Reading About Writing

On becoming a writer, the one best piece of advice is to read. Read everything. Read all the time. Read what you love and emulate author’s whose work you admire. Separate from that is reading about writing which also helps. It’s helped me anyway. I have shelves of books on writing. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

 Bibliography: Writing Books

Cameron, Julia, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998.

Cameron shares her writing tools. This book is a guide to developing a daily writing practice.

Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, New World Library, 1949.

“The hero’s journey” can serve as a stepping off place for story-telling. It’s a hefty read but useful for writers of fiction.

Conner, Janet, Writing Down Your Soul: How to Activate and Listen to the Extraordinary Voice Within, Conari Press, 2008.

This is about living your fullest life as much as it is about writing. I came across this one during a particularly vulnerable time in my life. If you are unaccustomed to journal writing, this might be a good place to start.

Darwin, Emma, Writing Historical Fiction, Teach Yourself, 2016.

This one includes exercises on plot development, research, and aspects that are unique to the genre of historical fiction.

Dillard, Annie, Living By Fiction, Harper & Row, 1982.

While this book is less about writing and more about reading, it’s a classic for any writer of fiction.

Gardner, John, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, Vintage Books, 1984.

It is quite a feat to get through this one, but it is filled with treasures and insight that every writer needs.

Goldberg, Natalie, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, Free Press, 2007.

Half of the front cover is missing from my copy; a literate dog tried to eat it. These writing prompts and exercises  inspire going deep in memoir writing.

Goldberg, Natalie, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Shambala, 1986.

An absolute classic. If you don’t already have this book in your collection, I have to question your “writerliness.” Doesn’t everyone own this book?

Hurwitz, Diana, Story Building Blocks: Craft Your Story Using Four Layers of Conflict, Hurwitz Publishing, 2011.

If you are looking for a basic template to outline a novel, this is your book.

Karr, Mary, The Art of Memoir, Harper, 2015.

It’s Mary Karr, what else needs to be said? Seriously, with this book she will help you write the scary stuff.

King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Scribner, 2000.

Another “must-have” for any writer. Get it. Read it. Mark it up.

Lamott, Anne, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anchor Books,1994.

I have so many pages tabbed in my copy! Again, just read it.

Le Guin, Ursula K., Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, The Eighth Mountain Press, 1998.

Here is another book with exercises to help you with your writing practice. Use your current project as you complete these exercises and you might have a good beginning.

Pressfield, Steven, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Black Irish Entertainment, 2002.

I really like this one. It’s a small quick read that builds confidence, guides you toward feeling “professional” and tells you to “slay the dragon.”

Prose, Francine, Reading Like a Writer: A guide For People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, Harper, NY, 2006.

Here is my newest discovery and I am excited about it. I have just started reading it.

Wittig Albert, Ph.D., Susan, Writing From Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story, Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1996.

Explore your personal narrative, discover the truth of your life and share it with the world. Susan Wittig Albert is a huge proponent of women writers. She is encouraging and a role-model.

Some of these are classics, some newer. All have proved useful to me and I refer to them often. As I’ve been wandering through this stack, I realize that I should revisit some of these. In fact, I look forward to reading them again and finding treasures that I missed before.

Refugees and Natives

How refreshing it is to experience American history outside the dry and bland story told to us in classrooms across the country and across time. Kathryn Haueisen brings the people who made history to life. She has made them real and believable, relatable. She puts them in context to the events of their times.

The Separatists are not the cookie cutter characters with crazy ideas, as I remember them portrayed in textbooks. Nor are the American natives a caricature of welcoming and naïve Indians standing on the beach. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book and seeing the world through their eyes.

Tisquantum (we remember him as “Squanto”), upon his return to America, tries to explain the baffling life he experienced in London, the crowds and how people there acquire food by trading with small pieces of metal. He tries to understand the cruelty of public executions he witnessed while in England, as well as being captured, mistreated and sold as a slave.  Worse, he returns home to find that two thirds of his people are gone due to the “great dying,” as a plague wiped out villages. He is a person who experienced and witnessed incredible events far outside of his ability to imagine. We feel his pain and his bewilderment.

Likewise, the Pilgrims arrive to a new world that is equally outside their imaginings. Coming to America is not a lark but required years of planning. Like all immigrants, the decision was not made lightly. Leaving one’s home to make a new life in an unknown world only happens when there are no other choices. The struggle to be, if not accepted, at least tolerated by others, follows them, even aboard ship among the sailors. The heartbreak of leaving behind family and home, shows just how intent they were to live with religious freedom.

What is most striking about Mayflower Chronicles, to me, is how Haueisen places the story in the larger history of the world; she connects the dots. History is typically recounted in seclusion. We learn about the English Reformation, the influence of the printing press, executions. We learn about the Separatists and the settling of North America and the encounter with Native Americans. Rarely do we find them told together, in conjunction with one another. So much of history happens at the same time. The way history is traditionally taught makes it difficult to see how the pieces fit together. I appreciate that.

If American (and English, and World) history were taught as a whole, students would find it far more compelling, I think.

Haueisen portrays individuals, both English and Indigenous, experiencing a moment in time that is both unique and paradigm-shifting as they struggle to understand one another while maintaining their own identities. This kind of struggle among Americans of all backgrounds continues to this day; it defines us, even as we evolve.

  • Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures
  • By Kathryn Brewster Haueisen
  • Green Place Books
  • 2020

978-1-950584-59-8

The Animals are Dying

“The animals are dying. Soon we will be alone here.”—the first sentence in the book.

Some books are hard to let go. They stick with you for a long time. Such is the case with Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. On one hand, it is hard to put down; the reader follows the clues in search of why and how the protagonist came to be the person she is. On the other, the backdrop, the near (very near) future is so painstakingly sad that if you are a human being you will cry.

Life moves along much as it does right now. However, there are no wolves, no polar bears. There are very few fish in the sea and bird populations are swiftly dying off. I read this book weeks ago and I have not been able to shake it. Imagine; can you? No wolves left in the world. No polar bears. Is this the direction we are headed? For real?

Not only are the fish disappearing, but a way of life is going with it. Fishermen hang on to all they know with every fiber of their being. They don’t want another kind of job. They want to go to sea. They want to fish. To this they have devoted their lives and their livelihood and even sacrificed time with their families.

Just today, I read a news article stating that Whole Foods will stop selling salmon. The salmon they are getting are not large enough to sell. The salmon themselves are smaller, but the schools of salmon are also shrinking. At our house, we eat a lot of salmon. Fiction and reality often collide. I am afraid (terribly afraid) because I know that this fiction is based on fact.

Franny Stone is a lost soul with a complicated past. The book follows her as she follows the last migration of Artic Terns that travel from Greenland to Antarctica every year.  She hitches a ride on a fishing vessel, convincing the captain that if he will take her on and follow the birds, the birds will lead him to fish. They make an odd pair to be sure. The one fighting to preserve his vocation, the other as an environmentalist despising what he does, they find common ground in the personal.

As she travels, Franny misses her husband. She carries a deep hurt and guilt that is only revealed at the end of the book. The story flows back and forth through time, slowly revealing Franny’s past. Really, she is just one among an entire planet of people struggling to survive at the end of the world. In Migrations, what happens to the environment has a very real and very personal impact on everyone.

  • Migrations
  • By Charlotte McConaghy
  • Flatiron Books
  • 978-1-250-2040-28
  • 2020