Favorite Books on Writing

This week, my essay “The Short Mystery” appeared in the new Mystery Writers of America handbook How to Write a Mystery—edited by Lee Child and Laurie R. King, released on Tuesday, April 27, and featuring a truly stellar line-up of contributors (more information here).

Also this week, I finished reading a book I’ve been savoring on and off for much of the semester: George Saunders’ A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life. It’s an outstanding book, offering some wonderful analysis of stories by Chekhov, Gogol, Tolstoy, and Turgenev and some eye-opening perspectives on the craft of short fiction in the process.

Saunders’ book has immediately become one of my favorite books on writing, and reading it and being part of the terrific new MWA handbook left me reflecting on other favorites too. I’m often asked to recommend such books—the ones I value, the ones I draw on for talks and seminars I lead, the ones I turn to for tips myself—so I wanted to provide a short list of recommended reading here. Plenty to learn, plenty to enjoy!

  • Madison Smartt Bell, Narrative Design
  • Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction
  • Jane K. Cleland, Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot
  • Benjamin Dreyer, Dreyer’s English
  • Hallie Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel
  • Patricia Highsmith, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction
  • Michael Kardos, The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Writer’s Guide
  • Benjamin Percy, Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction
  • Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer
  • Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer