Review by Danny Flaherty
The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life Is a collection of essays on the art of writing by a best-selling author, Richard Russo. The essays read as chapters out of his life, covering the process and elements of successful writing. The essays offer scenes from his life including jobs he has held across the writing field and in depth analyses of the work of Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens.
The Destiny Thief starts with Russo’s experience in a writing workshop where he wasn’t the star student and his future as a writer looked bleak. At the time no one close to him, including his teacher had the slightest idea that he would become the successful writer he is today.
Russo covers several elements which he considers fundamental in the craft of writing and the first is finding your tone as a writer. He talks about the Beatle’s playing countless hours in clubs across London night after night, which despite the monotony, provided them with important perspective in finding their tone as musicians. Similarly, Russo brings home the point that writing every day and slamming out a thousand pages is fundamental for a writer to find their voice.
Another important element is the idea that the greatest parts of any story come from a place of self-doubt and regret. Russo finds the dark recesses of your mind to be the best place for original content, which holds true across different genres.
Similar to Russo’s other work there is a rich sense of character driving his narrative in The Destiny Thief. Russo’s essays detailing the work of Dickens and Twain he offer a great deal of insight to their writing style and why they remain sources of inspiration for Russo himself. I was left so convinced I picked up a copy of the Pickwick Papers the next time I was at the bookstore.
Russo ends the book with an essay of a writing conference in the newly democratic Bulgaria, where he gives advice to people who had never before known the freedom of writing. This ties the book together, showing the beginnings of his journey as a student with the love of reading and moving on through the different stages of his personal and professional life. Today Russo is the author of eight books, several screenplays, and a Pulitzer Prize winner for his book The Empire Falls.
Through the essays in The Destiny Thief, whether personal anecdotes or analyses of other authors, there is a rich sense of character driving his narrative.
What Russo shares with Dickens and Twain in a majority of their work is writing in the omniscient third person view. This omniscient point of view is where the writer takes a know all approach to the story. Learning that there are different ways to write third person is an important aspect of writing because authors impose limits on their stories when they choose to write in anything but the omniscient third person.
Russo covers several elements which he considers fundamental in the craft of writing and the first is finding your tone as a writer. He talks about the Beatle’s playing countless hours at clubs night after night and (despite the droning monotony of that type of work it provided) while that can be monotonous provided them with important perspective in finding their tone as musicians. Similarly writing every day and slamming out a thousand pages will help a writer find theirs.