The best books to help you write a terrific true story

Judy Christie Author Of Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children's Home Society
By Judy Christie

Who am I?

From my days as editor of The Barret Banner in sixth grade, I wanted to find out about people and tell their stories. Through decades as a newspaper reporter and editor, I discovered again and again how much stories matter—and how fascinating in-depth research and interviews are. Everyone has a story, and capturing the voices of real people is important. Getting to know ordinary families whose lives were turned inside-out by an adoption scandal has been a great honor. Listen to someone’s story. You may be surprised what you learn. 


I wrote...

Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children's Home Society

By Judy Christie, Lisa Wingate,

Book cover of Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children's Home Society

What is my book about?

Poignant true stories of victims of a notorious adoption scandal—some of whom learned the truth from Lisa Wingate’s bestselling novel Before We Were Yours. From the 1920s to 1950s, Georgia Tann ran a black-market baby business at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis. She offered up more than 5,000 orphans tailored to the wish lists of eager parents – hiding the fact that many weren’t orphans at all but stolen sons and daughters of poor families, desperate single mothers, and women told in maternity wards that their babies had died. Encouraged by the work of journalist Judy Christie and Wingate, who document the stories of fifteen adoptees, many determined Tann survivors set out to trace their roots and find their birth families.  

The books I picked & why

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Before We Were Yours

By Lisa Wingate,

Book cover of Before We Were Yours

Why this book?

Wingate has a knack for researching little-known pieces of history and creating awesome novels that feel like nonfiction. When I read Before We Were Yours, I was fascinated and moved by the fictionalized story of children stolen from their parents and sent into lives they were not equipped for. The novel inspired me to write its nonfiction sequel—an unusual approach. The fiction brought forth real-life people who wanted to tell their true stories of being “Georgia Tann babies” and led to lots of intriguing research. Highly recommend this novel to help brainstorm how to shape a compelling real-life story and to contrast with its nonfiction follow-up. It’s also a great example of a dual timeline novel – with historical and modern threads.


Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction

By Jack Hart,

Book cover of Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction

Why this book?

When I set out to write what I hoped would be a meaningful nonfiction book after publishing several novels, I needed a refresher on narrative nonfiction. This book provides just that – in a nuts-and-bolts way. The author spent years coaching journalists on how to tell readable, timely stories, and he uses his expertise in a helpful way. You’ll almost feel like you’re sitting in a newsroom office being coached. He covers what you need to know to write in this genre, from understanding story theory and structure to point of view and scene, action, and character. As I’ve learned more about nonfiction books, I’ve realized that great authors create a story through their narrative, like a novelist does. Hart is a great teacher.


Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

By Benjamin Dreyer,

Book cover of Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Why this book?

Oh, boy! I came upon this book while seeking the answer to a basic style question, and, wow, am I glad I did. Dreyer, copy chief of Random House, knows his stuff and can help you learn yours, too, from word usage to punctuation. The book’s way more than that, though. You’ll feel like you’ve taken a lively college class in writing and wish you could have coffee with the professor. I’ve bought copies for several word-nerd friends — it’s humorous, too. 


Intuitive Editing: A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing

By Tiffany Yates Martin,

Book cover of Intuitive Editing: A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing

Why this book?

I loved this book so much – and found it so incredibly useful in manuscript revisions — that I ran to my laptop and sent the author a fan letter. If you need help wrestling your manuscript into shape or inspiration to keep improving a story, immediately grab this book — and lots of sticky flags to mark pages. The author, with a ton of developmental editing experience, writes with a friendly style and an affection for storytelling. She explains how to find problems in your manuscript and how to fix them. It’s great for fiction or nonfiction—I’m using it now for revisions on a novel.


If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit

By Brenda Ueland,

Book cover of If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit

Why this book?

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is believing in an idea and jumping into it with heartfelt energy. This classic, written in 1938, gave me hope when I started on my book-writing journey 20 years ago, and it still occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf. I referred to it with fresh eyes when I jumped into nonfiction. Gotta love a book that boldly states that “everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” Ueland shows fresh ways to connect with readers through your words and to connect with yourself as a writer.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in orphanages, writing, and creative writing?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Artist's Way, Bird by Bird, and If You Want to Write if you like this list.