The best thing about writing is the books — not just the books I get to write, but the books I get to read. I’ve worked in bookselling all my life, so I’ve always had a good excuse to spend my free time reading. But writing has changed and enriched the way I read.

There’s no better way to learn the craft of writing than by reading good books. Through reading, I’ve had some of the best writers in the world of romance teach me how to put a story together, and they’ve helped me add the elements to make my books succeed.

So here’s my syllabus for a course in romance writing, covering a comprehensive assortment of skills through writers with special strengths.

  • Voice: Janet Evanovich. There’s a reason why the Stephanie Plum series is a bestseller. The screwball New Jersey bounty hunter is a fantastic character, but what really makes the novels work is the way Evanovich lets Stephanie’s unique peronality shine through her first-person narrative. The books ar funny and fast-moving, and show how a unique voice can bring a character to vivid, unforgettable life. Start with One For the Money and read them all!
  • Flawed but lovable characters: Kristan Higgans. Kristan’s All I Ever Wanted is one of my favorite romance novels ever. For one thing, the heroine’s issues at the beginning of the book echo my own life, and I identified so strongly with people-pleasing Callie hat I read the story to find out what would happen to me. I also loved the way the author showed Callie’s growth through her realationship with — a rocking chair. That’s right — it’s not always about a man!
  • Emotional depth laced with humor: Susan Elizabeth Phillips. It’s not easy to make love, trust, famiy secrets and heartbreak funny as well as touching, but SEP manages to perform the feat over and over. Her characters are unique and lovable, her dialogue sparkles, and her pacing makes her books impossible to put down. Natural Born Charmer is my absolute favorite, but again, read them all!
  • Characters that change and grow. When I first started writing, my heroines started out witty and spunky and fun, and ended up — witty and spunky and fun. Garey’s inimitable Goth girl heroine, Nicki Styx. taught me how to make a character grow into a person the reader can care about while still holding onto her unique personality traits. Dead Girls are Easy is one of my all-time favorite paranormals.
  • Compelling secondary characters: Jodi Thomas. In the first volume of her small-town contemporary series, Welcome to Harmony, Jodi Thomas introduces a town-full of characters and proceeds to make each a unique individual so real you feel like inviting them over for coffee. She even made me fall in love with a shy, slighty overweight funeral director!

That’s just the start of my own personal Romance University. I have so many other favorites it would be impossible to list them all, but these five helped lay a foundation for my own writing.

Whether you’re a reader or a writer, who are your favorite writers and what have they taught you?

(This post was originally written for the Sourcebooks Casablanca blog.)