We’ve been on a fun break from the heavy stuff for a couple of days, and yesterday I asked what nonfiction you all are reading. I can’t comment on all your comments, so I’ll take a few at random:
“The C++ Programming Language” by Bjarne Stroustrup. I’ve actually gone through it a couple of times already, and I don’t think it qualifies as “reading”
Somehow, I get the feeling that’s not the kind of non-fiction book that you meant, Randy
Randy sez: No, that’s exactly what I meant. I was interested to hear what other interests you all have besides fiction, because that will inevitably find its way into your fiction. I’ve never read Stroustrup (it’s a classic) but I have several other books on C++, some of which I’ve read cover-to-cover a couple of times. I’m more of a fan of Java than C++, so I sympathize with you on having to read Stroustrup. (For you non-programmers, Bjarne Stroustrup invented the C++ language, which is now a standard language, very widely used.)
I’m reading James N Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Mystery. Does it count as non-fiction if it’s about writing fiction?
Randy sez: Yes, unless he’s lying. Frey’s book is excellent. I got a lot out of that one. Several of you are also reading Dwight Swain’s book, TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. It’s interesting to me that people either love Swain or hate him. I don’t know why that is.
Currently I’m reading “Cattle-Lords and Clansmen” by Nerys Patterson. It’s a bit on the dry side but contains much of the historical information on Ireland that I have been unable to find elsewhere in my research, so I have to give credit where credit is due.
Randy sez: I’m always amazed at the incredible lengths novelists will go to in order to do their research. This sounds like one of those books that only a novelist would read. I have a ton of books just like it.
I’m reading Stein on Writing – bits and pieces at a time so I can understand the advice and apply it instead of breezing through the book.
Randy sez: This is another classic. I took a mentoring workshop with Sol Stein back in 1994, and now whenever I read his book, I hear his voice as I read. Sol is one of the great writing teachers of the last 50 years or so. He was an award-winning playwright, edited something like 1600 books, and wrote some best-selling fiction. A truly amazing guy.
By the way, if any of you have WAY too much money on your hands and want to go to a truly luxurious writer’s retreat, take a look at Misque, which is extraordinarily expensive but looks amazingly spiffy. It’s in Hawaii and takes only 20 participants. I’ve never been there and will probably never go, but one of my loyal readers runs the blog for it and she pointed me to the Misque web site. If you sign up, tell ’em I sent you. And send me pictures after it’s over — it sounds dazzling, based on what I saw at the web site.
Sharon Lavy says
Maybe you should sign up to be an instructor for Mistique. The line editing service is reasonable.
bonne friesen says
I can understand the love/hate thing with Swain.
People usually know when they aren’t doing their very best, and usually hate to have that pointed out. Swain points out myriad ways to do it better, in an authoritarian way. I can see where that rankles. The response to conviction is either humility or anger.
I’m so glad I persevered through it. Swain’s tools are making the creative side easier, and uncovering my potential rather than obscuring my personal expression.
April D. says
I just finished reading an advance copy of The Translator a Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur, by Daoud Hari, coming out March 18 from Random House. (There’s a review of it on my blog.)
Hari’s book was a wake-up call to me on many levels: humanitarian; count-my-blessings; and as a writer – because it was proof that writing doesn’t have to be lengthy, sophisticated or complex to resonate across cultural and geographical boundaries to influence readers.
I’m loving the comments on books about writing – you all are inspiring to take up pen (er – keyboard) again.
I’m reading Gail Gaymer Martin’s Writing the Christian Romance. That and my weekly Sports Illustrated.
Donald L. Moir says
“The Black Swan”, by N. N. Taleb. A discussion / meditation about our blindness to certain kinds of risk. It’s not a book about writing — he has a financial markets background — but he shows why success as a writer, and much of what we face in the modern world, is part of living in the country of Extremistan and not Mediocristan.
Karen D'Amato says
“Story” by McKee, he’s the master.
Teresa Haugh says
“Blink” and “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. Very interesting reading about human nature.
As you know, I am writing a fantasy book. I have been surfing the internet and I have bugged all kinds of people about how to get a book published. Could you give me a few pointers? Do you think it is better to write the whole book and then send it to publishing companies or write a few sample chapters and then send it to publishing companies? It’s a fantasy, so if you know of any publishing companies that are interested in that genre and accept aspiring writers, it would be great if you could tell me which ones. I have never published a book before, so I need lots of good advice! Sorry, I know that this has nothing to do with the topic you’re discussing, but I had to ask.
I’m reading: The Killer Dolphin by Nagaio Marsh for fun (re-reading it actually, for the umpteenth time); Menopause with Science and Soul by Judith Boice for my health- the New Yorker for my intellect, and re-reading Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis for my spirit. I bounce back and forth-finding it difficult as I write my novel to get fully absorbed into any particular piece of writing for too long- my mind is always racing underneath. And any fiction in the same genre as my novel completely throws me off, so non-fiction is better right now. Did y’all read the pro-con articles in the latest Writer Magazine about reading similar works to your own while you write? I’m heavily on the “don’t” side of the argument- I find it too distracting.
Sarah Henderson-Sharon says
I’m reading ‘Cleansing the Doors of Perception’ by Huston Smith. It’s about the religious significance of Entheogenic plants. I’m reading it because I like hallucinogens and I’m interested in their cultural/religious history.
Tiffany Shaw says
I’m also reading Swain and getting a ton out of it. I’ve been underlining every other sentence.
I think the love/hate has to do with a couple of factors. Certainly having someone point out your weaknesses and tell you not to do them is hard, especially when since his examples are so shallow. I keep finding myself wishing he’d include a couple examples of a slightly deeper mold just so I can see clearly how to adapt what he’s saying to a more subtle lit fict level.
Also, when you’re looking at fiction from an intellectual or literary fiction standpoint, it can rankle to have someone say “Story about ideas is boring,” and “People read for excitement, not intellectual stimulation.” I agree with Swain, to a certain extent, though I’m positive I wouldn’t have agreed when I was studying English Lit and creative writing in college, and was wholeheartedly embarrassed by my addiction to pulp fantasy. Still, every time he makes a blanket statement like that, I find myself thinking of all the exceptions (one of my friends, for instance, who likes to unwind by reading some Kant or Plato or Hegel).
As I read Swain, I keep thinking about Milan Kundera. Kundera seems to break all Swain’s guidelines, and is absolutely, stunningly amazing to read, gently probing his characters into revealing the qualities of humanity that he wants to explore. I want to go back through The Unbearable Lightness of Being and see to what extent Kundera uses MRUs, scenes and sequels, and Swain’s story structure, because I’m sure they’re there, just subtly.
When I finish Swain, hopefully sometime this week, I’m planning on reading a book on rock climbing theory, since my ankle is in recovery from some strained ligaments and I can’t climb.
Melissa Stroh says
Yeah Randy, you’re definately right about writer’s and their research. My husband thinks that I must be one of the foremost minds in 10th Century Irish History because of all the research I put into it. But I can’t help what I love. Plus I’m one of those worry worts whose always got to cross reference everything to make sure I get my facts straight. As a historical fiction writer, how much research should be put into your book? I was told by one author in that genre that you should have at least three different sources that agree on a given topic before you put it down as fact. That seems to be an aweful lot of sources to me! Especially considering all of the facts you have to verify!
Andie Mock says
I recently stopped reading a bio of Einstein – a very poorly written one. Sad.
Also, I’m glued to several political blogs blathering over the Demo primary. What an exciting narrative. You can’t make this stuff up.
I’m reading: God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert (Fic) and The History of Physics by Isaac Asimov (NF). Guess what I write?
On reading books similar to what I’m writing–I honestly can’t help it. The only books I like are the ones that have similar qualities to the one I’m writing. What I find harder, actually, is watching shows and movies that are too close to what I’m writing. Or watching anything, period, and then sitting down to write. The characters superimpose themselves over my characters and it takes me awhile to weed them out.
I’d have to say I’m not a Swain fan. Pure and simply, I can’t edit into MRUs and keep my writerly sanity. (I tried)
Charlotte Babb says
I’m reading Camtasia 4, and Aiming at Amazon…not very intellectual, but very handy! And lots of other folks’ blogs. How much of that is fiction, I cant’ tell for sure.
Ann Isik says
I sneaked in a non-fiction book I’m reading in the ‘What fiction are you reading right now?’ question. It’s Deepak Chopra’s ‘The Third Jesus’. I’m also reading the Book of Job – and I think I’ve recently met the descendents of his three ‘comforters’!