Best Books


Writers are always asked what their favorite books are.  Since its holiday season, I thought I’d share, then (at the bottom) talk about what I find difficult to do as a writer.

As I’ve said here before, my life changed in fifth grade when my teacher told my mom I was a poor reader. They two of them cooked up an evil plan to have me read aloud to mom for 30 minutes every day. The school librarian picked out book she thought I’d like, and I still remember that book. It was Gilligan’s Island, a comedy book, based on the old TV series. The first day I dropped into the story I was hooked. By day three, I was reading under the covers with a flashlight. By that Friday, day five, I had finished that book and was halfway into the next one. I haven’t stopped reading since.

These days I still have old favorites. One was SHIBUMI by Trevanian. The character is complex, the story is lovely, and the writing is amazing. When I need a course in writing, I’ll pick up my ancient copy and read a few pages.

I read widely in various genres and subgenres, and in Urban Fantasy, I love anything by Chloe Neill, Rob Thurman, Ilona Andrews, Barb and JC Hendee, Kim Harrison, Patricia Briggs, Richelle Mead, Rachel Caine, Jim Butcher, and the people on this list (of course). The list of my fave writers is so very long!

I just finished two of Rob Thurman’s series (until the next books are released) and I have to say that the Leandros brothers are wonderful. Cal and Niko have a shared boyhood history that would break lesser men, but they survived. Only to find that life wasn’t finished bending and twisting and trying to rip them to shreds. The character development and relationship development is amazing. I can recommend that you give it try.

I love thrillers, especially Lee Childe’s Jack Reacher series. I started with Jane Yellowrock as a female, Cherokee, skinwalking Jack Reacher on a Harley. Of course, unlike Jack, Jane ended up making friends and putting down roots. Jack is unusual in MC status because he has no friends, no home, no family. He travels with his toothbrush. And sometimes he has to leave even that behind. He is a hero in thrift store clothes.

I do read some few romances. Sandra Brown and Nora Roberts are always excellent, because they are wonderful writers and they throw romance into a thriller so it pushes all my reader-buttons! Cross genre books really appeal to me, which is why I write urban fantasy – mystery set in an alternate universe with magic and supernatural creatures. What’s not to love?

Yet with all this list, I don’t have time to read as much as I want to!

Currently I am reading Bloodlines by Richelle Mead and The Wolf series by Anne Rice. And three other books, some in my book bag at the lab, one by the bed, and one on the Kindle Fire.

So let me step out of the closet and announce to the world — I am a book lover! And I am a pan-reader. (laughing)

As a writer, I still have things I am loathe to try, and know that I am not good at. Mostly? Romance. I can write sexual tension, but to write a book series with a couple as main characters? A female lead happily settled with one man? And still keeping romance strong? No. I can sense my muse turning on a cowboy boot heel and taking off in terror. The view from behind is not a pretty one. (Anyone remember my muse? {Cue evil laughter.})

Yet, that is exactly where I am heading in the Skinwalker series. Jane is going to pick a guy and settle in with him. And the series will continue. I hope. I intend to take my fear in hand and beat it into submission and make a story out of it. J

So – what do you hate writing, fear trying to write? And how will you attack these fears and beat them into a book or story? Think about it. Poor a glass of eggnog or brandy or both. Sit a while. Share a little. It’s the holidays!



40 comments to Best Books

  • I wish I could write middle grade and/or YA, because I have some ideas that I think I could turn into good stories or books. But I can’t do it. I have tried and I cannot get the voice right. Very frustrating. Like you, I love to read all sorts of stuff, from dystopian YA to UF to “literary fiction” to the informative non-fiction of The New Yorker.

  • Okay, you want honesty? Here it comes…I’m terrified of writing something that happens in the real world. Especially something set in a past society that’s well documented by historians. What’d you say? Why yes, I AM currently working on that very thing. Every sentence scares the everloving *curseword* out of me. Now and then my hands are actually shaking as I type, and whenever I sit down to start a new chapter, I start panicking and thinking I need to get out fifteen reference books just to make sure I don’t use an anachronistic word or mention an historical figure who wasn’t born yet.

    The only thing I know to do is keep typing, and hope that when it comes time for someone to read it, they enjoy the story and forgive me any mistakes I’m sure I’ll make.

  • David. Oh yeah. YA. I tried. The editor said she sounded 30. (covers face and moans)

    Misty, I am intrigued. is it an alternate universe?

  • I’m scared at writing sex scenes. Yeah, I edited erotica/romance for three years for money. I can edit anything. I think (there are a few things I haven’t tried to edit, but not a whole lot). I’m not a fan of writing sex scenes. They feel awkward to me, and I can’t tell if they’re fine or ridiculous. Or if ridiculous is fine. (An awkward sex scene I can probably do.)

    I’m working on a YA/NA (new adult because there’s a lot of dark and a lot of violence and so I wonder if really 12 is the right lower age) and I have no idea if the voice is right. She might sound 30. That would be a problem. 🙂

  • I am scared of writing science fiction. Hard SF frightens me because I don’t feel smart enough to write it. But in the YA fantasy I gutted and have started rewriting, there is a *lot* of science. The magical system has a scientific explanation. Which meant I needed a logical reason for how the BBU could pull off a “curse”. So I grilled my writing group’s resident scientist and others who had some experience in the area. And I researched those areas to clarify. The science of this particular universe needs to make sense. At least, in Star-Trekian pseudoscience terms. I think I can pull this off.

    I’m also scared of writing sex scenes. But in the UF I’m also working on, there’s probably going to be at least one. Well, as I’ve heard, practice makes perfect … 😉

  • Marlie Harris

    I just killed my first main character in a slow agonizingly detailed way. It was brutal to write. It took me two weeks. Every time I tried to kill him,it didn’t feel right and I ended up deleting the scene over and over again.
    It finally happened. I did it. It was an emotionally exhausting experience.
    Can you get PTSD from writing a scene? 🙂
    The guy needed to die to further the story. His end was the happy ending of the piece. I thought it would be easy because he was such a bad man. But I was wrong.
    And now I’m asking myself –
    Is it going to be like that with a character I love?
    Will I get used to it?
    If I do get used to it, will my writing suffer?
    Ah, the mind and madness of writing. Ya gotta love it!

  • Pea Emily, yeah. Me too. I am terrified. I’ve written one sex scene and then cut all the good parts out. When I read it, I was laughing and that was not where I was going with it.

    Laura, I nearly did a spit-tea-take at the last line. Yeah. That’s what I hear too. About the science, that made sense to me. I did a mountain of research into quantum mechanics and mass/energy theory for my Jane Yellowrock series. I did a lot less for the Thorn St.Croix series and it reads more fantasy than Jane does.

  • Marlie, I totally get that feeling about killing off a character. In Host, I killed off a main character and it broke me. I had reactions to it for a long time, like flashbacks that left me shaking. You will get over each killing-experience, but it never gets easier to write a new one.

  • “[If] You are writing children’s books, you have to be a ruthless killer.”
    —J. K. Rowling

  • Hepseba ALHH

    I’m afraid to write contemporary fantasy, mostly because of the research aspect. I have an idea for a character who comes from a hispanic-american family with a native-american father. A) I am almost painfully white (and from Montana where, for example, people stare at black people because you almost never see one, i.e., a painfully white state). B) The most appropriate starting point would obviously be to *talk* to some hispanic americans, which logistically, living in Colorado, is pretty straight forward, but it would require the whole talking-to-people part, and inquiring into the family lives of acquaintances/strangers…terror.

  • Faith, it IS an alternate universe, in that there’s magic. Not to mention I’m bringing in an actual historical figure who, as far as my research has shown me thus far, vanishes from all public record a couple of years before my book takes place. Since she’s gone from the textbooks, I decided to play with where she went and why, because it fit my story pretty neatly. But there’s where the terror finds its way in – what if someone far more versed in the history of the period reads my book and says, “Now hold on there a minute, Misty. That historical figure slipped away in the night and emigrated to France, where she lived under an assumed name.”

    But I’m writing the story anyway, because I want to. And I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope it turns out okay.

  • Wolf, I’d never heard that from her. I like!

    Hep, that will indeed pose a problem. Just as starters, most ethnic people don’t use the terms assigned to them by the white men in government. Hispanic and Native American. To other Indians (who, yes, use that term, a lot of them), I am part mixed Tribal American. Or mixed Choctaw and Cherokee. And then I have to tell where my family came from, so my location to the peoples can be evaluated, like a large family gathering where you meet your long lost fourth cousin twice removed, the one everyone thought died in WWII… I was once told, “Ha! My people defeated your people.” To which I replied, “If our ‘people’ hadn’t been so dang busy killing each other, the white man would be trading partners instead of land owners.” It’s little things like that that make a huge difference in believably.

  • Misty I like! I totally like! And yeah — the modernisms are gonna be a bitch. What fun!!!

  • sagablessed

    These are two separate issues, so here goes.
    What do I hate to write? Romance. I don’t read it, I hate the portions of my WIP that requires it. Romance. Because I can see it becoming erotica and once start your path that way, forever will it dominate your literary destiny. Now, fights, blood and death, suffering…I’m down.
    What do I fear to write? Sci-fi or historical. My understanding of physics is barfolicious. Name of the Rose was awesome. But my ability to capture the flavor of the times bites. Maybe in later years I could. but not now.

  • Saga, I do good dying and dead bodies too. I love that stuff. I read and I write it. Romance? Makes me shudder. And yes to the erotica. Or, rather, no to it. I am trying to figure out how to give Jane a sex life without writing that sex life. (Coward much?)

  • Oh, Misty, now I’m intrigued. I wanted to write a story about Anastasia but was disappointed to hear they’d found her bones so she’s no longer a mystery. And Amelia Earhart was just a smidge too old when she vanished for the story I wanted to tell.

    Faith: For me, I’ve done a lot of research on the magnetosphere. And the “practice” advice was said during a class on the subject with Diana Gabaldon at SIWC a year or two ago. Hard to argue with that. 🙂

  • I do have a propensity to shy away from the real world. I have two things I’m writing (well, sitting on the backburner) that are alternate universe because I wanted to make sure someone won’t read it and go, “HEY! That’s not in New York!” Deadboy is set in a completely fictional town, which fits the low powered superhero-ish focus (like Gotham or Metropolis) and has an alternate history, as it’s just after WWII (which a lot of noir tends to be either during or after). And the other is set in NY, but an alternate universe, which readers will understand as the book progresses. As far as history goes, I never did more research than when I was writing the RPG supplement, Arrgh! Thar Be Zombies!, for Eden Studios. And even then I was worried about some age of sail historian gamer (or Vodou practitioner, for that matter) trashing the work. Ah well. Thus the life of the writer.

    A few years ago, I never thought I’d be writing romance novels, but here I am. Sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone is a good thing. 😉

    Still, there are things in romance I don’t think I could do, just because I don’t feel I could do it proper justice. One would be LGBT. Even though it sounds like places are looking for it, I will leave it in more capable hands.

  • Laura, you are right. I need to take my fear in hand and write sex scenes.
    Oy. My mama is gonna have a fit.

    Daniel, I’ve had LGBT friends ask why I can write people of color but never have LGBT characters in my stories. I do, actually. One is Deon, Katie’s cook. But to me he reads like a certain flaming True Blood character and I don’t want to write a stereotypical character that sounds like another stereotypical character. You know? So until I get it right, I am not writing much LGBT. And when I do, I’ll be asking those friends for help.

  • Cindy

    I think my WIP needs a sex scene and I would just about write anything else. I have no idea how writers of erotic fiction do it.
    Faith, Shibumi is good.

  • Faith (and anyone else, should it be useful), for what it’s worth, here are the notes I took from that class. Hm, re-reading this just now was a helpful reminder. Especially “If you need a sex scene, make it not just a sex scene, but an extension of the conflict, the characters, the plot.”

  • Cindy — Yay! Another Shubumi reader! And yes. I am going to hate it.

    Laura, this is wonderful. Going there now!
    Okay — this was a wonderful link! Everyone wanting or needing to write a sex scene should read this link!

  • Mystery is my bug-a-boo. I have a problem reading most – either the author lays it out too clearly or the character learns something and never shares it with the reader. But since the reader didn’t get the clue needed to solve, when the big reveal happens you are like, why did I bother reading if the author isn’t going to play fair? … Writing it – trying to dole out the clues, get a mystery tangled enough that needs untangling so the solving is satisfying … tough. Been trying, haven’t been happy with the results.

  • You had characters in the Rogue Mage books too. Unless I misconstrued that relationship.

  • Razziecat

    I’m hesitant (I wouldn’t say afraid, exactly) to get into the science in my space opera stories, because I’ve never been into reading hard SF; but I’m going to be exploring this angle more, so I need to get over that. I need to learn what’s current in SF in terms of stardrive, weapons, etc., although my stories will still be character-centered.

    I’m also very hesitant to write characters who are a different ethnicity from my own. There seems to be a prevailing attitude of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.

  • Erin is it hard. I tend to write thrillers not mystery so I don’t use this methodology, but I have a friend who lays out the discovery of crime this way:
    Every possible bad guy must at least 1 and preferably 2 of the following:
    1. Motive
    2. Means
    3. Opportunity
    The bad guy has to have all three.
    She lays out the methodology of the crime, comes up with the possible bad guys, and applies the three above. After that she says it’s easy.

  • Daniel, I did. (slaps own head) This is a case of getting caught up in failure and not remembering success. Maybe I need to reread my own work. I liked Audric and Rupert a lot. Hmm. Okay, I am feeling a lot less incapable. THANKS!

    Razzie it is that. However, you could have ethnicities very different from earth versions. Can you make up your own? Like Firefly???

  • sagablessed

    Ah Faith. LGBT people?
    Not that hard, really. Some are stereotypes, some are weird, some are boring. Just write them the same as any other character, except the objet d’affection is same gender.
    Trust me. I know. 😀

  • mudepoz

    I wrote a zombie love story. It’s the first and only short story I’ve ever sold. They made me cut the duct tape scene, though. Hey! There are times when things should not fall off.

    Now I’m having trouble. My MC, the egotistical basset hound, is in love with a basset having a bad day. He just can’t seem to get close to her. Worse, he sounds like Pepe Le Pew.
    There is no way, even with coaching, prompting, or drugs that can make me write like an adult. I’m afraid. Very afraid. To the point that I have almost a complete collection of shorts called Coitus, Don’tinterruptus. Mainly because they never can do the deed.

    I think I’ll go do illustrated kiddy books.

    Oh, Laura, I remember that panel!

  • Although I’ve written erotica and one 5K short story that’s just plain porn (for a didn’t happen anthology with the working title Sex Ex Machina ) I can’t tackle Romance. Go figure. The sex scenes are easy – it’s the messy relationship part. In reading Romances, I’m always yelling at the characters for being blind to what should be evident and making all those stupid wrong conclusions and mistakes!
    My real writing fear – totally cannot do it no matter how hard I try – is the Evil Entity ala Sauron. My BBU has to have a face, a motive, a reason and justification for doing whatever evil is being done. To me, evil is born of the mind, so my Big Bad has to choose to be what he/she is, and have a logical (to him/her) reason for doing it. And for the life of me, I can’t come up with any logical (even insanely logical) reason for destroying the world.
    What I really enjoy is taking cultural and ethical issues and re-setting them in a fictional universe – usually science fiction or fantasy, but occasionally as a straight fiction horror piece that can happen anywhere that has 1/2 ahead lay-up.

  • “that has 1/2 ahead lay-up” <— Don't ask me where that came from. I certainly didn't type it!!! 🙁

  • Ok, purchased Kicking It and a Chloe Neill novel (based on your author recommendation) with an Amazon gift card I received.

    And I can’t write mystery. I’m attracted to the pulp fantasy of 1930s writers and romance/erotica. What are your thoughts on mixing the two styles?

  • Saga, you are one I was going to ask to read my next such scene. And yes, I wrote one last night and am feeling better about the whole thing.

    Mud, now I have visions of zombie bassets and duct tape and can’t decide to laugh or cry.

  • Lyn, in this day and age I see no reason to have an EE without a face, and the whole *destroy the world* things has been done to death. (koffkoff) I say follow your heart and make a BBU with a face and a sensible serious reason for his evil, whatever it is. And I got a huge kick out of the 1/2 thing. 🙂

    Christina, I think that your creative hind brain is sending you pules to mix the two. GO for it! Of course you will then be looking at language like Misty does, looking for the modernisms and trying to leave them out.

  • kwlee

    I don’t think I’m afraid of writing anything in particular, with the caveat that I acknowledge that everything I write is pretty much crap at this stage. Or perhaps I just haven’t had the experience to learn what it is I should properly fear. Like a lot of people, though, I love mysteries and I think that those would probably be the most difficult thing to do well.

    A little late, but I like sagablessed’s answer about LGBT. It works well as an ‘ethnicities’ answer too. Or perhaps it is just a good answer about people in general.

  • Kwlee, That makes sense about not knowing what you don’t know. But about the LGBT and ethnic issue, I am having second thoughts. My first editor at ROC was lesbian and worked quite diligently with me to re-write the Rupert and Audric characters in the Thorn St. Croix series. I had them wrong, and her insight was very important. And the ethnics issue is *laden* with pitfalls and potholes. I am very careful there. So, no. Not just like *ordinary* people (whatever that is), not in this time of so much hatred. I think I will have to continue to be careful. But that’s just me, worrying, not other people.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you Faith, for your further comments on having characters of different ethnicities. There are, really, so many scary aspects to trying to write such a story that it’s daunting just to list them. Not only is there the talking to people issue, but, as you mention, choosing the *specifics* of background and family history. Of *course* my brain would put together a character with not one different-than-mine ethnicity but *two*, and it’s furthermore a combination that comes with some historical tension, and from both ethnicities there’s a *huge* range of *cultures/nations* to choose from / carefully pair in a way what that would hopefully both serve the story and be at least vaguely believable. To top *that* of, this contemporary fantasy idea that I have would have the MC traveling to a different exotic country for each book so there would be even *more* different-culture research/pitfalls to worry about.

    Do I have any other contemporary fantasy ideas I could try instead? Yes, actually, but it has nearly the *identical* problems in terms of huge mountains of research and the need to tread *very* carefully on other people’s cultural ground. Clearly, I am insane. And just as clearly, I should *really* stay in my nice, straight-up-fully-*invented* fantasy corner for at *least* the next couple books.

  • Razziecat

    Hey Faith, I just saw your comment. Yes, in fact that’s what I do, is make up what could be called “ethnicities.” That’s generally because I don’t write anything that takes place in we like to call the “real world”, such as urban fantasy. My worlds are all made-up ones, even the space opera–the characters there were never meant to be Earth-origin humans.

  • Jeremy Beltran

    Hey Faith, while I was working for a telemarketing firm in the 90’s I was paid by my female coworkers to write them erotic stories while this helped me improve on my storytelling and crafting sex scenes I now find myself shying away from them when I do serious writing. I am a fan of the Anita Blake series but I found myself skipping chapters in he last couple of novels because they dealt with just sex and no real story advancement. My MC in my current WIP is a half-Angel, half-incubus so I see a decent amount of sex in his future my worry is that Im going to fall into the same trap as Laurel K Hamilton and write sex for the sake of sex OR go the opposite way and cop out with the classic “fade to black”. I so need to find the happy median between not enough and too much all while staying true to my MC. Oh btw being 1/2 Angel / 1/2 Incubus is just the beginning of my poor MC’s problems.

  • Jeremy Beltran

    Oh yeah I almost forgot. I picked up The Joy of Writing Sex by Elizabeth Benedict I havent read it yet but I thought that might help you. Im about to start reading it so hopefully its as good as advertised.

  • Hep, I usually have to suggest that people stretch out of their comfort zones when they write. I think you don’t need that advice. 🙂

    Razzie, it’s much easier the way you do it! And maybe wiser as well.

    Jeremy, I took the plunge and wrote the sex scene I’ve been avoiding. (Which just sounds all wrong.) I think it worked. WHEW!