Resources useful to a writer, not just one who writes fiction, as I do.

Remember, to be a great writer, if that is what you want, first you must be a great reader. Jump to any of these or browse the page:

What I’ve been reading
Recent reads
Older but still relevant

A Writer’s tools…

  • Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, by Georges Polti.
  • Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, by Virginia Tufte.
  • Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, on the craft of writing by the master himself, Elmore Leonard.
  • Line by Line, How to Edit Your Own Writing, by Claire Kehrwald Cook. Today you have to be your own editor. This book will help if you can overcome parental pride.
  • Sin and Syntax, How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose, by Constance Hale. The subtitle says it all.
  • Your Mythic Journey, by Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox. The art of storytelling.
  • The Yahoo! Style Guide, by Chris Barr and other editors at Yahoo!. None of us can escape the Internet so this style guide is as good as any.
  • Speaking of the Internet, knowledge of HTML and CSS are essential, so…
  • A Writer’s Reference, by Diana Hacker.

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What I’ve been reading

It is impossible for a writer not to be influenced by what he reads. Here are some of my recent reads, in no particular order. If you’ve read any of them, let’s discuss.


  • Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam, by Fredrik Logevall. This book takes up the story where Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly leaves off. They should be read together. The author anticipates George W. Bush and the Iraq War when he writes: “And there is this, finally, to say about America’s avoidable debacle in Vietnam: something very much like it could happen again. Not in the same place, assuredly, and not in the same way, but potentially with equally destructive results. This is the central lesson of the war. The continued primacy of the executive branch in foreign affairs—and within that branch of a few individuals, to the exclusion of the bureaucracy—together with the eternal temptation of politicians to emphasize short-term personal advantage over long-term national interests, ensures that the potential will exist. For it cannot be forgotten that, given their priorities, the decision by Lyndon Johnson and his closest advisers for major war in Vietnam made a horrible kind of sense. They were not evil individuals, but individuals who are not evil can enact policies that have evil consequences. A leader will assuredly come along who, like Johnson, will take the path of least immediate resistance and in the process produce disastrous policy—provided there is a permissive context that allows it. Lyndon Johnson’s War was also America’s War; the circle of responsibility was wide. If future Vietnams are to be prevented, the American people and their representatives in Congress will have to meet their responsibilities no less than those who make the ultimate decisions. Otherwise, American soldiers will again be asked to kill and be killed and their compatriots will again determine, afterward, that there was no good reason why.”
  • Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam, by Michael H. Hunt & Steven I. Levine. Brilliant on all counts.
  • Mastering Regular Expressions, Third Edition, by Jeffrey E.F. Friedl. I read this book to really understand regular expressions by really understanding how the regular expression engine processes regexes. However, as engrossing as this book is I had to stop while I read Arc of Empire and then I had to read Choosing War because of the footnotes in the Empire book. Only then could I return to Friedl. Success, except he chose to use a Perl version prior to the implementation of \K, which I am sure is going to be extremely useful as soon as we all (me?) understand all the clever ways to use it.
  • The Mortal Storm, by Phyllis Bottome. Profoundly moving.
  • The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam, by Bao Ninh. They were just like us… except a tour of duty was for the duration, unlike one year, as it was for us. The second best book written about the Indochina War. Read it along with FitzGerald’s Fire in the Lake.
  • When Presidents Lie, by Eric Alterman.
  • Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas. The hunting down and murder of members of Black September.
  • Free Fire Zone by Rob Riggan, a harrowing memoir told in fictional form of a tour of duty in an American field hospital in Vietnam.
  • Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. I thought we’d seen the last of this sort of thing when LBJ departed the political scene. The Bush minions must have studied how Robert McNamara and Lyndon handled the Gulf of Tonkin incident and went them one better. Nothing ever changes.
  • The Dying Animal, by Philip Roth. What a great read. Until the very end you don’t have a clue that it’s Consuela that’s in desperate medical straits rather than David.
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Won the Pulitzer for best fiction in 2011.
  • Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, by Georges Polti. You’ll see this one in my list of writing resources too.
  • The Wrecking Crew, How Conservatives Rule, by Thomas Frank
  • Ho Chi Minh, A Life, by William J. Duiker. About a skinny guy with a scraggly beard who changed the world.
  • The Night Manager, by John le Carré
  • The World According to Garp, by John Irving
  • Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964 by Robert J. Hanyok, the motivation for my short story, When Devils Advocacy Fails… Bad Things Happen

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Earlier reading that still moves me

  • Fire in the Lake, The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam by Frances FitzGerald. The best book written about the Vietnam War.
  • Whistle, by James Jones. The story of four wounded American World War II soldiers from the same infantry company returned from the South Pacific to a hospital in the American South to recover from their wounds. Noteworthy also; Jones makes the best case in fiction why men should go down on their women.
  • Be Cool, by the master, Elmore Leonard.
  • The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, perhaps the best crime fiction writer of all time.
  • The Keys to the White House, A Surefire guide to Predicting the Next President, 2008 ed., by Allan J. Lichtman. My wife and I argued endlessly about whether Barack would win the election. Of course, we both wanted him to win but she thought Mittens might win. I kept telling her to read Lichtman and relax; he can’t lose.
  • The Battle for Rome, The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943 – June 1944 by Robert Katz.
  • Bushworld, Enter at your own Risk, by the Cobra, Maureen Dowd.
  • The March of Folly, by Barbara Tuchman; essential reading for general political awareness. I recommend this book to friends who are parents of military age children, before they become cannon fodder, and of course, to those children.
  • The Seesaw Log, A chronicle of the stage production, with the text, of Two for the Seesaw, by William Gibson.
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, by Pablo Neruda, English translation by W.S. Merwin. I’m making good progress reading him in Spanish.
  • Storm Island/Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett. Won an Edgar in 1979. Lucy Rose is a marvelous heroine. I’m sure I was influenced by the way Follett wrote her when I wrote Catherine Duvall.
  • The Honey Badger, by Robert Ruark. “There is a bloody brave little animal called the honey badger in Africa. It may be the meanest animal in the world. It kills for malice and for sport, and it does not go for the jugular – it goes straight for the groin. It has a hell of a lot in common with the modern American woman.” Please note the quotation marks.
  • The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, by Eric S. Raymond. If you want to understand the open-source movement, read this book.
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Some of it, maybe most of it, has arrived.
  • All The Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy
  • We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, Ia Drang: The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam, by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway. Skip the movie and read the book. The movie was awful. It omitted the march from X-Ray to Albany, when most of the American casualties were taken. They had to hump to Albany because some of the helicopter pilots refused to fly into X-Ray under fire. It should have told the Pentagon planners we could not win. Instead, they drew the wrong conclusion.
  • The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
  • Son of the Morning Star, by Evan S. Connell. Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn; from the white POV.
  • Soldiers Falling Into Camp, The Battles at the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn, by Robert Kammen, Joe Marshall and Frederick Lefthand. The Battle of the Little Big Horn from the Indian POV.
  • Dances With Wolves, by Michael Blake. Stupid, stupid, stupid to change a splendid story and make a mediocre movie… except for Mary McDonnell. She was/is awesome.
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, An Indian History of the American West, by Dee Brown.
  • The Ox-Bow Incident, by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.
  • Gentleman’s Agreement, by Laura Z. Hobson.
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Earnest Hemingway.

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