What I Read This Year
December 30, 2010
It's possible I'll have one more book to add to this by tomorrow--NAKED HEAT by Richard Castle. Yeah, it was a Christmas gift and I'm going to write about this when I'm done, because the whole thing is a bit weird, to say the least. Anyway, here goes:
1. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
2. 9 Dragons by Michael Connelly
3. The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe
4. Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt
5. The Reclamation Artist by Kristin Katherine Rusch (novella)
6. Altar of Eden by James Rollins
7. Capitol Offense by William Bernhardt
8. Impact by Douglas Preston
9. The Ghost by Robert Harris
10. Split Image by Robert B. Parker
11. Extremes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
12. The First Rule by Robert Crais
13. Freudian Slip by Erica Orloff
14. Deception by Jonathan Kellerman
15. Bag of Bones by Stephen King
16. Deep Shadow by Randy Wayne White
17. Pocket-47 by Jude Hardin (in manuscript)
18. The English Assassin by Daniel Silva
19. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
20Storm Prey by John Sandford
21. House Secrets by Mike Lawson
22. John Adams by David McCullough
23. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
24. The Silent Man by Alex Berenson
25. House Justice by Mike Lawson
26. Magickeepers: The Pyramid of Souls by Erica Kirov
27. The Book of Spies by Gayle Lynds
28. Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
29. No Mercy by John Gilstrap
30. The Confessor by Daniel Silva
31. Crashers by Dana Haynes
32. Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist by Donald P. Ryan, PhD
33. Star Island by Carl Hiaasen
34. Body of Lies by David Ignatius
35. Strong Enough To Die by Jon Land
36. People of Chaco: A Canyon and Its Culture by Kendrick Frazier
37. Bad Blood by John Sandford
38. Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker
39. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
40. Hard Rain by David Rollins
41. Crossfire by Dick Francis & Felix Francis (I forgot to add this one)
42. Fever Dream by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
43. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
44. Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent by Fred Burton
45. A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva
46. Ride Your Way Lean by Selene Yeager
47. Trust Me by Jeff Abbott
48. Agent To The Stars by John Scalzi
December 29, 2010
Since I took a look at this year's goals and resolutions, I decided to make my list for 2011. I prefer goals to resolutions, because I tend to actually achieve my goals, whereas resolutions, not so much. So, for 2011...
1. Lose 12 pounds.
Yeah, trying it again. And probably forever. It's been a lifelong battle, so...
2. Earn $80,000+ with my writing.
I hit it this year and I want to duplicate it, or even better. For a variety of reasons, including the economic downturn, 2009 was sort of a financial debacle. I'd just as soon not do that again. It's not all about the money, but there's a specific number I need to hit that makes life reasonably comfortable, and 2009 was under it; 2010 was well over it, but it created a lot of breathing room, which is nice.
3. Finish SINS OF THE FATHERS and get a contract for it.
Although finishing it is definitely possible, getting a contract for it is always in a gray area, although I would say it's likely.
4. Finish A PLAGUE OF STARS and start to market it.
My first shot at an SF novel. It's complicated, so it takes me forever.
5. Finish FREELANCE WRITING FOR A LIVING and e-pub it.
I'm turning my 12-part series on my blog into an e-book, expanding it, etc., and going to publish it as an e-book.
6. Make all my current e-books available on PubIt (Barnes & Noble) and in paper.
THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK should be available for the Nook, B&N's e-reader, now and I'm going to slowly make all the rest of my e-books available there as well, as well as other e-book formats. I'm also making them available in paper via CreateSpace. The first one for that is EDGE. I'm proofing the galley slowly, because there were a few issues, including a typo on the back cover, so it's taking time. I expect this will take quite a while because there is some minor expense involved, but when you're talking 5 or 6 books, it adds up, so I'm spreading the expenses out.
7. Finish CHINA FIRE and begin marketing.
In some ways this feels like A PLAGUE OF STARS, which is to say, a big, ambitious, complicated story that I've been working on for a couple years. CHINA FIRE, at least, can be seen as a "Mark Terry book," which is to say, action-oriented with a heroic government agent and the "espionage and/or political thriller" genre. I've decided to finish the damned thing one way or the other, and this is the year for it.
8. Get at least one more book contract signed.
I'm aware that's somewhat outside my control, but it means I need to either work on proposals or finish some manuscripts, something I felt I didn't do enough of in 2010.
9. Get a ghostwriting gig.
I want to do more of this. I actually enjoyed it and it's fairly lucrative. Hello, universe! Hear me?
10. Write a nonfiction book proposal.
I've gotten more interested in writing nonfiction books, having done the one with the two doctors. I've written one or two other NF proposals in the past and didn't follow through very well on marketing, partly because the responses to them were educational, i.e., the various agents' commentary was useful and consistent, so I learned a lot about what I did right and what I did wrong. I've got a couple ideas for nonfiction books and I think I'm going to focus on one of them and begin research to do the proposal. I'd be quite happy, if the money was there, splitting my time between novels and nonfiction books and ghostwriting with a little of my other bread-and-butter projects. My friend Eric Mayer once commented that making a living solely as a magazine writer is brutal. He was right. I've got other regular projects--e-newsletter columns, a technical journal I edit, and a couple trade journal clients I write for regularly, as well as the market research reports, but my "goal" and/or "dream" is to do more and more book projects and less and less smaller type projects except for the ones I enjoy doing the most.
Any goals you'd like to share?
2010 Goals & Resolutions
December 28, 2010
Ah, time to look at my 2010 Resolutions/Goals and see how I did.
1. Lose 10 pounds by April 1.
Uh, no. Did lose about 5, at least from the point where I made the resolution.
2. Sign NF book contract with Greenbranch.
Yeah. Did that. And the book, "31-1/2 Essentials For Running Your Medical Practice" was published in October.
3. Finish A Plague of Stars and get agent to market it.
Mmmm, no. Still working on it, slowly. Have maybe 45,000 to 50,000 words on it, so about halfway, give or take.
4. Finish China Fire or Dressed To Kill.
No. China Fire is still on my backburner and is on the top of my list for working on after I complete the next Derek Stillwater manuscript. Dressed To Kill, well, my agent didn't like it, so I stopped working on it. I may still finish it anyway, because I like the character.
5. Start on next Derek Stillwater novel.
Yeah. I hope to finish it in February or March. I'm about 67,000 words in. The tentative title is THE SINS OF THE FATHER.
6. Sign at least one more contract.
I was thinking book contract when I wrote this back in late-2009, but that didn't actually come to pass, unless you think of the self-pubbed e-books as being book contracts, which isn't quite what I had in mind. I did have other contracts for various projects, some of them fairly major, so maybe that counts.
7. Get to where you run 3 miles, 3 days a week in addition to other exercise.
Well, yeah, for a while, but I still struggle with running and recently it's been more of a low-end thing, 30 minute-walk/run 3 days a week. I often think of just giving it up and spending more time on sanchin-ryu karate and/or increasing the time and mileage of my biking, which I love to do anyway.
8. Get black belt in sanchin-ryu.
Yup. I received it this fall. I am a shodan. Next belt level would be ni-dan, and that typically takes 2 to 5 years (or never, I suppose). I'm working on it.
9. Earn $80,000+.
Yes, I'm happy to say that I hit this goal and then some, so it was a very good year financially, which alas, I can not say was true of 2009.
How'd you do on your goals and resolutions this year?
Guest Blog: KL Dionne
December 27, 2010
I would like to welcome my friend and fellow novelist KL Dionne, AKA Karen Dionne
, to the blog today. I met Karen a few years back at an author event in Romeo, Michigan. She introduced herself and said she had her first novel coming out a year later. Then last summer we were on another author event together at the Romeo Public Library (and for shame, neither of us brought a life-sized cut-out of ourselves to put outside the library, like one of the other authors did).
Karen's 2nd environmental thriller, BOILING POINT
, comes out tomorrow! Her first novel, FREEZING POINT
is also available. Check 'em out! Now, here's, er, KL.
Men! Would you buy a science thriller from an author named ‘Karen’?
Authors publish under a pseudonym for a variety of reasons. Some trade their given names for a name that’s easier to remember or pronounce. Some choose a name that will list them closer to the beginning of the alphabet, like my friend “Avery Aames.” Some choose a new name to appeal to the readers who buy the kind of books they write – youthful-sounding names for the young adult market or sexy ones for writers of romance. Authors who happen to have the same name as an existing author have no choice but to pick another. And some choose to write under a new name simply because they hate their own.
Other authors publish under a pseudonym for less frivolous reasons: to distance themselves from a poor sales record for their previous books, or because they’re writing in more than one genre, or because their subject matter could cause complications for their family or their career.
One of the most common reasons for an author to publish under a pseudonym is to disguise their gender. Before my first novel published, I considered using my initials instead of my given name for this reason. I write science thrillers inspired by the work of Michael Crichton, and thrillers – especially science thrillers – are decidedly male territory.
But by the time my first novel sold to Berkley, “Karen Dionne” had achieved a fairly significant Web presence: I’d cofounded a writers organization, Backspace, that had hundreds of members, organized half a dozen Backspace Writers Conferences, and was an active participant on a number of writers sites and email lists. I had nearly 5,000 email addresses in my address book – writers and others associated with the publishing industry with whom I’d corresponded.
No one at my publisher brought up the issue of disguising my gender, and so my first novel, Freezing Point, about a solar energy company that uses microwaves from orbiting satellites to melt Antarctic icebergs into drinking water, was published as “Karen Dionne.” Both of the foreign territories that bought the rights to the book, the Czech Republic and Germany also published Freezing Point under my full name – this despite that fact that of 140 or so novels listed under “thrillery” on my Czech publisher’s website, I’m the only female author.
My second just-published science thriller, however (Boiling Point, about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming involving geoengineering), is published as “K. L. Dionne.” My publisher asked for the name change, reasoning that more male readers would buy Boiling Point if it they didn’t know the book was written by a woman.
I’ll admit, I didn’t like the idea. It’s one thing for an author to choose to use a pseudonym; another when the suggestion for a name change comes from someone else. I worried that publishing under two names would create a disconnect between books that are meant to be linked. Boiling Point brings back two characters from Freezing Point, and the titles clearly indicate the books are part of a series. My publisher suggested a tagline below my new genderless name, “By the author of Freezing Point,” so readers of the first novel would know I was the author of the second, which seemed like a reasonable compromise, and so I agreed.
Will publishing my second science thriller as “K. L. Dionne” instead of “Karen Dionne” make a difference in sales to male readers? There’s no way to quantify the results. Still, I’d love to know the answer. So men, what do you say? Would YOU buy a science thriller from an author named “Karen”?
Books For Christmas--A Few Suggestions
December 13, 2011
I've decided, due to a lack of imagination and inspiration, that I'm going to take a break until sometime after Christmas. And after all, the best post for the Holidays is this one, recommending some books to my reader friends. So, I hope you have a terrific Christmas, if that's the holiday of your choice, and I'll get back with you sometime after December 25th. Of course, if you really miss me, I'm always (always) on Facebook, just filling the bandwidth with my pithy observations and trenchant whines.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
December 10, 2011
Yes, dear friends, I've heard there's a gift-giving extravaganza coming up shortly and because I'm a huge fan of books, and I have some friends who are authors, I'm here to remind you of a few excellent books by friends of mine that I think should be on your Christmas list.
An Amish cartographer, fabulous treasure, maps, treasure hunt! What more could you ask for? How about international travel?
A couple years old, but you can't go wrong with an Apocalyptic thriller, because nothing says "Happy Holidays!, your relatives are coming over!" like the end of the world! They have a new book coming out in June, The Phoenix Apostles
, which, interestingly enough, can be pre-ordered! And isn't that cover cool?
Pocket-47 by Jude Hardin.
I've read this one and alas, it's not available until May 2011. But it's awesome and available for pre-order and really, it gets the Mark Terry I'm-Really-Quite-Envious-Of-Your-Book-Cover Award 2010 (For reasons that elude me I couldn't download it, so you're just going to have to click on the link, see for yourself, and while you're there, click on the Pre-Order Button).
And under the Not Quite Friends Necessarily But I Recommend These Books Anyway Category (books I read this year that I particularly liked, and in some cases know the writers, at least in passing):
Asteroids off the coast of Maine. Gems. Jungle adventure. International intrigue. A little adventure, a little SF. Highly recommended.
Renamed The Ghost Writer after the film came out (book is better, although the film is surprisingly faithful to the book). Quirky, murky, thought-provoking. This is a political thriller that focuses more on paranoia than action. I loved it.
I'm a fan of Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford novels anyway, but I thought this one was a particularly well-focused and heart-pounding thriller and I ripped through it.
Maybe I just like books about jungle explorers, but this is fascinating, a look back at famed explorer Fawcett, while Grann attempts to follow in his footsteps. Compulsively readable!
I really like Mike Lawson's political thrillers about Joe DeMarco, a gopher/bagman/troubleshooter for the Speaker of the House. Any of his books are good, but this is the latest. Check 'em out!
What can I say, but "Wow!" I'd heard of Gilstrap, but never read anything by him, so I downloaded No Mercy to the Kindle and devoured it on my summer vacation in about two days. Totally action-packed, exciting, and wonderful. I promptly bought his follow-up, Hostage Zero, but haven't read it yet, although I will, I will...
This one totally caught me off guard. A thriller about a team of NTSB plane crash investigators. Rather stomach-churning and I sure as hell wouldn't want to read it just before or during a plane trip, but I loved it. Fascinating and exciting.
Rick continues the adventures of demigods and Camp Half-Blood with this start of a new series. I'm probably a little bigger fan of his Percy Jackson novels, which are a bit lighter and Percy's first-person narrative is more fun, but this was terrific and it sets up what looks to be a series of really cool novels.
December 9, 2010
Congratulations! The widow of a deposed Nigerian general has provided you with $20 million (Tax Free!) in return for some advice on how to invest her late-husband's millions in American banks and other investment opportunities.
So, what are you going to do with your $20 million?
Today, my thinking is:
-$1 million each into a trust fund for each kid that they can't touch until they're, oh, 33 or so.
Set aside $250,000 for each kid to pay for college. God, I hope that's enough.
Replace my 2003 Saturn VUE with a Suburu of some sort, let's say $30,000
as well as invest in a good-sized pickup truck and a boat, let's just round these to $100,000 for simplicity.
Buy a place on Higgins Lake in northern Michigan. Normally I'd say condo for $200,000, but since I'm suddenly rolling in money, I think we'll go with a house. $1,200,000 (one of the most, if not most expensive lakes in Michigan, unless you decide to live on a Great Lake) plus miscellaneous furnishings and electronic equipment.
Buy a condo in Florida, possibly at Disney World. Have no clue as to price, but let's say $500,000.
Pay off current house. I'm not sure what we owe, but probably $80,000. Time to replace appliances, carpet, have interior painted, new furniture, various electronica... total about $150,000 when all is said and done.
$1,000,000 would be set aside for a trust that would provide continuing funds for the Oxford Band program, to be managed by Leanne.
$2,000,000 would be put (today, at least) into developing a think tank/foundation for healthcare studies that I would run in the hopes of it becoming self-perpetuating.
$1,000,000 to various charities, including Gleaners Food Bank, Paws For A Cause, National Cancer Foundation, the Alzheimer's Foundation and probably a few others.
I'm feeling generous, so I would invite my family (but probably not my wife's family, ahem) along on an all-expenses paid trip to a Hawaiian resort for a week or so. $150,000.
Sadly, I'm not sure what else I would do with it, so scatter the rest of it throughout various investments so I wouldn't have to work again unless I wanted to.
Would I continue to write fiction? Yes, probably. Would I start a publishing company for fiction? Uh, no. Spend tons of it promoting my own work? Hmmmm, maybe. Would probably be more fun than the think tank. Seems to me that creating another foundation to do some good locally would be a good idea, too, that Leanne and I could run together. So I think I'll shave off another $3,000,000 to do that.
So, how about you?
The Yeah But Post
December 8, 2010
Yesterday's look at my 2010 fiction publication schedule would suggest that I was wildly busy and productive this year. What I failed to mention was that none of those books were actually written or even finished in 2010. That's not true, come to think about it. 31-1/2 Essentials For Running Your Medical Practice was written this year. The proposal was written at the end of 2008, beginning of 2009, we spent most of 2009 fussing around with marketing efforts and I did most of the writing this year.
Which someone begs the question: So, Mark, did you complete any fiction manuscripts this year that will be published next year or the year after?
Um. No. I'm working on it. But no.
So what did I do this year?
Well, one of my spreadsheets indicates 31 invoices, which might not sound like a lot (I've had years with over a hundred), but most of these invoices were for decent chunks of money.
So, for an idea of what a working freelance writer might do during the year:
--4 issues of a technical journal, the 4th issue just now coming to press
--6 trade journal articles, a couple of which I co-wrote with a medical IT consultant. The lowest paying one was $220.80, the highest $2900. Most were somewhere between $400 and $750. I no longer write for the low-end one. Typically I do more articles, but I was doing a lot of other stuff this year.
--5 market research reports. This explains a lot about 2010, I think. Financially lucrative, but not necessarily a lot of fun. Also, unfortunately, I know that this particular client tends to be on an every-other-year cycle, so one year I'm crazy busy with them and make a bunch of money and the next, not so much. Also, they had a financial restructuring going on this year so God only knows what'll happen next year. Ah well.
--twice a week column for an e-newsletter.
--filled in for another column on another e-newsletter
--took on a website content writing/editing gig that's still wrapping up and hopefully will provide additional work in 2011. This was a massive project--almost 600 web pages.
Yeah, so that covers my year fairly well.
2010 Book Publishing Thoughts
December 7, 2010
So, December 7th, moving into the holidays and that usually means a fair amount of Let's-Look-Back-At-The-Year and Let's-Look-At-Next-Year stuff.
Sure, why not.
got published this year, my third book to feature Derek Stillwater, my first book with Oceanview Publishing.
I don't know about sales yet, although word is they're pretty decent. I was very impressed with Oceanview's marketing efforts overall, especially the services of Maryglenn McCombs
, who created a fair amount of buzz online through all her contacts with book bloggers. The book also managed to win the Thriller/Adventure category for the USA Book News' Best Books 2010 Award, which startled and pleased me. Which also reminds me that I need to get a frame for the certificate.
Jumping on the e-book self-publishing band wagon, I took some books that I liked but which didn't find a home and put them up on Amazon's DTP platform. In addition to re-titling and putting new cover art on EDGE
, I published HOT MONEY
, MONSTER SEEKER
and THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS
. Perhaps more importantly, I wrested the e-rights back from Midnight Ink for the first two Derek Stillwater novels, THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK
and THE SERPENT'S KISS
and put them up as e-books. I'm in the process of making them available in paper formats via CreateSpace with the help of Natasha Fondren
, who seems to understand that although I'm not an idiot, I can be terribly lazy about figuring out technology when it relates to formatting manuscript. (Okay, she may actually think I'm an idiot).
That ain't bad for a single year, I don't think.
December 3, 2010
Sometimes--often--as a professional writer, particularly one paying his bills that way, writing becomes work instead of play. It's an occupational hazard, emphasis on "occupation" and it puts a different kind of stress on the creative process. In short, it may stop being fun. So sometimes, in hopes of rejuvenating my enthusiasm for writing, I take a swing at something different, play around with a different idea. I've got one that I keep coming back to and maybe 2011 will be the year I actually spend more time on it (after I finish The Sins of The Father and A Plague of Stars, and maybe China Fire... Hmmmm....). Here's a taste. Me having a little fun. This would be the introduction of the main character of a tech thriller titled Crystal Storm.
Doug Shepherd rode his long board into shore on the Waikiki Beach, leaped into the surf and trotted across the beach to the surf shop where he worked, Kiki’s Board Dogs. Glancing at his watch, he saw he still had plenty of time before his shift began.
He ran around the back to store his board and dipped under the outdoor shower to sluice off the saltwater. Shepherd was heading for the locker room to change when Billy said, “Shep!”
He turned, brushing a hand through his long blond hair.
Billy jerked a thumb. “Two suits looking for you, man.”
Shep didn’t like that much. Two men in suits showing up on a beach in Hawaii usually wasn’t good news. He scanned his memory, trying to think of any money he owed, laws he might have broken, lawsuits he might have stumbled across or ex-wives he might owe … god knows what? He came up blank.
Shepherd turned to find that he had made an incorrect assumption. The suits weren’t both men. One was a woman. They weren’t lawyers, either. They were government. He knew it as soon as he saw them.
The woman, in a gray suit, said, “Are you Dr. Douglas Shepherd?”
Running a towel over his bare chest, he nodded. “What wants to know?”
The man held out a leather identification folder. “Fred McGovern. D.O.D.”
Shep took the identification, studying it. “DARPA,” he said. He glanced at the woman and held out his hand for her identification. She handed it to him. Also Department of Defense, also the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the out-there-on-the-fringes science part of the Pentagon. Her name was Allison West.
He handed back their IDs. “What can I do for you?”
“Your government needs you.”
“I gave at the office. No thanks.”
A Comin' and a Goin'
December 2, 2010
I am often wildly hopeful about fiction publishing (really); I am often quite pessimistic about it (no kidding). Often simultaneously, which is not a part of my life that I enjoy. I'm reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's The Freelancer's Survival Guide,
which I highly recommend for everybody who wants to be or is a writer or who runs a business of any type. Or you can buy chapters as they apply to you, or if you're cheap, read most of it for free on her blog/website.
(And you might try her fiction, too, it's terrific).
Anyway, in it she mentions how it can be hard to predict what direction a novelist's career might take. She talks about a writer friend of hers, Karen Joy Fowler, who was doing a book signing when she noticed two signs. One pointed one way and said: Jane Austen. The other pointed another way and said: Book Club. Voila! Inspired, she wrote a novel called The Jane Austen Book Club
, which became wildly successful. Who could have guessed?
I think we've all heard of JK Rowling, penning her ideas on a train ride, then selling the Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
for a 1500 pound royalty to Bloomsbury. Apparently it was rejected by 12 publishers, then she received an 8000 pound grant from the Scottish Arts Council. Then Scholastic paid $100,000 in advance, they changed the title of the book, and the rest, as they say, is history. Apparently that book alone has sold something like 70 million copies worldwide, not to mention the films, video games, Lego kits, posters, amusement, etc.
Another story I find somewhat inspiring is Rick Riordan. Rick was a middle-school English and History teacher who wrote and published a series of quite successful PI novels featuring Tres Navarre. The first book was Big Red Tequila.
The books were quite successful, winning pretty much all the awards to be won in the mystery community--Edgar, Anthony, Shamus, etc. Rick kept teaching and seemed to enjoy it, although he suggested to me in an interview a bit later that he didn't make enough money from them to quit teaching (and it was fairly clear he didn't want to quit teaching, interestingly enough). Anyway, if you're not familiar with this story, for bedtime stories for his youngest son, Rick was telling Greek myths. When he ran out of Greek myths to tell him, his son suggested he write his own. Rick mulled it over, then wrote a story called Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
. His sons loved it and he got a different agent to handle the book, which sold to Disney (Hyperion, at the time, owned by Disney), and it pretty much went viral within the company and became a bestseller, movie rights were sold, the movie was made, an additional 4 bestselling books in that series came out, he was hired to write a story arc and the first novel in a series called The 39 Clues, he started another series called The Kane Chronicles
, as well as a follow-up series to the Percy Jackson novels called The Heroes of Olympus (the first book just came out called The Lost Hero
). Rick's a full-time novelist and he tours a lot and he's clearly doing quite well financially and appears to be having a hell of a lot of fun.
I bring these up not to point out that they're happening to someone besides me (see that I can be hopeful and depressed simultaneous thing), but to point out that although there are many, many writers whose careers don't take off like explosive non-dairy creamer
, there really does appear to be many for whom it does. And I'm ever-hopeful, while simultaneously realistic.
So, anyway, got any more stories like this?
December 1, 2010
The other day I put up a post of my so-called 101 "Must-Reads" although I think it might be better to assume they're books, great or otherwise, that had an impact on me (Hey, it's MY list; make your own). So I thought I'd over time take them on more or less one at a time.
1. Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon (in whatever generation you belonged to)
Can't really describe how important these books were to me at a certain age. I'm guessing from 7 or 8 years old to maybe 11 or 12. It's possible I read them longer. Interestingly, I tried to read one to my oldest son and neither of us liked it. It's possible the one I had was just dated. It's also possible you just can't go back to certain periods in your life. Prior to the Hardy Boys books I read a series called The Happy Hollisters, which is sort of like The Brady Bunch solves mysteries (and isn't that name awful?). I was never a huge fan of Nancy Drew, but I'd say these two series, along with the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators got me totally hooked on series crime fiction (And ironically, several well-known crime and espionage writers wrote for this series as house writers, including Gayle Lynds, who has blurbed a couple of my own books). They were a training ground as a reader to eventually read Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Jonathan Kellerman, etc, etc.
2. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Ah yes. The first book in what I guess was eventually 4 books, although I only read the first 3. I read a lot of L'Engle's books aimed at teens. Her books for adults never caught on with me, but L'Engle had a huge impact on me as a teenager (The Arm of the Starfish was another one). In this one, the main character, a teenage girl goes in search of her missing physicist father. It turns out her father had invented a way to fold time and space (to Tesser), and he had landed on a totalitarian planet ruled by "It" which was a giant disembodied brain. She and her friends and sibs, along with 3 witches (or angels or stars, or... well, it's confusing) go to retrieve him. Fantastical mix of SF, science, fantasy and family drama. A uniquely interesting book, I think.
3. The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L'Engle
Another by L'Engle, although less fantastical. It deals with a family in New York City. They're living in a big house with another family. I don't remember if the father is absent or traveling, but the daughter is a blind piano prodigy. This book is almost impossible to write a synopsis of, but it involves a mad scientist who is using lasers to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain, a visiting priest (Canon Tallis) who is a sort of troubleshooter for the Vatican, an evil bishop, a gang called the Alphabats... Amazing stuff, and like most of L'Engle's works, hard to pigeonhole.
4. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Makes me smile, just to think of it. I don't know that these are classics. I read them to or with both of my sons. It's essentially about two misfit kids who write their own comic books featuring their principal whose alter ego is the superhero Captain Underpants. Not just wildly funny, but wildly subversive. I always got a wicked little gleam in my eyes when I heard critics or teachers or parents complaining about these books. Exactly, you idiots! That's the appeal to the kids! They're wildly inappropriate!
5. The Deal by Peter Lefcourt
Another funny book, but quite different. The Deal is a satire (maybe) of Hollywood. It starts with Charlie Bern, a veteran B-movie producer, who feels like his life has become pointless (i.e., he hasn't made a movie in a while), and is in the process of committing suicide when his nephew shows up out of the blue from New Jersey with a film script based on the life of Benjamin Disraeli. Charlie cancels his suicide attempt, options the script for $1, then promptly goes back into business, finagling a Wesley Snipes-like black action hero to be attached to the film (because it has a "Jewish" element), getting a budget as a result from the studio, then paying a drunken scriptwriter to hack out an action film script and eventually going to Yugoslavia to shoot the film--only the actor gets kidnapped, then released, the film gets canceled, so since Charlie has several million dollars in Yugoslavian film money (that can only be spent in then-Yugoslavia) and a Yugoslavian film crew, he convinces some A-list actors to shoot the original Benjamin Disraeli biopic while the studio tries to figure out what's going on. Very funny, very entertaining and fairly warped in its own charming way.