July 22 – 28: “Tell us about your favorite book on the craft of writing.”

thriller-roundtable-logo5On WritingPlot and StructureWriting the Breakout Novel…this week we’re joined by ITW Members Sheila Lowe, J. H. Bográn, R. J. Pineiro, Arthur Kerns, Elizabeth Blake and Lee Murray as they tell us their favorite book on the craft of writing, and why. Grab a pencil and paper and get ready to write these titles down! Scroll down to the “comments” section below to follow along.


Like her fictional character, Claudia Rose, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting examiner. The mother of a tattoo artist and a former rock star, she lives in Ventura, California. She is the author of five nonfiction books on handwriting psychology and seven in the Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series. Her new series is the Beyond the Veil Mysteries. Sheila frequently appears in the media when handwriting is in the news.


Lee Murray is a double Bram Stoker Award-nominee and multi-award-winning writer and editor (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows). The author of the Taine McKenna military horror series, and several novels for children, she is also the co-author of the Path of Ra supernatural crime-noir series (with Dan Rabarts), and the editor of ten anthologies of dark fiction. Lee lives with her family in New Zealand where she conjures up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock. She tweets @leemurraywriter



Elizabeth Blake (Carole Buggé, Carole Lawrence) is a New York-based suspense writer, performer, composer and prize-winning playwright and poet whose previous books have been praised as “lively. . .” (Publishers Weekly); “constantly absorbing. . .” (starred Kirkus Review); and “superbly crafted prose” (Boston Herald).  Pride, Prejudice and Poison is the first of her Jane Austen Society mystery series.  Edinburgh Twilight and Edinburgh Dusk are the first two of her Ian Hamilton historical mysteries.  Titan Press recently reissued her two Sherlock Holmes novels, The Star of India and The Haunting of Torre Abbey.  Her Lee Campbell thrillers, under the name C.E. Lawrence, include Silent Screams and its sequels, are about a criminal profiler chasing serial killers in New York City.


Arthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. A past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) his award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. Diversion Books, Inc. NY published his espionage thrillers, The Riviera Contract, The African Contract and The Yemen Contract. A new novel, Days of the Hunters, will be released in 2020.


J. H. Bográn is an international 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. He 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. His motto is “I never tell lies, I only write them!”


Born in Cuba and raised in Central America, R. J. Pineiro spent several years in the midst of civil wars before migrating to the United States in the late 1970s, first to Florida to attend Florida Air Academy in Melbourne. There, R. J. earned a pilot’s license and high school diploma in 1979 before heading to Louisiana for college. R. J. earned a degree in electrical engineering from Louisiana State University in 1983 and joined the high-tech industry in Austin Texas, working in computer chip design, test, and manufacturing. R. J. is married to L. M. Pineiro, an artist and jewelry designer. They have one son, Cameron & daughter-in-law Sarah, and two crazy dogs, Coco and Zea.


  1. In front of me is a stack of books on writing that over the years have accumulated in my bookcase. Stephen King’s, On Writing; Lawrence Block’s, Writing the Novel; Strunk and White’s classic, The Elements of Style are what I consider essential reading for anyone who has the courage to begin their first novel—or their sixth. However, the one book I pack on vacation so I can read it at leisure is Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird. For the novice and the seasoned writer embarking on the formable task of writing a novel, this knowing, humorous, and wise book gives you a great pep talk. Start your work, word by word, sentence by sentence, scene by scene, chapter by chapter and before you know it you’re finished.

  2. With more than sixty books on writing on my shelves, it’s hard to pick a favorite. The first two that come to mind are Self-editing for Fiction Writers (How to edit yourself into print) by Renni Browne and Dave King——maybe because it was one of the first I read and learned from (I was tempted to say “really learned from,” but an adverb there would suggest I had not, in fact, learned all that much)——and the much-loved Getting The Words Right by Theodore Cheney. Waiting to be read is Creating by Robert Fritz, which is not a book on writing but promises to be “a practical guide to the creative process and how to use it to create anything——a work of art, a relationship, a career or a better life.” As his The Path of Least Resistance, taught me to see things in a new way, which improved my writing, this sounded good to me.

  3. The one essential book on my shelf is Story, by Robert McKee. I’ve read it five times, I’ve listened to the tapes, and I even created a 3 page condensed “cheat sheet” or Cliffs Notes version for a quick reminder of his major principals.

    It’s nominally about writing screenplays, but in truth it’s a treatise on the nature of story – how to make them exciting, what they can and can’t do, and how to get to the kernel of good story telling.

    In fact, I’ve recommended it so many times to my students that I often joke that I should get some of the royalties on his book.

    1. I have Story by Robert McKee sitting on my craft bookshelf, Carole, but I admit I haven’t read it. You’ve inspired me and now I feel I must. 🙂

  4. Hi Everyone! What a great question this week. For myself, I still believe that I have yet to write the best book I can, which means I’m always striving to make my work sharper, pacier, and leaner, and books which examine other people’s writing processes is a great way to discover new techniques. First and foremost, Stephen King’s On Writing provides a quintessential guide for all fiction writers—and from someone who has sold a few books and clearly knows what he’s talking about. I agree with Arthur Kearns’ comment above that Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird also provides helpful insights, particularly for writers creating work based on life stories; and, as an editor (as well as an author), I only wish more writers were familiar with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style!

    Another great resource of particular interest to horror-thriller authors is Where Nightmares Come From . In this fabulous compendium, Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson (eds) have gathered together a veritable who’s who of contemporary horror, with writers like Clive Barker, Tim Waggoner, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Morton, Marie O’Reagan, Jonathan Maberry, and Elizabeth Massie all contributing essays or interviews to the collection. Varied and revealing, this is an absolute must-read for anyone planning on writing horror-thriller works.

    I’d also like to mention a couple of down-under publications. As Carole Bugge jokes, I should probably demand royalties for these next two titles too, given how often I recommend them to my students and mentees. The first is The Psychology Workbook for Writers: Tools for Creating Realistic Characters and Conflict in Fiction by my Kiwi colleague, award-winning fantasy writer and psychologist-by-day, Darian Smith. For an insightful and practical way to develop realistic, rounded, and compelling characters, Smith’s workbook is an excellent resource. Smith provides workshops and presentations on this topic (both nationally and internationally) and, if you get the opportunity, I highly recommend attending one of those, but failing that, the book does a good job of covering the material. Though the title sounds weighty and serious, Smith is an expert in delivering complex ideas in a simple and effective manner. Finally, at some stage or another, most thriller writers are going to have to write a fight scene, and for that I recommend a little volume by Australian author and martial arts expert, Alan Baxter. Well-known for his gritty high action supernatural thrillers, Baxter’s book Write the Fight Right is perfect for understanding what is going through the minds and hearts of combatants in these high drama moments. Easy to read in a single sitting, the price of this one is so tiny, you’ll wonder why you didn’t pick it up years ago.

    1. Awesome tips. My students loved Darian’s Psychology Workbook for Writers – the tips are amazing, and like King’s On Writing, it’s really accessible. I must try Alan Baxter’s Write the Fight Right – for those pesky fight scenes! 🙂

  5. I was initially going to play it safe and recommend the classic must-have for all writers, The Elements of Style, but I’m feeling a little dangerous this week, so I’ll go with Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft. The master of horror gives you two books in one. The first part is a great autobiography that offers an almost satirical look at his personal life and writing career. Reading it, you’ll get a good sense for why the man writes and thinks the way he does. It’s quite an entertaining and inspirational story that will leave you wanting to write with the greatest enthusiasm each and every day, as he does.

    But wait, there’s more. King then gives you an entire second section that I found most interesting. It dives into the art of writing by providing you with a great tool kit that not only includes the classic advice on plot, characterization, and sentence structure, but also provides a great reading list and a fascinating dissection of the works of novelist giants like Hemingway, Grisham, Kellerman, and even Elmore Leonard. King emphasizes the importance of this “literary surgery” as a tool to learn from the masters, and I couldn’t agree more. He also does a terrific job in this second section intertwining writing advice with his own career successes and failures. So, there you go. It’s an oldie (published in 2000) but the advice is as relevant today as when it was first released.

    1. You know, before On Writing I had never read anything from Stephen King. After I read all the trivia bits he included about his early works I started to read: Salem’s Lot, the Dark Tower 1, and others. A hefty ultimate edition of “The Stand” is waiting for me in a bookshelf. It’s been there gathering dust for years. Really need to make the time and get to it because time and time again I hear it’s his best work.

      1. I still remember my first King novel, THINNER, back in the 80s. It truly scared the hell out of me and I became hooked since. It’s a quick read. THE STAND is something else. Read it a while back. It’s certainly worth the time. I picked up ON WRITING completely by accident while browsing some bookstore in Austin back in the mid 2000s. Its been by my side since. Hope you enjoyed NYC!

      2. I still remember my first King novel, THINNER, back in the 80s. It truly scared the hell out of me and I’ve been hooked since. It’s a quick read. THE STAND is something else. Read it a while back. It’s certainly worth the time. I picked up ON WRITING completely by accident while browsing some bookstore in Austin back in the mid 2000s. Its been by my side since. Hope you enjoyed NYC!

  6. Whenever I’m writing there are a couple of books lying around close by. The first one is a good dictionary, a hefty one that includes a thesaurus. Next to it, is the apparently new classic Stephen King’s On Writing. One of my favorite ones is The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass.

    There are some books that appeal in general, but others are genre-oriented, such is the case of Nancy Cohen’s Writing the Cozy Mystery. I read that when it came out, and then again right before writing my latest novel Poisoned Tears.

    As the Roundtable Coordinator, I had a hidden agenda with this question. Now is the time to reveal it: you can always learn more!

    Only because you have enjoyed success doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know, and as writers, we need to continue to strive for excellence.

    Sharing recommendations seemed like a good idea at the time. 🙂

    1. Hey Jose –
      I like hidden agendas, especially for crime writers, heh heh. I’ve known Don Maass for years, or as I like to call him, the evil Don Maass. Sort of kidding – it’s a long story. His writing books are well written and useful, I agree.

      I have Nancy’s book too, and I should really reread it! If I had before I wrote Pride, Prejudice and Poison, I bet I would have had less rewrites…. my head was too much in the thriller world (sigh.)

    2. I haven’t read this one by Donald Mass. Thanks you for pointing it out – I have made a note to get a copy. However, I have purchased several copies of Donald Mass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook : Hands-on Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed, which is a fabulous hands-on approach to novel development (and which makes a great gift for emerging novelists). In fact, I picked up Mass’ workbook on the recommendation of Jonathan Maberry, who confided that he buys a new one each time he plans a new novel, and I have never read a Maberry title I didn’t like, so it must work! Another similar workbook-style approach is The NovelReady Novel Planner (softcover), a workbook which helps writers to structure and plan their novel from the outset. A modest and unassuming volume, this latter doesn’t have the theory vignettes of Mass’ titles, but any novelist who fills in the workbook pages following the structure outlined is going to have their novel structure sorted. A wonderful interactive guide that takes the heartache out of planning, and avoids the likelihood of writing yourself into a corner. The problem is real!

  7. Also Imppro by Keith Johnstone – it’s ostensibly about improvisation, but it’s also a meditation on the nature of creativity. Everyone in the comedy world was carrying around a copy back in the 90’s when I was doing improv for a living. It’s an essential part of my library.

  8. Thank you for the mentions, Jose and Carole. In case you’re not aware, Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition is now available in print and ebook formats. This version has seven new chapters and triple the content of the first edition. As far as a favorite book on the craft of writing, I don’t have one in particular to recommend. I bought a book back in the day called Structuring Your Novel that took me step-by-step through the process. Then I focused on more on genre writing guides. These days, I’ll read whatever relates to the research topics in my books.

  9. This thread is a treasure. Thanks everyone for the recommendations. I am walking away with seven new books and I am excited to read them. I have already read Donald Mass, Stephen King and a few others but happy to find new ones here.

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