DEBORAH CROMBIE: I was very saddened last week to read of the death of British crime writer Reginald Hill. Many of you may have known Hill from the television adaptation of his Dalziel and Pascoe novels. But while the adaptations were entertaining (loved Warren Clark and Colin Buchanan as Dalziel and Pascoe), those who haven't actually read Hill's novels have missed out on one of the great literary lights of our generation. (I chose this older photo as I thought the sly twinkle was so expressive of Hill's writing.)
Hill's novels are literate, witty, and complex. His prose could make me catch my breath in delight--and envy. And even after twenty years of writing detective fiction, he could twist me around his little finger with a plot. There are not many writers who are such masters of misdirection that they could leave me smacking my forehead at the reveal and saying, "Of course that's what happened! It was there all along and I just didn't see it." And I, slow-poke that I am, cannot help but be awed by a man who wrote more than fifty novels in his career, starting with the Dalziel and Pascoe novel A Clubbable Woman in 1970.
When I'm asked what writers influenced me, Hill has always been, along with PD James, at the top of the list. (Not that I think I've ever come close to writing as well as either of them, but they inspired me to try.)
Contemplating this, I began to think about my fellow Reds, and to wonder what writers made you sit up and say, "Oh, I want to do that. I MUST do that, no matter what it takes!"
We all write crime, but our books are so very different, so I'm guessing that our literary heroes and heroines are different, too.
Hallie, Jan, Rosemary, Hank, Rhys, Julia, Lucy--who inspired you to pick up your pen, glue yourself to your keyboard, stay up until the wee hours (or get up in them) to fan that spark that would one day become a novel?
And here's a dare--keep it to two, if you can!
RHYS BOWEN: Oh Deb--Reginald Hill was one of my idols too. His novel On Beulah Height was one of the best mysteries I have ever read. I hold it up as the standard to which I aspire. Apart from the ladies of the golden age the person who most inspired me to write mystery was Tony Hillerman. When I discovered his books I was blown away. I was used to polite English drawing rooms as the background for mystery. Here were books that took me to a strange and exotic place, that gave me insights into a new culture and were terrific stories too. I wanted to write books with that incredible sense of place.
Oh, and I have to add that I had published a couple of mysteries when I read a book called Dreaming of the Bones, by a certain Deborah Crombie, and that blew me away too. So Deb, you have been a role model as well!
HALLIE EPHRON: Well, I have to add Reginald Hill to my TBR list. My lodestars are two, and they're not mystery writers: Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott. Authors, of course, of Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, respectively, and creators of two great female character who were smart, mouthy, not so beautiful, and wanted to write, Anne Shirley and Jo March.
Cheating now - the first mystery I love Love LOVED was P. D. James's An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. Cordelia Gray is the character I'm always striving to write. And the first mystery with a plot I couldn't stop raveling and unraveling was Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent.
JAN BROGAN: Well, Presumed Innocent was definitely the mystery that most inspired me and I'll read anything Scott Turow writes. The two books that influenced me most as a child, though, were Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow, like Hallie, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Those were the books that made me want to be a writer.
LUCY BURDETTE: Keeping it to two writers is really, really, really hard. I had no awareness as a kid that I would become a writer, but I was a huge reader. One of my favorite authors was Carol Ryrie Brink, who wrote CADDIE WOODLAWN and the most fabulous and probably underrated THE PINK MOTEL. Do you remember that one? A mysterious and run down pink motel in Florida is left to a father, who brings his family to the motel to get it ready for sale. Instead, the kids get drawn into the whimsical characters who come stay in the little cottages and in the end, manage to persuade their parents to hold onto the place. Charming and mysterious with great characters.
I would have to say EB White for my second pick. His characters are wonderful too--funny and endearing and each one different from the other. Listening to CHARLOTTE'S WEB and THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN kept my family from coming to fisticuffs on long car rides. If I could only be one third the writer that he was! And if I could cheat and add more, I would (Kenneth Grahame, Nancy Drew mysteries...you get the picture!)
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN : Oh, kind of difficult! But really thinking about this...TH White's ONCE AND FUTURE KING was life-changing for me. I bet I still think about that book once a week.. For how a story can mean more than just the story, you know?
Also, okay pushing now, but they're similar I can't choose..Edward Eager and Jane Langton's magical adventure stories.. As for mysteries..Josephine Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: I never had that one, galvanizing moment that made me go Yowza! That's what I want to do! And I rarely read a book and think I want to try to do that. I was a big fan of the Alfred Hitchcock movies - for plot and mysterious doings - and the PBS Mystery series, mostly the Peter Wimsey series. And my books couldn't be further away from them in style and tone!
If there's someone I wish I could write like - present company excluded - it would be Carl Hiassen. He can tell a story with humor, smarts, and a bit of a social conscience.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As some of you may remember, once I conceived of the notion of being a writer, I tried my hand at science fiction. My greatest inspiration (and still one of my favorite writers) was Lois McMaster Bujold. She blithely tosses together every genre imaginable in her books: high fantasy, theology and philosophy, mystery, romance, comedy of manners, hard science fiction, American and European history - and she makes it work, in what appears to be an effortless style.
Once I decided to attempt crime fiction, my two role models became Margaret Maron and Archer Mayor. Both of them write regional mysteries with authenticity and perfect attention to detail. Margaret's books leave me feeling as if I've taken a trip to North Carolina beside a clear-eyed but sympathetic native. And after reading one of Archer's books, I always feel as if I could drive blindfolded through the part of Vermont in which he sets his story. In addition, they have three-dimensional, fully human characters that I care deeply about.
Okay, I may as well go whole hog and add one more: I wish I wrote prose like Steve Hamilton: spare, literate, poetical. I'm never going to get there, but it's a good goal to keep in front of my eyes.
DEBS: How fascinating! Turns out I was at least partly wrong about our influences being different because we write such different sorts of books.
Rhys, On Beulah Height is my favorite Hill novel, too! (And thanks for the mention of Dreaming of the Bones. I'm more than flattered to be thought of in such company...)
Hallie, I loved Little Women but liked Little Men better, when Jo was grown up and in charge of her own life. I didn't read Anne of Green Gables until I was in my twenties, and I adored the books.
Sayers, PD James, and Josephine Tey, of course. But Hank, I LOVED The Once and Future King by TH White. I went through a period in my teens where I read everything Arthurian I could get my hands on, but nothing ever compared. And Julia, I love Lois McMaster Bujold, too. I even got to do a first read of one of her manuscripts once.
BUT! I cringe to say I've never read Scott Turow. Or Caddie Woodlawn. And I am entranced by the description of The Pink Motel. And I should add Carl Hiassen, and how could I not have read Archer Mayor? And I'm behind on Margaret Maron's wonderful books....
More books going on my TBR list, obviously. And so many books I'd like to reread. I think I should have "So many books, so little time," tattooed on my forehead.
But isn't it lovely that we never run out of things we want to read, or writers who make us want to be better?
JR readers, would you have matched the writer to the books? And should we give prizes to those of us who actually stuck to two?