall to Ride

Contemporary writers take you inside the story.
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You Must Be This Tall to Ride

Contemporary Writers Take You Inside the Story
by B.J. Hollars
Writer's Digest Books, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-58297-574-0
$17.99, paperback, 304 pages

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Read a Chapter!
View or download “The the Good People of Mars,” a short story from noted author Laura van den Berg. Plus, read her thoughts on how she wrote the piece, advice on using similar techniques in your own work, and exclusive exercises.

Online Exclusive: Q&A With BJ Hollars
Editor, writing instructor, and author B.J.Hollars shares his insights into the writing life in this exclusive Q&A.

About the Book

Compelling stories have the power to generate infinite wonder: It’s nearly impossible to imagine how authors begin their story, and, at the same time, you sense there’s much more beyond those final words. Here’s your chance to hear straight from the authors on exactly what goes into writing a compelling story.

In You Must Be This Tall to Ride, you’ll find 20 works of fiction and nonfiction by acclaimed contemporary authors, each
offering fresh perspective on the universal theme of “coming of age.” Then, after each work, the authors provide exclusive personal essays exploring the ins and outs of the writing techniques they employed, as well as practical exercises to help you utilize those tools in your own work.

Award-winning writers like Dan Chaon, Aimee Bender, and others grant you a guided tour of craft with unparalleled access to the process behind their creations, including how to:
• grow a story from the seed of an image or sentence
• allow experiments with language to lead you to plot
• turn even the most unlikely characters into heroes
• transform raw anecdotes from your own life into
compelling fiction and essay

Join these accomplished writers as they take you on a rollercoaster ride of stories. You’ll not only begin to understand what makes the wheels of a story turn, you’ll also gain the tools and strategies to transform lost characters and runaway plots into the greatest show on earth. So go ahead, step right up.

Your ride has just begun.

About the Author
B.J. Hollars has been published in many journals and has earned the Davenport Fiction Prize and a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. He is a book reviewer for Bookslut.com and a staff member for the literary journal Black Warrior Review.


Table of Contents

Introduction • Conjuring All the Old Ghosts

Steve Almond • Tell Me Where It Hurts
Inside “Tell Me Where It Hurts”: Writing What Matters
Writing Exercise

Aimee Bender • Tiger Mending
Inside “Tiger Mending”: One Question Leads to Another
Writing Exercise

Kate Bernheimer • A Tulip’s Tale
Inside “A Tulip’s Tale”: Lead With Your Obsessions
Writing Exercise

Ryan Boudinot • The Littlest Hitler
Inside “The Littlest Hitler”: From Preparation to Evaluation
Writing Exercise

Judy Budnitz • Immersion 
Inside “Immersion”: Word Games
Writing Exercise

Dan Chaon • Prodigal
Inside “Prodigal”: The Fictional Essay
Writing Exercise

Brock Clarke • The Apology
Inside “The Apology”: Starting With an Image
Writing Exercise

Michael Czyzniejewski • Janice the Mantis
Inside “Janice the Mantis”: Creating Conflict From Character
Writing Exercise

Stuart Dybek • Field Trips
Inside “Field Trips”: ‘Like This Really Happened’
Writing Exercise

Michael Martone • The Spirit of St. Louis
Inside “The Spirit of St. Louis”: Beginning With an End
Writing Exercise

Antonya Nelson • Here on Earth
Inside “Here on Earth”: Dividing the Self
Writing Exercise

Peter Orner • Pampkin’s Lament 
Inside “Pampkin’s Lament”: The Loser Hero
Writing Exercise

Jack Pendarvis • Sex Devil
Inside “Sex Devil”: Using the Dark
Writing Exercise

Benjamin Percy • Refresh, Refresh
Inside “Refresh, Refresh”: Showing Creative Restraint
Writing Exercise

Andrew Porter • Departure
Inside “Departure”: Mining a Setting for Emotion
Writing Exercise

Chad Simpson • Especially Roosevelt

Inside “Especially Roosevelt”: Uncovering Meaning in an Anecdote
Writing Exercise

George Singleton • Voted Most Likely

Inside “Voted Most Likely”: Our Never-Dry Well
Writing Exercise

Brady Udall • Otis Is Resurrected

Inside “Otis Is Resurrected”: The Core of Longing
Writing Exercise

Laura van den Berg • To the Good People of Mars

Inside “To the Good People of Mars”: Experimenting With Language
Writing Exercise

Ryan Van Meter • Youth Group

Inside “Youth Group”: Surrendering to Memory
Writing Exercise

The Transformative Power of a Post-First-Draft Outline

The Transformative Power of a Post-First-Draft Outline

Have you ever considered outlining after finishing your first draft? Kris Spisak walks you through the process.

Poetic Forms

The Skinny: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the skinny, a form created by Truth Thomas.

The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews

The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews

A book review is more than sharing an opinion—it's a conversation between readers. Sam Risak shares the benefits of writing books reviews, as well as best practices for getting started.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Give In

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Give In

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character give in to something or someone.

Essential Versus Non-Essential Mystery

Essential Versus Non-Essential Mystery

What gets a reader to keep turning pages? Author Amanda Kabak seeks to answer that question here.

5-Minute Memoir: Anonymous Fame

5-Minute Memoir: Anonymous Fame

5-Minute Memoir is exactly what it sounds like—a personal essay on some facet of the writing life, be it a narrative or a reflection, pensive, touching or hilarious. Enjoy this installment from Barbara Neal Varma.

My Writer Success Story Began With Getting Over Myself

My Writer Success Story Began With Getting Over Myself

Debut author Christina Wyman discusses how getting out of her own way led to her authorial success.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 574

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a missing poem.

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Outline

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Outline

You have an idea for a nonfiction book. Now what? Author Rick Lauber shares how outlining before writing can help you decide what to put on the page—and what to save for later.