I’ve only posted a few reviews on Amazon and one was for a book that was so bad it became the Wallbanger of the Decade. I threw that sucker so hard I’m surprised it didn’t go through the wall. Well the author of that book came after me for it (bad mistake, never do this no matter how tempted you are). I was very precise in my explanation of why the book sucked, but she was obviously still upset. Then she said something that absolutely blew me away: Prior to writing the book she’d never read a romance. What? (As I’m writing this I’m still dumbfounded by this disclosure.)
A writer must read, and read a lot. You must read your own genre, but you must also be an omnivore and read other genres and nonfiction as well. You must read magazines and newspapers, in a word: To be a good writer you must be a voracious reader. You must read books by authors that are better than you. How can you grow as an author if you don’t stretch yourself? When I finish writing a book, or a whole bunch of books as I’ve done this year, I start reading my keeper shelf. I call it “going to school.”
There are authors that I love for different reasons: I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips because she can seriously bring the funny. My fave book by her is Breathing Room. She is the master of character development, and I learned how to develop funny characters from reading her books.
I love Roberta Gellis because she wrote historicals that actually had history in them. The events happening around the character aren’t just wallpaper, they’re almost another character. She has said that she stopped writing romance because publishers wanted more romance, less history. I’m very saddened by this. Having a love for medieval history, I adore all six of The Roselynde Chronicles, but my favorite is Joanna. I was thrilled to discover that I love Geoffrey as much now as I did when I first read the book in my late teens. Her Heiress series is equally good and has recently been republished by Ellora’s Cave. The Kent Heiress is my favorite, though I think they’re all stellar. I learned how to write an adventure story by reading Roberta Gellis.
Lisa Gregory is another favorite of mine. I read her Rainbow Season as a teenager in high school and loved the character Luke so much that it’s one of the reasons I named my son Luke. Lisa’s characters really reach out and touch your heart in a way that’s memorable, and she’s a master of building sexual tension, which in many ways is a lost art.
Octavia Butler is another author I love. Her Parable stories are absolute must-reads for anyone who wants to be a writer. It’s inconceivable to me that they haven’t been optioned for a movie. Butler was a master of the use of language, even her word-choices leave me in awe. In Parable of Talents the bad guys have these trucks which are called “maggots.” Without any further description the reader immediately has a very vivid image of what these trucks must look like. Where does that come from, and how can I get some? And she could write a hook like nobody’s business. My favorite is the opening to her book, Kindred: “I lost my arm on my return trip home. My right arm.” Hell, with an opening like that, who wouldn’t want to read the rest of the story. Her world-building was second-to-none, you could all but smell the burning cities and the lack of water leaves you feeling parched too.
These are just a few of my favorite “school books,” and of course, yours will be different. It’s just important that you have some, you can’t be a writer without it.