Reading as a Writer

We’re writers, but we’re also readers. Some of us were readers long before we had the idea to become writers (raising hand). Some of us read a lot, some a wee bit less (hand creeping up again).

I admit that I read less these days. Partly because life is so busy that by the time I sit to read, I struggle to stay awake for more than a few paragraphs. I used to make Fridays my reading days but that hasn’t been happening as much lately either. But I still read. Every. Day. And I almost always have multiple things going, because there are different types of reading:

  • Reading to learn
  • Reading to keep up
  • Reading for inspiration
  • Reading for the sake of reading

It’s the last two I want to talk about, though.

Most of the books I read these days are in my genre, not only because I’ve always preferred women’s fiction, but also because most of my author friends write women’s fiction.

When I’m working on a project, I seek out books that deal with similar issues to the one I’m working on and authors with similarities in our writing styles. I know there are authors who won’t read anything that resembles the project they’re working on for fear that the other author’s words/voice will seep into theirs. That’s never been a fear for me. I read them for ideas, for inspiration.

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A few years ago, I was reading a review, and while the book sounded interesting, it was this line from the reviewer that stopped me: “I am constantly on the prowl for something that will distract me from the ‘task’ of reading and remind me of the joy of reading.”

I just finished reading a novel that reminded me why I love reading. And why I love writing. Okay, so first, it made me question whether I should give up writing and become a unicorn farmer because the more I read, the more convinced I became that I would never, ever be able to write that well. Which, of course, led to massive panic about the proposal chapters I’d recently submitted to my agent, a slightly-very neurotic email, and a gummy-bear filled pity party.

Yes, dear friends, that’s one of the pitfalls of reading in your genre. There will always be authors who are better than you.

But once I stopped freaking out and relaxed into reading this beautifully written story, I loved every word. I couldn’t put it down and I didn’t want it to end. And as soon as I stopped comparing my inadequacies to her brilliance, I was able to pin-point the thing that had been bugging me about the project I’ve been working on.

When I read a book that takes my breath away, makes me pause to reread a particularly perfect phrase, I copy it into a notebook that’s titled “inspiration.” I refer to that notebook often when I’m writing, not for ideas but as a reminder of my goals.

I’m not an analyzer. I don’t like to dissect books to see what worked and what didn’t. I prefer the books to work their magic – or not, as the case may be. I used to think that made me less of a writer. But like with the writing process, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Breaking a novel apart doesn’t work for me. It’s like plotting … I’ve tried it, it stresses me out and strips the enjoyment out of the act.

Writing is my job. It’s not always fun and there are days when even scooping unicorn poop sounds like a better career choice.

My goal is to write the kind of story that reminds a reader of the joy of reading.

So yes, when I read, I take off my writer hat. I read for the love of the written word. And as I’m falling into a world created by someone else, I know that by giving myself permission to enjoy the ride, I’ll come out the other side a better writer.

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orly

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world where she spent roughly sixteen years working in the space industry. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking entirely too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around two over-fed cats.

She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers In The Storm and Thinking Through Our Fingers blogs.

Her debut women’s fiction, The Distance Home, released from Forge May, 2017. Carousel Beach will release May 8, 2018.

Connect with Orly online at:
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Thoughts on Reading

So far this year, I’ve read 94 books (no idea if that’s a lot—many people read lots more a year), 28 of which happened in the last month and a half. I’m in the middle of three more right now.

I always think I like one particular genre, but based on my selections, that’s not really true. I read nonfiction—inspirational, motivational, memoir, and religious. Fiction reads vary from middle grade to contemporary romance, women’s fiction to paranormal, thriller/suspense to contemporary and fantasy young adult.

Some of these I’ve read for reviews, some just because, and some for research. Some of the books are hardcopies, some are eBooks, and many of them have been audio books (because I can get dishes done, fold laundry, clean the kitchen, and grocery shop all while listening to a fab book—and indulging my introverted parts of me by being completely antisocial).

I read when I need an escape from anxiety, stress, or too much life things. I also read when I’m stuck in my current writing project or when I need to find inspiration to keep the words flowing.

Currently, I have a women’s fiction I’m in the midst of drafting, an inspirational/self-help nonfiction in the middle of another revise and resubmit, and two children’s books percolating—soon to be tackled. Shifting gears from fiction to nonfiction to fiction is tricky when writing, but that’s apparently exactly how I read books. So perhaps it’s my own fault I can’t decide what to write.

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Things I’ve noticed while reading all these books:

  • Every book has a unique voice—fiction or nonfiction.
  • Some stories I enjoy more than others, despite how well-written they may be.
  • I click better with some styles better than others.
  • In some stories, the characters are so distinct I can tell who is saying what without reading the dialogue tag, while others the characters are more interchangeable.
  • Despite how well an author describes settings or characters, I’m going to picture it all however I want to. My brain is rebellious like that.
  • I tend to enjoy books that have a deeper meaning or purpose in them. Or books where there is some form of healing.
  • After reading lots of heavier books (or dealing with harder life things), I really need something more fun and light, with no darker plots.
  • No form of writing is better or worse than another. They’re all needed.

I’m hoping all this reading is leaking into my psyche, filling my consciousness with good ways to structure plots and craft characters and ultimately create what I have envisioned. I’m hoping I can somehow glean lessons from far more seasoned writers than myself.

Some days I doubt that I’ll ever be able to write something as masterful as so many of the books I’ve read, but I’m only meant to write like me. So I keep reading, increasing this literary fountain of others’ experiences to draw from when my creativity runs low.

I read for many different reasons: to escape, to learn, to be entertained, to study, to grow, to understand, and to experience.

Why do you read? What drives you to pick up book after book?

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Reading Recs for Classics

I have a pet peeve. You know those articles that list great children’s books or quotes from children’s books? They are all over the place. And you know what they all have in common? The books they quote and feature are super old! Like decades old. It sort of feels like children’s publishing began and ended with Winnie the Pooh. Oh, and then E.B. White and Roald Dahl showed up and that was nice, but that’s basically it.

It’s a real shame because children’s publishing is putting out AMAZING books. Every year. Kids books today are more diverse and move relevant. They come in all sorts of formats and deal with big themes and ideas. They are works of art. Children’s books don’t play it safe all the time. The open up the world to their readers and more and more are addressing timely topics. Why are people still sitting here only talking about Judy Blume and Anne of Green Gables?

When I took my gripe to Facebook, I had several people ask for more recent books to replace the old books they’d been using. And thus began a group research effort. I crowdsourced on Twitter some of the most commonly read classics in the classroom and then asked for recommendations of books that could stand in for them, whether that be the same subject matter, or tone, or style.

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It was really fun and the list we came up with is below. While there is something to be said with having students read books that they will be expected to know, we also need to continue to expand that list of books and bring it into the 21st century with relevant topics and diverse authors and characters. You don’t have to replace every single “classic” with something new and modern, but it would be great if you could exchange out at least a few. Hopefully this list gives you a good place to start.

*Note* I have not read all these books myself. They were crowdsourced. You may disagree with some of them. That’s okay. Some might not match up age wise with what they are being recommended to replace. Use your judgement. But please try something new!

 

Instead of Johnny Tremaine, try some of these historical fictions:

SEEDS OF AMERICA and FEVER 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee

THE BLOODY JACK series (1700’s) by L.A. Meyer

THE CURE FOR DREAMING (1900’s women’s suffrage) by Cat Winters

STELLA BY STARLIGHT (1939 Segregated South) by Sharon Draper

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON (1950’s Mississippi) by Linda W Jackson

Instead of Roald Dahl:

FLORA AND ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo

THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING by Catherynne M Valente

THE LAND OF YESTERDAY by Kristin Reynolds (releases July 2018)

THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE by Jennifer Maschari

THE AMULET series by Kazu Kibuishi

anything by Neil Gaiman

A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket

ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN by Jacqueline Ogburn and Rebecca Green

A DASH OF DRAGON by Heidi Lang and Kate Bartkowski

THE INQUISITOR’S TALE by Adam Gidwitz

THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL by Megan Shepherd

THE BOOK OF ELSEWHERE by Jacqueline West

THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS by Claire Legrand

THE STRANGE AND DEADLY PORTRAITS OF BRYONY GRAY by Erin Latimer (releases in 2018).

Instead of Island of the Blue Dolphins:

anything by Joseph Bruchac

BIRCHBARK HOUSE series by Louise Erdrich

RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME and JINGLE DANCER by Cynthia Leitich-Smith

ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie

Instead of Charlotte’s Web:

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN and WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate

THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY by Jodi Kendall

ZINNIA AND THE BEES by Danielle Davis

THE WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown

Instead of WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS and OLD YELLER:

LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech

BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo

MY DOG SKIP by Willie Morris

Terry Lynn Johnson’s Sled Dog books,

PARCHED by Melanie Crowder,

WISH by Barbara O’Connor

RACING IN THE RAIN: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein

WHIPPOORWILL by Joseph Moninger

THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness

CHASING AUGUSTUS by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Instead of Catcher in the Rye:

GIRL MANS UP by M-E Girard

Anything by John Green and Rainbow Rowell.

Instead of some Steinbeck:

OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse

ESPERANZA RISING by Pam Munoz Ryan

AMERICAN STREET by Ibi Zoboi,

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

A SEMI-DEFINITIVE LISTOF WORST NIGHTMARES by Krystal Sutherland

I’LL MEET YOU THERE by Heather Demetrios

JUNIPER LEMON’S HAPPINESS INDEX by Julie Israel

Instead of THE SCARLETT LETTER or TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES:

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis

HOW TO HANG A WITCH by Adriana Mather

EXIT PURSUED BY A BEAR by E.K. Johnston

MOXIE by Jennifer Mathieu

Instead of the same ol’ American Lit Masterpieces by dead white guys:

BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Really, anything by Jason Reynolds

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN by Jeff Garvin

AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder

INFANDOUS and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF by Elana K Arnold

Instead of Dystopian like A Brave New World, 1984, or The Giver:

FEED by M.T. Anderson

THE CITY OF EMBER series by Jeanne Duprau

FIRST LIGHT by Rebecca Stead

LEGEND by Marie Lu,

THE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson

YORK by Laura Ruby

UNWIND by Neal Shusterman

Instead of Lord of the Flies:

THE CASTAWAYS by Jessica Fleck

THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS by Charlotte Wood

What contemporary title would you suggest swapping for a classic? 

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

The Boy Who Lived and Changed my Life

We are thrilled to welcome our newest contributor Yamile Saied Méndez!

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling was published 20 years ago. I was eighteen, still living in Argentina, and although I’ve always been a reading addict, I wouldn’t find Harry Potter for a few more years.

Oh, how I would’ve loved to have read this magical story before I arrived at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a long way from my home at the other end of the world, in Rosario, Argentina. I could’ve used Harry’s perspective at arriving at a new place that was all I’d always dreamed of. Like Harry, I met some of my very best friends to this day that first Spring/Summer. I didn’t have to fight giant spiders or the Dark Lord, although I faced loneliness and homesickness, and in the winter, the pervasive presence of an old familiar companion, depression, my real life dementors.

Although it might sound cliché, I kept the dementors at bay thanks to the love of my friends, a wonderful boy who’d become my husband a little later, and the support of my family. When I met Harry, the world was a-frenzy with the arrival of Goblet of Fire. It was the summer of 2000, and I was awaiting the arrival of my first baby, my son Julián.

My husband and I lived in North Carolina very close to his sister’s family. Her kids lent me the first three volumes of the series so I could catch up before Goblet’s release day. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the opening page changed my life. I didn’t stop reading, devouring each page until I reached the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. Happily, I joined the world as I waited for Goblet of Fire, which I devoured the night I bought it. My husband worked nights, and reading all night and sleeping during the day fit our lifestyle, even after our baby was born. There was an excruciating three year wait until Order of the Phoenix came out. During those three years, I read the four first volumes carefully, analyzing every word. I listened to Jim Dale’s audiobook adaptation, and to this day, I judge every audiobook by the Jim Dale standard. There are a few close seconds who are my favorite readers, but none like him.

I became involved in online forums like The Leaky Cauldron, and I loved discussing the books with strangers who loved Harry and gang as much as I did.

But during those three years I didn’t only read Harry Potter. I started reading for pleasure again. I fell in love with kidlit. I realized that because I grew up in another continent, my ignorance in terms of beloved American kids’ classics was abysmal. I set out to remedy this immediately. I’m still going strong at it. I found Max from Where the Wild Things Are, all the Margaret Brown books, Anne with an E, and everything else I could get my hands on. I took my baby to the library’s story time mainly for me. I needed my weekly haul of books. I started writing.

When Order of the Phoenix came out, we were living in Puerto Rico, out in the island (as the Puerto Ricans say), and I couldn’t go to the midnight release party. Amazon didn’t send me my pre-order copy until A WHOLE week had passed since the release day. I vowed that never again would I trust the postal service or online orders. For Half-Blood Prince, I already had three little potterheads to keep me company. I told them Harry’s story trying not to spoil it for them, especially for my son Julián who literally knew about Harry since he was in utero.

And for the release of Deathly Hallows, my dear, amazing, adoring husband took the family to London and Scotland, to wait for the book in “the” holy land. After touring the Balmoral hotel and different castles, we waited in line at the Waterstone in Edinburg. That night, my little Julián painstakingly read the book next to me, but he finally fell asleep, his pudy hand still holding a wand. A year later, when his reading skills were off the charts, he read Deathly Hallows in twenty hours. He was seven years old. He’s been re-reading Harry every year ever since. He’s also a voracious reader like me.

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Harry Potter is the reason I fell in love with kidlit. I read it; I write it nonstop. My stories are not like J. K Rowling’s, not at all, and that’s okay. Harry and his world have followed me all over the world throughout the years, and it’s not a coincidence that when I was at my MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (my real life Hogwarts, hands down), my class chose The Harried Plotters as the class name as it’s the tradition in the school. For our graduation, my classmates and I got Mischief Managed tattoos, and we raised our wands in victory (this is one of the perks of attending a writing for children program :p).

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Harry gave me magic, and I love the characters and this world because like Dumbledore told Harry, even if it’s all happening in my mind, it doesn’t mean it’s not real, right?

What book has changed your life?

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.

We ALL Need Superheroes

There has been much buzz lately about the blockbuster hit Wonder Woman, and I have to agree with those that say the buzz is for a GOOD reason. I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that there was so much about this movie that hit my heartstrings and made me ponder many things, long after I left the movie theater. A week and a half later, and I’m still processing and enjoying the message and the story, and I can tell you this: Wonder Woman gave me hope about multiple things both personal and on a large-scale, at a time when I think I needed her.

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(^ When you just HAD to snap a picture of an epic scene because you thought you might need it for later).

One more thought has been rattling around in my brain about Wonder Woman, and it involves the pre-viewing buzz. Prior to seeing this movie, I did my best to stay away from spoilers and so really had no idea what to expect — except for the fact that this was a superhero story, which I typically enjoy (non-spoilers note: it is so much more than that). However, I had seen more than a few times on social media that people were urging all of their friends to take their daughters to see this movie. I was invited by a group of women to go see it a few days after I’d already seen it. As I reflect upon my own viewing of the movie, I completely understand this sentiment. Wonder Woman fought for so much, for her loved ones, for herself, and for humanity. I understood the call to take daughters to see this movie because as a woman, I was very inspired.

However, I did not take any of my daughters with me to this movie.

Okay, so I don’t have any daughters. But I went with my husband and two young sons (ages 6 and 10). We had planned to take the kids to see a movie that day, but our sons chose Captain Underpants. Nothing personal against the briefs-wearing caped crusader, but my husband and I wound up arguing (yes, literally arguing) over who would be the *cough* unlucky person to go to see Captain Underpants because he’d taken them to see Trolls, and I’d taken them to see The Secret Life of Pets, and honestly, neither of us wanted to go see this movie that day. My husband then said to the boys, “We aren’t going to see Captain Underpants today. But maybe we should all go see Wonder Woman. Because you know — your mom is a Wonder Woman.” ❤  *cue heartmelt*

I waited for the counter-argument. I waited for one of my sons to say, “But that’s a movie for girls. But we want Captain Underpants!” There was none of that, and aside from one brief pout from the youngest one, we went and saw Wonder Woman. And my boys, husband, and I all loved it. My boys especially loved seeing Princess Diana as a little girl, they loved how funny and determined Diana Prince was as an adult, and perhaps most of all, they loved how kickass Wonder Woman was.

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Here are some direct quotes of what my boys had to say today (about a week and a half after we saw it as a family):

“I liked how Wonder Woman could do all of those cool things, like jump this huge distance and land on a building, and how surprised she was that she could even do it.” *makes flying noises*

“I liked when she tried to blend in and how she was trying on normal clothes but wanted to make sure she could fight in them.” *kicks and punches the air*

“I liked the part when she was figuring out things about people and our world for the first time.” 

“I liked her as a little girl when she was learning how to fight, just like I do karate.” *does awesome karate moves*

“There are too many cool things to say them all, Mom.” 

Wonder Woman is a story for everyone, you see, not just for daughters and sisters and mothers and female friends. Men and boys need to see kickass women as much as women and girls need to see kickass women. One way we can empathize with people from all walks of life is to experience their stories — and this applies to readers and writers of stories as well. When I was younger, I loved Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I read (and reread) Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t when I was in elementary school (and asked my mom tons of questions about each, which she frankly answered, bless her heart). My oldest son is an avid reader, and while his current favorite series is Tyler Whitesides’ The Janitors, he also loved Judy Moody.

If only we could live long enough to read and write ALL the books. Writers often talk about the need for writing and reading diversely. Usually we mean writing about groups that aren’t widely represented in stories, and this post and others explain why writing diversely is so very crucial for our readers to understand different perspectives. Yet as authors, our books may be categorized and marketed as girl’s books or boy’s books, as women’s fiction, men’s fiction, gay and lesbian fiction, multicultural fiction, and so on (I’ve even seen the category “men’s adventure fiction” pop up somewhere). These designations are primarily for marketing toward target audiences, as these stories depict women’s life experiences, or the experiences of LGBTQIA+ characters, or the singular experience of a man’s adventure, I suppose. But as a reader and writer, there is great value in crossing those bridges and experiencing (through reading) and representing (through writing) a wide variety of struggles and triumphs, just as my sons experienced the struggles and triumphs of Princess Diana / Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and now have an even broader perspective about certain things. And okay, I’m not going to lie when I say my heart melted when my 6 yo hugged me and told me that I’m like Wonder Woman (he didn’t tell me why, but that’s for him to decide).

When I was a teenager, I read my dad’s Ken Follett, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz paperbacks, and I enjoyed them (Ken Follett’s “men’s adventures” were some of my favorites, TBH). But my dad also had his Danielle Steele paperbacks that filled up an entire shelf on his floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and I read a lot of those as well. I still remember the day when he gestured to his personal collection and told me that I could read anything I wanted to because I could be anything I wanted to someday.

Maybe even a superhero.

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HelenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager (and this post explains why). An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romance-suspense LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

Tales From the “Staff Picks” Shelf

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I’m a huge fan of the “Staff Picks” shelf at my local library. Whenever I go, I always make sure to see what’s new and being recommended, and I usually will come home with a book by author I’m unfamiliar with, or even a genre I don’t normally read. And while I’m all for gathering reading recommendations from trusted friends and family, I’ve personally had great success by trusting the suggestions from this particular shelf.

For instance, I had heard of Jim Butcher and Brad Meltzer before, but it wasn’t until I saw their books on the “Staff Pick” shelf one day that I decided to give them a try. And I’m glad I did, because I found two authors in two wildly different genres (urban fantasy and political thriller, respectively) that I came to enjoy.

Some of my happiest finds on the “Staff Picks” shelf, however, have come from books and authors who I was completely unaware of beforehand. In those moments, I judged the book by its cover, and rolled the dice. It is some of those treasures I’d like to share today. These are some of the books and authors I always refer people to now when they ask me who they should try reading.

First on my list is A. Lee Martinez. I came across one of his books years ago, and became such a fan that I read his entire back catalog inside of two months. Lee writes sci-fi/fantasy/horror comedy in the style of Douglas Adams with a little Terry Pratchett thrown in for good measure. All of his books are stand alone stories, and feature memorable characters in richly detailed settings, with smart dialogue. I always try to steer folks towards Martinez, and among the books I would recommend trying are:

  • Too Many Curses. Nessy, a short and furry kobold, is the caretaker of the castle of Margle the Horrendous, an evil wizard who transforms his victims into various accursed forms and keeps them in his castle. His collection ranges from a roomful of sentient suits of armor, to something known only as The Thing Which Should Not Be, to a nurgax, which bears a striking resemblance to a one-eyed, one horned, flying purple people-eater. When Margle suddenly dies, Nessy finds herself faced with keeping the castle from descending into chaos.
  • Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest. It’s hard enough to be a teenage girl, and being half Minotaur doesn’t help Helen’s social life any. To break a curse placed by an angry old god, Helen and her friend Troy must embark on a road trip down Route 66 through an enchanted America, pursued by a biker gang of Orcs. This story turns the classic Greek myths on their heads with hilarious results.
  • The Last Adventure of Constance Verity. All Constance Verity’s parents wanted for their baby girl was for her to live a life of adventure. Their wish was granted by a fairy godmother, and from the age of seven, Connie has saved the world (and other worlds) so many times that she’s lost count. After twenty-eight years of one adventure after another, she’s bored and longing for a peaceful, ordinary life. But saving the world is her destiny, and the forces behind her particular affliction for adventure aren’t so eager to have her stop.

I grabbed Andrew Fox’s The Good Humor Man off the shelf based off the cover art—which shows a pair of futuristic police boots crushing some Cheetos—and the subtitle: Or, Calorie 3501. The story is set in a dystopian future where junk food has been outlawed, and “Good Humor Men”—so called for their use of re-appropriated ice cream trucks—prowl the city looking for anyone who is eating unhealthily. All forms of junk food are summarily destroyed, and offenders are thrown in jail. In this health conscious world, fat is equated with evil, and a cultish religion has emerged where parishioners worship liposuction. Louis, a former liposuction surgeon turned Good Humor Man, begins to question his vocation when a raid on contraband cheese turns deadly. Can the jar of fat Louis’ father secretly removed from Elvis Presley decades earlier hold the key to saving all of humanity?

(I would also recommend Fox’s Fat White Vampire Blues, which takes the sexy vampire mythos and tosses it out the window. Jules Duchon is a vampire in New Orleans, but is morbidly obese because Americans are so high in cholesterol. There’s nothing sexy or sparkly about Jules, who has to work at night as a cab driver to earn a living.)

I chose The Fictional Man by Al Ewing because I needed something to read on a flight. As it turned out, this book became the highlight of my entire trip. Set in an alternate present where cloning is commonplace, nearly all actors in Hollywood are “Fictionals,” or genetically engineered copies of their fictional counterparts in stories. Thus, there are multiple copies of Sherlock Holmes running around, for instance. It’s the highest hope of all writers to have their characters immortalized as a real life Fictional. Niles is a struggling pulp novelist with writer’s block who is tasked with writing a film adaptation of a trashy spy novel. The deeper Niles gets into the story within the story within the story, the more layers unfold, and the more the truth is revealed to be stranger than fiction.

Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under The Egg was a book I wouldn’t ordinarily have read. It’s a middle grade novel, a genre that doesn’t usually spark my interest. But I was feeling adventurous one day, and looking for something different. What I found was a smart story about a young girl in New York who goes on a National Treasure-style hunt across the city to solve a mystery that may just save her whole family. This book was a refreshing reminder to me not to be afraid to venture outside the safe and familiar genres I normally read, and that a good story is a good story, regardless of genre.

I hope you might give some of these authors and books a try like I did, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. I also hope that no matter what genre you prefer to read, you occasionally step outside that genre and read something you wouldn’t ordinarily. Even if you never become a die hard fan of a different genre, the experience can serve to broaden your perspective and flex your imaginative muscles a little. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see what picks are being recommended for me this week. Happy reading!

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.