In the special part of my brain reserved for book related ephemera is a running list of my all-time favorite novels. I update the list quarterly in the event that I must spend the rest of my life on a remote island and will only be permitted ten books. So when this happens, I’ll be ready. I’ll shrug and say, “Sure, give me a minute. They’re on the middle shelf of my small bookshelf: Love Medicine, One Thousand Years of Solitude, Dalva…”
I should add that this remote island will have a special reading deck with a mini bar, and one of those ridiculously expensive Eames reading chairs. The ones that cost five thousand dollars (ottoman included). I’ve been told the island has a great Wi-Fi connection, so I’ll be able to keep up with my editing responsibilities. In which case I’ll definitely want to amend my list to include some books on writing. Here are my top three:
1. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, by Elmore Leonard.
Leonard’s rules are as clear as they are simple and elegant. Essentially, he’s packed an entire writing course into ninety-six pages. There are pictures, too!
Consider this one: never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The Iowa Writer’s Workshop has a three-hour long graduate lecture on “said,” while Leonard gets the job done in a sentence. Or this one: never use an adverb to modify the verb “said,” he admonished. That last part is Leonard, too, which, along with the pictures, shows his wonderful sense of humor.
2. On Writing, by Stephen King.
Steve’s reflections on his extraordinary life and career. It’s okay for me call him Steve because – in my mind, at least – we’re on a first name basis. He calls me Jenny. Make sure and read the part about the first draft of Carrie. It’s a perfectly clear and lucid description of the genesis of the idea behind the story. All the more amazing because we’re all familiar with the execution of that idea.
3. Bird by Bird, by Annie Lammott.
This is what to read when you’re caught in a spiral of writerly self-doubt. A new batch of rejection emails and, at the same time, your writer best writer friend calls to say that she got a six-figure, three book deal on a twenty page partial? Read the part about jealousy, which both normalizes and humanizes. With humor and compassion, Lammott shows us that it’s all going to be okay. Really, it is!
That’s all for me, what’s on your list?
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…