January 21 – 27: “Which books would you recommend to new writers?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week ITW members Jess Montgomery, Larry Loftis, William L. Myers, Jr., J. H. Bográn, Samuel W. Gailey, Gigi Pandian, Martin Roy Hill and Keenan Powell will discuss which books they would recommend to writers who are just getting started. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along – you’ll be sorry if you don’t!


William L. Myers, Jr. is the No. 6 bestselling author for Amazon Kindle in 2017 for his debut. Once you pick up his legal thriller and bestselling novel, A Criminal Defense, it becomes obvious he is not new to the intricacies of the legal profession. Open A Criminal Defense and you’ll find yourself lost in a labyrinth of deceits and hidden agendas, a world where everyone has a secret. You never know what is going to happen next or when the plot is going to take another unexpected turn.


Samuel Gailey was raised in a small town in northeast Pennsylvania (population 379) and now resides on Orcas Island with his wife, author Ayn Gailey, and daughter. The Guilt We Carry is his second novel, following the critically acclaimed Deep Winter (Penguin). Gailey’s novels are intriguing studies of human nature and portray how the simplest act of fate can alter and shatter lives. Before writing novels, he wrote and developed shows for Showtime and Fox.


Martin Roy Hill is the author of the Linus Schag, NCIS, thrillers, the Peter Brandt thrillers, and the award-winning short story collection DUTY, and EDEN: A Sci-Fi Novella. Martin’s short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, ALT HIST: The Journal of Historical Fiction and Alternative History, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Crimson Streets, Nebula Rift, Devolution Z, and others. His latest Linus Schag thriller, The Butcher’s Bill, was named 2017 Best Suspense Thriller by the Best Indie Books Awards, the 2017 Clue Award for Mystery and Suspense from the Chanticleer International Book Awards, 2018 First Place for Adult Fiction from the California Author Project, and the 2018 Silver Medal for Thrillers from the Readers Favorite Book Awards.


Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mystery series, inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff and published by Minotaur Books. THE WIDOWS, the first book in the series, is set in 1920s Appalachia and follows two women who investigate murder and fight for their community. Jess is also a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News.


Larry Loftis is the international bestselling author of the nonfiction spy thriller, INTO THE LION’S MOUTH: The True Story of Dusko Popov — World War II Spy, Patriot, and the True Life Inspiration for James Bond.



José H. Bográn is a bilingual author of novels, short stories and scripts for television and film. He’s the son of a journalist, but ironically prefers to write fiction rather than facts. His genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. As a freelance writer, he has several articles published in a wide range of topics. Currently divides his time as Resource Development Manager for Habitat for Humanity Honduras, teaching classes at a local university, and writing his next project. He lives in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with his wife, three sons and a “Lucky” dog.


Gigi Pandian is a USA Today bestselling and Agatha and Lefty Award-winning mystery author, breast cancer survivor, and accidental almost-vegan. The child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India, she spent her childhood traveling around the world, and now lives outside San Francisco with her husband and a gargoyle who watches over the garden. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories.


Keenan Powell illustrated the original Dungeons and Dragons, then ditched art for law school. The day after graduating, she moved to Alaska where she continues to practice. She is the author of the Maeve Malloy series set in contemporary Alaska. Her debut, Deadly Solution, was published in 2018. The second in the series, Hemlock Needle, is being published in January of 2019.



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  1. Rather than recommending a long list of specific books (I’ve got a bookshelf filled with dozens that have helped me over the years) I can divide my main recommendations into three categories:

    1. A writing craft book that teaches you the three act structure of storytelling. My favorite it Alexandra Sokoloff’s SCREENWRITING TIPS FOR AUTHORS. Even if you think you know it, a book can help you figure out gaps in your novel if you feel something is missing or not compelling.

    2. A writing book that gives you writing prompts to get your creative juices flowing. Select books that resonate with you personally. Some of the most helpful to me are Donald Maass books, beginning with WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.

    3. Rereading your favorite novels to see how the author pulled off creating such a successful story. This is often the most difficult, because if you’re like me, you’ll get swept up in the adventure yet again, and find it difficult to see the nuts and bolts of the story structure!

    Those three types of books helped me get me first novel published, and I continue to use them.

  2. Smack in the middle of a project, have you ever been gripped by gut-watering fear? Why am I doing this? What’s the point? That’s normal. And it probably has nothing to do with the quality of your work. Periodically, I dig out my copy of Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland who explain the natural process the suffering artist suffers. The book is soothing, like a nice cup of tea and a warm blanket. Read it and then get back to work.
    Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron gives you the nuts and bolts of plotting, dialogue, clues and red herrings, suspense, action and so much more. This is another book I read and re-read. It is the most comprehensive how-to manual and a must for any beginning mystery writer.
    Story grows from character. There are no two ways around it. The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV by David Corbett is an in-depth analysis of building character with exercises after every chapter. Before I start a new project, I pull this gem out, read it again, and do all the exercises, typing them up and printing them to put into my character bible three-ring binder in the process building a backstory that I can draft into the story.

  3. I teach a class on the business side of publishing in which I name two books my students must have. The first is David Morrell’s The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing. The second is Bob Mayer’s Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author.

    In his book, Morrell uses his own writing career to illustrate the do’s and don’ts and the potential pitfalls of novel writing and publishing, both on the creative end and on the business end. In Write It Forward, Mayer analyzes the current state of the dwindling publishing industry and how the traditional path to becoming a published novelist–write book, find agent, agent finds publisher–is becoming more difficult and, perhaps, even unattainable.

    Stephen King’s On Writing should be in every writer’s book case, of course. However, the first and last thirds are more autobiography than writing advice. The gem of this book is really the middle part where King discusses the nuts and bolts of writing.

    Others books that have had an impact on my writing include Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, James N. Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II: Advanced Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling, and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

    Two reference books every writer needs are the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style. When I’m not writing my own thrillers, I provide freelance editing services to publishers and writers. These two books are the publishing industry standards for spelling and writing style, so every writer needs to get familiar with them. (Merriam-Webster offers a free online version of their dictionary/thesaurus, too.)

    One unusual thesaurus I’ve found very helpful in my writing is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. When I get stuck on how to describe a character’s reaction to a situation, this book can usually help me get unstuck.

    I write thrillers and mysteries. When it comes to writing about crime, I benefit from a life in which I have worked as a police reporter for a daily newspaper, and been involved in law enforcement activities as a U.S. Coastguardsman, a military policeman, and a sheriff’s reservist. As a result, my shelves are filled with books and manuals acquired from attending various law enforcement training programs.

    Still I have a number of books that were written about crime specifically for writers. Among these are Anne Wingate’s Scene of the Crime: A Writer’s Guide to Crime Scene Investigation, Keith D. Wilson’s Cause of Death: A Writer’s Guide to Death, Murder, and Forensic Medicine, and the Mystery Writers of America’s Mystery Writer’s Handbook.

    Although I’ve been around firearms much of my adult life, I still have a copy of Michael Newton’s Armed and Dangerous: A Writer’s Guide to Weapons. Nothing ruins a good read for me than when a writer makes obvious mistakes about firearms, such as using “automatic pistol” and “revolver” interchangeably, or putting a suppressor (not silencer) on a revolver (doesn’t work), or calling a magazine a “clip” (clips load magazines).

    1. So many great recommendations here that I found myself nodding along at this great advice, but I’ve never read the very first one you recommended (David Morrell’s The Successful Novelist). I’m off to remedy that now!

  4. Greetings!

    For craft, I love “Goal, Motivation, Conflict,” by Debra Dixon. The method is simple enough, but it provides a great guideline for setting up characters, their motivations, and putting them in conflict with one another–from whence you can built a great plot!

    I struggle with beginnings, so I dearly love this book, which is based on the thesis that every writer struggles with either the beginning, middle or end of a novel. (Well, we might struggle with all three acts, but the notion is that one of them will be a writer’s weak spot.) The book is titled, simply enough, “Beginnings, Middles and Ends,” by Nancy Kress. She provides tips and techniques for helping writers deal with their particular weak area. It’s worth it to read the whole craft book.

    Another simply titled book is “Description,” by Monica Wood, and she delves into how to bring writing to life with descriptive techniques. I think this is particularly important for today’s writer, because our work must stand up to not only other novels, but to high-quality movies and television series–and the creators of those mediums have camera angles, actors and sound tracks–not to mention special effects–to bring the story to life! We have–words. So they need to be words that work for us to create a sense of immersion for the reader. “Description” can help with that.

    Finally, for keeping one’s course steady and mind sane in the writing life, turn to “Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment,” by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott.

  5. I learned writing from reading fiction. I had just last week discussed with other mystery writers which fiction books helped teach them to write. I recommend the iconic books that define the suspense field.

    In Cold Blood.
    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
    The Eye of the Needle.
    Rogue Male.
    Hound of the Baskervilles.

    Maybe a short story or two:
    Leinengen Versus the Ants.
    Children of the Corn.

    Not one of these is the least bit boring and all of them both serve to illustrate technique and to inspire.

    1. Gee Martin, I’m ashamed to admit to just reading 2 out of the 5 books you list. It’s an incredible list and will definitely work my way to complete it.

  6. I love quotes. So, my first book recommendation comes from a great quote by the great Dorothy Parker:
    “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of ‘The Elements of Style.’ The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

    The other book that must not be missing from any author’s writing space is a good old-fashioned dictionary. It’s been listed before, but I can’t exaggerate the importance of having a printed edition. Don’t trust Google with your book’s spelling!

    1. A good dictionary, absolutely. I love all those other peculiar words I find while looking up the one I want. Great for broadening the vocab.

      A thesaurus is handy for breaking out of stale word use.

    2. I mentioned earlier that as a freelance editor, I’m required to use the Merriam Webster’s dictionary because that’s the publishing industry standard. I usually use MW’s free online dictionary/thesaurus because it’s so easy to find what you’re looking for. If that’s not available, I have MW on my iPhone, and an MW offline app on my laptop. Oh, yes, I also have an old fashion printed one as well . . . if I could just remember where I put it . . .

  7. I’m going to mention a book here that I bought about 25 years at a garage sale even though it will be about impossible to find. I owe it homage.

    Hartrampf’s Vocabularies (copyright 1929). It is a thesaurus with thumbnail definitions. It was composed/compiled with passion. The author believed choosing the right words could save the world. (Twitter has proven the wrong words may just destroy the world.)

    From the introduction:

    “Vocabularies Everyone Should Know

    They add lustre, power, and brilliance to the description of extraordinary qualities.”

    All words fit in a word-wheel, a sort of astronomical/astrological universal connectedness of all thought, spinning out from a core of 24 words.

    Back to the introduction: “A study of the Chart will make it obvious that the 24 key-words shunt the mind into every quality that a subject may possess.”

    Perhaps the best innovation is that, given a particular subject (Dishonesty, e.g.) the entries are categorized into verbs (falsify, many others), adjectives (unprincipled), nouns (knavery), and persons (rogue).

    This taught me to write. Did I mean to choose a noun when a verb would be more powerful? It inspired rigor.

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