Well, I did it. I spent two entire days transforming my office from a cluttered, crazy, chaotic mess to utter calm and cleanliness. (Clearly, I didn’t throw away my fondness for alliteration.) I didn’t undertake this feat alone — I had help in the form of my daughter, who has an organizational gene that I guarantee did not come from her mother. She pronounced me a “stuffer” — not to be confused with hoarder; that, I’m not. I actually throw a lot of things away because I don’t have a place for them. But if I don’t toss, then I get sick of something not belonging anywhere, so I “stuff” it away.
Oh, I wish I had before pics, but we didn’t think to take any. But here’s the end product, featuring my very own Niecy Nash, aka my darling, Mia. (Who happens to love watching Clean House and is a tough taskmaster when it comes to saying goodbye to stuff!) We gave away hundreds of novels, gutted my files, reorganized my shelves, alphabetized my books, compartmentalized my drawers, transferred a wall of computer Post-It Note passwords to a single notebook, hung some pictures, dusted, vacuumed, polished, positioned, and completely rearranged my office furniture to a configuration that, miraculously, gave me twice as much space. We even bulldozed “Manuscript Mountain,” as Mia called my stack of 2,000 (ouch!) pages of copy-edits and galleys from my last three books. The entire mess was just picked up by the recycle truck and I’m very excited to report I’ve been to Sherwin-Williams and there is a stunning new paint job in my near future. Oh, and a new computer, which was the reason I started this little “straightening up” job in the first place.
Best of all, Mia helped me find or make a place for everything. Now I have a cute little container for my reading glasses, a special box just for jump drives, a bin for mailing materials, a drawer for bookmarks, and my very own basket of office supplies.
But one thing didn’t change during all this upheaval: my keeper shelf, and that really got me thinking about the books I own that will never be shared, sold, donated, or (gasp!) thrown away. Of course, I had to take a few down and skim the pages to remember why these books had earned a permanent place in my office, and in my heart.
Well, sigh. There’s a reason those books are keepers. I visited Sam and Jaine in Linda Howard’s Mr. Perfect (possibly my all time #1 keeper), and Blair and Wyatt from Linda’s To Die For. The awesome Ms. Howard has three spots on my shelf, the last taken up by John *OMG page 303 the sexiest scene ever written* Medina in All The Queen’s Men. Lest you think I’m LH obsessed, I guarantee there are other genres and writers on my keeper shelf. You’ll find LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory (gorgeous!), Judith Ivory’s Untie My Heart (brilliant!), and Katherine Sutcliffe’s Darkling, I Listen (complex!)…all authors who no longer write. 🙁
Kresley Cole made the shelf with A Hunger Like No Other (I bet that book is on a lot of keeper shelves!) and Jennifer Cruise stole a spot with Welcome To Temptation. Of course Nobody’s Baby But Mine has a place of honor, since it was that fabulous book that inspired me to try to write a novel, and Stephen King’s On Writing is the only craft book that made the cut. Not too long ago, I slipped in Kris Kennedy’s The Irish Warrior, a medieval romance that knocked my socks off, and Louisa Edward’s delicious debut, Can’t Stand The Heat. There are more, of course, including Susan Wiggs, Kristan Higgins, and Elizabeth Gilbert. (I adored Eat Pray Love!)
These are not the only books I’ve ever loved, obviously, but these are books that had…something. Something so amazing that I simply don’t want them too far from reach.
And that, naturally, made the writer in me wonder what is that special something — and how do I get it in my own writing? What is it about these books that catapulted them above all others and made me simply unwilling to ever part with the physical copy? They’re all so different, culled from all possible genres and written by a tremendous range of authors, but there must be one element they all have in common that worked for me.
I think there is. In fact, I’m willing to bet that if you look at your own keeper shelf, you might find there’s a common denominator for you, too — and it won’t be the same for everyone. I have a theory that if any reader examines her short list of all-time faves, she’ll find one thing that every book has, and that’s what’s “important” to her. Knowing what that elusive something is makes it easier to find the keepers…and possibly easier to write them, if you are an author. (Although, my keeper shelf is more humbling than inspiring.)
For me, if I had to pick one element that every book on my keeper shelf had in common, I think I’d go with powerful voice. Yes, these books all have amazing stores, compelling characters, unforgettable moments of romance or passion or suspense or, in the case of On Writing, insight. But my keeper shelf is a testament to lovely, lyrical voices that transcend storytelling and, for me, touch both my heart and my reader’s “ear.”
But that’s just me. Your shelf is undoubtedly a shrine to something else entirely. It might be a collection of certain beloved premises, like secret babies or marriages of convenience, or your keepers might all share tortured heroes or twisting plots or unparalleled world-building. Maybe you’re just a sucker for a certain time period, trope, or writing style.
So, tell me, what’s on your keeper shelf? And can you find a common element that every book on that shelf shares? I bet we get a bunch of amazing recommendations today! Therefore, we need…money! One lucky commenter will win a $15 Amazon gift card which can be used to buy a couple of brand new keepers…or the services of my daughter to reorganize your office!