Writing Dialogue
By Tom Chiarella
Story Press, 1998
ISBN 1884910327
Five of Five
Not a Bad Idea
Massaging Your Technique

Reviewed by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, award-winning author of This is the Place and Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered

Writing Dialogue has convinced me that even experienced writers should massage their technique by reading a good book by an expert—preferably someone who teaches at a credible university like author Tom Chiarella—at least once a quarter. Like a good rubdown refreshes cranky old bones, such a habit will rejuvenate perspective and technique. For beginners it will work like essential balm, teach what even careful reading sometimes fails to disclose.

The reason that I am so sure of this is that I had occasion to spruce up an excerpt from my first novel This is the Place. Connie Gotsch, host of a literary program on KSJE, a radio station that caters to classical music lovers in the four corners area, asked me to read from both my books. It reminded me of the days when the whole world tuned into drama a la The Haunting Hour and Fibber McGee and Molly.I decided the chapter should be trimmed so it would entertain in the same way that these programs had in the Golden Age of Radio.

I had just read Writing Dialogue and was surprised at how many changes I made in my already published dialogue as I was trimming the except. Before reading it, I was convinced that it wouldn’t teach me much. I’ve studied long and hard, done my homework. That turned out to be hubris. The changes I made were subtle to be sure, a kind of tweaking that would not have been possible without Chiarella’s insight.

Chiarella covers everything from grammar and the punctuation of dialogue to listening. He is most valuable, however, when he dissects dialogue and paints pictures of whole new ways to hear it, then to write it. He even includes tips like having characters interrupt themselves, back up and repeat and suggests ways this can be used to better characterization.

Writers should not borrow this book from the library. It will be better read, dog tagged, underlined and sitting on their desks where they can reach for a kind of writing-massage on a moment’s notice

(Carolyn Howard-Johnson will teach at UCLA’s Writers’ Program in the fall of 2004. She is the author of two award winning books, THIS IS THE PLACE, and HARKENING. Her work in progress is THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON’T. It will be released this summer. Learn more at )
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Author
This is the Place has won eight awards
and Harkening has won three.
Learn more at:

Comic Strip


Yeah, well, comics are printed on paper, so they’re sort of a like a book!

Preteena is destined to eventually become one of the next really big comic strips, like B.C., Garfield and Peanuts.

The brainchild of female author/illustrator Allison Barrows, Preteena is about the Keene family (named after the New Hampshire town Barrows lives in): Mom, Dad, 14 year old Jeri and not quite 11 year old Teena.

Teena is sort of a geek. Well, Teena isn’t quite as bad as her life-long best pal “Stick” the girl who looks like a twig and wears braces, but Teena is somewhat up on the wonderful world of facts and history. At least far more so than her big sister Jeri, who’s one of those snooty girls in the “Clueless click” at school.

For example, when Dad reads in the paper that someone is in favor of giving 14 year olds the vote, he calls in Jeri and Teena and asks them to name the three branches of government. Jeri tells him: “Well I’d name one of them Jeri, of course!” Teena, of course, mutters: “The Legislative, Executive and Jeri...”

Enough said?

Teena is too old to play with dolls (but she still talks to them, when she’s alone in her room) and too young to be interested in boys (although she did once go on a first date with a 5th grader!).

Jeri’s “too cool” for almost everything, including the handsome blonde boy next door who is totally enamoured by her (although she does send him out to get her a bagel and latte in the morning - cause she’s starved).

When mom talked to dad about giving Teena a book on the facts of life she shows him the “factual no holds barred” one she picked out called “Why Is My Body All Lumpy” - why did she choose that? Well, it doesn’t contain all that “icky stuff” like the book they gave Jeri. When Jeri found out what mom and dad were up too in life all she’d say for weeks was “Ouuuuuwwweee!”

Preteena is a cute, funny, down to Earth and true to life chronicle of growing up female. Any of you with girl children probably have seen both Teena and Jeri at one time or another.

This comic is starting to get featured in many national papers, plus you can find it on the internet at Yahoo comics. You can also check it out at the UComics site:

Ucomics PRETEENA Home

Allison Barrows is blazing a trail that can make her one of the first premier women cartoonists in history, putting her name right along side Chester Gould, Charles Shultz, Johnny Hart and the other men who have gone before her into the fame of writing a classic comic strip that endures for generations.

It’s the first really good and often humorous “funny paper” comic I’ve seen since the animals like Garfield and Marmaduke, in an otherwise really bleak world of the not-so-funny papers!

While not as confrontational or excitable as Dennis the Menace, Preteena gives us the feminine side of childhood’s end...

-- E.R.D.

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