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Your Questions About How To Discover New Books

Daniel asks…

What are some good books on learning to write?

What are some books to buy that give advice on learning to write a book?

New Niche Finder answers:

For several years I worked via email with a small group of new book writers. I’d just graduated from my M.F.A. Program and I wanted to see if others would learn as much as I did from reading certain books.

One of the writers, working on his first novel, emailed me after our first year. He had compiled my list of recommended books by what he’d specifically learned from each–about aspects of
writing.

I loved this idea. It made sense that different books would teach a writer different skills. So I began teaching this way, recommending specific books for specific lessons that a writer wanted to practice.

My list grew and grew as I discovered new books to read, enjoy, and learn from.

After my post last week, a blog reader asked me to please share my list, so here it is. I’ve culled it down to titles that have proven the most useful to writers I’ve worked with in classes and workshops and privately over the year. This list is very subjective; you may notice there aren’t that many “classics” on it, the titles that would appear in Freshman comp classes in college. They also aren’t all books I would recommend as good beach reads or books to help you zone out pleasurably. Many of them take work to absorb and savor, but all will educate you and help you become a better writer if you read carefully.

To learn about organizing multiple-layered plots:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Homestead by Rosina Lippi
Medicine Love by Louise Erdrich

To learn about pacing:
Shadow Baby by Alison McGhee
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Catfish and Mandala by Andrew Pham
Back in the World by Tobias Wolff (short stories)
Cheating at Canasta by Trevor Williams (short stories)
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (young adult)
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Interpeter of Maladies by Jhampa Lahiri (short stories)
Girl by Jamaica Kinkaid (short story)
Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston (short stories)

To learn about characters:
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor (short stories)
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
How to Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (short stories)
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Stop Kiss by Diana Son (playscript)
Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg
Name All the Animals by Allison Smith
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddom
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro (short stories)

To learn about weaving in backstory:
The Color of Water by James McBride
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
No More Words by Reeve Lindbergh
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Almost There by Nuala O’Faolain
The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
Peace Like a River by Lief Enger

To learn about complex plots–having enough happen:
The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks
The Passion by Jeannette Winterson
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Liars Club by Mary Karr
Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre (fantasy/sci-fi)

To learn about container (environment of story/culture/beliefs):
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick
Away by Amy Bloom
Thinking about Magritte by Kate Stearns
Blindness by Jose Saramago
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Of course, with many of these titles, you can learn much more than the category I’ve given them. But that’s my primary learning tool from that book.

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Steven asks…

How do we know so much about Roman history?

Where do these accounts come from and how did they survive from antiquity? Were they written on paper? Do archaeologists discover Roman history books when excavating ruins?

New Niche Finder answers:

The Romans were great builders,and left a lot of inscriptions in stone in things they built,and stone memorial inscriptions in their own right on or near things they built.

So,a lot of our info about Roman history comes from their architecture – for example Trajan’s Column – and inscriptions.

The Romans themselves were great and prolific writers – letters,memoirs,histories.A lot of these were copied and recopied,some survived to be copied by Medieval scholars,many were preserved in the Byzantine empire after the fal of the Roman empire in the West,and others survived as copies in monasteries and churches.

The Romans also kept state archives – historians such as Livy and Suetonius had access to these archives,and did extensive research in them to write their works.Their works were later copied,and much of their content survived into the modern era.

Roman civilization lasted a long time – the various sources we have for their history listed above were just a small portion of what the Romans produced,and there are still considerable gaps in the record.For example,it’s only relatively recently that the construction of Hadrian’s Wall was conclusively attributed to Hadrian’s reign,due to the discovery of a Roman inscription at a milecastle on the Wall definitively dating its construction.Previously,considerable scholarly debate had put forward both Antoninus Pius and Septimius Severus as the likely originators of the wall as much as Hadrian.

Carol asks…

What fiction books have no love interests or no sex?

I just want a good adventure book without naive girls being overly worried about a love triangle or sex. Some books like the Anita Blake series just over do the sex. I want a strong character and a good story without being mad at stupid teens. Sorry, if i sound mean.

New Niche Finder answers:

There are a number of good dystopian novels that feature rational teenaged characters who don’t act stupid in the name of infatuation. Here are a few.

Blood Red Road (Dustlands Series) by Moira Young – 2012. In a post-apocalyptic future, 18-year-old Saba’s twin brother is stolen by black-clad riders. When tough-as-nails Saba launches a relentless search to recover him, she must fight for her life in gladiator cages, overcome enemies both creature and human, and learn to trust others for the first time. And try as she might, she can’t help but fall for the charming scoundrel Jack, who just may understand her more than she knows.

The Shore of Monsters by David J. Nix – 2011. Five generations earlier, a horde of monsters nearly obliterated humanity. All males are dead or ruined by a monster plague; words like ‘father’ and ‘romance’ have lost meaning. When teenager Sky joins an expedition to the shore that falls apart, she must survive amongst the monsters that roam the ruins. She gets unexpected help from a very surprising source. Mystery, action, and romance follow!

Enclave by Ann Aguirre – 2011. In a shattered, post-apocalyptic world, 15-year old Deuce’s dream has come true. She has been named a Huntress, trusted by her community to brave the world outside of the sheltering tunnels and the threat of monstrous Freaks to bring meet to the tribe. The assignment is complicated by her pairing with the rebellious and handsome Fade, and a realization that the Freaks are growing more organized and cunning. Deuce and Fade must convince the tribal Elders of the imminent danger before it is too late.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher – 2007. Incarceron is a prison so vast that it is self-sustaining. Generations of prisoners are born inside, doomed to a life in prison. The novel weaves two story lines: that of 17-year old Finn, who hopes to become only the second person to break out of the prison, and Claudia, the warden’s daughter who hopes to escape an arranged marriage. When each discovers a crystal key, they find that they can communicate through the devices, and pledge to help one another. The story lines merge in a fantastic twist you won’t see coming.

Maze Runner by James Dashner – 2009. When Thomas arrives in the Glade, he remembers nothing but his name, just like the dozens of other teen boys who arrived before him. The Glade, which is surrounded by an impenetrable maze, is closed at night to guard against the creatures that roam the darkness, but open for exploration during the day. Getting caught outside at night is certain death. As the boys try to unravel the mystery of their existence, a complication occurs: the first girl arrives in the Glade. More importantly, she has a connection with Thomas and a message that may determine the fate of all the Glade’s inhabitants.

Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi – 2010. In a near future of rising seas, no oil, and extreme poverty, a teenager works as a shipbreaker – one who salvages rusting ships for parts. When he finds a wrecked super-yacht after a storm, he thinks his days of poverty are over. However, he gets swept into an adventure when bad people come for the one survivor of the wreck – a rich, beautiful girl who owns the vessel.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman – 2009. In post-war future, the abortion debate has been solved through compromise. Parents may elect to have their teenage children “unwound”, a process where the teens organs and body parts are harvested for others. The story follows three runaway Unwinds, each discarded for behavior, religious, or economic reasons. As the trio embarks on a harrowing journey of escape, the reader will ponder very heavy moral questions, and wrestle with how much a bad decision can affect future generations. This is a masterpiece on every level!

On the historical fiction front, I like:

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi – In the year 1832, 13 year old Charlotte Doyle finds herself the only passenger on a sailing ship bound for America from England. Her discomfort at being alone amongst a group of sailors is swept aside as she inadvertently becomes embroiled in an attempted mutiny. When the ship docks, she is arrested and found guilty of murder. Only her ability to convincingly convey the actual truth of the mutiny stands between her and the gallows.

Mary asks…

What are some books that have a character who is changed into a cat?

No children books. Short stories or poems would work too. I’m a junior in high school if it helps. Thanks.
No Harry Potter.

New Niche Finder answers:

The Catswold Portal By Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Deposed from her throne and forced through the magic portal between her world and ours, Melissa adopts the form of a small calico cat and faces a journey that will take her from Hell Pit to the Faerie Court.

From Publishers Weekly
This delightful fantasy posits a Netherworld located under modern California and peopled by humans, mythological creatures–including Harpies and Griffons–and shape-changers such as the Catswold, who can shift between cat and human forms. In this land where technology fails but magic works, Melissa, a young woman with no memory of her past, goes to the city of Affandar, ruled by the cruel Queen Siddonie, to learn her history. Taking a strange interest in Melissa, the queen teaches her magic spells far superior to those of the common people. From an imprisoned Harpy she sets free, Melissa learns she is heir to the Catswold throne, but for her disobedience she is turned into her cat form and cast forth in the upperworld. There she is taken in as a pet by artist Braden West, who, unaware of her true nature, falls in love with her. Then Melissa discovers how to regain her human form and returns to the Netherworld pursued by Braden. Murphy, a writer of children’s books, balances her rich, detailed Netherworld with a vividly characterized earthly realm. Her cat people, in particular, ring true.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From School Library Journal
YA– In 1957 in the San Francisco area, a garden shared by six surrounding houses has a tool shed built into a berm. The shed is closed by a magnificent, intricately carved wooden gate featuring nine rows of nine heads of cats, each projecting out of the wood. Unbeknownst to Earth dwellers, this gate is one of several conduits connecting the underground netherworld with the upperworld. Living belowground is the evil Queen Siddonie, who wants control of both realms; attempting to stop her is Melissa, a kidnapped abovegrounder. The book offers a diverse collection of characters, from the elusive Catswolders who are able to shape shift between human and cat form; to the cantankerous but warm-hearted Harpie; the magnificent, powerful Griffon; and the Black Dragon of the Hellpit, who epitomizes everything that is loathsome. Rich, descriptive imagery is found on every page, making this underground world come alive. And in the end, the power of art, magic, images, and love help Melissa as she overcomes the malevolent queen.
– Pam Spencer, Jefferson Sci-Tech, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Though the reviews are from and out of print unavailable edition this book is still available I got the reviews from Amazon.com where the book is in stock.
Hope this Helps – Cass

Thomas asks…

What books are recommended for 13 year old girls?

I’m 13 and I want to develop interest in reading … I want to know about books that are appropriate for 13 year old girls and that have a whole series..

I have read
Twilight
Pretty little liars
Vampire diaries
Princess diaries
secret circle

(I love books about high school like if there are any books like mean girls(the movie)

New Niche Finder answers:

Definitely read one of these

Will Grayson Will Grayson:

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

The Fault in our Stars (This is a really good book. I recommend if you’re into romance books)

“The Fault in Our Stars” starts one summer day when Hazel Lancaster goes to her cancer support group and meets Augustus Waters, a 17-year-old who happens to be missing a leg.

Looking for Alaska:

Miles Halter has no idea what’s in store for him when he transfers to his father’s old prep school. He certainly doesn’t anticipate rooming with a short, stocky boy nicknamed “The Colonel” who memorizes the capital and populations of all the countries in the world. He definitely doesn’t predict Takumi, the rapper with the fox hat, or Lara, the quiet Russian girl who is his first date. And he never anticipates a girl like Alaska Young coming into his life and changing it forever.

An Abundance of Kathrines:

When it comes to relationships, everyone has a type. Colin Singleton’s type is girls named Katherine. He has dated–and been dumped by–19 Katherines. In the wake of The K-19 Debacle, Colin–an anagram-obsessed washed-up child prodigy–heads out on a road trip with his overweight, Judge Judy- loving friend Hassan. With 10,000 dollars in his pocket and a feral hog on his trail, Colin is on a mission to prove a mathematical theorem he hopes will predict the future of any relationship

Paper Towns:

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life–dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge–he follows
After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues–and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.

(All of those are by John Green. One of my favorite authors!

Maximum Ride (omfg I absolutely love this series! I don’t think you understand. This is literally one of favorites out there! It is absolutely amazing!)
The first book is “The Angel Experiment”:

The book is set in the present and centers around the ‘Flock’, a group of human-avian hybrids (98% human, 2% bird) on the run from the scientists who created them. It focuses on Max (Maximum) Ride, the leader of the ‘Flock’, and the first-person narrator of the story.

The Pickle King by: Rebecca Promitzer

Bea lives in the nowhere town of Elbow, where it rains so much the residents have green mold growing between their toes. Nothing ever happens in Elbow. Its closest claim to fame is a giant pickle factory, owned by Herman, the Pickle King. Herman’s a small-time big shot, a local celebrity…until he turns up dead. And when Bea and Sam stumble across the body–minus one eyeball–in the water-logged basement of a creepy old house, suddenly THEY’RE ones in a pickle! With a mystery to solve, maybe this summer won’t be such a bore after all…

Unwind by: Neal Shusterman (Really amazing! I highly recommend no matter what books you’re into)

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state, is not talented enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape – and to survive.

Uglies by: Scott Westerfield (Haven’t read this but heard it was good)

After befriending the Crims, a group of fellow teens who refuse to take anything in society at face value, Shay starts to question the whole concept of being transformed from an ordinary “Ugly” into a paragon of beauty. And as the Crims explore beyond the monitored borders of Uglyville into the forbidden, Shay must choose between the perks of being Pretty and the rewards of being real.

Hope this helps

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