Jennifer here, and I’m happy to welcome Faye Snowden today! Faye is offering a generous combo giveaway to one lucky winner. She’ll be sharing about how she used her bookshelf as a resource for A Killing Rain and give us some great writing self-help book recommendations.
My self-help journey
By Faye Snowden
If you’ve listened to any of my podcast interviews or seen me on writing conference panels, you probably already know that I tend to over share. I’m aware when I’ve gone too far because of the ensuing silence as thick as peanut butter.
But don’t worry. Despite the title, this isn’t that kind of blog post.
The self-help journey I want to share with you relates to writing. In fact my writing studio bookshelves are replete with all manner of books on how to be an uninhibited, amazing writer who turns out work at a sprinter’s pace. Here’s a book mid-shelf on plot and structure, and one next to it on character development. On the shelf below is another on how to find joy in writing while pouring your story of murder, angst and childhood trauma onto the page. It’s basically a treatise on how to write without losing your mind.
Having read so many writing books on craft, you’d think that I wouldn’t need to keep going back to them when writing something new. But that isn’t the case. At the beginning of each new project, I inevitably find myself consulting the bookshelf of wisdom in search of some tidbit that would make the act of writing less daunting. I did this for the recently released, “A Killing Rain” (2022). Rain features homicide detective Raven Burns who spends her entire life trying to make up for the sins of her father, notorious, and utterly charming serial killer Floyd Burns. When the book opens, Raven has sworn off police work only to find herself forced back on the job when her nephew is kidnapped. While trying to find her nephew she is being pursued by two men—one who insists that she repent and another who wants to lock her away forever for a murder she felt that she had no choice but to commit. It was Jess Lourey’s “Book in a Bag” that helped me write Rain during the pandemic.
Some writing self-help books I consult on a regular basis, others I visit occasionally out of nostalgia. Each book in my collection can be mapped to a point on my journey to becoming a better writer. I’ve tried to illustrate that here:
Destination Free Write: Release Inhibitions & Unleash Creativity
Two well-loved books that helped me write without shame are Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” (1986), and Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” (1992). Oh, how I wish I could find my copy of Bones to show you! Its pages are dog-eared, and worn to tissue. The front cover has a burn mark that looks like it came from a cigarette or an errant candle. I bought that book when I was ending my tour in the Navy and starting to take my writing seriously. Goldberg taught me the power of the free-write, which I use to this day.
Way came long after. I needed Cameron’s advice because of a demanding day job that took me away from writing for quite some time. With Way’s 12-week program starting with Recovering a Sense of Safety and ending with Recovering a Sense of Faith, I was able to give myself permission to tap into as well as invest in my creativity without guilt.
Destination Craft: Characters, Plot, and Realistic Dialogue
Nancy Kress’ “Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities that Keep Readers Captivated” (1998) provided practical methods for developing characters to such an extent that they appear to breathe on the page. What I remember most about Characters were the dossiers and checklists Kress provided for character development.
And of course there is Anne Lamott’s funny and engaging “Bird by Bird” (1994). This book changed the way I thought about character development. Lamott speaks of characters having an emotional acre of land enclosed by a locked gate. Characters can grow whatever they want, or not grow anything at all. They can fill it with junk, keep everyone out, let everyone in, or open the gate for a select few. The point is that what a character decides to do with her emotional acre says much about the kind of person she really is. If you have this book but haven’t picked it up in a while, do so and revisit the chapters on plot and dialog as they offer practical advice on craft as well.
Destination Research: Get Technical
Since I write about homicide investigations, my bookshelf contains Vernon J. Geberth’s “Practical Homicide Investigation” (2000), a book expressly written for working homicide detectives. I use the techniques within to create verisimilitude in my fiction. I don’t stop at police and detective manuals. To get into the mind of the killer, I have books such as “The Criminal Mind: A Writer’s Guide to Forensic Psychology” (2002) by Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D. as well as several others.
Destination Life-Long Learner: Stay Curious
I wouldn’t say that I’m addicted to buying books on craft. What I will say is that they draw me in, and inspire me to write better. I’m curious to see if they have anything new to tell me about becoming a better writer. Books on craft provide hope in what sometimes appears to be a hopeless profession. They call out, “Come on, read me. Once you roll up your sleeves and do the work, you’ll be okay.”
BOOK GIVEAWAY! Post a comment below for a chance to win autographed copies of both A Killing Rain and A Killing Fire.
What are your favorite books on writing?
Faye Snowden is the author of dark, southern gothic mysteries with strong (and flawed) female leads. She has published short stories and poems in various literary journals, anthologies, and small presses including The African American Review. A Killing Rain, a new book in her noir mystery Killing series (Flame Tree Press) was released in June, 2022. Her short story, “One Bullet. One Vote” was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery & Suspense 2021 edited by Alafair Burke and Steph Cha. Faye is a member of Sisters in Crime and serves as secretary for SinC National. Aside from her publications, she managed two boys, a husband, five dogs and three competitive writing fellowships over the years. Today, Faye works and writes from her home in Northern California. Learn more about Faye at www.fayesnowden.com.
A Killing Rain short synopsis:
After former homicide Raven Burns returns to Byrd’s Landing, Louisiana to begin a new life, she soon finds herself trapped by the old one when her nephew is kidnapped by a ruthless serial killer, and her foster brother becomes the main suspect. To make matters worse, she is being pursued by two men— one who wants to redeem her soul for the murder Raven felt she had no choice but to commit, and another who wants to lock her away forever.
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