Mar 26 2015 10:00pm

Schmucks with Underwoods: Why Writers Make the Best Book Characters

Writers have always been the most interesting people I meet, and they almost all tend to be passionate readers as well. They're also impulsive and vibrant and twisty and unpredictable and curious and generally enjoyable to talk to and to get into adventures with.

Reading and writing have always gone hand-in-hand with me. I was such an avid reader that eventually I had to start writing my own stories to fill in the gaps of what was out there for me. The first writer I ever knew was my Uncle John Merkel. He was the coolest person I had ever known in my life. While my main circle of adults was made up of boring, responsible, church-going normal folks, my uncle was wild. He read comic books and played video games and watched Star Trek and had a great office with a home computer(!) where he wrote stories. I so desperately wanted to be like him. He's also the one who got me hooked on reading popular fiction, first with science fiction and fantasy, and then crime fiction. So writers as characters have fascinated me even more.

While I think writers make great characters and provide readers with some behind-the-scenes access to the creative process and sometimes even the inspiration for the book their reading, I think writing is a pretty boring thing to write about. Writers must have adventures and get in trouble and express their personalities. So here are my five favorite books with writers as characters and why I love them so much.

Misery by Stephen King – This is one of the first books about a writer I really remember making an impact on me. Part of that is because this is also the first adult book I really remember being challenged on by my local librarian. As a little kid, it didn't take me long to move from the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Bobsey Twins stuff to the dreamy magical land of the adult shelves. I was given virtually free reign in that section, but when I brought up this paperback with that lurid cover of a man in a wheelchair and a shadow of an ax-wielding woman, the librarian asked me if I was really sure I wanted to read it. I was, and it was the fastest I've ever read a book. And it scared me. Still scares me. This should also serve as a place holder for praise for all of Stephen King's books about writers. More than anyone, he has built a career about exploring the life and struggles of a writer through fiction.

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon – I actually came to this book through the movie and fell in love with it right away. While more cerebral and quieter in many aspects than Misery, Wonder Boys is also wonderfully over-the-top with its characters and situations they find themselves in. There are great lines and great scenes galore in this book, and I reread it every couple of years just to keep it fresh in my head.

All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers by Larry McMurtry – This is an odd one in that I don't remember a lot of the specifics of the book, but I vividly remember how I felt after I read it for the first time. An author friend of mine, with whom I share this obsession of books about writers, suggested this to me, and I read it at just the right time. I was on the verge of being a father for the first time and was struggling with selfishness and worrying that a baby was going to crush all of the work I'd been doing for thirty years to become a writer. Danny Deck became my guide and my avatar. He was crass and selfish but also vulnerable and sweet and looking to make his way through a weird life. Also, his life is such a wreck that I was able to look at my own and feel comforted that I had not married a woman like Sally.

Wake Up, Sir by Jonathan Ames – A few years ago, I went through a huge Jonathan Ames phase. A subset of books about writers that I truly and deeply love is books about writers playing detective. Ames wrote a beauty called Bored to Death that become a wonderful HBO show. But as much as I loved Bored to Death, I love Wake Up, Sir even more. This is more surreal, goofy, meta humor and really explores Ames' entire career. It's also a wonderful homage to P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books and throws in a nod to my oddly specialized interest in reading about the old Borscht Belt in the Catskills.

The Serialist by David Gordon – This is another phenomenal book that I read at exactly the right time. At its base level, it's about a pulp writer who writes a lot of books, most of which aren't very good. But it's also an excellent think piece about genre and pulp fiction, what makes a writer, and what kind of sacrifices one needs to make to be a working writer. I read this while I was in the process of converting my writing process from one book every four years to trying to write multiple books in one year. While I didn't completely succeed, I'm better than I used to be. The true highlight of this book though is the excerpts of the other books the main character is writing. They're really amazing.

This sweepstakes has ended. Thanks for entering!

Comment on your favorite characters who are writers for a chance to win Murder Boy by Bryon Quertermous! To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

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Murder Boy Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) March 26, 2015. Sweepstakes ends 9:59 p.m. ET April 2, 2015. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Bryon Quertermous is a reader, writer, and editor. His first novel Murder Boy is about a writer, naturally, and is available now. For more information, go to his website or find him on Twitter @bryonq.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
L Peters
1. leepcat
what a great idea! and all those terrific authors. bring 'em on. thanks
John McFetridge
2. JohnMcF
I liked Robin Abbott (Nicole Robinette), the romance writer in Elmore Leonard's Freaky Deaky.
Gordon Bingham
4. gordonbingham
I would say 75 year old copywriter turned soldier John Perry, in John Scalzi's Old Man's War is one of the more interesting writer character in recent fiction.
5. DebP
I'm tickled that the fictional writer Richard Castle has books out under his name in the real world.
9. maryc
Nicola Upson's Josephine Tey series
Janice Santillo
11. themommazie
I've read many books with writers as characters. Just can't think of any at this moment.
Irene Menge
12. Goldenmane
Kathy Reich's book with Temperance Brennan (Bones)
13. ellhesmay
Would love to add this book to my collection!!
lynette thompson
I think this is your best giveaway ever. I love it.
Dan Denman
16. texdd
I just reread Misery about a month ago. The character Paul Sheldon is my favorite writer in a book.
Bryon Quertermous
17. bquertermous
Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. There are some great ones here and some I need to go explore.
18. KA-FWA
with a nod to media tie-ins, I'll nominate Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote).
Andrew Kuligowski
19. KuligowskiAndrew
I am not convinced that writers make the best characters ... I think it is true that every writer KNOWS one or more writers that they can use as the basis for a character, so they've got more real-life experiences to back them up. I remember a Marvel comic back in the 90s or so, in which not only were the writers depicted in the book BUT one received a phone call from a supporting character in a book he wrote (Marv Wolfman's - yes, ironically - "Tomb of Dracula") providing the plot for the next issue.
Michael Carter
21. rubydog
Looks great.
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks --
Lori Provenzano
22. Mountainesque
So easy for 'writer' protagonists to be stereotypes and too general in their writerly experience to be believable. But when they're truly portrayed as complex, thinking individuals, complete with convincing histories, in the presence of a good plot the ride can be enthralling!
Andra Dalton
24. andra77
I've watched Bones & Castle from both their pilot episodes aired never missing a beat, along with many repeats, getting into each & every episode as the characters have further evolved through the seasons. Long before Temperance Brennan ever graced the screen though I had already been a diehard Kathy Reichs fan for many years. I will never forget my introduction to Stephen King's Misery as a young adult though cementing my love of anything he writes!!! Thanks for the opportunity to win & good luck to all who enter!!!:)
Karen Terry
25. bblol65
Dean Koontz is one of my favorite writer and one of my favorite character is Odd. I like him alot and he does see and talk to the dead.
Betsy Whitmarsh
26. Yogamom67
Loves books about books and mysteries about books are the very best of all!!!
Carl Ginger
27. cgin56
How about the spider who wrote in the web in "Charlotte's Web", probably not really an author, but a nice character.
28. LStirling
I'd still go with Paul Sheldon in "Misery" as my favorite writer character. His experience still gives me the willies! (Or, would that be the Annies?)
keith james
30. kdj617
I love your giveaways, there is always a title I want to read.
Daniel Morrell
31. godan
i can't think of any at the moment
Susan Mahaffey
32. Smbirds
Misery by Stephen King was one of my favorite books with a writer in it.
Marjorie Manharth
33. mmanharth
Does it have to be fiction? How about anything by Bill Bryson?
Paul Sheldon in Misery is one of my favorite author characters. Another was James Qwilleran in "The Cat Who" series by Lilian Jackson Braun.
susan beamon
35. susanbeamon
I haven't focused on boos with writers as characters, so I have to think about it some. I am currently reading the Nikki Heat series, which is supposted to be written by the writer character in the television series Castle, and which has Jamison Hook as a main character, a newpaper writer who has won journalism's biggest prize. All in all, a funny idea that takes spinoffs to a strange place.
Kris Kaminski
37. kjkski
maybe yes maybe no either way still worth reading.
38. Amyc
At the risk of redundancy, I of course loved the Paul Sheldon character, actually wanted to read more of his romance work because it sounded so much like like Stephen King's stuff! But the other King character(s) I loved were in the Bachman book The Dark Half, George Stark and Thad Beaumont. I started reading Richard Stark books, and then Donald Westlake, all because of Mr. King's comments in the introduction of that book. Treasures!
Sandy Klocinski
39. SKlocinski
Misery: It was eerily good, and I could totally relate when
she burned a manuscript he'd slaved over. I would have killed her for
that alone, before she started with the torture.
Amy Curtiss
40. Amy
At the risk of redundancy, I of course loved the Paul Sheldon character, actually wanted to read more of his romance work because it sounded so much like like Stephen King's stuff! But the other King character(s) I loved were in the Bachman book The Dark Half, George Stark and Thad Beaumont. I started reading Richard Stark books, and then Donald Westlake, all because of Mr. King's comments in the introduction of that book. Treasures!
41. bquertermous
I'm happy to see all of the Paul Sheldon love here. I really think he's one of the best. I also love the Jessica Fletcher comment. I think the comment about non-fiction writers in an interesting one and I think it totally counts. I love reading essays and autobiographies from writers.
sheron yancey
42. sheron
I would love to read this book after hearing whats it about. Sounds great
Ed Nemmers
43. saturdaynightfever
I would like to reaqd the work of Bryon Quertermous.
Donna Jacoby
45. Donna Jacoby
I enjoy the books about Temperance Brenner by Kathy Reich. Thank you for the giveaway!
Laurence Coven
46. Holmes
I just read a great new bibliomystery. The narrator is a great writer, the only problem is he writes what already has been written. "The Forger" by Bradford Morrow has an insidiously wicked plot when you're not sure who killed whom and who wrote what. One of the best bibiomysteries in years.
47. dellen38
Hope I get a chance to read this!
Linda Peters
48. linnett
Have all of Stephen Kings novels, but really like the Paul Sheldon character, thanks
50. Tammy Evans
pick me! thanks
Heather Cowley
52. choochoo
Wow, I've never really many books with a writer as a main character. I guess I'd go with Paul Sheldon.
Deborah Wellenstein
53. dglitter
I, too will go with Paul Sheldon in "Misery".
Carol Gowett
56. clynsg
I would have to go for Jessica Fletcher in the Murder I Wrote series, especially since there have been some written works that have tied in to the TV series, so she fits in a couple of categories!
Buddy Garrett
59. garrettsambo
Mike Noonan in Stephen King's Bag of Bones is my favorite character.
kent w. smith
60. bodacious
Jessica Fletcher! Never missed a dead line.
kent w. smith
61. bodacious
Jessica Fletcher! She never missed a dead line.
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