Charles M. Schulz may be gone, but Snoopy is alive and well and still striving to write the great American novel. But this time, the beloved beagle of the late cartoonist's "Peanuts" comic strip has help. A lot of help.
Barnaby Conrad, a novelist and co-founder of an annual conference of aspiring writers where Schulz used to speak regularly, has asked scores of accomplished authors to give Snoopy some helpful tips from their own experiences. Among the book's 30 responses are tips from such popular authors as Sidney Sheldon, Sue Grafton, Elmore Leonard, Fannie Flagg, Danielle Steel, Elizabeth George and Clive Cussler.
The result is a delightful book, "Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life," with a foreword by Monte Schulz, the cartoonist's son who reminisces about how his father loved literature and had great respect for writers.
The book consists of "Peanuts" panels showing Snoopy in various aspects of the writing life, and the successful writers' reaction to them in essays.
When Snoopy observes, "Good writing is hard work," Danielle Steel, who seems to turn out enormously popular fiction with such ease, heartily concurs: "I'm glad that Snoopy so early in his career has learned that very important truth good writing (and even bad writing) is hard work. Very hard work. This business is fraught with uncertainty. Anyone who tells you how to write best sellers is a sham and a liar." She confesses that she often types so long, she sees double.
To the beagle struggling to come up with a good title for his new novel, Ed McBain, the crime writer known for his 87th Precinct series, says encouragingly: "You're on the right track, Snoops. I never start a novel until I'm satisfied with the title. Generally, I'll know what the theme's going to be, and I'll know what kind of characters I'll need to keep the plot engine going, but I won't start a book until I have the title firmly in mind." He then reveals how he goes about constructing a novel.
Seeing Snoopy having trouble with the first sentence, action-adventure novelist Clive Cussler suggests: "Snoopy, try this when you sit down to the typewriter: Just say to yourself, 'What if?' It all begins with 'What if?' What if they let pigs out in a mosque? What if they decide to change the name of Mexico to Shwartz? What if they start referring to whites as European Americans? Then comes, Why would they do that? I have to figure out why. So if I have my beginning, I can begin the story."
One author who declined to offer help is John Updike, the author of "Rabbit, Run" and the other Rabbit novels. He is quoted by editor Conrad in the book's introduction as saying: "As Snoopy would tell you, a writer hates to return a check, but I have never been good at giving advice to other writers. If I knew something that would make a crucial difference, I would keep it to myself, since the field is so overcrowded."