Pacific Literary Arts : Writing
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The Art and Craft of Writing
This site celebrates the joy, the art, the craft of writing. It is also a tribute to the world of books and literature, and to my favorite writers. Writing's not so easy, but if you've got something to say you might as well say it. Why not? It probably won't kill you.

My thoughts on various aspects of writing are scattered around, and I will be adding more over time. The links page has basic resources, dictionaries, style guides and such. There are some reading suggestions on the reading page. See the editing and services pages for how I may be able to help you realize your literary visions.

Academic writing is its own specialty. I've worked with many students on their theses and dissertations, including many non-native English speakers. Its difficult to write in a foreign language at all, but especially precise, formal writing. Even native English speakers find it challenging.



As an example of what I consider good, well-crafted writing, I include below a wonderful story by Charles Dickens, "Captain Murderer," along with some thoughts on his craft.

I can think of no one who shows a greater mastery of all things writerly, of all aspects of the craft, large and small: story and plot, character, vocabulary, setting, and such--there's no one who does it better. His ability to create a believable, living character is astonishing. Above all, he knows how to tell a story, how to engage and entertain a reader, and how to keep it fresh and interesting.

Some books you read and never go back to. But the great ones are endlessly re-readable, you can always find something new to intrigue and inspire you.

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Mark Twain

Mark Twain on Writing
The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say. -- From Mark Twain's Notebook, 1902-1903

You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by. -- In a Letter to Orion Clemens, March 23, 1878

To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself... Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph. -- In a Letter to Emeline Beach, February 10, 1868

Let us guess that whenever we read a sentence and like it, we unconsciously store it away in our model-chamber; and it goes, with the myriad of its fellows, to the building, brick by brick, of the eventual edifice which we call our style. -- In a Letter to George Bainton, October 15, 1888; (first printed in The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners, Personally Contributed by Leading Authors of the Day.)

I wrote the rest of The Innocents Abroad in sixty days and I could have added a fortnight's labor with the pen and gotten along without the letters altogether. I was very young in those days, exceedingly young, marvelously young, younger than I am now, younger than I shall ever be again, by hundreds of years. I worked every night from eleven or twelve until broad daylight in the morning, and as I did 200,000 words in the sixty days, the average was more than 3,000 words a day- nothing for Sir Walter Scott, nothing for Louis Stevenson, nothing for plenty of other people, but quite handsome for me. In 1897, when we were living in Tedworth Square, London, and I was writing the book called Following the Equator, my average was 1,800 words a day; here in Florence (1904) my average seems to be 1,400 words per sitting of four or five hours. -- From Autobiography of Mark Twain

Well, my book is written--let it go. But if it were only to write over again there wouldn't be so many things left out. They burn in me; and they keep multiplying; but now they can't ever be said. And besides, they would require a library--and a pen warmed up in hell. -- In a Letter to W. D. Howells, September 22, 1889 (referring to Connecticut Yankee)



High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water. -- In a Letter to W. D. Howells, February 15, 1887

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Charles Dickens

Dickens and the Craft of Writing
The story below is what I would consider excellent, well-crafted writing. Dickens recounts the delicious story of Captain Murderer, a tale his old nurse used to terrify him with as a child.



It's bloody brilliant writing, near perfect. Macabre, funny, to be savored. No one knows better how to introduce a character, so well you can practically see them. He takes the most grisly story impossible, about cannibalism even, and somehow makes it suitable for children. Note the use of the repeated phrase "and he chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones," to give rhythm to it, which children love.

He packs a lot into a short piece, which is perfectly structured with a clear beginning, middle and end. He jumps right in, using 'fiendish' and 'terror' in the opening phrase to set the tone, and doesn't stop for a second. A true master of words. (One of the things that makes him such fun to read is his enormous vocabulary. Over his life he uses almost every known English word somewhere.) The ending is beyond satisfying, one of the most delectable (and funniest) death scenes in modern literature. The lady takes truly diabolical revenge.



One aspect of the craft of writing that is rarely recognized is the challenge and necessity of coming up with creative and exciting ways of killing people. There are an infinite variety of these, and young writers would be well advised to school themselves in all of them, ancient and modern. This story illustrates the venerable baked-in-a-pie method, used by Shakespeare and many other esteemed authors, possibly the bestest method of all.

"Captain Murderer" by Charles Dickens
"The young woman who brought me acquainted with Captain Murderer had a fiendish enjoyment of my terrors, and used to begin, I remember--as a sort of introductory overture--by clawing the air with both hands, and uttering a long low hollow groan. So acutely did I suffer from this ceremony in combination with this infernal Captain, that I sometimes used to plead I thought I was hardly strong enough and old enough to hear the story again just yet. But, she never spared me one word of it.

"The first diabolical character who intruded himself on my peaceful youth (as I called to mind that day at Dullborough), was a certain Captain Murderer. This wretch must have been an off-shoot of the Blue Beard family, but I had no suspicion of the consanguinity in those times. His warning name would seem to have awakened no general prejudice against him, for he was admitted into the best society and possessed immense wealth.

"Captain Murderer's mission was matrimony, and the gratification of a cannibal appetite with tender brides. On his marriage morning, he always caused both sides of the way to church to be planted with curious flowers; and when his bride said, 'Dear Captain Murderer, I ever saw flowers like these before: what are they called?' he answered, 'They are called Garnish for house-lamb,' and laughed at his ferocious practical joke in a horrid manner, disquieting the minds of the noble bridal company, with a very sharp show of teeth, then displayed for the first time. He made love in a coach and six, and Captain Murderer married in a coach and twelve, and all his horses were milk-white horses with one red spot on the back which he caused to be hidden by the harness. For, the spot WOULD come there, though every horse was milk-white when Captain Murderer bought him. And the spot was young bride's blood. (To this terrific point I am indebted for my first personal experience of a shudder and cold beads on the forehead.)

"When Captain Murderer had made an end of feasting and revelry, and had dismissed the noble guests, and was alone with his wife on the day month after their marriage, it was his whimsical custom to produce a golden rolling-pin and a silver pie-board. Now, there was this special feature in the Captain's courtships, that he always asked if the young lady could make pie-crust; and if she couldn't by nature or education, she was taught. Well. When the bride saw Captain Murderer produce the golden rolling-pin and silver pie-board, she remembered this, and turned up her laced-silk sleeves to make a pie. The Captain brought out a silver pie-dish of immense capacity, and the Captain brought out flour and butter and eggs and all things needful, except the inside of the pie; of materials for the staple of the pie itself, the Captain brought out none. Then said the lovely bride, 'Dear Captain Murderer, what pie is this to be?' He replied, 'A meat pie.' Then said the lovely bride, 'Dear Captain Murderer, I see no meat.' The Captain humorously retorted, 'Look in the glass.' She looked in the glass, but still she saw no meat, and then the Captain roared with laughter, and suddenly frowning and drawing his sword, bade her roll out the crust. So she rolled out the crust, dropping large tears upon it all the time because he was so cross, and when she had lined the dish with crust and had cut the crust all ready to fit the top, the Captain called out, 'I see the meat in the glass!' And the bride looked up at the glass, just in time to see the Captain cutting her head off; and he chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones.

"Captain Murderer went on in this way, prospering exceedingly, until he came to choose a bride from two twin sisters, and at first didn't know which to choose. For, though one was fair and the other dark, they were both equally beautiful. But the fair twin loved him, and the dark twin hated him, so he chose the fair one. The dark twin would have prevented the marriage if she could, but she couldn't; however, on the night before it, much suspecting Captain Murderer, she stole out and climbed his garden wall, and looked in at his window through a chink in the shutter, and saw him having his teeth filed sharp. Next day she listened all day, and heard him make his joke about the house-lamb. And that day month, he had the paste rolled out, and cut the fair twin's head off, and chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones.

"Now, the dark twin had had her suspicions much increased by the filing of the Captain's teeth, and again by the house-lamb joke. Putting all things together when he gave out that her sister was dead, she divined the truth, and determined to be revenged. So, she went up to Captain Murderer's house, and knocked at the knocker and pulled at the bell, and when the Captain came to the door, said: 'Dear Captain Murderer, marry me next, for I always loved you and was jealous of my sister.' The Captain took it as a compliment, and made a polite answer, and the marriage was quickly arranged. On the night before it, the bride again climbed to his window, and again saw him having his teeth filed sharp. At this sight she laughed such a terrible laugh at the chink in the shutter, that the Captain's blood curdled, and he said: 'I hope nothing has disagreed with me!' At that, she laughed again, a still more terrible laugh, and the shutter was opened and search made, but she was nimbly gone, and there was no one. Next day they went to church in a coach and twelve, and were married. And that day month, she rolled the pie-crust out, and Captain Murderer cut her head off, and chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones.

"But before she began to roll out the paste she had taken a deadly poison of a most awful character, distilled from toads' eyes and spiders' knees; and Captain Murderer had hardly picked her last bone, when he began to swell, and to turn blue, and to be all over spots, and to scream. And he went on swelling and turning bluer, and being more all over spots and screaming, until he reached from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall; and then, at one o'clock in the morning, he blew up with a loud explosion.

"At the sound of it, all the milk-white horses in the stables broke their halters and went mad, and then they galloped over everybody in Captain Murderer's house (beginning with the family blacksmith who had filed his teeth) until the whole were dead, and then they galloped away."



Condensed from Nurses Stories in All The Year Round, September 8, 1860 -- from David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page

"And he went on swelling and turning bluer, and being more all over spots and screaming, until he reached from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall; and then, at one o'clock in the morning, he blew up with a loud explosion." A truly diabolical and delicious death scene, and in just one exquisite sentence.

Client Reviews
I had a super experience working with Mike. Initially, I had hired him to give a final edit to my manuscript. His work was thorough and turn-around timely. When additional projects arose, he was my 'go to' guy. And when my needs exceeded his immediate experience, he dug-in and became expert where he was needed. As I commence the work on my next book, one thing I know is that Mike hasn't heard the last of me.

Ross R. Blaising, co-author (with Robbie R. Reese) of The Soul of Real Estate: Rethinking the World's Greatest Profession, July 7, 2014



I just published my book "Beyond Love" thanks to the efficient and professional work done by Michael. His work is not limited to correcting and fixing wording or grammatical errors, although he does that, but Michael's editing considers the work in its totality looking at content, overall structure, smooth transition among paragraphs, clarity and style. Undoubtedly Michael's editing skills contribute a huge value to any book he handles. Michael also is human, friendly and a very easy going person. If there is no doubt that editing is a very important part of publishing process, Michael Presky is the ideal man to do the job. I'm having him work on my next book now. Highly recommended.

Moustafa E., March 15, 2016



Very professional. Unhurried. Helpful advice provided every step of the way. Despite multiple changes by me to text, he stayed the course and was astute catching errors.

Jim M., October 19, 2013



Mike worked very hard to edit my book. He is an honest and professional person who is easy to deal with and will follow through to the very end to make sure you are happy and content with the finished product. He made excellent suggestions and was always willing to correspond with me throughout the whole process. I will be very happy for him to edit my new book. Thanks Mike.

Steve M., October 14, 2013



I'm the co-author of "DEMON DAYS" a thriller book series. I'm also an indie author, working with an indie publishing company (Lono Publishing) on my books.

In 2011, we were looking to find an editor we could work with on our "DEMON DAYS" project, a manuscript that had taken two years to write and would eventually be divided into DEMON DAYS - BOOK TWO, THREE and FOUR of the series.

That's right; the editing work was for a manuscript eventually encompassing three books! Over 180,000 words!

We needed an editor who would be meticulous... handle the work within a tight time frame... and do it for indie publishing prices.

After several false starts with other editors, we xcame across Michael Presky through an online advertisement. To underline the point -- Presky isn't a relative, a friend, or even referred to me by a friend. I've never even actually met Michael Presky.

But I know he exists because Michael Presky was an amazing editor on our books!

He digested all of our desires for the project, then worked tirelessly to deliver his services (services being a loaded word, because really a good editor is also bringing something artistic to the process as well) on time.

His editing was indeed meticulous. He caught problems throughout the 180,000 word manuscript that my co-author and I both missed (and that's after working on the manuscript for two years).

Frankly, if Mr. Presky did not catch some of our mistakes there's no doubt my co-author and I would have looked like monkeys with typewriters when readers eventually read the published books.

I will end this endorsement of Mr. Presky's capabilities with what I always believe is the best testament to one's capability -- Michael Presky will be editing my latest thriller book series, "Black Mariah."


Richard Finney, Author and Screenwriter
Los Angeles, California

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Pacific Literary Arts
Michael Presky
presky @ yahoo dot com
310 384 0590 : voice or text

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