Friday, February 8, 2013

What All Writers Should Read . . .

Greetings real and imaginary readers.

Last week, I had the wonderful pleasure of being interviewed by the Bookworm’s Fancy.  It’s an incredible blog that helps new writers promote their work.  You might want to check it out.

In the interview, Erin, the blogger, asked me to give some advice to non-published writers. 

I’d like to expand upon what we discussed in the interview.

You see, one of the cardinal commandments of writing is “Read a lot and write a lot.”  Everybody knows that.  But what should we read???

I’ve written before about the need to read “bad” writers.

Why bad writers??

Well, one, I believe reading bad writers shows us what is cliché and what doesn’t work.  But it also gives us hope that we can “do better.” I mean, if THEY got published, can’t WE get published as well???  And HOPE is usually something that aspiring writers need.  So read bad writers.  At the very least, they’ll show you that you don’t need to be a Hemingway to get published!

Although other writers disagree with me on this, I also think that we need to read outside of our genre.  Let me explain.

Riddle in Stone is an “epic fantasy.”  I love epic fantasies.  Tolkien got me hooked on reading and writing.  So that’s what I tend to read and write about.

But my story isn’t just about magic and goblins and sword fights.  All of that is certainly in my book, but (hopefully) there is a lot more. 

For example, there’s a romance between my main character (Edmund) and the village beauty (Molly).  There is also a “bro-mance” between Edmund and another male character named “Pond Scum” (you’ll have to read the book to understand the name).  There’s also a mystery surrounding the riddle Edmund finds.  And there’s a good horror scene in the book (Not to toot my own horn, but an editor from a big publishing house called it the “best torture scene” she’s ever read! Seriously!  THE BEST!  SUCK IT STEPHEN KING!!!!)

The point is . . . all books are more than their “genre.” 

I needed to know something about sociology and psychology and anthropology and architecture and people and a million other things.  In order for my bad guys to make sense, I had to understand why they would be the way they were. I also had to understand how living in the frozen far north would affect the clothes people would wear, their customs, and so forth.   For instance, I can’t put orange trees around Edmund’s hometown because it’s too cold.  The fact that Edmund grew up around snow made me realize that he probably played in the snow as a child. So he would know about sledding (there is actually a critical scene where he teaches Pond Scum, who has never seen snow before, how to sled).

So read histories! Read biographies! Read about everything, because everything needs to be in your “epic fantasy” world.  I’ve read enough biographies about Hitler to make (hopefully) my bad guy more human.  He just isn’t “pure evil” for the sake of being evil. He has a reason for being the way he is.

Finally, I want to recommend that you read new writers.

Ah!!  That’s a bit self-serving of me, isn’t it!  I’m trying to get you to buy my book! 

Maybe . . .  But hear me out. 

If you pick up a book by one of the greats—Hemingway, Tolkien, King, Rowlings, whomever. . . you’re probably going to feel as if you need to like it.  After all, you’re an aspiring writer – how DARE you find fault with the God-like Tolkien!!!  SACRILIEGE!!!!!  He’s sold more books than you ever will so how can you criticize his work!! Right? 

The same thing with every other great and famous writer. 

We read their work EXPECTING the book to be great!  And if we disagree, we kind of feel guilty…like we aren’t smart enough to see why everybody is crazy about it.

HOWEVER, if you read a new writer, a writer whom you have never heard of before, you are far more likely to be able to evaluate it objectively.  You could pick up a new author’s book and say, “Oh, I really like how he did…” Or, “Boy, that really fell flat! I would have done it like…” 

Reading new writers allows you to more clearly assess what works and what doesn’t without all the bias of what other people and the media throw at you.

There’s one last point that I want to make here. 

If you write to the BIG writers, the best sellers . . . you probably won’t get any response.  But if you write to a new author, you probably will.  I would LOVE for a reader to contact me and ask about writing! It’s hugely flattering (hint, hint, hint).  What new writer wouldn’t dig getting fan mail and helping out a fellow newbie?? 

So that’s my advice about reading.  Read a lot, yes! Read bad authors to see what they do wrong and to give yourself a bit of a pep talk.  Read a wide variety of books, even if they don’t relate to your genre.   And read new writers, because we need you and we can help you become better writers more than those bastard millionaires who don’t even care enough to answer their blasted e-mails!  I’m talking about you Tolkien!!!

That’s if for now.  Thanks for stopping by . . . and all of the support you all have been giving me.  I appreciate it!!


  1. That darn Tolkien...he never calls, never writes. What's up with that?

    1. I know!!! I mean, how many e-mails do I have to send for him just to say "hi"? Clearly, he's a snob.

    2. I hear he only responds if you send cheese toast first....

    3. Cheese toast? Is that a British thing? I would think the toaster would catch fire if I put cheese in it! :)

  2. Ever since I've been working on my novel, I've found less pleasure in reading, which tears me up. I love books and always have, but I need to not read as a writer and read to enjoy too.

    With that said, your little tid bits about Riddle in Stone is making me anxious. I haven't read a good fantasy in awhile!

    1. Whoa!! I never said it was GOOD! I'll hit fair once in awhile, but "good"? No promises. I just hope people get their $2.99 worth! :)

    2. *wipes brow* I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels that way! I thought I was weird for struggling to read while writing....

    3. I have a brother who studied to be a movie director or something. I once asked him if watching films seemed different after he started taking classes. And he said something like, "Learning about making films makes me appreciate when I see something that's good. But I think I see fewer better films because of what I now know."

      I kind of feel that way myself. Whenever I get to a REALLY good scene, I often ruin it for myself by picking it apart as an aspiring writer.

      I suppose that's the price we pay for studying the craft of writing.

  3. As a new author myself, I have to agree with what you are saying. Reading new authors has been very helpful, if not downright inspirational to me.

    I am also keen to check out Bookworm's Fancy! Getting the word out that my novel exists is a real challenge.

  4. I've seen people say to read, but I love your idea of reading new authors. I would have never thought of that. I'm an English major and most of what I have to read for school are the traditional stuff old British guys, so being exposed to other types of writing would be a great idea.