This was an accomplished writer who could have pulled a little attitude with an editor, had he wanted to, or thrown some weight around, but in dealing with him on more than a dozen articles in the last eight years, I found him a delight and unfailingly pleasant. (I'll also remember his deep rumble of a voice.)
Bill's last article for us will appear in the October 2009 issue that readers will see early next month. In it, he offers writers a Step by Step guide to skillfully setting the narrative hook in a story, thereby improving the odds of holding the attention of editors and agents. The latter readers, he warns, "have low expectations and little patience."
The heart of Bill's approach to writing was captured best, I think, in a piece he did for our November 2005 issue that we headlined "Don't be a showoff: Call attention to yourself and you risk breaking the reader's fictional dream." Here's a portion of it:
Readers … don't want to be aware of the author at all. They want to be engrossed in a good story.
It's not about you, I tell my students. It's about your readers and your story. Don't think about style. Style is self-conscious and attention-getting. The concept of style has unfortunately become confused with flowery language, elaborate figures of speech, convoluted sentences, and fancy vocabulary words.
Focus instead on writing clear, crisp sentences that create pictures your readers can see and emotions they can feel. …
Forget about becoming a great writer. Work instead on writing great stories. Think about your reader, not yourself. When you write well, your readers suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in the characters and the conflicts and the worlds you have created in your story. They are unaware of you. You are invisible.