March 11 – 17: “What books are next to you when you write?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5A dictionary or thesaurus? The Chicago Manual of Style? Or, maybe nothing writing-related at all? This week join ITW Members Kay Kendall, Eileen Cook, Sherry Knowlton, J. H. Bográn, Meghan Holloway and Jerry Amernic as they discuss which books are next to them when they write? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss this!


Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She’s an instructor/mentor with The Creative Academy and Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program where she loves helping other writers. Eileen lives in Vancouver with two very naughty dogs.


Jerry Amernic’s first novel was Gift of the Bambino, about a boy and his grandfather and how they’re bound by baseball. His research on Babe Ruth led to BABE RUTH – A Superstar’s Legacy, the first book ever about the legacy of the man. His novels include The Last Witness about the last living survivor of the Holocaust in the year 2039, and Qumran about an archaeologist who makes a dramatic discovery in the Holy Land.


Before Kay Kendall began to write fiction, she was an award-winning international PR exec, working in the US, Canada, Russia, and Europe. Ask her about Moscow during the Cold War—and turning down a CIA job in order to attend Harvard. An avid fan of history, she chooses to set her books in times of turmoil and change—the Vietnam War, second wave feminism, Prohibition. After living in Canada’s frozen clime for some years, she and her Canadian husband have thawed out since 1990 in her ancestral home of Texas. They share their abode with three rescue rabbits and one bemused spaniel.


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.


Sherry Knowlton, award-winning author of the Alexa Williams suspense novels, Dead of Autumn, Dead of Summer, Dead of Spring and DEAD OF WINTER, developed a lifelong passion for books as a child. She was that kid who would sneak a flashlight to bed at night so she could read beneath the covers. All the local librarians knew her by name. Now retired from executive positions in the health insurance industry, Sherry runs her own health care consulting business. She is also “rewriting retirement” by turning her passion for writing into a new career. She draws on her professional background and global travel experiences as inspiration for her novels. Sherry lives in the mountains of south central Pennsylvania, where the Alexa Williams suspense series is set.


Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of well-told mysteries. She lives in the foothills of the Appalachians with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat. Her novel ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH will be published in May by Polis Books.


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  1. I generally have a stack of books next to me when I write. I keep a dictionary, a thesaurus, the Chicago Manual of Style, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style on my desk constantly, but the story I am working on determines the rest of the stack. My desk has not been as weighted down with reference material for the last months as I have been working on a contemporary thriller. When writing historical fiction, though, I find it to be as much of a research project as it is a writing endeavor, and I like to surround myself with material. As I was writing ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH, I had four WWII reference books, How to Read a Dress by Lydia Edwards, several of my old French textbooks, a WWII-era Red Cross map of Paris, a map of France, and a Driver’s Handbook for the Austin K2/Y published by Austin Motor in 1942 close at hand along with several nonfiction books that covered subjects specific to elements I incorporated into the story. My groaning desk has enjoyed the short reprieve but will soon be laden again.

  2. I own a quite lovely boxed set Dictionary and Thesaurus as well as several other assorted versions of both. When I first began writing novels, I thought I would refer to them often. But, I don’t often write in my office. My favorite spots are a comfortable couch in our sunroom and our gazebo in summer. So, I quickly tired of lugging around the boxed set and began using an on-line thesaurus instead.

    I found that I rarely refer to a dictionary. I don’t like to use words that are so arcane that I (or a reader) would have to look them up. I find that interrupts the flow of the story and the suspense.

  3. When it comes to writing historical novels, a great deal of research is done before I ever sit down to write anything. But once the writing process starts, I usually have a good old-fashioned dictionary and thesaurus within arm’s reach. But I rarely consult those books until much later. If you’re writing/creating and it’s moving along well, the last thing you want is to be looking up words since that just slows you down. You have to let it flow and any good writer knows when that’s happening. I will also have at hand the most important books, documents, articles, etc. that I’ve been using (prior to writing) for research and reference. I’m a stickler for historical and factual accuracy in my fiction – not everyone one is – but that’s just me. And another thing … I like absolute quiet. No music or anything like that.

  4. The pile near my desk is an ever changing and evolving thing. There are always research books (I am quite certain my library habits are going result on me ending up on some kind of watch list.) My favourite craft books include: Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, The Writer’s Journey by Vogler and Save the Cat by Synder. I used to have my old university dictionary (well loved and used) but it became too easy to use the online version when I want to check out a word in more detail.

    1. I keep the standard type how-to and reference books heaped around me. Turns out that is mostly for their good karma. I suppose that’s what it is as I rarely refer to them when I’m writing. Once upon a time I had a hard bound thesaurus, using it often. I adored it. But when the online dictionaries and thesaurus type websites got really good, I began to just use those. My writer’s lair is, I confess, a dreadful mess. When I need to dig up or check historical facts, I start to dig through piles of books to find the needed source. My so-called system works for me. I’ve been relieved lately to read that intelligent people are usually messy. That has to mean I’m amazingly brilliant!

  5. While I’m not particularly messy by nature, my desk is often the proverbial dog’s breakfast and I never seem to be able to get a handle on it. There is usually paper everywhere, which may be odd in this day of digitization. So I am also happy to learn that intelligent people are messy! Writers always seem to have something on the go. But I must admit that an online dictionary and thesaurus is part of the daily regimen for me too.

  6. In my earlier comment, I talked just about the dictionary and thesaurus and the fact that I use online versions when needed. But the question asked about Style Manuals and other resources that one might use while writing.

    Years ago, I carried my college journalist reliance on Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style into my day job. I used the book as a constant reference tool in the various types of writing that I did on a daily basis. But,somewhere along the line, the book ended up on my bookshelf. I haven’t opened it in years.

    My editor is an expert in the nuances of The Chicago Manual of Style.I must admit that I mostly rely on her considerable expertise in making sure that my books comply with these guidelines which have been adopted by my publisher.

  7. Jerry, you talked about research materials. My books are contemporary mystery/suspense but have a historical story that parallels then intersects with the main plot. So, I also do a good bit of research for that portion of my books as well as the contemporary part of the book. I do much, but not all, of my research in advance of writing. So, that is the one area where I do have books or papers or notes that I refer to as I’m writing. If I’ve researched something online, I’ll print out relevant pages so I’ll have the information available as I’m working on my first draft.

  8. Sherry, I do the same thing. But sometimes, when I’m writing, a plot line will change or a character will do something and all of a sudden I may be in a new area entirely. And that invariably will involve new sources of information and research, what have you. I tend to over-research which may be a function of the fact that I enjoy it, but it does lead to a lot of time and effort and, of course, paper.

  9. I tried unsuccessfully to look for an old pic of my desk. It captured the books that are always near when I write. Oh well, they say a picture says more than a thousand words, and since I´m now sans pic, I´ll try to tell the tale, but I´ll be shorter than 1k. You can thank me later. 🙂
    The first one, the most used, is a Merriam-Webster dictionary in English. Then I have a thesaurus, and phrasal-verb dictionary, and for all three, the equivalent in Spanish as I write in both languages. Experiences in previous novels have added a couple of other foreign language dictionaries like French, Korean, German, among others.
    Another important writing tool is a book on editing, Stephen King’s On Writing, and various others craft-related texts.
    As for digital books, I have a couple always available in the nearby Kindle that include, more dictionaries and The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, as well as Writing the Cozy Mystery by Nancy J. Cohen and the Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass.
    Several of those non-fiction books I´ve read more than once.

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