Helpful Nonfiction for Writers


I am my own muse; I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to know better.
-Frida Kahlo

Earlier today I tweeted a little about my Sunday:

One of my spring cleaning tasks was to go through my bookshelves. Not with the intention of getting rid of any books—because blasphemy—but to dust and reorganize and generally just calm everything down because it had gotten a little chaotic.

Today I’d like to share with you some of the nonfiction books I have which aren’t ones I see shared across social media very often. They’re the slightly more obscure books I have found at garage sales (yes, I love those.) or thrift stores or, my personal favorite, The Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale—a [huge] book sale put on by our local literacy association.

The only exception will be the first set of books I share, one of which I found on Amazon after the lovely Jewel E. Leonard introduced me to hers. The other two were actually found at TRGRBRCBS, you know, for short. 😉

The Writer’s Guide To Everyday Life:

Everyday Life In

Jewel, if you’re reading this, I owe you a million thank-yous for introducing me to this series of books. (These might be the most well-known on this list.)

While I wrote Alabama Rain, I practically slept with the Everyday life From Prohibition through World War II under my pillow. I’m serious when I say it went everywhere with me.

There are several titles in this series, from Colonial Times, Victorian Era, the Wild West, the Renaissance—if you’re writing anything historical, these are the handiest, dandiest books to have around. Need a list of historically accurate insults. Check. Want to the names of articles of clothing from waybackwhen? Check, check. Want to know what folks used to heal themselves? Medical history is covered. And it is beyond me how the writers of these books make essentially presenting nothing but facts so darned interesting. One day I will have them all. [imagine maniacal laughter and fist-shaking]


Strategies For Successful WritingOne thing I keep my eye out for when I browse thrift shops or garage sales is a writing textbook in good condition. I don’t want a lot of markings in them—because I want to make my own, dang it. I found this one at a Goodwill store I don’t know how many moons ago and have found it handy many times over…especially when I’m editing. Look, I’m no spring chicken. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a classroom. Having a few writing textbooks around has been nice.

That said, I will admit this category is the one I reach for least often in this list. But I still won’t part with my textbooks. If only I had kept my own after college…sigh.

The Glimmer Train

Glimmer Train

Another TRGRBRCBS find and the smallest book on the list, at least in terms of size.

But in this tiny book, there is a lot of great information. According to the book’s Foreword, the information presented in this book was obtained from over one-hundred literary writers during the course of sixteen years worth of interviews.

There are chapters on themes, point of view, use of language, research, punctuation, and almost everything in-between.

If you are able to pick up a copy of this little gem, it really does travel well, and you won’t regret learning from the insightful writers who contributed to it.

Word Painting

Word Painting
I love a good description, both as a writer and a reader.

I’m a firm believer that we, as authors, do with words what an artist does with a brush. We set the scene and the mood with our careful use of devices, our word choice, our cadence.

If you’ve ever feared the picture you’re painting with your words is a little dull, well, you’re not alone. I fear that all the time. Which is why I couldn’t pull this from the shelf at TRGRBRCBS fast enough.

I thoroughly enjoy doing the exercises in this book and I hope it makes me a better writer for having done them.

The HowDunIt Series

HowDunIt Series

Yes, the How Dun It Series. Despite it’s rather hokey series title (sorry, guys) these books pack a lot of informational punch in their relatively thin spines. (Be forewarned, if true crime stories bother you, they are sprinkled throughout, especially in the Armed and Dangerous and the Police Procedural books.)

Deadly Doses is coming in rather handy while writing The Harlot of Blue Ridge.

The first one of these I picked up (yes, again at TRGRBRCBS) was Armed and Dangerous: a writer’s guide to weapons. While it isn’t the most interesting topic to me, I do include crimes of all sorts in my work, therefore I was tickled to have such a valuable resource on my shelf. These copies are on the older side and not quite as entertaining as the Everyday Life books, but I will always make room for them on my shelf.

And last, but not least:

Basic Knowledge

Basic Knowledge
A few dozen bonus points to you if you can guess where I picked up this behemoth of a book. Did you guess TRGRBRCBS?

Nope. I got this one at a thrift store many moons ago. Gotcha! This is the oldest and the heftiest book on this list and I almost didn’t buy it because of just how old it is and just how freaking huge it is. After all, I have the internet, yes?

But, see, sometimes when we research things online—and I choose to believe this is universal and not just me so if it doesn’t apply to you, just let me have this—we go off on research tangents.

Case in point, I wrote a single solitary line implying something about taxidermy in the 1880s and wound up spending a few hours researching taxidermy during that time just to be sure I hadn’t accidentally advanced the process for that time period.

Does one rather innocuous line about taxidermy need a few hours of research? Um, no.

So, enter this book. There are countless little things I might want to fact check or learn just a teensy-weensy bit more about but would rather not spend hours wading through Wikipedia articles. Enter this book.

There’s grammar help. Writing help. Histories of great, classic authors. World history. American history. Physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology, mathematics of all kinds, there’s even a section on making a will.

Lots of things that might, and have, come in handy while I’ve been writing and didn’t want the distraction of the interwebs.

Now, I have several more books I could cover, but they lean more towards the traditional publishing side of things—which, even as an independent author, I still find the information valuable. Maybe that’ll be a post for another day.

So that’s all I’ve got for you today. In the comment section below, I would love, love, love if you would tell me your favorite helpful nonfiction books. Later loves. ♥♥♥



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