5 Great Books For Writers

I’ve written all my life, but I only seriously started writing a handful of years ago, and I didn’t know nearly as much about writing or what it takes to get published as I thought I did.

In part, that might be a good thing. Sometimes being naive when starting a journey can be helpful. After all, when you don’t know how difficult something is, it can be easier to begin.

While there’s no substitute for putting your butt in the chair and actually writing, there are a lot of books out there that can help point you in the right direction. These are some of the ones I’ve found most helpful.

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On Writing, by Stephen King

Part how-to, part encouragement, there’s so much great advice in this book. Whether or not you actually like Stephen King, this book should be on every writer’s shelf.

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Story Engineering: Mastering the Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks

This book is my writing bible. No, seriously, it really is. It’s highlighted with tons of post-its stuck to the pages. It lays the structure of a story out in a concrete, simple way that works for my literal brain.

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Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, by Nancy Kress

My writing critique group told me that my characters needed more agency until I was ready to explode. They also told me that my main characters were “wishy-washy” and “gray.” It’s not that I didn’t agree with them; it’s just that I had no idea how to fix the issue. This is the first book that actually made sense to me as to how to build good characters and sustain them through an entire book.

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Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert

As much as I love writing, sometimes I just get burned out from doing it. I do it because I love it, but sometimes keeping all the balls in the air of juggling plot, character, conflict, etc drives me a little crazy. I read this book at exactly the time in my life that I needed to, and it helped me remember why I fell in love with stories.

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Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, by Laura Vanderkam

This isn’t technically a book on writing, but if there’s one thing I hear from most people who write, it’s “I wish I had more time to write!” This book has an excellent practical and philosophical take on how to get more done and make the most use of the time we have.

If you write, are there any books you’ve found especially helpful?

11 Scary Books To Read For Halloween

Halloween is my favorite holiday, hands down. I love dressing up and playing around. I love handing out candy. I love horror movies and scary books.

I was looking back and realized I’ve never done a Halloween book list. How is that even possible?

I have no idea, but I’m fixing it now.

In no particular order, 11 fun and scary books:

Unknown-5Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King

This is classic vampire horror set in a claustrophobically small town. As more people become vampires, a small group needs to figure out how to survive. The body count is high and the vampires are nasty. If you’ve never read it, it’s held up to the test of time pretty well.

Unknown-10The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

It’s a terrifying story about a haunted house, and demonstrates beautifully how an author can use a reader’s imagination against them.

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Rebecca, by Daphne duMarier

It’s a classic for a reason. The unnamed narrator is stuck in a creepy house with the shadow of her husband dead first wife and a housekeeper who hates her. What really happened to Rebecca?

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Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris

The Silence of the Lambs gets more love, but I found the first novel in the series to be the creepiest. A serial killer is killing families, and Will Graham has come out of retirement to hunt him. Alternating between Graham’s point of view and the serial killer’s, the book ups the tension until the terrifying climax.

Unknown-7Hell House, by Richard Matheson

This book combines two of my favorite things, haunted houses and psychological horror. Not only do people go into this house voluntarily to investigate creepy things, but the house begins to attack their sanity.

Unknown-1The Girl From the Well, by Rin Chupeco (YA)

Okiku is a restless spirit who kills people who kill children. She’s single-minded and perpetually furious. But then she meets Tark, a teenaged boy whose body contains a barely contained evil spirit. Okiku decides to help him fight this spirit contained inside him. This is more creepy than terrifying, but it is fantastic.

Unknown-6House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski

Reading this book is a serious commitment.  Not only does it clock in at 705 pages, but it’s also got footnotes, pages that need to be turned to be read, and other weird things. It’s a crazy story of a guy who finds a manuscript referring to a haunted house that gets larger than it should be, and what happened to a family who tried to investigate their new house. The manuscript says it really happened, but as Johnny tries to find out more about if the haunted house really existed, he becomes more obsessed with the manuscript and begins to lose his mind. It’s crazy and creepy and a fantastic reading experience.

Unknown-2Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke (YA)

It’s a YA anthology of short stories. Many of the stories are creepy and pull zero punches. It’s good, solid horror that runs the gamut from bloody to psychological (and some of the best stories had both).

Unknown-4The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black (YA)

When Tana wakes up after a party, she finds everyone there dead except for a chained up vampire and her ex-boyfriend (who’s been bitten). For reasons she can’t even fully understand, she rescues them both and takes them to Coldtown, where vampires have been quarantined. The vampires there have their own TV show, and while the present a glamorous, sexy face to the world, the truth is that their world is just as bloody and terrible as you’d expect from a bunch of vampires.

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And the Trees Crept In, by Dawn Kurtagich (YA)

Like House of Leaves, this is another book written in an odd style, with journal entries and odd formatting. When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s house, all they know is that they were fleeing from their abusive father. They didn’t know that the house was cursed or their aunt was crazy. After their aunt retreats to the attic, Silla and Nori try to keep the land going, but nothing grows. And the trees are creeping closer. It’s magnificently creepy, especially if you live surrounded by trees, as I do.

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The Mask, by Dean Koontz

When Jane ran out in front of Carol’s car and had no memory of where she came from, Carol and Paul immediately feel connected to her, and take her in. But as strange things begin happening, they realize that maybe there’s more to Jane than they originally thought.

 

Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list. I could do an entire list of just Stephen King books. And I left off all the classics, like Dracula and Frankenstein because those are too obvious.

What are your favorite scary books?

5 Bookish Things

Sometimes I have eleventy million ideas for blogs, and other times I have nothing to say. So here’s a random list of 5 book related things.

  1. Borrowing books from friends is awesome. I was recently at a friend’s house and borrowed Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury (I want to read it for Halloween), and The Arrivals, by Melissa Marr. I loved Graveminder, and I spotted that one first in his pile of books. He told me that he’d bought Graveminder because he loved The Arrivals.
  2. The Hate U Give is out in theaters. I was wowed by this book, by Angie Thomas, when I read it. I belong to Club: The Book Was Better, but I do have high hopes for this movie. It’s a concept that could either translate really well, or really terribly. Critics seem to like it, but that isn’t always a good indicator of what I’ll think of the book. But let’s all be hopeful on this one.
  3. I convinced a friend to read Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series. It’s a 5 book series, and it does a great job of asking what would happen if Victor Frankenstein were alive today. I’m rereading it on audiobook while I travel.
  4. I was just at the Texas Teen Book Festival and now want to read everything Nic Stone has ever written. Books, blogs, grocery lists. She’s charismatic and funny. If her books are half as good as her public speaking, I’m going to be blown away. I bought Dear Martin (but have yet to read it). Her newest book, Odd One Out, just came out this month.
  5. The Dewey 24-hour Readathon is coming up on October 20! I took place in a mini-readathon earlier this year (the 25 in five), and it was fun. I feel like a 24-hour readathon would be even more fun, but I just don’t think I can make time on Saturday. As much as I’d love to. But I will be following along on social media while others participate.

And those are my five random bookish thoughts. Does anyone else have any bookish randomness to share?

10 Ways to Waste Time Instead of Writing

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Want to be a writer, but don’t actually want to write words? Here are some great ways to waste time while complaining that you don’t actually have time to write.

Here are 10 ways to waste time instead of writing:

1. Social media

Any of them! There are so many rabbit holes to disappear into. Want to be enraged about politics? There’s something for that! Cute cat videos more your style? They’re everywhere! Want to voyeuristically spy on everyone you know and read vague statuses about people who are upset about things but don’t actually want to tell anyone what they’re talking about? Oh boy, does social media have those!

2. Play games

My personal favorites are Words With Friends, Soda Crush, and Cribbage. But don’t worry, if those aren’t your style, there are plenty more where those came from.

3. Read

This one hurts me to call “wasting time,” but when it cuts into designated writing time, I think it counts. Bonus points if you pretend it’s research because you’re reading in your genre, or outside your genre, or something with a vague relation to something you’re writing about.

4. Watch TV

After all, you thought about typing four words. Your brain needs to rest now. And maybe that rerun of Jersey Shore will spark creativity.

5. Talk about all the stories you want to write instead of actually writing them

Loudly inform everyone you see that you’re a writer, and tell them every detail of the plot you haven’t actually written yet. Bonus points if their eyes glaze over. Double bonus points for drool.

6. Do all the chores that desperately need to be done RIGHT NOW

Dishes that have been in the sink for 12 hours really can’t wait any longer while you write for an hour. That laundry that’s been there since the weekend isn’t going to fold itself. Do all those leftover chores immediately, then look at the time mournfully and realize that you were once again, too busy to write.

7. Stop writing and do something else if it seems difficult.

All successful writers write in a cloud of rainbow sparkles as the words effortlessly flow from their fingertips. If it feels like work, that means today isn’t the magical writing day. Maybe tomorrow.

8. Look for lots of encouraging quotes and memes on writing

Find the perfect bit of encouragement before you can start. This will mean reading approximately 8,362 web pages, and oops! Writing time is gone today. Too bad you’ll need a different encouragement tomorrow.

9. If it’s not perfect, don’t even write put it on paper

Writing crap isn’t a learning experience that counts toward your 10,000 hours until you’re an expert. Only writing perfect words counts. So what if you only write 6 words a week? You’ll get to that expert level in 30 or 40 years.

10. Obsess over any and all criticism (but don’t learn from it!)

Criticism means you suck. You’ll never write anything worthwhile. You should be better than this by now. Read it over and over again until your self-esteem is shot and you couldn’t write a sentence if you tried. But whatever you do, don’t try to find ways to improve. That would lead to productivity.

What ways do you waste time instead of writing?

Book Challenges- September 2018

I didn’t read as much this month as I have in previous months, mostly because I’m working very hard on editing my book. But I did get a few good ones read…

Popsugar Challenge

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A book set in a bookstore or library: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, by Matthew Sullivan (mystery): This was not what I expected, but it was still enjoyable. The story starts with an odd man who commits suicide in the bookstore and leaves all his possessions to Lydia, who works in the store. He’s left her clues that connect his history to a traumatic event from her past. It was a lot of fun.

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A book with two authors: The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (MG fantasy): This is the first in a series of five books, and I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing or not. There were a lot of things in it that reminded me of Harry Potter, so if you’re searching for something like it, maybe that’s a good thing…

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A microhistory: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach (nonfiction): This book was disgusting and fascinating, chock full of information I never knew I wanted to know (but I kind of did). It’s got a trigger warning for everyone and is not for the squeamish. I struggled with the experimentation done on dogs, and had to remind myself that they would have been long dead anyway.

While I Was Reading Challenge

No progress this month. 😦

The Unread Shelf

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (genre: contemporary, mental health): Eleanor Oliphant is completely unlikable… at first. She’s also fascinating and vulnerable. By the middle of the book, I wanted to gather her in my arms and comfort her. I couldn’t stop reading. The “surprise” ending has been done many times, but it worked for me.

Running Total: 29

5 Classic Books

No progress this month.

Miscellaneous Reading

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Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints, by Nancy Kress (genre: nonfiction, writing): My writing group has told me a million times that my characters are too gray and need more agency. I’ve understood the words, but that hadn’t helped me change. I got so frustrated by trial and error that I was ready to quit. And then this book was like a revelation. The information is presented in a concrete, straightforward fashion with lots of examples. It’s finally making sense!

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The Girl Who Fell, by SM Parker (YA contemporary romance): This is a dark romance about a teenager with goals who gets enmeshed in a psychologically abusive relationship. It’s mesmerizing and terrifying.

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Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard (YA contemporary): It was suspenseful and interesting, about the disappearance of a girl, and her friends who are all a little relieved, because the disappeared girl knew a secret about each one of them that she’d never want revealed. The first book doesn’t tie up any loose ends, and there are 16 books in the series, so be warned that if you try the first one, you’ll probably want to commit to the series. I’m not continuing.

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Where She Went, by Gayle Forman (YA contemporary): This is the sequel to If I Stay, and while I loved the first book, I adore the second one. Adam loved Mia and stayed by her side while she recovered from the car accident that killed her entire family. Then, she stopped returning his phone calls. After a chance meeting, they have one evening to figure out what went wrong.

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Story Fix: Transform Your Novel From Broken to Brilliant, by Larry Brooks (nonfiction, writing): I will read pretty much any writing book Larry Brooks writes. He presents concrete “rules,” which maybe wouldn’t work for some people, but I like structure. He presents information in a concrete manner with lots of examples. His books can get a bit repetitive at times, but I can live with that.

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Leverage In Death, by JD Robb (mystery, romance): We know whodunit, but not why or who was pulling the strings. Another fantastic mystery in the series.

Abandoned

None this month.

2018 Running Total: 113

Have you made any progress on your TBR or book challenges?

Baldwin’s Book Barn

I was recently visiting friends in Pennsylvania. I’m originally from PA, but I had never heard of Baldwin’s Book Barn until a friend of mine moved near West Chester. When I went to visit, she put a tour of this amazing bookstore on her list.

The smells of book glue and dust hit me the moment I walked in the door. The friendly staff greeted me, but I barely heard them. I was entranced by the sea of books in front of me.

Most of the books are old or rare, and a lot of them are in surprisingly good condition. Right off the bat, I found a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl. I’ve never read the book, but I’m a fan of LMA, mostly because I love her horror stories, so I snatched it up. Because I was flying (and therefore limited by luggage weight), I exercised some self-control, only leaving with five carefully chosen books.

The floors creaked, and the stairways were narrow and steep. As I walked upstairs, I hoped I wouldn’t fall to my death (this is more due to my clumsiness than any safety hazards). Each floor had a different theme, and I spent time exploring the titles and sections. Honestly, it was like a treasure hunt. I had no idea what I was going to find, but that was the fun of it.

There were some wooden bookshelves, and in other places, they used old fruit crates to hold the books. The fourth floor had a bunch of chairs for people to rest and enjoy the atmosphere.

No one tried to rush me as I browsed the shelves. There was no “helpful” staff hovering and interfering with my enjoyment. It was just me listening to the books whispering secrets.

I love my local bookstores in Austin, but they’re modern, clean, and efficient. Baldwin’s Book Barn has secrets, and I wish I could spend more time exploring them.

Do you have a favorite or unique bookstore?

10 Thoughts on Reaching 41

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I turned 41 earlier last month, and it’s made me thoughtful.

I’m not someone who freaks out over age. I really do believe it’s just a number, and I don’t feel the way I think I should. I still don’t always feel like an adult. I sometimes feel like I’m faking it, like someone’s going to call me on it and say, “Shut up, kid!”

That being said, I have learned a few things over the years.

  1. Do what you love. Make time for it. If you don’t, what’s the point?
  2. Let it go. If the lady at the grocery store is rude to me, I shake it off. Most people, even the cranky, miserable ones, don’t actually want to be cranky and miserable. She’s not part of my life, so why not just move on with my day?
  3. Smile at everyone. Look them in the eye. Say please and thank you. From people’s reactions, they’re often surprised by this. I’m not the person who loves being out among others, but when I am, I try to add to the world by spreading a little bit of positivity wherever I can.
  4. Don’t be a doormat. Just because you understand or try to empathize with people doesn’t mean you have to allow them to treat you in a terrible way, especially if they are a part of your life. Dump the toxic people.
  5. Don’t apologize for what you like. Everyone’s got opinions, and I swear the emperor has no clothes. Whether it’s YA or Fifty Shades of Gray or bad horror movies, if you like it and it’s not hurting anyone, enjoy!
  6. Age is just a number, and not a particularly meaningful one. I see lots of lists about things you shouldn’t wear after 40 and books you shouldn’t be reading after 20, and so on. They’re all stupid.
  7. Find your tribe. They’re out there, and they like the same things you do. I’m a socially awkward introvert with a sense of humor most people don’t understand, and I like books and characters more than I like real people. Yet, I’ve managed to find amazing people who don’t make me self-conscious. I can say stupid things and don’t feel judged. It’s a beautiful thing.
  8. We all make mistakes. Ah, it’s such a simple phrase, but it’s such a hard one for me. Sometimes I’m okay with not being perfect. Other times, I perseverate on every mistake I’ve ever made until my head feels like it’s going to explode. I try to remind myself that I don’t judge others for their mistakes, so I shouldn’t judge me either.
  9. Be kind to everyone, even yourself. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness. It’s easier to be kind to others when you treat yourself well.
  10. Everything makes sense in retrospect. I’m someone who believes that everything happens for a reason. When I look back on the things that have happened to me, both bad and good, it all seems to make sense. Maybe that’s me just putting meaning where none exists, but I’m okay with that. Even if I’m making meaning, the point is that I have meaning in my life.