(Mr. Alexander has recently finished his 14th autobiographical novel, a gripping, spellbinding, mouth-watering opus about his father, tentatively titled “The Great Unknown,” although “Who’s Your Daddy?” is also under consideration)

The Ten Commandments of Writing

When June blooms it means but one thing to authors across the country – it’s time for the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. This year’s Santa Barbara Writers Conference (June 22-29 at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort) presents guest speakers like Ray Bradbury, Gayle Lynds and Christopher Moore. I love the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. If it seems like I’m mentioning the Santa Barbara Writers Conference a lot, it’s because the director of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, Marcia Meier, has offered me a free coffee mug for every time my column refers to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

For those wannabe writers who can’t attend the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, I’ll bestow upon you the Ten Commandments of Writing:

1) Thou shalt not have other gods before Ernest Hemingway! (If you’re a humor writer you can substitute Dave Barry.) While it’s forbidden to idolize other gods, it’s perfectly fine to pray to the patron saint of writers – Oprah. As a matter of fact, it’s recommended.

2) Thou shalt not lie in the name of nonfiction (also known as The James Frey Directive). If you lie, the sophisticated reader will see right through it. This is especially true in humor writing. I’ve never lied or even exaggerated in my columns. A few doubting Thomases have questioned some of my escapades. But, yes, I really shot the rapids of Mission Creek on the bumper of a ’57 Chevy. And, may lightning strike our current president: my wife, Lora, really did choose me over Robert Redford.

3) Thou shall stay away from clichés or all hell will break loose. Avoid them like the plague. Clichés bore the reader to tears and they’ll kill your story deader than a doornail.

4) Thou shall badmouth Danielle Steel. All “literary” writers pooh-pooh her writing, even though she sells millions of books and makes more money than the Baldwin family therapist. If asked at any gathering of writers (like, say, the Santa Barbara Writers Conference), you must say you’d rather share a hot tub with a canoodling O.J. Simpson and Ann Coulter than read a Danielle Steel novel.

5) Thou shalt not take the name Edwidge Danticat in vain.

6) Thou shall honor thy Mother and thy Father. They have given you a lifetime of material. Like the time you went on vacation to Mexico and noticed your birth certificate said your father’s name was Unknown. Or, when your dad got mad at you because you forgot to mow the lawn and made you cut the entire half-acre with scissors. Or, the time your mom asked you to start calling the milkman Uncle Davy.

7) Thou shall surround thyself with other writers. Misery loves company. The three things that writers do best are procrastinating, drinking, and writing...e-mails. If you get enough writers in your group, you can kill sufficient time on e-mails everyday to make it to cocktail hour, which in the interests of leaving enough time at the end of the day for more serious drinking, begins at 10:30 am.

8) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s book deal. It’s true, you’ve been toiling on your novel for six years while the Jiffy Lube assistant manager has only been working on his “Johnny Pennzoil, Private Eye” book for six weeks. Still, don’t be jealous of his six-figure advance because “the journey is the destination.” And if you believe that you’ve probably also fallen for “The check is in the mail,” “It’s easy to unsubscribe,” and “It’s only a cold sore.”

9) Thou shall take a vow of poverty. Sure, some writers make it big, but for every Sue Grafton there’s hundreds of Teresa Alphabets. For every Fannie Flagg there’s lots of Derrière Pennants. For every Ernie Witham there’s one and a half Jim Alexanders (but I’m losing weight).

Truth be told, if I put the same amount of time and effort into selling Mary Kay as I’ve put into writing, I’d have a garage full of pink Cadillacs and own half the company by now. They’d have to change the name to Jimmy Kay Cosmetics, which I think has a better ring to it anyway.

10) Thou shalt not use the word shalt, unless you want people to give you a wedgie.