The best books to help you write a terrific true story

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.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Before We Were Yours

Judy Christie Why did I love 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.

By Lisa Wingate,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Before We Were Yours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BLOCKBUSTER HIT—Over two million copies sold! A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly Bestseller

“Poignant, engrossing.”—People • “Lisa Wingate takes an almost unthinkable chapter in our nation’s history and weaves a tale of enduring power.”—Paula McLain

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage,…


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

Judy Christie Why did I love 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.

By Jack Hart,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Jack Hart, master writing coach and former managing editor of the Oregonian, has guided several Pulitzer Prize-winning narratives to publication. Since its publication in 2011, his book Storycraft has become the definitive guide to crafting narrative nonfiction. This is the book to read to learn the art of storytelling as embodied in the work of writers such as David Grann, Mary Roach, Tracy Kidder, and John McPhee.
In this new edition, Hart has expanded the book's range to delve into podcasting and has incorporated new insights from recent research into storytelling and the brain. He has also added dozens of…


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

Judy Christie Why did I love 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. 

By Benjamin Dreyer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dreyer's English as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An utterly delightful book to read, Dreyer's English will stand among the classics on how to use the English language properly.' ELIZABETH STROUT

'A complete joy. For those who care about words - and for those who don't - Dreyer's English is the book we have all been waiting for. Wise, funny, no-nonsense, stylish and brilliantly practical.' RACHEL JOYCE
_____________
An indispensable, New York Times-bestselling guide to the craft of writing from Random House's long-time copy chief and one of Twitter's leading language gurus.

We all write, all the time: books, blogs, tweets, emails, emails, emails - and we all…


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

Judy Christie Why did I love 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.

By Tiffany Yates Martin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"I trust Tiffany Yates Martin with the editing process even more than I trust myself. Read this book and steal her secrets!"—Kelly Harms, Washington Post bestseller of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

“Tiffany Yates Martin is an exceptional editor, so of course her advice and counsel in Intuitive Editing is exceptional as well. Whether you’re a seasoned author looking to fine-tune your craft, pacing, or tension or just starting out and looking for guidance on building overall structure and engaging characters, this book is a must-read that will take you from idea to finished manuscript.”—New York Times–bestselling author Allison…


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

Judy Christie Why did I love 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.

By Brenda Ueland,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked If You Want to Write as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Brenda Ueland was a journalist, editor, freelance writer, and teacher of writing. In If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit she shares her philosophies on writing and life in general. Ueland firmly believed that anyone can write, that everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say. In this book she explains how find that spark that will make you a great writer. Carl Sandburg called this book the best book ever written about how to write. Join the millions of others who've found inspiration and unlocked their own talent.


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Dancing in the Ring

By Susan Sage,

Book cover of Dancing in the Ring

Susan Sage Author Of Dancing in the Ring

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Influencer Activist Crazy cat lady

Susan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Detroit in the 1920s proved to be the Paris of the West for many – including Catherine McIntosh and Robert Sage. Both law school students, they are as ardent about each other as they are about their career dreams.

From a poor family in the Detroit neighborhood of Corktown, Catherine learns early on, the necessity of being resilient. Bob, the ‘battling barrister,’ boxes in order to pay for law school. Despite his tough-boy personality, Bob was a friend to all: judges, cops, as well as a few members of the notorious Purple Gang. He was immediately smitten with Kate, one of Detroit’s first women attorneys. They became legendary in legal circles for their commitment to social justice causes – as well as notorious in the local speakeasies.

Dancing in the Ring

By Susan Sage,

What is this book about?

Detroit in the 1920s proved to be the Paris of the West for many-including Catherine McIntosh and Robert Sage. These two law school students are as passionate about each other as they are their dreams.

From a poor family in the neighborhood of Corktown, Catherine learned early on, the necessity of being resilient. She becomes one of the first women in Detroit to obtain a law degree. Bob, the 'battling barrister, ' boxes in order to pay for law school. Despite his gruff and tough-boy personality, he is a friend to all: judges, cops, and even a couple members of…


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