What’s In My Book Bag

girlsquint_19908_mdOne of my New Year’s resolutions was to start keeping track of the books I’ve read. As a lifelong heavy reader I’ve started and stopped this sort of record keeping a couple of times. Since I’ve started my biographical project however, keeping track of informational and inspirational sources has become a necessity. In the same place (a Black n’ Red hardbound notebook) I record both the fiction and non-fiction titles I read, along with a few notes on their content and my thoughts. The only rule is that I must read the book in its entirety (no skimming – I’m a champion skimmer).

Here’s what I’ve been reading that relates to writing.

Developmental Editing: a handbook for freelancers, authors, and publishers by Scott Norton. Masochistic writers should read this book as it illustrates how editors approach a manuscript that needs work, or “development.” I learned a few valuable lessons about writing succinctly and found it terribly interesting to see how editors examine and distill a bloated piece of work into something publishable.

Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland. This is the first Weiland book I encountered and I’ve read it twice. It contains excellent information about narrative organization so even if you’re writing non-fiction, trust me, you’ll get something out of this.  Outlining Your Novel and the newer Structuring Your Novel offer non-fiction writers perspective on  universal story structure and concrete lessons about story arcs, scene design, and character development. Story structure is covered well in several books on writing but Weiland’s book has the least amount of blah-blah filler. I skimmed Structuring Your Novel the first time, then sat down with a notebook and hashed out ideas and situations related to my writing project. Take your time with both of these, I think they will aid you with your own work’s structure or enable you to see it in a new light. The author has a great website and an excellent blog for writers. Subscribe without fear, Weiland doesn’t post too often but when she does, it’s worth it.

I encountered Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists edited by Michael Lackey, shortly after reading Jack London’s Martin Eden, a semi-auto-biographical novel.  This compendium of interviews with sixteen contemporary biographical novelists is a heavier investment than the other three books above – order it via interlibrary loan –  but it provides insight into “life” interpretation and the parallels between history and fiction. I found the dialogue about the authors’ writing process to be constructive and the editor’s introductory notes about the rise of biographical novels illuminating. What makes Truthful Fictions valuable to the potential biographer is the exploration of the notion of “truth,” and the innumerable references to excellent or ground-breaking examples of the genre. I was so moved by author Joanna Scott’s interview that I positively inhaled her novel Arrogance, a lyrical rendering of the life of artist Egon Schiele. This book proves the saying correct that a writer must read and read and read. Truthful Fictions will lead you to a few good books.


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  1. Michael Lackey
    Jun 1, 2014

    Taryn, Thanks for your kind words about my book. I also interviewed Kate Moses, who is from San Francisco. You might find her biographical novel about Sylvia Plath worth reading. Good luck with your biography.

    All Best,

    • Taryn
      Jun 9, 2014

      Hi Michael, I actually found a lot from your book helpful and recommend it to my writing group members and other lost souls looking for direction. Biographies can be so boring and my goal is to first tell my subject’s story, and two – not bore! Thanks for the tip on Moses!

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