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#1403 - 04/09/05 07:07 PM Literary Influences

I am always interested in what motivates a person to become a writer. Who were your major literary influences, especially in the mystery/crime genre? What books grabbed you as a child and never let go? Which people in the genre are authors you prefer reading today?
I can't remember a day, since I learned to read, when I did not have 2 or 3 books that I was reading at the same time, so finding out what others like is not only interesting but often introduces me to an author that I haven't tried yet.
If anyone else reading this would like to join it could become a very entertaining thread. I'd love to hear from you all.

#1404 - 04/10/05 08:52 PM Re: Literary Influences
Barbara Offline

Registered: 04/24/99
Posts: 13033
Loc: Citrus Heights, CA , US
Well, bethoc, what influenced me the most were...plays and movies. I wish I'd kept count of the humongous number of plays I read while I was working on my degree in theater history and criticism. Whatever ear for dialogue I have came from that. Reading so many plays also conditioned me to visualize scenes, imagining how they would play out on a stage. So I used mostly scenes to act out my plots, reserving for straight narration those things the reader doesn't need to see to follow the action, such as the more tedious parts of any investigation -- for instance, searching through public records. The reader doesn't need to see that, only the result of such a search. I'm not at all sure I always got the right balance between scenes and narrative, but that's what I was aiming for.

Childhood books? There was one that meant more than the others. I first pulled it out of one of my grandparents' bookcases; it was The Arabian Nights. At first I was simply enchanted by the illustrations; that edition had a lot of Doré etchings, plus other pictures in a similar style, and I found them amazing -- so many things were going on, always something new to see. Then when I could read well enough to figure out most of the words, I read the stories. They were a real eye-opener. Now, I'd heard the usual fairy tales about goblins and sorcerers and dragons, and somehow I knew they were just for fun. In the same way, I knew the flying carpet and the genie in the lamp were just for fun too. It was the way of life the characters lived that was so alien to me. Their homes were different, their clothing and their names were different...they had different rules. It was my first indication that the whole world wasn't like the small river town where I spent my childhood.

I think I spent most of my teen years reading English novels, starting with Jane Austen. I read that first sentence of Pride and Prejudice and I was hooked. I read all the Bronte novels, even Anne's, one after the other. (Loved Jane Eyre, hated Wuthering Heights.) Thackeray was a bit of a challenge, but there were so many others -- Scott, Hardy, oh, you know the list. As to mysteries, the first one I ever read was a Perry Mason mystery; I don't remember which one. But like most readers of my generation, I became a fan through Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. Today, I will read anything Liza Cody cares to write. I think Bucket Nut is the most courageous piece of crime fiction I've ever read. And I also think Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes is the closest thing to the perfect mystery that's yet been written. I also like Ross Macdonald and Reginald Hill, Marcia Muller and Linda Barnes, Donald Westlake and Ed McBain, Loren Estleman and Nancy Pickard, P. D. James and James McClure -- oh heck, I just like mysteries.

#1405 - 04/11/05 01:15 AM Re: Literary Influences

Thanks, Barbara. I found your theater influences to be extremely interesting. Bram Stoker did theatrical management for years before he wrote Dracula. I think that a dramatics background is an huge asset for those writers who have had it. It helps the flow of the book and aids a reader as they visualize the action within.
Jane Eyre was also a huge favorite of mine as a child. Like you, Wuthering Heights left me cold when I was younger, but as an adult, I grew to appreciate it's dark and twisted aspects. It still blows me away that the Brontes led such an isolated existance, both geographically and self-imposed, yet still were able to unchained their imaginations to a degree most of us could never attain.
As for mysteries, they are the genre that grabs my interest the most. I read as many as I can but have a special fondness for debut novels by women writers. Discovering a truely talented auther for the first time is so exciting! That was how I discovered Carol O'Connell. Mallory's Oracle was one of the best debut novels I had ever read. Like The Fourth Wall, I have reread it several times. I am a Val McDermid fan, in fact I love the Tartan Noir crowd. The Scottish crime/mystery writers out there today can always be counted on to deliver intense, compelling and unsettling works.
Take care and thanks for writing back.


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