Writing Out of the Margins!

A By No Means Comprehensive List of Useful Resources for Writers

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Online Resources

Patricia Wrede (author of Snow White, Blood Red, and a long series of Dragon novels) has a 30+ page WorldBuilder's Checklist, available free on the Web at http://www.io.com/~eighner/world_builder/world_builder_index.html

Chapter One: First chapters from more than 260 books, plus reviews and an online book discussion group.

Reference Books

Excellent Examples

Or as one correspondent put it, "The authors we read when we need to kick-start our creative muses." Our cultural literacy library. We don't actually have all of these yet -- I compiled this as a target list.

** Beginner Level **

** Intermediate **

** Not for beginners **

More Good Poetry Reading

The Bible (esp. Song of Solomon, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes)

The Black Poets, ed. Randall Dudley, 1971
Black poets of the United States; from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Langston Hughes. Translated by Kenneth Douglas. Ed. Jean Wagner. 1973
One of these two is the excellent collection I have read. Both of them sound like good representational anthologies of a lot of marvelous and underrepresented voices.

This same sky: a collection of poems from around the world / A poetry anthology in which 120 poets from sixty-two different countries celebrate the natural world and its human and animal inhabitants Ed. Naomi Shihab Nye
This is listed both as a children's book and as an adult book. Whether or not you are charmed by children's poems, I expect these would be interesting for the multicultural flavor. I have put in a request for the book, because I enjoy both Naomi Nye's poetry and her ear for the poetry of others; I have come to expect her selections to be good.

I feel a little jumpy around you : a book of her poems & his poems collected in pairs / Naomi Shihab Nye and Paul B. Janeczko
I have not read this yet, but I read an interesting review of it, and I have also put it on request. The idea of a series of poems with allternating male/female viewpoints intrigues me, and I expect it would be productive discussion material.

Words Under the Words, selected poems by Naomi Shihab Nye
Straight Naomi Shihab Nye, who is one of my favorite poets.

The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Revised
Has many more modern poets, minority and women poets represented than the previous edition, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, and Nicki Giovanni -- and three poems by Michael Ondaatje.

Up Late: American Poetry Since 1970, ed. Andrei Cordescu
A compilation of a lot of poets not widely anthologized -- at least I hadn't heard of many of them until skimming this book, although the poems I've looked at so far are excellent. I am still woefully ignorant of more recent poets -- except the ones at local open mics and online -- which explains both my not recognizing the names, and my joy in getting the book. This was one of the books contributed to the StreetWrites library. To name the first few poets: Ted Berrigan, Maureen Owen, John Godfrey, Ed Sanders, Philip Lamantia, Alice Notley, Michael Brownstein, Joanne Kyger. Here's one I recognize: Anne Waldman.

Claiming the Spirit Within: A sourcebook of women's poetry, ed. Marilyn Sewell.
This excellent anthology includes Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove, Tess Gallagher, Nikki Giovanni, Judy Grahn, Joy Harjo, Maxine Kumin, Denise Levertov, Anne Sexton, Alice Walker, and many others. The poems are arranged by subject: Generations; Defiance; Identity; The Earth and Her Creatures; The Body; Simple Blessings; Love, Family, Friendship; Conception & Birthing; Mothering; Illness; Death; Aging; Compassion; Work.

These two books were recommended by Anthony Toscano when I was putting together the StreetWrites reading list:

Disappearances, Selected Poems
c 1987 by Paul Auster
ISBN cloth: 0-87951-328-4
ISBN paper: 0-87951-341-1

City of Glass (Part of New York Trilogy)
c 1985 by Paul Auster
ISBN: 0 1400.9731 7

If I remember correctly, Anthony T. said "If I was trying to bring someone to poetry orgasm, I would use City of Glass as foreplay."

Anitra's Personal Favorites

That list was compiled from suggestions from many different people. The poets that I find most inspirational are Dylan Thomas, Pablo Neruda, Lorca, and William Carlos Williams. In actual practice, though, I usually draw my stimulation from open mics, workshops, and email lists -- while the quality of the poetry may not be the same, the "live" atmosphere gets my writing-brains going.

Some specific reviews:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Huston
This is a very old book -- 1937 -- and the dialogue is all dialect, which some may have a problem with. But even today it is a remarkable book, about a woman who develops her own independent character through her relationships with three widely different men, and who ends the novel entirely her own person, yet very loving, very un-bitter. Considering the time in which it was written, it is astounding. >/dd>
The book is beautiful in its language, it has well-developed characters (without the POV hop-around of Night Over Water), it deals with relationships and human growth (rather than suspense and action), and it incorporates folklore elements -- which I always find fascinating.

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A fairly recent book, very well reviewed, and popular in a recent book discussion group. Magical realism, which is a form I am interested in. Again, while this book has mystery and action, the major elements in it are character -- which drives the plot -- and ethical/spiritual question wrestling. It's also just plain beautiful writing.

A Word About Preferences

I probably listed some people you hate and missed some that you love.

Quite a lot of people whose minds I respect read and admire Dostoevsky. He just isn't to my taste. I like to read Rumi; he's not to everybody else's taste. I prefer the haiku of Basho over that of Shiki -- I'm not saying that Basho is better, he's just the one more to my individual taste.

If I had world enough and time, I would plunk myself down with a stack of Russian novels until I darn well *developed* a taste for them. The world is too big and I don't have that much time. There are enough other readers that Dostoevsky will always have his audience. And Rumi will always have his. Everybody doesn't have to read everything, to keep the cultural dialogue going.

I do try to include a broad range in the StreetWrites library, including people outside my personal range.

Books About Writing

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
This is one of the first writing books I read, and I've still got my copy. The title comes from an incident when the author was young, when her brother was overwhelmed by the complexity of a school report on birds, that he had put off until the last minute. Their father told him, "Just take it bird by bird." The book is full of very practical advice and insight, told lightly and with much wit.
The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron
A creative artist's recovery program -- not to recover *from* writing, but to recover from the many things that can block it. Laid out as a fourteen-week program with specific exercises and self-exploration projects to work on each week, plus ongoing basic elements such as the Infamous Morning Pages and the compulsive's terror, the Artist's Date (one thing you do just for yourself, every week).
While Cameron's tone has occasionally made me yell for insulin, or even wax nostalgic over the Inquisition (she is distinctly of the New Age), her insights are sound and her program gets results. I've done the program with an on-line support group, and it was interesting to see the issues of the week crop up in everyone's lives -- even the folks who had gotten involved in another project and dropped the book for that week, hadn't even read the chapter. The basic philosophy of the book is that there is a Creative Spirit in the Universe that will get right down and haul with you as soon as you show any willingness to start using your own creativity. It has certainly been amply demonstrated for me.
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
The Artist's Way, Bird by Bird, and Writing Down the Bones all cover much of the same territory -- tell your truth; don't edit yourself silent; write for the joy of writing and not to become rich and famous; write every day; make time and space for yourself, for your writing. Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg are more earthy and witty about it than Julia Cameron is. I don't think that jealousy toward other writers is spiritually advanced, and I don't indulge it -- but occasionally I feel a twinge of it. Julia Cameron has some very useful ways of exploring that jealousy and learning from it. Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg make antic jokes about the horrible people who write when you can't, acknowledging the jealousy and defusing it. Natalie Goldberg also has a number of real writing exercises in her book, like "describe your relationship with inanimate objects." She has a wonderful way of leaving you at the end of every chapter firmly placed at a table with your pen and paper, eager to write.
Zen and the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury
A very, very short book that manages to sum up most of what the other thirty thousand books on writing actually say. It isn't so much that there is always more to say, as that there is always another way to say it. And while some people can hear it best told in New Age imagery, some people can hear it best peppered with earthy wisecracks, and some people are going to take it in best described as an allegory of Zen Buddism.
Personal bias now enters. Ray Bradbury was one of the greatest writers of his generation. I was a member of a very good, very solid group of poets in California, most over forty, and one day one of the other poets and I got into a discussion of science fiction as literature. It was a lighthearted discussion -- this person and I have been friends for years; he has not yet gotten me to sit down and watch a football game, and I have not yet gotten him to read a science fiction book. Everybody else got drawn in, and it turned out that the one science fiction author everyone in the room had read was Ray Bradbury. And universally they all regarded him as a great writer, and a poet. (Yes, my friend had also read something by Ray bradbury -- one of his non-sf writings.)
I think this is why his insights are so valuable. And also why he manages to phrase them so simply.
How to Write Poetry by Nancy Bogen
A very thin, unpretentious book that gives you tools, practice, and examples in the craft of poetry without getting extremely analytical.
Practical exercises are dotted liberally throughout the book. No theory is introduced without lots and lots of hands-on application. You may have noticed that in many elements of poetry, practical application is easier to do than analytical theory. In one of the most interesting sections of the book, Nancy Bogen discusses line breaks, where and when, by working through five pages of alternate rearrangements of "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams.
There are also liberal examples of good poetry, in a wide variety, from traditional English verse to Sylvia Plath.
It makes a valuable starter book, a valuable reference book (for forms, meter, etc.), and a valuable exercise book for ongoing poetry calisthenics.
The writer's journey: mythic structures for screenwriters and storytellers by Christopher Vogler
Based on the work of Joseph Campbell. Give me a moment while I put on my asbestos armor -- I am finding this book easier to read than Joseph Campbell, taken straight. I can't give a thorough review yet, because I've just started the book. How can I list it among "most useful writing book" if I haven't even read the whole thing yet? 1) It had strong recommendations. 2) I'm a believer in the mythic and archetypal underpinnings of all story -- even if I do have a hard time reading the guys who started the idea. 3) What I've read already has unjammed one story I was working on, and given me ideas for several more.
He's even inspired me to try Joseph Campbell one more time -- The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The Fiction Writer's Workshop by Josip Novokavich
This is one I first checked out from the library, and I am saving up to buy a copy. I imagine it would be endlessly useful to any individual writer; instead of just a list of advice on setting a scene, for instance, it has a list of specific exercises to do in observing a environment, describing an environment, using sensory detail, etc. For anyone running an ongoing workshop -- well, I used it while I had it, and I want it back again.
Plot by Ansen Dibell
I am plot-challenged in fiction. This book, which came highly recommended from Writelab, helped. (The best thing that worked in my own stories was getting to the question "What is his/her goal?" with my characters, and then steering two characters with opposite goals into confrontation with each other. The main thing I had to overcome was an emotional reluctance to let anyone I was emotionally involved with get hurt, or do something shameful. And you get emotionally involved with all your characters, living with them like you do as a writer.)
Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham (Writer's Digest Books, 1993)
Part of the Elements of Fiction Writing series. I am weak on plot myself -- where I occasionally succeed, credit Ansen Dibell and Jack Bickham. If I spent more time on these books I'd probably write more stories. Instead of daydreaming about interesting characters who -- stand around and look interesting.
I haven't read any of the following, but they are recommnded on the Writers list:

Books on Book Review

I have looked for a "how to" book on book reviews, or even an authoritative definition of the form, and I haven't found one. If anyone else has, I'd be interested in the title(s) too.

This seems to be a field where you *have* to learn by reading original sources. That is what I've been doing -- seeking out book reviews from the extensive literary-criticism variety to the "reviews" in bookstore mags that are basically advertising blurbs. I've always read the reviews in SF magazines by Harlan Ellison, Orson Scott Card, Charles deLint, etc., and the reviews in mystery magazines (though I can't rattle off the reviewers as easily). There are some very good reviews circulated on email lists, like the ones on DorothyL by Harriet Klauser.

I also have the advantage of having one of the most tyrannical editors in the world, Tim Harris at Real Change. When I first started writing book reviews, he would say "BO-ring", and then "too much opinion -- give me some facts" and then "short -- build it up", and then "too much fat -- tighten it up". So I learned most of my style in writing book reviews "on the job" -- but it's Real Change style, and not necessarily New Yorker style or Asimov Magazine's style or even Seattle Times style.

General principles -- Give the title, author, publisher, publication date, and price up front. Some folks list the ISBN number too. Tell the reader right up front why they are going to be interested in this book, then prove it to them, then tell them where to find it.

For fiction books the game gets tricky, because you don't want to give the plot away, or say so much about a book that the reader feel they've already read it. A good handling is to pick out some element of interest -- "This is the first left-handed female dwarf Pakistanian private detective in history, and she writes haiku." -- and pitch that.

Some of my book reviews:

Loosely related:

Other people's book reviews in Real Change:

Read On!
Write On!