Reading is the Best Writing Exercise!


I’ll be the first to admit: I’m an obsessive reader. Although I haven’t kept count, I would venture to say I’ve read almost 100 books so far this year. I partake of reading material in a variety of ways as well: print, eBook, and audiobook. I always have at least one book going in each format at all times. Is this good for my brain or will my overwhelmed little brain cells just explode? I did some research on this and blogged about this very topic on the fabulous website, Sixty & Me, just the other day. You can read the article here.

After all, I will be turning sixty in just a few short weeks. Yikes. Where have all the years gone?

The difference in how I read before I became an author, and how I read now, though, is huge. I used to just read for enjoyment. Now, in addition to thoroughly enjoying the experience, I’m also learning. A LOT.

starry-sky-1948523_640For example: My present work-in-progress, a supernatural suspense called PIGMENTS, features a psychic who can access the memories of artists through their DNA that’s embedded in the oil paint. Although I’m an avid art history buff, I’ve fallen away from research in that area over recent years. So I needed to read a few books–novels, preferably–that centered around art.

I started out re-reading two old favorites: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Still, I needed more. More recent titles, those I hadn’t read before. I stumbled upon an author new to me, B. A. Shapiro, and began with her 2013 title, The Art Forger. What a golden find was this! Shapiro’s style hovers between commercial and literary fiction–a trait I’m particularly fond of, since I write in much the same ilk.

After leaving a 5-star review for The Art Forger, I’ve moved on to Shapiro’s 2015 title, The Muralist. Although at first put off somewhat by the more extensive history explored in this title, I have now found myself hooked. Shapiro utilizes a dual-time method of telling her stories. The Art Forger took place mostly in the present-day, where the majority of The Muralist takes place in 1939-40 – a time period, I will admit, I’ve not explored in any depth. stamp-1497087_640

This author is teaching me all sorts of history I either didn’t know about or didn’t understand in the most painless way–through engrossing and often lyrical prose. But it wasn’t until I was driving home last evening, listening to the audiobook version of this title, that Ms. Shapiro gifted me an “ah-ha” moment.

In my work-in-progress, PIGMENTS, I’ve been having difficulty with telling the story from multiple points of view. I’m combining POVs, telling some in the first person, and others in third. What Ms. Shapiro did in The Muralist is to make each chapter in the POV of one character, naming that character at the start. This keeps the reader straight on who’s telling the story. I believe Tracy Chevalier also used this technique in her 2004 title, The Lady and the Unicorn.

My quandary as to how to proceed with PIGMENTS is now solved, thanks to two brilliant authors I’ve read. Thank you, Ms. Chevalier and Ms. Shapiro, for the lesson in plot construction.

Yes, I read for pleasure. But it’s always a bonus when a pleasurable activity turns into an educational one.


Claire Gem writes in several genres including contemporary romance, women’s fiction, & supernatural suspense. She prides herself on bridging the gap between genre & literary fiction–these ain’t your mama’s Harlequin novels. Visit her at her website or Amazon Author page.




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