What's on Your Writer's Bookshelf?

If you live in the U.S., you're probably familiar with that series of credit card commercials that always end, "What's in your wallet?" I was thinking about that the other day as I was browsing my book shelves at home and wondering what kind of books other writers keep around.

Writers are different readers from normal (i.e., sane) people. We not only write for a living, we read for a living as well. We have to read other writers in our own genre to see what the competition is doing (and learn from them). We read for research, so we don't make big mistakes like saying Paris is the capital of Great Britain. And we read to improve our craft.

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 operations as a U.S. Coastguardsman, a military policeman, and a sheriff's reservist. Heck, I was even trained as a SWAT medic.

As a result, my bookshelves are filled with books and manual acquired from attending various law enforcement training programs. Yet I still have a number of books that were written about law enforcement 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.

Over the years, I've written many articles for magazines and websites on military history. As a result, my bookshelves are crammed with history books on everything from the Napoleonic Wars to the latest conflicts. While these were collected to support my nonfiction writing, they still come in useful for my fiction work.

For instance, when I was writing my military mystery thriller, The Killing Depths, I needed to learn as much as I could about submarines and submarine warfare. Fortunately, I already had several books about submarines, though I ended up buying and reading several more. My history collection also was helpful in writing my noir mystery, Empty Places, which takes place in the mid-1980s and tangentially involves the U.S. involvement in proxy wars in Central America.

My latest book was a step outside the normal lane of thrillers. Eden: A Sci-Fi Novella invokes a great deal of history and religious symbolism. In writing it, I found Carl Jung's Man and His Symbols extremely helpful. Eden describes an alternative history of the rise of mankind.

The narrator is an U.S. Army captain named Adam Cadman, which is an alternate spelling for Adam Kadmon. In the religious writings of Kabbalah, Adam Kadmon is the original or "primordial" man, and that theme runs through the entire book. It was reading Jung's book that gave me the idea for Captain Adam Cadman, and I have turned to the book again and again for inspiration for other writing projects.

Like most authors, I have a number of books on writing. One of my favorites is David Morrell's The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing. Morrell, who created the character Rambo in his novel First Blood, is considered by many to be the father of the modern thriller. In Successful Novelist, Morrell uses his own writing career to illustrate the do's and don'ts of novel writing and publishing.

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

As all good writers should, I always have a collection of dictionaries and thesauri. 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.

As an independent author, I'm not only the writer of my books; I'm their public relations and marketing director as well. One of the first books I picked up for this was Shelley Hitz's Marketing Your Book on Amazon: 21 Things You Can Easily Do For Free to Get More Exposure and Sales, which I found extremely helpful.

Fellow indie author Jay Allan Storey, author of futuristic dystopian novel, Eldorado, recommended to me Tom Corson-Knowles' book The Amazon Analytics Bible: How To Use Analytics To Sell More Books On Amazon And Make Better Marketing Decisions, which I also found immensely helpful. Another writing colleague, Seumas Gallacher, author of the the Jack Calder series of thrillers, wrote the very informative and frequently hilarious, Self-Publishing Steps To Successful Sales.

Perhaps you have certain books you turn to for help on your research, writing, or marketing. So I ask you, "What's on your bookshelf?"