Monday, April 15, 2024

TBR: Truth Is the Arrow, Mercy Is the Bow: A DIY Kit for the Construction of Stories by Steve Almond

TBR [to be read], a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books.  


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


Truth is a book of essays about the whole creative process: the elements of craft, where stories come from, and (most important of all) all the evil voices that haunt us, and hold us back, at the keyboard. I’ve been writing it—in my head, in the classroom, and at various writing conferences—for three decades.


Which essay did you most enjoy writing? Why?


There’s an essay called “Writer’s Block: A Love Story,” which I loved writing, because I think our ideas about writer’s block is really misguided. We treat it like the black plague, something to be endured in shameful isolation. But the truth is, writer’s block is an inevitable part of the writing process. It describes moments when our doubts and inhibitions overtake our capacities to create. That happens all the time. I’ve re-written sentences and paragraphs a hundred times because I’m blocked. I’ve also been so blocked that I can’t even get myself to the keyboard. It’s very upsetting. But it can also be really clarifying. Because we stop asking the question, “What should I write?” and start asking a much more useful question: “What do I really want to write? What will get me to the keyboard again?”


And, which essay gave you the most trouble, and why?


The title essay was a bruiser, because I was trying to write into the heart of the anxieties we face when we know we have to write a story, but we’re scared to death about breaking a long held silence. To write that essay, I had to break a few silences myself, so I was going through the kind of anxiety I was writing about.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


The publishing experience itself has been terrific. My editor, Emily Bell, is a genius, and the folks at Zando have been great. The lows came more in my attempts, over the years, to confront the darker truths in the book. I experience a lot of doubt when I write, so it was hard for me to write a book that purports to guide others. I dealt with this by writing mostly about my struggles, and failures, which are sadly abundant but also almost always instructive.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


Write about what you can’t get rid of by other means.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


I had a lot of fun. That was a huge surprise. I’m mostly miserable when I write. My family and friends can confirm that. But with this one, I really enjoyed gathering all my thoughts and experiences into one place. I enjoy teaching far more than writing, and this book was endowed, I guess, with some of that joy.


How did you find the title of your book?


I know it’s mouthful, but I’m so happy Zando let me use “Truth Is the Arrow, Mercy Is the Bow” as a title. Because it’s really a distillation of what I have to say about writing. You’re only going to travel into the truth as far as mercy gets you. You have to be driven by a desire to understand and forgive. That’s what allows you to go back into all those painful rooms and see clearly what was happening.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


Steve’s Smoked Maple Crunch Chicken Salad


Two cups of smoked chicken (diced straight from the grill)

1.5 cups diced McIntosh apples

1 cup thinly sliced celery

1 cup roasted cashew halves

¾ cup of golden raisins

½ cup mayo (more or less to taste)

1 teaspoon curry powder



1. Dump ingredients in a large bowl

2. Mix


Suggested serving:

Straight out of the bowl, with a large wooden spoon.

It also tastes good on a nice, puffy Portuguese roll.












DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.