The best books to inspire and provoke thought in the creation of fiction

Robert Desiderio Author Of The Occurrence: A Political Thriller
By Robert Desiderio

Who am I?

My first memory of storytelling was as a kid reading Jules Verne’s, The Mysterious Island in the basement of my house in The Bronx where I grew up. It transported me to a  world of magic and mystery. The effect of that experience wouldn’t seriously take hold for decades when I realized the acting career I’d pursued for twenty years wasn’t where I was meant to be. Fascinated with mysteries and metaphysics and studying the world of past lives and reincarnation led me to incorporate this vast realm into what I write. The Occurrence, my first novel, took these ideas and thread them through a story of politics and spirituality. 


I wrote...

The Occurrence: A Political Thriller

By Robert Desiderio,

Book cover of The Occurrence: A Political Thriller

What is my book about?

A near-death experience in the Iraq desert transforms the lives of the FBI’s most wanted terrorist and his young disciple and alters the fate of a Pulitzer Prize-winning female journalist and a decorated U.S. Marine about to be executed. Guided by a visionary young girl from Peru they become aware of an ancient past and energy force placed deep under the desert sand thousands of years ago. 

The books I picked & why

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Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill

By Jessica Stern,

Book cover of Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill

Why this book?

Jessica Stern is a fearless scholar and expert on terrorism. She gets in the den with lions. Her interviews with extremist members from three world religions aren’t an easy read, but it gives incredible insight into the mindset of violence perpetrated in the name of God. You will feel her fear, and she does it with an exquisite empathy, but never sympathy. It was an invaluable resource during my research for my book.

Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill

By Jessica Stern,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Terror in the Name of God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For four years, Jessica Stern interviewed extremist members of three religions around the world: Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Traveling extensively-to refugee camps in Lebanon, to religious schools in Pakistan, to prisons in Amman, Asqelon, and Pensacola-she discovered that the Islamic jihadi in the mountains of Pakistan and the Christian fundamentalist bomber in Oklahoma have much in common. Based on her vast research, Stern lucidly explains how terrorist organizations are formed by opportunistic leaders who-using religion as both motivation and justification-recruit the disenfranchised. She depicts how moral fervor is transformed into sophisticated organizations that strive for money, power, and attention. Jessica…


The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria

By Janine di Giovanni,

Book cover of The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria

Why this book?

Janine Di Giovanni is a daring foreign correspondent with decades of experience covering the Middle East. Her reporting from the trenches is riveting. She takes you inside the massacres, as she waits in halls, tunnels, and burned-out buildings with those whose stories she came to tell. If it wasn’t true, this book would be read alongside the best thriller writers. Another valuable resource in the work on my book. 

The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria

By Janine di Giovanni,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Morning They Came For Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Doing for Syria what Imperial Life in the Emerald City did for the war in Iraq, The Morning They Came for Us bears witness to one of the most brutal, internecine conflicts in recent history. Drawing from years of experience covering Syria for Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and the front pages of the New York Times, award-winning journalist Janine di Giovanni gives us a tour de force of war reportage, all told through the perspective of ordinary people-among them a doctor, a nun, a musician, and a student. What emerges is an extraordinary picture of the devastating human consequences of armed…


The Pearl

By John Steinbeck,

Book cover of The Pearl

Why this book?

I’ve always felt the story of my book was more parable than anything else. And Steinbeck’s The Pearl is one of the best. “Be careful what you wish for” is a powerful theme, and The Pearl answers it with a moral wallop in less than a hundred pages. While this didn’t directly affect the writing of my book, it was a constant reminder that not only is less more, but in the hands of a master, a parable can be a complete, compelling, and life-changing experience. Something I aspire to every day. 

The Pearl

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"There it lay, the great pearl, perfect as the moon."

Like his father and grandfather before him, Kino is a poor diver, gathering pearls from the gulf beds that once brought great wealth to the Kings of Spain and now provide Kino, Juana, and their infant son with meager subsistence. Then, on a day like any other, Kino emerges from the sea with a pearl as large as a sea gull's egg, as "perfect as the moon." With the pearl comes hope, the promise of comfort and of security....

A story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale,…


In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel

By Andy Davidson,

Book cover of In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel

Why this book?

My second book, which is about to go out to publishers, is a vampire tale. My intrigue with the cost of transformation, mortality, and morality, led me to this genre. It’s about a vampire’s desperate need to redeem his soul and the tragic consequences that befall a man who was his friend. In my search for comps for this book, I discovered an amazing author, Andy Davidson. I was captivated by his book, In the Valley of the Sun. I searched him out to let him know he elevated this genre for me, and his southern gothic setting was extraordinary. I can’t think of a better recommendation if you’re connected to the world of vampires. 

In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel

By Andy Davidson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Valley of the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One night in 1980, a man becomes a monster.

Haunted by his past, Travis Stillwell spends his nights searching out women in West Texas honky-tonks. What he does with them doesn't make him proud, just quiets the demons for a little while. But after Travis crosses paths one night with a mysterious pale-skinned girl, he wakes weak and bloodied in his cabover camper the next morning-with no sign of a girl, no memory of the night before.

When motel-owner Annabelle Gaskin offers the cowboy a few odd jobs to pay his board, he takes her up on the offer. By…


From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

By Robert Olen Butler, Janet Burroway (editor),

Book cover of From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

Why this book?

Olen Butler is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning author. His focus on “dreamstorming” and finding the link to your characters’ yearnings as the story’s compass, is for me, a unique, challenging, valuable, and vibrant direction for the work we do as writers. It also crosses into any artistic endeavor. I’ve highlighted so many passages from this book, from quotes of other artists to Olen Butler’s own perspective. One is from Claude Debussy, “There is no theory, you have merely to listen.” And Butler says, “Every other art form is irreducibly sensual. Dancers move, musicians/composers work with sound, painters with color; even abstract art isn’t abstract at all—it’s color and form…our medium is language, and language is not innately sensual.” So, we must make it so. 

From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

By Robert Olen Butler, Janet Burroway (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This comprehensive guide to writing creative fiction collects the lectures of the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Robert Olen Butler, transcribed and edited by Janet Burroway, the author of the classic text on creative writing, "Writing Fiction". "From Where You Dream" reimagines the process of writing as emotional rather than intellectual, and tells writers how to achieve the dreamspace necessary for composing honest, inspired fiction. Proposing fiction as the exploration of the human condition with yearning as its compass, Butler reinterprets the traditional tools of the craft using the dynamics of desire. Butler offers invaluable insights into the nature of voice…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in violence, Syria, and women?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about violence, Syria, and women.

Violence Explore 50 books about violence
Syria Explore 38 books about Syria
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Sing Me the Creation, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, and How to Be a Brilliant Writer if you like this list.