Celebrating the Undiscovered: Inspiration for Aspiring Writers

Author and journalist Gene Fowler once said, “Writing is easy; all you do is sit, staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.” Novelist P.G. Wodehouse said, “I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit,” and author and sportswriter Red Smith said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” In other words, writers know that to create something out of nothing but a thought and put it down on paper in an engaging, exciting or maybe humorous way requires patience, commitment, sacrifice and pain.

So why do it? Because you must.

At Half Price Books, we celebrate not only the wonderful books that have already been published, but also those that are still waiting to be discovered, or written. How? Well, there are several ways.

Just getting started? We have journals, research materials, inspirational quotes, writing style guides (if that sort of thing interests you) and nice little nooks where you and your laptop can get lost for a while. I once startled an HPB employee while sitting in the floor of the fiction section, writing a murder mystery under the watchful eye of Ernest J. Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying. I though it apropos.

Stuck? We have writing prompts for those of you who need a jumpstart, not to mention the shelves and shelves of escapes and reboots just waiting to be discovered.

Ready to submit? We have guides to help find publishers and agents, as well as books about the publishing business and novel proposals. Don’t forget to look at the acknowledgements in your favorite books to see who published, edited and represented those authors.


Need encouragement? Throughout the year, Half Price Books stores across the country hold writers workshops or (in November) National Novel Writing Month Write-ins, where you can sit and talk to other writers about the creative process and the struggles of writing. We’re also partnering this month with Scribbler, the only subscription box for novelists! The purpose of the box is to help writers improve their craft and reach their publishing goals. Subscribe to the June Scribbler box and get a special coupon from Half Price Books.

Kate 20Half Price Books is also proud to be the place where many talented writers and artists have started out. Did you know that the Newberry Award-winning novelist Kate DiCamillo once worked in our Coon Rapids, MN store? Check out other authors who have worked or still work for us in our “Meet the Bibliomaniac” series, Brian Douglas and Dayna Ingram.  (And maybe one day you’ll see my name there!)

So no matter what you write, where you write, how you write or what you need to write, Half Price Books has you covered.

How Novel: A Writer’s Approach to November

November is one of my favorite months of the year for two very important reasons (and neither of them has anything to do with eating turkey). I love November because there is no better month than one that kicks off with a day celebrating authors and then challenges authors to write a novel all month long. That’s right November, 1 is National Author’s Day, a day set aside to “show appreciation to the men and women who have made American literature possible,” and then the entire month of November is National Novel Writing Month, the world’s largest writing challenge, where participants pledge to write 50,000 words in one month.


The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to write a novel from start to finish in one month, which is  assumed to be about 50,000 words. Unfortunately, the last novel I finished writing was more than 100,000 words, but I still won the challenge of National Novel Writing Month by reaching the 50,000-word goal. In my opinion, what National Novel Writing Month does for writers is give us a goal to shoot for, and once we’ve reached that goal, we’ve invested so much time and energy in the project that we’re driven to finish.


I had never heard of NaNoWriMo until about six years ago, and this year will only be my third time to participate. Of course, one of those years, I was struggling to complete a novel I had already started so I decided to use NaNoWriMo as my incentive to finish, which means I didn’t count my words or use the NaNoWriMo website to track my progress, but I did use the time and set my goal. The important thing was writing.


If you are an aspiring novelist… if you believe you have a story in you… if you just don’t know where to start… I challenge you to write 50,000 words in November. The story you have to tell just may be the one someone else is dying to read.

And don’t forget about the most important part of writing:


Find all your writing materials for NaNoWriMo, not to mention inspiring novels by great American writers, at your local Half Price Books. And good luck this November.

Julie is Traffic Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.

NaNoWriMo 2012 Check-Up: How’s your novel coming along?

I have been writing stories and poems since I was 13 years old and created my first character sitting on the floor of a van, coming home from camp.  However, I never even knew National Novel Writing Month (@NaNoWriMo on Twitter) existed until last year when Kristen D. participated in it. This year, I swore I would participate, too.

As I am writing this, my word count stands at 46,390.  I have written 170 pages and 11 chapters. I’ve started talking in a West Texas accent. I can’t stop yawning. My cat thinks I don’t love her anymore and I think I’m getting sick. Not to mention that if anyone decided to go through my Internet history, they would think I have an unhealthy preoccupation with hunting, game wardens and feed mills, (which I guess is better than when I was researching army ranks and sniper weapons systems), but I digress.

I have 3,610 words to go, and if I can stay awake, I just may make it to 50,000 and succeed in my first NaNoWriMo challenge. 

Cross your fingers for me, and good luck to all you budding novelists who are participating in NaNoWriMo.

So did you participate this year? If so, where does your novel stand?

Julie is Production Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.

Stephen King’s Advice for Writers

Part autobiography, part advice, Stephen King‘s On Writing: A Memior of the Craft is a superb book for readers and aspiring writers alike. There are numerous insights to take away – advice for other writers, as well as looking under the hood of King’s formulas and tricks for writing a successful first draft and editing yourself in the all-important second draft. 

If you’re a writer, or want to be, I recommend you read this book. You’ll likely feel encouraged by relating to and learning from another author’s process. If you’re passionate about writing, or want to get published, by all means — keep writing!

Here’s a great excerpt from On Writing:

“Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic.”

In honor of Stephen King‘s birthday today, check out some of his bestselling fiction work.

Cheers for writers and editors everywhere! – Meredith

Meredith is Associate Creative Director at Half Price Books Corporate.
You can follow her on Twitter at @msquare21.

Elementary, my dear Conan Doyle!

Being an insatiable trivia hound and a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, I can think of no better way to celebrate the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the mastermind behind Sherlock Holmes – than to share a few interesting facts about the author and his most famous character.

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
About Conan Doyle:

  • Conan Doyle came from a very artistic, well-connected family. Both his grandfather and his Uncle Dicky were artists, and men like Walter Scott, William Thackeray and Charles Dickens were frequent dinner guests at the Doyle house.
  • Conan Doyle attended university with James Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • His first short story, “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley,” was influenced by the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Bret Hart, two of his favorite authors.
  • Conan Doyle was offered, and took the post of ship’s surgeon on the whaling boat Hope during his third year in medical school.
  • Conan Doyle’s first novel, A Study in Scarlet, in which we are introduced to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, was originally titled A Tangled Skein and the two main characters were named Sheridan Hope and Ormond Sacker.
  • The character of Sherlock Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, one of Conan Doyle’s teachers at university who was a master at observation, logic, deduction and diagnosis.
  • Much to his chagrin, Sherlock Holmes has remained Conan Doyle’s most famous and best loved character. Conan Doyle actually preferred writing historical novels over the Sherlock Holmes adventures.

“My dear fellow, life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.”
About Sherlock Holmes:

  • One of Sherlock’s most famous sayings, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” was never used in Conan Doyle’s novels or short stories. It wasn’t until Sherlock’s first feature film with sound that Sherlock uttered those words.
  • Sherlock’s drug of choice was cocaine, but he would occasionally use morphine as well, both of which were legal drugs in the late 19th century England.
  •  All the techniques of forensic science advocated by Sherlock Holmes in his adventures later became a reality, but were generally in their infancy at the time Conan Doyle was writing.
  •  In 2002, the Royal Society of Chemistry bestowed an honorary fellowship on Sherlock Holmes for his use of forensic science and analytical chemistry in popular literature.  He is the only fictional character to have this honor.
  • Sherlock is also the only fictional character to have been given a real life Knighthood by the British Monarchy (along with his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

Well, happy birthday, Mr. Conan Doyle.  Thank you for the gift of Sherlock Holmes, who has captivated the world with his crass, antisocial behavior and astute deductive reasoning.
Want to read more about Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Look for the novels, short stories, and biographies at your local Half Price Books. — Julie

Isaacson’s Steve Jobs Biography Screen Adaption

Late yesterday, news broke that Aaron Sorkin is adapting Walter Isaacson‘s Steve Jobs biography into a screenplay for Sony Pictures. Now that has some potential!

His talent as a screenwriter won him an Oscar for The Social Network (2010). Given his style of storytelling, it’s bound to contain intrigue and dramatic dialogue. Before his acclaim for The Social Network, Sorkin was known for his work on Emmy-winning political drama TV series The West Wing (1999-2006) and the (unfortunately) short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006).

This film about Apple’s visionary co-founder won’t be the first time a best-selling biography turned into an award-winning major motion picture. One recent example: The Blind Side (2009), based on the book by Michael Lewis.

Incidently, today is National Biographer’s Day! So, we at Half Price Books want to take a moment to tip our hats to the brilliant and bold writers who have documented some of the most inspirational life stories throughout history. And let’s not forget the the brave authors of memoirs and autobiographies for sharing their own (sometimes candid and heartbreaking) stories with the world.

Biographies are such a magnificent source of education, edification and perspective. We all have a story to tell. A life to record. If you were to write a biography, whose would it be? Perhaps your own. What would the title be?

To biographers and writers everywhere: Keep on writing! – Meredith

Meredith is Associate Creative Director at Half Price Books Corporate.
You can follow her on Twitter at @msquare21.

5 Poems for People Who Don’t Like Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. Now, I happen to love poetry. It is fascinating to me that you can say so much by saying so little, while really delving into the psyche through an honest display of emotion.  However, I have found that not everyone enjoys poetry the way I do. For some, even the word poetry drags up boring lectures about how a butterfly represents the metamorphosis of existence in the temporal field. (Yeah, I don’t even know what I just said.)

If this sounds like you, don’t despair. Here are five poets and their poems that I guarantee even people who hate poetry will like and understand. These are poems that are easy to read, tell a wonderful story and will maybe even make you laugh.

1. The Man from Snowy River, by Banjo Paterson

“The Man from Snowy River” tells the story of a group of men who are following a mob of wild bush horses to recover the colt from Old Regret, who was worth a thousand pounds.  Though they don’t think much of the Man from Snowy River who comes to help them or his small mountain bred pony, this mountain man chases the horses relentlessly and brings them in singlehandedly.  The ballads and poetry of Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson are said to have captured the spirit of the Australian Outback.  His ballad “Waltzing Matilda” is Australia’s unofficial national anthem and “The Man from Snowy River” was turned into a film in 1982, starring Kirk Douglas.

2. Entertaining her Big Sister’s Beau, by Bret Harte

“Entertaining her Big Sister’s Beau” is a funny, one-sided conversation a precocious little girl has with her big sister’s date, reminding you that kids do indeed say the darndest things.  I first read this poem in an old English textbook that my mother kept, and I used the poem for poetry readings at dramatic competitions.  Now, I wish I had kept that old textbook, as this poem is very difficult to find.  Thank goodness I made a copy of it.  Now, I just have to remember where I put it.

3.  she being brand new, by e.e. cummings

Anyone who believes that poetry has too many rules should read e.e. cummings, the ultimate rebel poet, and of course, the world’s best poetic metaphor, “she being brand new.”  Don’t be discouraged by the fact that the poem is a metaphor.  Read it once and if you don’t get it right away (due to e.e.’s odd use of punctuation), have someone read it to you.  Believe me, you won’t be able to stop smiling.

4. Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House, by Billy Collins

If that title won’t get you to read this poem, then I don’t know what will.  “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” is a fun poem about the neighbor’s dog that will not stop barking and what the narrator does to counteract this disturbance. Billy Collins uses his dry sense of humor to make his poetry not only amusing, but also relatable. No wonder he was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003.

5.  Fleas, by Ogden Nash

The complete poetic genius of “Fleas” can only be understood by looking at the entire poem.


That’s it. What more can you say? Ogden rocks.

So, if you felt animosity
Toward any type of poetry,
I hope these poems helped you see

You don’t have to be vexed
At all the subtext
Sometimes a flea is a flea.

— Julie

Meet the Bibliomaniac: Dayna Ingram

Half Price Books has thousands of interesting employees working at our stores across the country – bibliomaniacs who have tons of great talents besides their knowledge of books, movies, music and more.  We thought it would be fun to showcase some of them here on the blog!  Our first feature is Dayna Ingram, who not only is a shift leader at our Dublin location, she’s also an author.  She’ll host a book reading and signing of her newly published zombie/horror novella Eat Your Heart Out tomorrow at 7 p.m. in Dublin

Name: Dayna Ingram

Job Title: Shift Leader

When did you join the HPB team? It was actually my final co-op for Antioch College back in Ohio in 2008. I had to “live as an author,” which meant getting a job and writing…for college credit…JOKE’S ON THEM I ALREADY DO THIS! It was pretty great.

What is your favorite part about working at HPB? There are too many favorite parts. I’m gonna say my co-workers, they make it easy to want to go to work.

What is your all-time favorite book? This changes all the time, but right now it’s Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.

What inspired you to write Eat Your Heart Out? I needed something fun to write during National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), and what’s more fun than zombies?

Do you have plans for any other books? I’m working on a dystopian novel called All Good Children, and I’m currently seeking an agent.

You’re donating a portion of the proceeds to ARF, Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation.   Tell us about your involvement with them and your love of animals. Friends of mine have adopted the best pets through their organization, and I just admire animal rescues so much. Our pet is a member of our family, and I wanted to acknowledge that in some way and give back.

To keep up with Dayna, visit her blog or follow her on twitter.

Thanks, Dayna! Good luck tomorrow!

— Emily

Top Five Public Intellectuals 

“Public intellectual” might seem a little thin on a resume, but lo and behold, writers of various stripes, the biggest brains with panache, are analyzing and commenting on the passing scene. These aren’t folks who hold that politics and religion are off limit topics of conversation. Public intellectuals infuriate people more than they delight them. They are challenging in every sense.

Above the din of bloviating telegensia, some intellects are so potent and fearless that they demand attention regardless of the volume. Or, even more tellingly, they make me want to sit through Charlie Rose just to hear them get a word in edgewise. Having heard them, I have sought out their written works:

Christopher Hitchens – This prolific writer of Love, Poverty and War and many other books was always interesting, usually incendiary, and wrong as much as he was right. Hitchens has made everybody angry at least once, but has done so in powerful and graceful ways, like an intellectual Muhammad Ali. He has publicly condemned Henry Kissinger, Mother Theresa, the Clintons, and God (or, as he would have it, god.). “Rapier wit” is hackneyed, but he is sharp and cutting. It’s fitting too because his debate opponents often don’t realize the severity of his attack until it’s too late. The reader of his literary reviews, found mainly in The Atlantic Monthly, should receive college credit.

David Berlinski – What distinguishes Berlinski from many persons of letters is the fact that he can do math and has written books (The Advent of the Algorithm , Tour of the Calculus, and Infinite Ascent: A Short History of Mathematics) to prove it.  He has become something of a lightning rod in the heated exchanges on intelligent design. The unbelieving Berlinski is resolute in his stance that science can neither prove, nor disprove, the existence of God; therefore the intellectual position is of agnosticism. This hasn’t endeared him to much of academia. The urbane Berlinski has also written, seemingly as a lark, mystery novels. Richard Dawkins never wrote a mystery novel.

(Hitchens and Berlinski debated each other not long ago. It was a heavyweight bout.)

Stanley Crouch – The interviews with Crouch in the special features of DVD collection of The Civil WarA film by Ken Burns are worth the price of admission. Burns subsequently turned to Crouch’s intellect in Jazz for insightful comment. A traditionalist, Crouch’s writings on jazz music, such as Considering Genius, are informative and exciting. They allow you to understand jazz without making you feel bad that you didn’t already. The same might be said of Crouch’s unflinching commentary on the current state of race relations and its antecedents.

Camille Paglia – More than anyone listed here, Paglia comes closest to expressing joy, by which I mean she smiles sincerely when taking apart a debate opponent. She’s notorious for her irreverent approach to American giants like Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. She’s able to draw connections between today’s pop culture and the Classical world of antiquity. There’s nothing new under the sun and Paglia is ready to prove it. She’s fiercely libertarian and her positions are often confusing to the mainstream: she’s an atheist who will defend religion; she defends pornography as the lowbrow equivalent of Classical painting and sculpture; calling herself feminist, she attacks feminism as an out-of-touch monolithic movement. She has insulted the big names of feminism such as Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer. Paglia has called Gloria Steinem the “Stalin of feminism.” Insults don’t make for pleasant dessert talk, but as theater they are captivating.

William T. Vollman – Like a method actor, Vollman immerses himself entirely in his subject matter. He writes, not just from absolutely committed and thorough research (though there is that) but also from personal experience. He recently traveled to Japan with a Geiger counter to write of the after-effects of the tsunami and reactor meltdown, while most of us were willing to take Brian Williams’ word for it. While still a young man, he completed a 3000 page, 7 volume treatise on the use of violence. Nothing is simple for Vollman and he works to understand the layers of complexity of . . . everything. He’s been called the most academic writer that anyone would pay money to read.

— Jeff W.

NaNoWriMo Check In

Hi guys! Okay, we’re 8 days into NaNoWriMo— so how’s it going, WriMos? 

It is not going well in my camp. As I shared with my friend Mandy yesterday, I feel like what I do manage to write each day is just very, very bad. I have yet to hit a rhythm and often make ugly faces at the sentences as they appear on the screen. So far the pages look a lot like this: 

“words words words words NEED NAME FOR THIS MINOR CHARACTER words words words words WHAT IS THIS FLYING DEVICE CALLED words words words words NEED TO FIGURE OUT HISTORY ON THIS words words words words SO DOES HE* HAVE AMNESIA OR IS HE MUTE OR AN ORPHAN OR BOTH.”  

*”He,” of course, is my main character. I’ve been developing this book for almost a year — you’d think I would have these major details worked out by now. %#$@

Anyone else feeling discouraged? To get through it, I keep imagining that I’m standing in the middle of this lovefest: 

 Hope that helps some of you too 🙂 Also, hey! There’s still time to enter our drawing over at this post— so go comment on what you write for a chance to win a HPB gift card. 

Happy (or unhappy) writing (either way, don’t give up! Harry and Cedric would be so disappointed :)) 

— Kristen D.