A. Victoria Mixon, Editor
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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar for them, 'Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction.'

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Dear Editor, Galley Cat had an interesting twist for your hotel room: “According to the Midnight’s Children author Salman Rushdie will be selecting ten American classics to be featured in the guest rooms at New York City’s Standard Hotel.”

    I’m wondering: Which classics would you include for the average hotel guest, which books would you stock in a room for your clients/readers, and which books would you wish for your personal reading pleasure? Rather than ten books each, how about two or three for each, and one in common?—John Elicker

    Wow, ten? John, you’re talking to someone with probably 1500 books in her office, not counting the ones I share with my family on the bookshelves all across one end of our living room. When I die, it’s going to be from Book Overdose.

    Can I give you a list assuming those hotel guests are all aspiring writers? This is not to say these are the only excellent books I have on writing—they’re just the cream of the crop.

    On writing, for writers from beginners to adepts:

    1. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

    Both funny and kind, Lamott’s book is a classic mainly for its warm, self-deprecating voice. “If I can do it,” Lamott seems to be generously assuring the reader, “you can do it.”

    2. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

    A landmark book when it first came out, in it Goldberg has the audacity to suggest writing is about the magical craft rather than the market and then include dozens of wonderful little exercises for sinking ever-deeper into the experience.

    3. Screenplay, by Syd Field

    If you want to write stories readers want to read, you have to know how to structure them properly. Field’s the king.

    4. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne & Dave King

    When I discovered this book shortly after it came out in 1993, I immediately called my new agent up and interrupted her in a meeting with another author to tell her about it. Indie editors decades before publishing became what it is today, Browne & King are still active in the indie editor community.

    5. On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner

    Who hasn’t read Gardner’s classic work? “It is far more satisfying to write well than simply to write well enough to get published.”

    6. Mystery and Manners, by Flannery O’Connor

    I refer back to this one more than any other writing book I own. (And I own probably fifty over a hundred.) Charming and profound, O’Connor’s advice on writing just gets wiser and more meaningful the more often you read it.

    On being a writer:

    7. The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler, edited by Tom Hiney & Frank MacShane

    Read it for Chandler’s wonderful spoof on Hemingway, if for nothing else. This is the inside of the mind of a dedicated, brilliant novelist. (Don’t bother with the shallow early draft-ness of the not-really-Gothic Romance he was working on at the end of his life—he’d been wrecked, by that time, by the death of his wife.)

    8. Journal of a Novel, by John Steinbeck

    Again, the inside of the mind and daily life of a brilliant novelist with such beautiful words on being a writer I posted a whole article once made up entirely of quotes from it. “I don’t care how long it takes. . .You can’t train for something all your life and then have it fall short because you are hurrying to get it finished.”

    9. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard

    Lovely, truthful talk about what it means to be a writer, especially the chapter describing the morning her typewriter erupted lava. Over and over, throughout the years, I hear Dillard’s six-year-old neighbor’s words in my head, “Did you really write that story? Or did you type it?”

    10. The Notebooks of Henry James

    I can’t leave this one out. It will teach you exactly how to think like a great writer.

    Of course, John, you’re more than welcome to use my books on writing, The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual.

    Such an extraordinary craft this is, to which I’ve had the honor of dedicating my life.

    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story




    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


2 Responses to “10 best books for aspiring writers”

  1. Thank you for this post! When not writing, my favorite thing to do is read about it!

  2. Victoria Mixon said on

    You’d better check out 4 Advantages of Re-Reading, then! 🙂


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11 posts. . .because this blog goes to 11


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .

BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .

LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .

SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .

STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .

ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .

TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .

GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .

SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, forthcoming from Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .

LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel, The Shoebox, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .

JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .

LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .

JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .

In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.