Sunday, October 03, 2010

Benefiting From How-To Books

Although I’m a fan of how-to writing manuals, I don’t read them voraciously. In fact, a number of books are still on my to-be-read pile and have been for a long time. I used to subscribe to Writer’s Digest and bought a number of books related to mystery writing. I have about of dozen titles, and one of my favorites is Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons. I’ve also read a number of good how-to books including ones by Dean Koontz and Michael Seidman.

Three years ago, I was at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and attended a workshop on point of view by journalist and mystery writer, Hallie Ephron. She too had written a how-to book called Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel. I bought the book because I enjoyed the workshop so much, but I didn’t get around to reading it until last week. The reason is that I’ve discovered the benefit of going through a how-to book whenever I’m working on a new novel, and that doesn’t happen often. I’m now working on my sixth mystery, and as I started reading Ephron’s book, ideas were already flowing for my book before I’d finished the introductory chapter.

I don’t know if this happens to other writers, but I find how-to books completely inspiring. The ideas flow so fast that I wind up using two notebooks: one for making notes I want to remember about mysteries in general, and a second for specific notes regarding my current WIP. All these notes slow down the reading process a fair bit, but it’s worth it. Ephron’s book is geared toward those who are planning to write their first mystery and while I already knew a lot of her tips, there’s some great stuff I learned and need to remember when incorporating my own red herrings and plot twists. If you’re interested in writing mysteries, I recommend this book, but regardless of what you write, pick up a how-to book and see if it brings inspiration as well as knowledge.

My amateur sleuth, Vancouver-based, Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at


Hallie Ephron said...

Debra - Thanks for the kind words on the book! I remember when I was writing it I felt a bit of a fraud since I then (and now) struggle with writing my books. I go back to writing books and take workshops at conferences and there's always something that helps -- you can even read the same writing book twice and get something different the second time through...something you weren't ready to hear before.

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Thanks for your kind comments, Hallie. I wish I'd had your book way back when I was writing my first two mysteries. And, yes, every book is a new ball game and, in a sense, I'm going back to the drawing board, which is why I'll keep consulting great books like yours. Happily, my review has prompted other mystery writers to buy the book!