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Book Reviews
Book Reviews – January
By Billie A. Williams
January, 2007, 08:00

Tune into IN reviews for the best of books about writing – all genres – from high adventure to haiku, from fact to fiction, cookbooks to commentary, and much, much more. Always check IN to see what's in. We only publish the best and our rating scale below is based upon the values of the three Es: Ease To Read, Educational, and Entertaining. If you have a how-to-write book that you would like us to read and possibly write a review about (we only publish reviews of books that we deem are best of the best) please send it to us. Our snail mail address can be found on our Contacting IN page.

Title: The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon with Hal Blythe & Charlie Sweet
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
ISBN: 0-89879-632-6
IN Rating:

Review: Sherrilyn Kenyon has made a life of studying languages, mythology, fairy lore and history. She has pulled together a superb collection of names with their meaning, ethical ties and more.

The importance of giving your characters a name that suits their roll in the story enhances both the story and the character. Kenyon uses her fifteen plus years of research to supply the writer with valid names form sources such as family bibles, historical writings, mythology, archaic birth records, and literature.

She talks about the difficulty of arranging the names by country of origin and how the meaning may be so different as we cross borders. As a means of illustration, she chooses the word "dip." In English, it can mean a stupid person, a hole in a road, something to use with chips, or part of a dance step. Trying to find a suitable word to relay the same meaning in another language can present a huge problem. She goes on to demonstrate with the word “cour” – in German it means suitor, in French it means heart. The same challenges apply to names and their pronunciation depending on how translation is given and where the reader is from.

Kenyon defines and examines three large categories of names by their origins and concludes, "The beginning of wisdom is learning to call things by their right names." Kenyon's conclusion is supported by an old Chinese saying, ". . . names have meaning in themselves; each name has a meaning and a significance."

Phone books, baby naming books, people you know are all okay sources for names for your characters, but if you really want your fictional character’s name to carry some weight, enrich your story with new or expanded meaning. I’d recommend you snap up a copy of this book for your reference shelf.

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Title: How To Write A Dirty Story: Reading, Writing, And Publishing Erotica
Author: Susie Bright
Publisher: Fireside/Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0-7432-2623-2
IN Rating:

Review: Susie Bright is the top authority on writing contemporary erotica, according to most critiques. Her anthologies of the best erotica of the year have a large and continued following and always receive rave reviews.

In How To Write A Dirty Story, Ms. Bright takes the aspiring author through practical writing exercises to create compelling, believable, and tasteful romance scenes. Learn to write hot by turning up the sexual tension by degrees while developing a plot worthy of the reader’s time and attention.

"Don’t wonder how much sex is enough, or too much. Let the truth of the situation determine the power of imagination." More than once, Bright urges the writer to be true to her story and her characters resulting in a good read.

A sagging middle has always plagued writers. Bright suggests if you have either a sagging middle or a hole in your story, try using a device she calls using clichés. In this exercise, she offers a list for conflicts, climaxes to the conflict, and conclusions. She instructs the writer to pick one of each of these and cram that small string of sentences into the hole, the lag, or the dead spot in your story using whatever device you need to make it fit. Here are her exact words: “Insist on cramming this stupid cliché into your story line. It won’t fit of course; it’s not your idea! Write a couple of paragraphs around the concept, using everything you know about your primary characters. Have some fun with it."

The exercise doesn't necessarily solve your story problem, but it does engage your mind, and you are ready to create something that does fit. She says toss that cliché out of your story and write the perfect one.

Bright doesn’t take writing erotica lightly. Rather, she guides the writer through the rigors of writing a great story with a solid plot; the romance and the sex scenes fit into the natural flow of the plot and must contribute to the forward movement of that plot. Bright’s no-holds-barred, down-to-earth instruction does not encourage pornography, but elevates erotica to a perfect balance of fiction and sizzling romance. Tastefully presented, laced with solid information, Bright creates a fiction writer’s instruction manual. Knowing your characters, knowing their emotional, psychological, and worldly needs to develop fully rounded, believable story people is the aim of every good writer, and Bright shows you how. This book can help kick your writing to a higher level of excellence.

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If you like this review, take a look at 'Our Members Library Of Recommended Reading' for books that have made a significant difference in our members' writing careers.

Title: The Portable MFA In Creative Writing
Author: The New York Writer's Workshop
Publisher: Witer's Digest Books
ISBN-10: 1582973504
ISBN-13: 978-1582973500
IN Rating:

Review: The Portable MFA in Creative Writing is, as the title suggests, a rigorous in-depth look at all the parts needed to earn your MFA in Creative Writing without the cost or travel of classroom commitment. It audaciously covers a plethora of topics in fiction, memoirs, personal essays, magazine articles, poetry, and playwriting as well as providing many tips and insights into learning these genres. There is more here than you would think possible in a book this size.

The tips include how to do your own revisions, cranking up your productivity, reading lists for each topic covered, and exercises to try out the lessons demonstrated by each instructor of the New York Writer’s Workshop. Portable MFA gives you the core, the encouragement, and the method to develop your expertise.

Tomlinson gives detailed instruction on developing fictional scenes. He suggests using certain rules of thumb such as how long a scene must be. He emphasizes that you should get in late and leave early using all the space you need to do that effectively. He strongly suggests you intersperse narration and dialogue.

The book is intense, concise, and packed full of learning. It requires your active participation. Just reading it you will gain knowledge, but if you actually work through the exercises and read the recommended books, you will come away with an education worthy of the title Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

This is not a simple text. It is not light reading, it doesn’t make learning what is contained in Portable MFA a Master of Fine Arts degree, but learning what is contained in an MFA is an education in 278 pages of fine print. For these reasons, I highly recommend The Portable MFA as a book to buy, read, work through, and refer to again and again as you develop your writing career.

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If you like this review, take a look at Our Members Library Of Recommended Reading for books that have made a significant difference in our members' writing careers.

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Billie A. Williams lives in Amberg, a small rural northern Wisconsin community. She has published over fifteen novels ranging from Cozy Mystery, Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Young Adult Historical Adventure and more. She writes a “Whodunit?” Column for Voice In The Dark Newsletter for the and is owner/manager of three writing groups. Go to for more information about her.

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