The best novels featuring classic writers as characters

Why am I passionate about this?

Visiting author houses and museums has always been a favored pastime of mine and was the inspiration to write the travel guide Novel Destinations. Complementary to writing nonfiction about classic writers, I love reading novels featuring them as characters. Fiction authors adhere to biographical details as well, but they have a freer hand with the narrative to color outside the lines and to color in details and explore feelings and motivations. Through their narratives they turn these literary figures into flesh-and-blood characters and allow the reader to step into their storied lives. 

I wrote...

Novel Destinations: A Travel Guide to Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West

By Shannon McKenna Schmidt, Joni Rendon,

Book cover of Novel Destinations: A Travel Guide to Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West

What is my book about?

Check into Hemingway’s favorite Sun Valley hotel. Stroll along the moody, windswept moors that inspired the Brontë sisters. Have a pint at the New York City tavern where O. Henry penned “The Gift of the Magi.”

Featuring more than 500 literary sites in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, Novel Destinations invites readers to follow in the footsteps of much-loved scribes. The book begins with thematic chapters covering author houses and museums, places to drink and dine, festivals, and walking tours. Also included are 11 in-depth “Journeys between the Pages” that roam through Franz Kafka’s Prague, James Joyce’s Dublin, Louisa May Alcott’s New England, and other locales. Filled with anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories, Novel Destinations is an entertaining, informative guide for wandering bibliophiles and armchair adventurers alike.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Daphne

Shannon McKenna Schmidt Why did I love this book?

Daphne has numerous elements that I particularly adore in a story: a classic writer as a character, an English manor house setting, and a mystery. Layer in a Brontë connection, and it’s a perfectly pleasing literary page-turner. In 1957, Daphne du Maurier is at her remote, seaside mansion in Cornwall, distracting herself from personal woes by researching a biography about Branwell Brontë, reprobate and possibly misunderstood brother of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. Intertwined is a second storyline set in present-day London, as a lonely young woman, newly married to a mysterious older man seemingly still in thrall to his first wife, becomes caught up in a fifty-year-old mystery involving du Maurier and the Brontës. 

By Justine Picardie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daphne as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is 1957. The author Daphne du Maurier, beautiful, famous, despairing as her marriage falls apart, finds herself haunted by Rebecca, the heroine of her most famous novel, written twenty years earlier. Resolving to write herself out of her misery, Daphne becomes passionately interested in Branwell, the reprobate brother of the Bronte sisters, and begins a correspondence with the enigmatic bibliophile Alex Symington as she researches a biography. But behind Symington's respectable scholarly surface is a slippery character with much to hide, and soon truth and fiction have become indistinguishable.In present-day London, a lonely young woman, newly married after a…

Book cover of The Dream Lover

Shannon McKenna Schmidt Why did I love this book?

Elizabeth Berg wanted to read a novel about George Sand but couldn’t find one…and so she wrote it herself. In The Dream Lover, Berg unfolds the story of Aurore Dupin, who boldly left a loveless aristocratic marriage to make her own way in 19th-century Paris. She adopts the pen name George Sand and becomes France’s bestselling female novelist, living a bohemian lifestyle and scandalizing society by having high-profile love affairs and, even more outrageously, by dressing in men’s clothing. I love stories about trailblazing women, and Berg compellingly conveys how risky and courageous Sand’s actions were at a time when women had few rights.

By Elizabeth Berg,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Dream Lover as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY USA TODAY • Elizabeth Berg has written a lush historical novel based on the sensuous Parisian life of the nineteenth-century writer George Sand—which is perfect for readers of Nancy Horan and Elizabeth Gilbert.

At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer,…

Book cover of The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

Shannon McKenna Schmidt Why did I love this book?

I deliberately read The Mystery of Mrs. Christie slowly so that I could savor the story longer. The novel alternates chapters between present-day 1926, after famous novelist Agatha Christie has disappeared and sparked a headline-making manhunt in England, and the decade or so leading up to it. The story of her disappearance and the possible reasons behind it is intriguing, but I especially enjoyed the chapters set in the past and getting to know Agatha as a young woman and an aspiring writer.

By Marie Benedict,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Mystery of Mrs. Christie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



"A stunning story... The ending is ingenious, and it's possible that Benedict has brought to life the most plausible explanation for why Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926."―The Washington Post

The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room returns with a thrilling reconstruction of one of the most notorious events in literary history: Agatha Christie's mysterious 11-day disappearance in 1926.

In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of…

Book cover of Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Shannon McKenna Schmidt Why did I love this book?

Adventure and romance abound in Under the Wide and Starry Sky. The novel features Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, sharp-shooting frontier woman Fanny Osbourne, and follows their remarkable, globetrotting life together. After meeting at an art colony in France, they spent nearly two decades together in a relationship filled with passion, drama, and heartache that played out across such varied landscapes as the coast of England, an abandoned mining camp in California, New York State’s Adirondack Mountains, and the South Seas, where they spent their last days together. The story made me cry at the end, which I always consider the sign of a good book. 

By Nancy Horan,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Under the Wide and Starry Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'FABULOUS' The Times
'FASCINATING' New York Times


At the age of thirty-five, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne leaves her philandering husband in San Francisco and sets sail for Belgium to study art, with her three children and nanny in tow. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her brood repair to a quiet artists' colony in France where she can recuperate. There she meets Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who is instantly smitten with the earthy, independent, and opinionated belle Americaine.

A woman ahead of her time, Fanny does…

Book cover of Vanessa and Her Sister

Shannon McKenna Schmidt Why did I love this book?

“Long ago Virginia decreed, in the way that Virginia decrees, that I was the painter and she the writer.” Vanessa and Her Sister is a portrait of two extraordinary and unconventional women, Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell. The story is told in the form of a diary kept by Vanessa, beginning at the turn of the 20th century with the formation of the Bloomsbury Group in London. Priya Parmar has created a sympathetic yet honest portrayal of Virginia Woolf, her genius and her often precarious mental state, and the impact it had on her family—in particular Vanessa, who was an important and steadying influence for her sister and a talented artist in her own right.

By Priya Parmar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Vanessa and Her Sister as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Notable Book • An Entertainment Weekly “Must List” Pick • “Prepare to be dazzled.”—Paula McLain • “Quite simply astonishing.”—Sarah Blake

What if Virginia Woolf’s sister had kept a diary? For fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank comes a spellbinding new story of the inseparable bond between Virginia and her sister, the gifted painter Vanessa Bell, and the real-life betrayal that threatened to destroy their family. Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as “an uncanny success” and based on meticulous research, this stunning novel illuminates a little-known episode in the celebrated sisters’ glittering…

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Book cover of Dulcinea

Ana Veciana-Suarez Author Of Dulcinea

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I became fascinated with 16th-century and 17th-century Europe after reading Don Quixote many years ago. Since then, every novel or nonfiction book about that era has felt both ancient and contemporary. I’m always struck by how much our environment has changed—transportation, communication, housing, government—but also how little we as people have changed when it comes to ambition, love, grief, and greed. I doubled down my reading on that time period when I researched my novel, Dulcinea. Many people read in the eras of the Renaissance, World War II, or ancient Greece, so I’m hoping to introduce them to the Baroque Age. 

Ana's book list on bringing to life the forgotten Baroque Age

What is my book about?

Dolça Llull Prat, a wealthy Barcelona woman, is only 15 when she falls in love with an impoverished poet-solder. Theirs is a forbidden relationship, one that overcomes many obstacles until the fledgling writer renders her as the lowly Dulcinea in his bestseller.

By doing so, he unwittingly exposes his muse to gossip. But when Dolça receives his deathbed note asking to see her, she races across Spain with the intention of unburdening herself of an old secret.

On the journey, she encounters bandits, the Inquisition, illness, and the choices she's made. At its heart, Dulcinea is about how we betray the people we love, what happens when we succumb to convention, and why we squander the few chances we get to change our lives.

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