4 writing books you need to get NOW

best writing books

Beginning writing students come to me with starts in their eyes. They want to be writers and are ready to work on craft and concept. They have this dream of going to their local bookstore and seeing their book on the shelves and that everyone is going to buy it.

I have the same dream, too. I get it.

But so much about being a writer has nothing to do with the big dream and everything to do will being stubborn.

I’ve been relearning that lesson for the past couple of weeks lately. Being diligent with your writing is something that every writer and those who study and teach writing tell everyone else. We also try to practice that, though sometimes it’s easier said than done.

However, another thing writers have to be diligent in is reviewing lessons learned. For me, there are four books with so many enough lessons about the craft, I have to continue reviewing them. So, here are my four favorites.

The Elements of Style

It’s one of my favorites and it’s one of two books that I read right before I start revising or editing. It’s not just your regular grammar book, it talks about style. How should your sentences look like? What about usage? What is active voice vs passive voice? All these questions are things that should be asked of your writing in the revision process and this book reminds me of that.

On Writing Well

This book is a complement for The Elements of Style. This book concentrates more on non-fiction, however, most of the suggestions can be used in fiction writing. On Writing Well gives you thoughts on how to approach characters and place. It also hammers the point of clarity and simplicity in sentence, paragraph, and chapter structure. It’s one of my favorites and I can’t imagine going into the revision process on any project, fiction or nonfiction, without it

On Writing

This book just happens to make it on everyone’s list of how-to writing books. There’s a reason for that–it’s that good. Part memoir, part how-to, Stephen King breaks it down the craft of writing in a way few people do or can’t. My favorite is the second half of the book when he gets down to business.

From Where You Dream

What this isn’t on people’s list I will never understand. This book is less about craft and more about creativity. Robert Olen Butler is a creative writing teacher at Florida International University, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and just a general all around great writer. This book talks about creativity and being a vessel for your writing. I recommend reading this book along side one of your favorite books, it’s opens up your perspective.


The 10 books that changed my life…or something like that.

Let’s all admit it. We all have seen this Facebook status:

In your status list the 10 books that have more influenced you (or something like this).

Yes, I was tagged and yes I responded but not in the way most people did. I instead wanted to write a blog post because, if you’re going to list the 10 books that influenced you, it should take a bit of thought to finish.

And it did take thought. Not lots but some. The list of books surprised me a bit; they reflected exactly who I was and always wanted to be. These books are a chronicle to my path — from the humble beginnings to regaining my voice as a person, a Latina, and a writer.

Okay, I’m getting too deep. It’s only Monday and I still have four other days to think about.

So, because of their importance to my life, I’ve decided to chose 11 books. Yes, I’m some sort of rebel, a book ninja, if you will.  There’s a reason for 11 books (please leave Doctor Who references in the comments) and I’ll explain why in a minute.

Here, listed for your reading pleasure, are my top 11 books.

1. The Boxcar Children and 2. Whispers from the Dead
I’ve paired these two children’s books together. I loved mysteries growing up and seeing the Boxcar Children on the shelf of my school library made me some sort of giddy. (Yes, I was the kid who lived in the library.) Of course I read Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown but the Boxcar Children was my favorite series. Maybe because it was a bunch of kids living as hobos solving crimes…

Joan Lowery Nixon’s Whispers from the Dead was the first the time I thought I’d like to be a writer. I thought the story, which was adapted from a true story, was cool and haunting.  Add to that that she lived in Houston, the whole experience of reading the book was pretty awesome. It was at that moment that I thought to myself that I’d like to write a book one day, the kind that made people scared to sleep. Hey, I was young. What did I know in middle school?

3. ) The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe

Boy, was I a twisted child.

In East Harris county in the 80s, there were no bookstores. In reality, there isn’t one now that isn’t at least a 30 minute drive. Growing up, the closest we came to books was the book section at Sam’s Club or toy section (!) at the Fiesta Mart, which is a grocery store chain. In Fiesta, classic books like Treasure Island and The Three Musketeers were adapted into these small thick books for children. My favorite was The Cask of Amontillado, you know, the story where someone is killed by being cemented into a wall.

Oh my! I was so twisted.

4. Bloody Waters

This was the first mystery series I read where the detective was Latina. It was the first time I had been to Miami and I had never left Houston. I was amazed and should have known then that mystery writing would be in my future. There was something about this detective, Lupe Solano, that made me happy. Maybe it was the fact that there was someone who was similar to me in the pages of a book. Or maybe it was that her family was so similar to mine so I could identify. Or maybe, the writer was the example I needed so that I could consider this path.

5. Dreaming in Cuban

This book was the first time I compared a book to food. Dreaming in Cuban was chocolate cake, German chocolate to be exact. The writing was so rich that the thin book took me six months to finish. I savored every word and so I was beginning to understand the importance of voice in my writing. That’s when I began my first book (which no one will ever see because it’s awful. Just really bad.)

Years later, when I met Cristina Garcia AND Ana Menendez during grad school. I fan-girled so hard!

When meeting literary heroes...just don't be a dork.

6. Woodcuts of Women and 7. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

These books came at a dark time of my life, the time when I had lost my voice and didn’t know who I was. I was filled with the definitions others had for me. They wanted me to be something they thought I should be. I wasn’t strong enough to say no yet and too scared to acknowledge I was lost.

At the time, these books and writers were my fresh air. They gave me permission to be me and at the time that was what I needed–permission.

8. Pedro Paramo

When I read this book, it blew me away! The language, the story, the crazy magical realism before it was magical realism. Amazing. I was fascinated by the language and the world books in general could build. This was when I fell back in love with writing in a way that I hadn’t before. This was my first semester in grad school. That love hasn’t ended.

9. The Power and the Glory

As a Catholic, this one shook me to the core. How Greene questions and yet absolves Christianity was remarkable. This book taught me that it was okay to question what you’ve been told and to seek the answers through the written word. The language was strong and gritty, unapologetic.

This was the point of my life that I was reclaiming my voice. The lesson from this book: if you want your voice back you need to have big brass ones to get it and to keep it. Don’t apologize. Ever.

10. The Hour of the Star

Clarice Lispector. That’s all I have to say. She is amazing. This book is art. I still think about the main character. This book and author was such an influence that I quoted it in my graduation speech.

It’s always the season for strawberries.

And that all leads to number 11: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

This book is the culmination of everything I learned and experienced as a writer and reader. It has bits of every book that influenced me throughout my life. It has the mystery, the magical elements, a bit of journalism (like Nixon), the questioning of societal norms, amazing writing. This book also taught me what I needed to know to be a writer and brought me closer to Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a weird way.

This is why I need 11, not 10 books. I can’t leave out this one. Ever.
So, there you have it. The books that made me and that have become part of my DNA. See why I needed the blog post? Why 11?

Now it’s your turn. What are your 10 (or 11) books?
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Youree Dr,Shreveport,United States

Every writer needs a community

Reading to write or how book clubs are awesome
My group didn’t look like this.

This past weekend, I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I went to a meeting of writers.

Shreveport has a writing club and in all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never once dropped by to even say hello. Last Saturday I did because I was done writing in a vacuum. And you know what? I loved it!

Do you get that way sometimes? You toll away at your writing and maybe you send it to a couple of friends to read but other than that, you’re by your lonesome.

Yes, writing is a lonely profession but it doesn’t have to be, especially if you’re learning how to do this.

Sitting in that room with my fellow writers, I forgot how much I missed talking to other writers and trading information. Sometimes, another writer will say something or have the exact piece of information you need for your project. This is something that I’ve forgotten and I don’t want to forget again.

Don’t lie. You’ve had this look before.

But what about if you don’t have a writing group close to you? What if you’re writing and trying to figure it all out on your own?

This is my solution for you. An online fiction writing class. And yours truly is thinking about teaching it.

I’ve taught online writing courses before and of course I teach now in an actual classroom. I’ve also seen so many people needed help on how to get started and really wondering how things work in fiction.

This is what I am proposing.  I am offering a free online fiction writing class. The purpose is to teach some of the fundamentals of fiction to however many people want to learn it.

The catch? There are two of them. 1.) If you think the class helped you, please write a recommendation for my site. and 2.) I’d like the class to become the beginning of an online writing community, a place where we don’t have to be alone when we write.

So how is this class going to work? That depends on you. I’m gathering information from people who are interested to see what works best. Once we have some details, I’ll email everyone who signed up. We’ll get started from there!

Want to get started? Fill out the form here.

On Assignment: Eva Piper

Eva Piper


I love talking to fellow writers. It’s really a joy to talk to shop, it’s probably the nerd in me.

So when I saw on my Twitter account that Eva Piper would be making a stop in Shreveport, I obviously wanted to interview her.

She’s the author of A Walk Through the Dark: How My Husband’s 90 Minutes in Heaven Deepened My Faith for a Lifetime.  Here’s the summary.

One day Eva Piper was an elementary school teacher, the mother of three, the beloved wife of a strong, protective husband.The next day she stood at the bedside of a broken man who could do nothing but moan in agony and turn his head away from her.Later she would learn that he had died and actually experienced heaven before being prayed back to life–a true miracle. Don Piper’s testimony, told in the “New York Times” bestseller “90 Minutes in Heaven,” would one day bring hope to thousands. But all that was in the future. Despite family and friends who kept vigil with her, Eva Piper found herself essentially alone. Walking in the dark. And she had always hated the dark.

Though it parallels that of her husband, Eva Piper’s account is quite different from his. It takes readers not to heavenly places but through a very earthly maze of hospital corridors, insurance forms, tiring commutes from home to workplace and hospital, and lonely hours of waiting and worrying. This is the story of a woman learning, step by darkened step, to go places she never thought she could go and growing into a person she never thought she could be. Packed with hard-earned wisdom about what it means to be a caregiver, to open yourself to the care of others, and to rest in God’s provision, this book” “provides a dependable source of light to help you walk through the dark.

Interesting, no? I’m excited to talk to her about her writing journey, why she was compelled to write this book, and of course her experience with nearly losing someone she loved so dearly.  I’m hoping that she’ll also do a video.  I plan on checking out her reading.

Want to know more? Follow her on Twitter.