My Favorite #Reference Books

This is the third blog of the Rolling Mystery Writer’s Blog Tours roll for Wednesday. The two blogs on this roll before mine were Nancy Lauzon’s and Katherine Wagner’s. If  you haven’t yet visited their blogs, the addresses are below, along with the other blogs featured today on the subject of Reference Books. 

And now, on to my article:

I have a lot of reference books, and I plan to list most of them at the bottom of this article. But I do have a few that I depend on for every novel I write.

First, I have an unabridged dictionary, a thesaurus, Allen’s Synonyms and Antonyms, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and Body Language by Fast. I don’t use these every day, but I know I have them, and they are vital on those days when my brain doesn’t function well. I think every writer needs these basic reference books.

Then there are my absolute must have favorites:

1. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.  I’m not a good plotter. But this book helps me to create a very nebulous skeleton of a plot. Others take more from it, and learn to plot according to mythic structure.  In addition, it has some great descriptions of mythic character types that help me shape my characters into believeable people. It has great examples, including the break down of several classic films/books to show exactly how the mythic journey works.

2. 45 Master Characters, Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. To really round out those characters of mine, I use this book as well. It explains the mythic models, and adds supporting character types, gives examples of what those characters look like by use of book, TV and movie characters, and shows how characters change, according to their type.

3. The Writer’s Digest Character-Naming Sourcebook by Kenyon, with Blythe and Sweet. A character’s name is important. Both the given name and the family name. They speak to the character’s history and age, and sometimes personality. This book is indespensible.

4.Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. This books helps me take all the information I’ve gathered from the previous three, and create a strong plot and believeable, three dimensional characters. It discusses areas where the writing profession has grown and changed, allowing writers a freer hand in the creation of novels that used to be considered too complicated or out of the acceptable norm for publishers. It teaches advanced plot structures. Can’t do without this one.

5. The Power of Point of View, Make Your Story Come to Life by Alicia Rasley. This book helps me decide who’s pov to write in and what type of pov to use. It’s great for those who want to deepen the experience of the reader, to help the reader really get into the mind of your characters.

6. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King. Once I have that first draft done, this book helps me edit thoroughly. It reminds me of all those things that are so important to the polish and preparation of a manuscript.

These six books sit in a basket beside my desk, within arms length along with a few specialty books on language and mystery writing, which I will list below. The  basket also holds a few gold nuggets, primarily in the form of notes from classes I’ve taken from some of the best writers and teachers I’ve ever known.

Here is an additional list of books that help me on occasion, especially if I’m having issues I can’t solve:

  • The Plot Thickens, 8 Ways To bring Fiction To Life by Noah Lukeman
  • Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld
  • Conflict, Action & Suspense by William Noble
  • The Crime Writer’s Reference Guide, 1001 Tips for Writing the Perfect Murder by Martin Roth
  • Cajun Vernacular English: Informal English in French Louisiana by Louisiana English Journal Special Issue 1992
  • Writing Mysteries, A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America

There are writers out there with MFA’s and others with perfect memories, and some that just seem to have so much talent they don’t need guidence. I don’t fit into any of those catagories. I’m, for the most part, self taught when it comes to writing. The simple art of putting sentences together has always come easy to me. Storytelling is one of my natural abilities. But novel writing is a whole other animal that requires a lot more than what I have naturally, or as a result of education. I’ve found that I need a lot of help, and I’ve found that help in the books listed here.

Below is a list of the participants in today’s blog roll, which ends with John Hines. His blog not only has a great article on this subject, but also a plethera of articles, ideas and opinions. Please stop by and check it out. For information on previous blog rolls, see the other articles on this site dated July, 2011 and newer.

Nancy Lauzon–
Katherine Wagner–
Ryder Islington–
John Hines–

Claim Your Village

You know the old adage: It takes a village to raise a child. Well it also takes a village to develop a writer. We may work in a field that requires solitude, but the truth is, we could never get a book written, revised, submitted, and published without some help.

Our families may or not be of help. We certainly need them, but sometimes the ones we love the most don’t understand our need to write. Most of us have a friend or two who support our desire and dreams, but we need more.

I added to my village by finding people online who appreciate what I do. I’m a member of a couple of yahoo groups. I joined She Writes and, and took some classes where I met likeminded people whom I stayed in touch with.

Without people who are willing to critique our work, people who give us a pat on the back when we do good, and help us make our writing better when it’s just not what we want it to be yet, this job becomes almost impossible.

I’ve been fortunate to find a publisher and editor who are both professionals, well educated and experienced in the area of book editing and publishing. And they have taught me as much if not more than all the books and classes put together. And then there are the websites like Savvy Author and The Editor Devil, where I can not only learn how to hone my craft, but also can find others who are in the same boat.

I guess the point of writing this article is to encourage every writer to make friends with those who are like us, who understand us, and then don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Every writer needs to know and associate with writers, agents, editors, publishers, booksellers, readers and fans. No matter what level you are at as a writer, you need to spend a few minutes a day talking with others who understand what you’re trying to do, and how you feel. There are thousands of people out there who are willing to help you, or any writer who needs help. And in the long run, these are the people who will be your best supporters for success.

If you’re shy, or think it’s too overwhelming to get involved with Facebook or online groups, leave comments at blogs and websites. And by all means see if you can join a group or create a group in the town where you live. Put up a flyer at the library. Check out the high school and offer to help a young writer, or a group of them. There are ways to meet people who will be an asset to you, and people who need a little help in this endeavor we call solitary. So, don’t try to do it alone.  Claim your village, and then make sure to become a village member for someone else.

What’s Health Got To Do With It?

Writing is a tough profession. It requires thousands of hours of sitting in a chair. It requires solitude, which is a nice way of saying, being alone. It requires us to rack our brains, and if we are not well diciplined, to end up stressed out and beat up. I don’t know about you, but I know about me, so that’s what I’ll share. I can’t count the number of times I’ve kept my behind in the chair when my back was screaming, “GET UP! I CAN’T SIT HERE ANYMORE! YOU’RE KILLING ME!” I can’t say how often I’ve put my wrists in an awkward position from sheer exhaustion, or how many times I have slumped, not paying attention to my posture, for the same reason.

I’ve had days where I ate nothing but junk, forgot all about drinking water, didn’t take any supplements, and I don’t even want to think about the nights I couldn’t get to sleep for trying to fix a problem with a plot. But then I wised up. It’s a profession people. The world won’t end if we take a break. Nothing will explode if we stop for a moment to eat a proper meal, or at least  a healthy snack. Most chairs are adjustable, but for those whose chair is stationary, sit on a pillow, put a book under your feet, or do whatever else it takes to get your feet flat on the floor, your screen at eye level and your keyboard in a position that doesn’t tweak your wrists into positions you might see in a Geico commercial. I’ve tortured my body for the last time. Most certainly, health is much more important than the few extra words I can crank out before standing up for a break. I know this subject all too well. The vertebrae in my back are disintegrating. Carpel tunnel is no stranger to me. My left shoulder has been through the mill, thanks to my poor posture. And let’s not discuss my neck. So now that I have to wear braces on my wrists, I know that a hand towel rolled and placed against the keyboard to rest my wrists on is really helpful. Now that my back has irrepairable injury, I realize that adjusting the chair is important. Now that I have to ice my shoulder on a regular basis, I realize that posture isn’t really about beauty or self-confidence.

We only get one body in this life, and though science is working hard to learning how to replace body parts, I don’t think that means we will soon be able to order a new spine, shoulder, or wrist, from a catalogue. Please don’t put off taking care of yourself. You have great stories inside you that need to be told and let me tell you, that can become a daunting task if you punish your body ‘just this once’ to finish something.  Schedule breaks. Use a kitchen timer. Buy a vest or smock or some type of shirt with a large pocket, and then put a notepad and pen in it. Take a break. You can make a note if something brilliant hits you. Stretch your body every few hours. Get a glass of ice cold water with a slice of lemon and enjoy it. Put a note at the bottom of your screen that says SIT UP STRAIGHT. Take a moment to pet the cat, or dog, or to sit on the floor with your two year old and play. BREATHE.

Don’t take your health for granted. If you are young, and in good condition, don’t use that as an excuse for not paying attention to your body. And if you aren’t so young, it’s even more important to do the little things that will allow you to continue enjoying the writer’s life. Don’t fool yourself. When it comes to writing, health has a lot to do with it.


I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in the last few weeks. I’ve taken two on-line classes on dialogue and creating scenes and sequels; I’ve read three novels in my genre, studying the dialogue, narrative, exposition and description, as well as searching out the plot points of The Hero’s Journey; I’ve read three books on writing, and am working on a fourth; and I’m line editing my manuscript.

For the most part, the classes and books are saying the same things I heard or read ten years ago, when I started this process.

Have you ever started a new job where the first thing required was to sit down and read a whole book on policies, rules, and requirements? Until you’ve actually worked in the position, learned how things are done, who does what, etc., all that reading means nothing. It might as well be in some unknown language.

When I first started writing, I absorbed books on writing, and advice from pros, like a sponge. I understood the words. And I thought I understood the meaning. Now I know better. Now I know that I had to write a million words before it all clicked. Now as I read about deep third person POV, Scene and Sequel, dialogue that moves the story forward, and sprinkling in description, I understand. Now those words are sort of engraved on my brain.

I understand so much more now than I did ten years ago. And the funny thing is, ten years ago my brain was relatively sharp. I could memorize things, comprehend meanings, etc. Now my poor brain is fried. But thanks to all those manuscripts I wrote and stashed in the closet, I understand so much more about how to write. Now when I read a book on writing, I get it.

Getting it doesn’t necessarily mean that I can use it any easier. It’s still hard to write well. It’s really hard. I would venture a guess that it’s hard for James Patterson, and Thomas Harris and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I think if it was easy to write well, everyone would be doing it. I used to think that those authors who had fifty books under their belts could just churn them out without really working at it. Now I don’t think so. I think sweating bullets is required for every good book that’s written.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re an unpublished writer, you’re going to have to work your tail off to write a good book. You’ll have to agonize over every word, buy and read a dozen good books on writing, read hundreds of books in the genre you want to write in, and revise as many times as it takes to make it a really good book.  And then you’ll have to fight for your position, sending out queries, attending conferences, networking, and putting your face out there, just to get heard.

Writing is not a job for sissies. You have to have a thick skin to get through a hundred crits and fifty rejections.  You have to be willing to go back to the drawing board a dozen times, and wear out a couple of keyboards. You have to sit in the chair even if it hurts, miss dinners you were invited to, look at the screen until your eyes are crossed, and then do it all over again. And even after all that, there’s no guarantee that you will be what is called a successful author.

I have been so overwhelmed by the amount of information and revelation in the past few weeks. Yet I feel like the scales have fallen from my eyes and I’m now able to reach that place I’ve been working so long to get to. I’ve finally learned what a good book is and how to write it. I’ve finally received all the pieces to the puzzle and I can see the edge pieces forming the outside border. I can see the colors blending into something I can recognize. I can see the form of it. And even with all the pieces, it’s still damned hard to write a good book.

The key is to never give up.


Last week I took a great on line writing class titled ‘Editing Dialogue’ taught by Christine Fairchild. The class was packed with information. It was well organized, the lessons clearly written and easily understood even though the subject matter was complex.

Just a few of the things she helped us with were:
Make your story move through speech.
Build tension on every page.
Internal vs. External and Primary vs. Secondary Character Communications.
Reveal Characters’ Hopes, Needs and Fears.
Remember, Dialogue IS action.

There were six lessons, which I immediately printed out and keep with the printed manuscript I’m editing:
1. Reveal Characterization & Delineate Characters
2. Influence Character Development (Primary vs. Secondary)
3. Build *Effective* Subtext & Foreshadowing
4. Drive Pacing
5. Shape Action
6. Build Plot

Ms. Fairchild offered great examples of writing dialogue. She was available for every student, reading our work, commenting on how to improve the dialogue in our stories, and making the class fun and exciting. She showed advanced knowledge of the subject, as she should with her background.

Ms. Fairchild has over 20 years of experience as a writer and editor and has written 2 historical women’s fiction works as well as a Romantic Suspense.

Here are some other classes taught by Ms. Fairchild:
Adventures in Editing
The Hero’s Journey
11 Edits You Must Make To Look Like a Pro

You can get free editing and writing tips at her blog:  http://EditorDevil. blogspot. com

I highly recommend her classes for any author who wants to revise that first draft, or the fiftieth, to make it a hot commodity. I couldn’t believe how much was packed into a one week class.  Please, do yourself a favor, and check out Christine Fairchild. Visit her blog. Goggle her. Read her books. Take her classes. You’ll be a better writer for it.