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