What I’m Reading Wednesday: Nonfiction for Fiction Edition

Even though I write fiction, I like to include a lot of truth in my stories. Whether it be bits of a person, the city they live in, or the stories around the characters, it’s important to me that my readers learn something about the real world around them while they read my made up stories.

These three books are my latest/current non fiction reads:


Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Kinney enters into the world of obsessive Bob Dylan followers (aka the Dylanologists) to deliver an immersive work on the artist’s singular impact on American culture.

Intelligent, entertaining, and insightful, The Dylanologists is a richly detailed work of narrative journalism in the tradition of Confederates in the Attic and an absorbing story about the tension between zealous fans and their beloved idol.

In a young adult novel I recently finished writing, a few of the characters love Bob Dylan. Two of them are even in a Bob Dylan tribute band of sorts. While writing the first draft, I started each chapter with a Bob Dylan quote that I thought introduced what was happening in that chapter. As I wrote, and eventually finished the draft, I knew that in the future drafts, the Bob Dylan aspect was what was going to set this book apart from other “mean-girl” type books that are out there.

So I found this book on NetGalley and it was the perfect read to get me in the mindset of a true Bob Dylan fan. This book tells stories of Bob Dylan fans, the pilgrimages they took, the concerts they went to, and the lengths Bob Dylan went to avoid them.

Although it wasn’t a true narrative non-fiction, it read easily, and was entertaining and informative. The sources and stories that Kinney interviews are true treasures and if you weren’t a fan of Bob Dylan before reading this book, you will be after.


William Randolph Hearst was a man of mythical proportions and staggering contradictions. And he was a fascinating character, so much so that he appears in various fictional works, from John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Last Tycoon” to Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” as if his life was not sufficiently bizarre in its own right. At its peak, Hearst’s media empire included 28 leading newspapers from the San Francisco Examiner to the New York Journal, 18 magazines including Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar, and eight radio stations, an enterprise worth more than $220 million and reaching more than 30 million people — just a tad less than 25 percent of the American population! No wonder Hearst managed to get people such as Winston Churchill, even Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler, to pen articles for his papers. He lived a life of royalty from his 165-room La Cuesta Encantada in San Simeon on the Pacific Coast to St. Donat’s castle in the Welsh countryside–guest George Bernard Shaw quipped, “This is what God would have built if he had had the money.” Author Daniel Alef brings to life the remarkable story of a man who was at once a prodigy, a titan, a novelty and a contradiction.

I’m kind of cheating on this review because the publishers description is pretty long and says all I would say about the book.

I’m writing an MG mystery of sorts that is set at Hearst Castle. I’ll talk more about that in my next review, but I read this book because my character is not only a descendant of one of they key players in the construction of Hearst Castle, but her knowledge about Mr. Hearst himself is very important to the book.

I had to know all I could about Mr. Hearst so that I could then take that to a middle grade level and use it to assist in pushing my story forward.

This book more than did its job. It was short and simple, but had just enough information for my character to use.


Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his legendary California estate occupy a place in the public imagination through Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, but Kane’s brooding Xanadu was merely a caricature of Hearst’s exuberant castle at San Simeon. This new book sets the record straight and proves that, for once, truth is better than fiction.

Here for the first time is the real story of Hearst Castle, and of the productive 28-year relationship between Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan, who collaborated on the magnificent 165-room estate set on 250,000 breathtaking acres near the remote seaside hamlet of San Simeon, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Drawing on previously unpublished correspondence, and illustrated with never-before-seen historic photographs as well as more than 150 stunning color pictures, Victoria Kastner chronicles the evolution of this extraordinary hilltop, with its two spectacular pools and its astounding collections of fine art and antiques. Sprinkled throughout with stories of the famous parties hosted by Hearst and his companion, movie star Marion Davies, and their celebrated guests, this book brings to life America’s most glamorous country house.

259 photographs, 157 in full color, 9 x 113/4″

As I said, I’m writing an MG mystery set at Hearst Castle. I have been to the castle and taken the tours and photographed as much as I could, but this book is a tremendous help to me in describing the castle that my character roams, and the artifacts that play an oh so important part in my tale.

The pictures are beautiful and the descriptions are just what I need to know a little history about the artifacts.

I know my middle grade readers probably aren’t going to be fact checking my book, but if they do, I want my story to hold up, and this book has been instrumental in helping me do that.

I hope that my readers will read this book and visit Hearst Castle and be able to see the things I wrote about and find it magical.


Do you read non-fiction while writing fiction? I want to hear about it!

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