I’m sure we all have a library of favourite books at home, books we simply cannot do without. If we’re writers I don’t think we can help ourselves. At least I can’t. Walking past a bookstore without stopping in… well, it can’t be done. I’m like iron shavings to a magnet where books are concerned. Fortunately, my husband understand s and indulges my love of all things books.
My love of books started early. My parents read to me, my aunts read to me, even my uncles read to me. There was nothing better on a cold, rainy evening than a warm fire, a cup of cocoa, and a blanket while my parents read aloud some adventurous story. Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, The Sugar Creek Gang, The Jungle Book. My imagination took flight.
Then I went to school. First day and we went to the library. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Books everywhere. The smell of paper and ink! I could have stayed there all day. Unfortunately we had to go back to class. I made up all kinds of excuses, got all kinds of extra privileges and managed to spend hours in that library. I doubt it was all that big, but for me it encompassed worlds.
My dad, also a voracious reader, took us to the big public library in the city. I spent hours working my way through the books in the children’s section, then moved on to higher readers and eventually the young adult section. I was only eight, but I couldn’t read fast enough to get through all those books.
After grade three we went back to Ethiopia and I started boarding school. Our system of education said you learned. Period. No excuses and no lagging behind. Part of learning was reading. A lot! The small library was amazingly well-stocked with both Classics and more popular fiction as well as a great set of encyclopedias and magazines from various countries. We could read the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Margaret Mitchell and others. I loved to go in a corner between the stacks and read the double books that were the Wizard of Oz on one side and The Jungle Book on the other. In my opinion, those books were genius; if you got tired of one, you could flip the book over and read the other one and go back and forth till you finished both. I still often read two or more books at once.
Everywhere I went there were books to read: HQ with its quiet lounge and old hardbacks, Bishoftu where our parents took R&R with its Readers Digest condensed versions and more old hardbacks, school, home. My life has seemed surrounded by books old and new.
I’m not sure when I began to write. I’d always woven stories in my head, and the feel of a pencil in my hand hovering over a blank paper was both sheer joy and sheer terror, something akin to standing on a high bank about to jump into a lake. It’s going to be a blast but you have to nerve yourself up for it first.
In fifth grade we were allowed to write some sort of short story. I don’t recall what I wrote, just that I finally felt I could fly. I didn’t do any more actual stories until high school when a friend wrote a romantic novella that got passed around the room. Now this I could do, I thought. I spent hours scribbling on loose-leaf paper in my room. My college papers were more like short novels than term papers. Where everyone else brought in ten pages, I wrote twenty-five! I couldn’t seem to help myself. My English Lit teacher wrote on my Macbeth paper, “Very enlightening. You were born to be a novelist.” Okay, we were writing about the three witches and I was inspired by a huge storm we were dealing with that day.
When I finally started writing earnestly in 1983, another writer asked me what books on writing I had in my library. I looked at her blankly. “I’m supposed to have books?” I didn’t even know such things existed. A writer just sat down and wrote. My friend gave me her copy of Writers Digest and the latest newsletter from Writers Digest Book Club (now www.writersdigestshop.com), as well as a book on writing romances to get me started.
I didn’t always have a lot of money to buy books but over the last twenty-eight years I’ve collected over 100 writing books of various sorts. I’d like to share some with you. Perhaps you will share some of yours with me.
Note: Not all of these are in print anymore. I would look on one of the on-line stores to see if I could find them, or in bookstores specializing in old books.
Writing the Novel from Plot to Print by Lawrence Block
The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray
Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck
The Writer’s Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd
The Mind of your Story by Lisa Lenard-Cook
Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich
How to Write Irresistable Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool
How to Write a Romance and Get it Published by Kathryn Falk (my very first writing book!)
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron
Aliens and Alien Societies by Stanley Schmidt
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
Any of the You Can Write A … Series by various authors (See Writer Digest Shop)
Writing Prompts and Practices
Every writer should have one or more books of prompts and practices in their libraries for those days when the words just will not flow from brain to fingers.
The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley
The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron
A Creative Writer’s Kit by Judy Reeves
A Writer’s Retreat Kit by Judy Reeves
A Picture is Worth 1000 Words by Phillip Sexton (photos by Tricia Bateman)
Take Ten for Writers by Bonnie Neubauer
A must for anyone seriously trying to publish their work. The come out every year in various forms.
2012 Writer’s Market by Writers Digest (and an accompanying subscription to www.writersmarket.com)
2012 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market
General Reading and Research
The Story about the Story: Great Authors Explore Great Literature edited by J.C. Hallman
The Daily Reader by Fred White
Victorian London by Liza Picard
Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku
Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku
Read in your genre and out of it. Some novelists will only read non-fiction when they are writing a manuscript, others only read in whatever genre they are writing. I read everything I can get my hands on: romance, mystery, science fiction, classics, non-fiction. It keeps my mind stimulated and the words flowing.
Here’s are a couple of other sources of inspiration for me:
Velvet Skies blog by Meredith Rose Ashe http://fireflyfly.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/books-every-writer-ought-to-own/
Welcome to the Asylum blog by J S Chancellor http://welcometotheasylum.net/ (A bit irreverent at times, but well worth reading).
Let me know what’s in your library and let’s start a conversation. The more we read the better we are as human beings and as writers.