Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Smile Like The Grinch by Gabriel Valjan


Gift ideas for book lovers.


It’s that special time of year, when we give gifts to friends and family. The holidays can be stressful, and finding a meaningful gift takes thought and time. I remember the yellow 9-volume boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie series I received one Christmas, and Roger Jean Segalat’s cool as chrome hardcover How Things Work, another Yule season.


We Minds have spent a calendar year talking about books, our own and those of others, so I thought I’d do something different. It’s not that I don’t have books to recommend, but I feel that both the Agatha Eligible Titles List for Malice Domestic  and soon-to-be-published Anthony Award Titles for Bouchercon Nasville lists will give readers ample opportunity to satisfy their bibliophilic lust for traditional mystery, suspense, and thrillers.


I’ll gamble and say that a large subset of our readers are Writers, Wannabee Writers, and recent veterans of last month’s NaNoWriMo. They have had the taste, and they’re hooked. You’ve read all the motivation books. Hello, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. You’re self-motivated, so this one is for you.


Now, this list may look as if it belongs to Craft at Criminal Minds, but it’s not. This post goes beyond anything under the broad umbrella of Crime Fiction. These books recommendations will make you a better writer, no matter what you write.




Friends won’t critique like they should, whereas the keyboard warrior at the Slush Pile will Stick, Stab and Slash you and leave you bleeding out on the floor. If you possess a wry sense of humor like I do, you’ll laugh when they spell your name wrong and their rejection letter contains multitudes…of grammar mistakes. Beta-readers are Hit or Miss, so EDIT THYSELF. There’s no better resource than Dave King’s Self-Editing. Dog-ear this little puppy because you’ll remember what you teach yourself, and you will never forget it.



Classical English Style.

Classical English Metaphor.

Classical English Rhetoric.


The Ward Farnsworth titles are a trifecta. In my experience, writers are first readers, and they often have a mental library of desired effects. ‘I remember so-and-so did something similar I want to do in [TITLE]’ and they’ll use that sample as a crutch to whatever they are trying to accomplish in their latest project. Other times, you know the effect, but don’t know the name for it. Presto, Farnsworth provides oodles of examples minus the academic analysis. You see the passage, read it, and understand it on your own terms.



A note about his Metaphors book. Mystery writers are wont to exhibit the dangerous influence of Raymond Chandler; they’ll write similes that don’t work, and many have a poor understanding of metaphors and other poetic devices. Sense of perspective, Chandler was educated in the old style, which meant Greek, Latin, and French. His was an education system that died in the United States by 1950. Ray couldn’t avoid rhetoric any more than a Latin student could avoid Caesar or Cicero. Hence, the Farnsworth trio; they go hand-in-hand like Jack and Jill up the hill.


This next suggestion, The Art of Styling Sentences, is a slim edition of rhetoric-light, but I see it as an antidote to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I have nothing against Strunk and White, but view their slim book in context (first published in 1918). Like a Smith and Wesson revolver, Elements of Style was aimed at the bloated prose of nineteenth century writers. It championed clarity and direct communication. Be Minimalist as Frederick Barthelme or Maximalist as Zadie Smith, your choice. Styling Sentences will provide you with a blueprint.


Last but not least, a reference book. Sort of.


20 Master Plots is what it sounds like, a summary of twenty universal plots, which you can mix and match, to your dark heart’s content. Check the checklist. The value of the book is that it serves as a memo to yourself, especially when you are stuck or have somehow derailed the creative train.



I suspect this isn’t what you expected, but perhaps you smiled like the Grinch.




1 comment:

Josh Stallings said...

What a perfect gift list. Bird by Bird is one of the books that realy helped to open my head and heart to this craft.