Today we welcome author J. Mark Boliek of Durham, NC to these pages. Mark is a Durham native and fellow NC Writers’ Network member. His book, Mahogany Door is now available through Split Rail Books and in his guestpost, Mark talks about something that’s very near and dear to my heart: reading! You can’t be a truly good writer unless you’re a good reader. Enjoy! Alice

Dear Alice, thank you so much for the opportunity to address your audience about my writing of my first fantasy novel for young readers called, The Mahogany Door. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Like a lot of first time authors, I believed my writing was the best thing since sliced bread, and I found out really quickly that it wasn’t. One editor even called my writing “tripe.”

It was then that I had to make a choice – either keep writing a wonderful story I loved, or just quit. The only problem was that apparently I had no idea what I was doing, at least according to one person. After my wife and I moved to Raleigh, I decided I would give it another go.

I read through many tips and tricks of the trade, and if I heard the phrase, “don’t be cliché” any more than I did, I think I would have pulled my hair out. To me, it became cliché to say “don’t be cliché”. At that time, I felt all of the tips and tricks in the world would not help my writing. I actually found myself writing and then checking back to make sure I didn’t make any of those dreadful mistakes that I had read about in writing magazines. It became daunting. So what to do?
My wife gave me the best advice anyone could have given me, but before that, I thought it was a waste of time. The advice was to read.

I was never a big reader growing up, but since I was struggling so badly in my writing, I would try anything, so I picked up 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. After that I read everything I could find by Mr. Verne. I graduated to H.G. Wells and then on to Charles Dickens. It was amazing the worlds that were opened to me. More importantly though, I actually started to understand how the English language could be painted instead of spoken. The language these authors used was absolutely amazing.

The more I read the better writer I became. Granted, I will never compare myself to those wonderful authors, but I could hear my sentences really starting to take life instead of being a means to get to the end of the story. I finally found a tip that actually worked – and in the process I found my voice.

OK, OK, if that is not the most cliché thing you have ever heard – writers need to find their voice – I submit, however; that this is one statement I deem fact! It is like discovering your wallet after you have lost it for three days (true story) – wow! – There it is!

The voice I found, became a part of my writing technique, even if I have borrowed it from someone else, or actually, many other “else-s”.
Writing became easier and was not such a chore for me. I’d be lying if I told you I still didn’t need editing – heck, I probably need editing in this blog entry, but that is all just a part of the process.

As I continued to write, I started to hear more than just words, I actually heard music coming from my pages. With that, I wrote songs and recruited others who had written great songs for me to use with my project. The Mahogany Door became more of an experience than just a story, and I liked that. I could finally FEEL the world I had created, and I owe it all to reading – OK, my wife.

To find out more about The Mahogany Door and Mark, go to (click on the “Music” tab for the soundtrack) and 

Your Turn: Please leave a comment below!
How much do you read as a writer? What are your favorite books? How has reading improved YOUR writing?