The Best Books on My Writing Bookshelf

by Sharleen Jonsson

I own 62 books on writing. I had no idea I had this many writing guides until I counted them just before sitting down to compose this post. At least a dozen of these didn’t especially inspire me and I should really get on with it and clean house but it’s difficult for me to part with any book. You never know when or why you might be able to use a certain volume. The hardcover 1996 Writer’s Market, for example, has been a great doorstop for over ten years and I’m sentimentally attached to it now. But the majority of my writing books are keepers because of merit. On the other hand, there are less than ten I’d take with me to the proverbial deserted island. Two of them were written by the same author, Jack M. Bickham.

According to Wikipedia, Bickham, who died in 1997 just shy of his 67th birthday, wrote 75 published novels under his own name and the pseudonyms of John Miles and Arthur Williams. Two of his novels, The Apple Dumpling Gang and Baker’s Hawk, were made into movies. He also wrote six books on the craft of fiction. I own Writing and Selling Your Novel, Scene and Structure and Setting. The latter two are subtitled “Elements of Fiction Writing,” but either would be a great guide for writing literary nonfiction. I’ve read some chapters in these books ten times over the past decade and a half, and they never fail to inspire me. But oddly, it wasn’t until the other day when I was leafing through Setting and re-read the About the Author section that I realized I’d never read one of his novels.

Westerns and thrillers set in the tennis world aren’t really my thing, and much of Bickham’s fiction falls into this category. But if this guy understands so much about literary technique, he must have put a lot of this know-how into his work and I’d like to see his scene-sequel tricks in action. So, I went to my favourite used-book store and picked up a copy of Breakfast at Wimbledon, the fourth book in his Brad Smith series, published in 1991. It’s near the top of my to-read pile and once I get to it, I have no doubt that – whether or not I like the story – I’ll learn something new about scene or setting when I do. I’ll let you know.

(Want to know the titles of my other favorite writing books? I’m going to write about them in future posts.)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Raylene T March 13, 2012 at 10:57 am

This inspired me to count my own writing books. 14. I have a long way to go to catch up to you, but the point is, just the act of counting them got me looking at them again. (Which is a good thing; I need a creativity boost at the moment.) I can’t say which is my “favorite”; however, one I really like is Writing Fiction, by Janet Burroway.


Sharleen Jonsson March 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Ha! That’s one of the 62 books on my shelf! I’ll have to take another look at it, because I think it’s been several years… Thanks for commenting.


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