Monday, January 16, 2012

The Writers Who Made Us

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!

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 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.

: 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?


  1. This was lots of fun.

    And no, I wouldn't have matched the authors to the books. Especially would not have matched Rhys to Tony Hillerman. But the very thing that was so important to Rhys about place, was what moved me as well. I discovered him about the same time that I discovered Robert B. Parker. The sense of place, its importance to the stories was very attractive to me. I was coming out of a blinding academic fog of a soul fart, proclaiming that I would never read another book! A moment later, as I sat in my little student kitchen over the P&K Deli in Somerville, I heard Tony Hillerman interviewed on NPR . . . so much for that never reading another book stuff.

  2. To begin with, I'm also saddened by Mr. Hill's death. I had my own moment of silence in his honor.

    I'll be honest, I haven't read all of you yet, but there was only one really big "no kidding??!!" for me. What I loved reading were everyone's explanations for why they were influenced by other writers.

    And I dunno about prizes for sticking to only two, but I certainly do second the sentiment about how lovely it is (and how lucky we are) that we're continually inspired. Woo-hoo!!

  3. Thanks ladies for reminding me of all the books I haven't read in years, I didn't think anyone but me read Gwen Bristow. I have put a few of those authors on my t-b-r list at the library. Dee

  4. How perceptive of you, Reine - everyone talks about Parker's dialogue but of course PLACE is so important, too.

    The Pink Motel is a great title -- I'm going to see if my library has it.

    A dear friend and writer recently sent me a copy of her FAVORITE book -- My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart. I'm going to start on it soon. Then I'll find The Pink Motel. Then Reginald Hill. Need more hours in the day.

  5. Like Hallie, I adored both Little Women (which I first read in 4th grade, when I was home with the measles) and the Anne of Green Gables series (remember when Anne dyed her hair green). Note that they were both independent tom-boy types, which I identified with. As was Nancy Drew--I devoured those books.

    Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night was not the first mystery I read, but it had the biggest impact. I could probably say it was a negative impact, because I could not conceive of writing that well. But it's worth striving for.

  6. Oh,Sheila, Gaudy Night. Yes, that was such a moment in time.

    And I agrees, sometimes reading a truly good book now is intimidating--such a funny line in Midnight in Paris, when Hemingway refuses to read the main character's book--He says I'll either hate it because it's bad, or hate it because it's too good.

    (Something like that..:-) )

  7. Lynda, there's always time to start! But we love it that you're here..

  8. I have to say that my favorite mystery series, and my first if you don't count Sherlock Holmes was Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. My mother introduced them to me. And hey, for childhood books what about Black Beauty?

  9. Naomi, I read and loved Black Beauty, but it was just too sad. (Hmm, am wondering if I maybe I shouldn't go see War Horse...) I loved Marguerite Henry's books--King of the Wind especially--and Walter Farley's Black Stallion books. Read them over and over.

    Oh, and My Friend Flicka, but that was pretty sad, too, if I remember. And don't even mention The Red Pony . . .

    Now I wonder how many of us Reds were horsey girls???

  10. Hank, I was thrilled to see somebody mention Edward Eager. I have loved his books since I was a child (I'm 66 now)and reread them regularly. Wish he'd written more!

  11. I don't write, but I teach 2nd grade. Just last Thursday I was trying to coax a 7 year old to stick with reading by telling him all the wonderful places that he will go in the pages of a book. Places that no train, boat, or rocket ship will ever take him. Reading the titles and authors here, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Nancy Drew, Marguerite Henry all serve to remind me of my wonderful first experiences with books. God bless you all for taking me to unforgettable places and introducing me to wonderful people. YOU inspire me!
    PS: Debs, I love Dreaming of the Bones!!

  12. Jayna, so nice to have a fellow Eager fan! The books are so good! And they really hold up, don't they? Knight's Castle, Magic or Not, Magic by the Lake--and the frog--what was his name? Oh, my brain..

    And Black Beauty? Kidding me? I cried for WEEKS. There was a series of horse books--Golden Sovereign? Silver Birch? Can't remember the author, but I devoured those.

  13. Reginald Hill was one of those authors whose books just kept getting more and more amazing. The Woodcutter left me breathless~RIP.

    Sayers, Tey and PD James were my influences for mystery writing, but as for wanting to write at all, give it for Alcott~

  14. Deb,...huge horse book fan when I was a kid. I wen to Chicoteague once years ago and would love to go bak to see where Misty lived again!. Last summer i scored a beautiful copy of King of the Wind at a tag sale.

  15. Elizabeth, what a nice post. I was thinking as I was writing this blog about books I read in grade school that made a huge impression, negative and positive. The Red Pony already mentioned, but I also HATED Old Yeller. Maybe nobody reads that anymore...

    But so many books that as you said, took me to places I would never otherwise have experienced. Two Newbury standouts were Johnny Tremain (I didn't visit Lexington and Concord until I was in my forties, but it took me right back to that book) and A Wrinkle in Time.

    There simply isn't enough praise for teachers and librarians who make an effort to open up the world to kids through books. Bless you!

  16. No, I wouldn't have matched authors to the books. I would have thought mystery writers would have been influenced solely by other mystery writers! :)

    I was very upset when I heard Reginald Hill had died. It's hard to perceive of a world with no new Dalziel and Pascoe. What a loss...

    Agatha Christie was one of my first loves. My grandmother had her, John Creasey, and Mary Stewart in abundance. I am in awe of complicated plot lines, and mysteries that confound. I loved Reginald Hill for his intelligent mysteries. I felt so much smarter after I read them.

  17. Deb, a fellow teacher and I were debating the pros and cons of teaching 'Literature" to eighth graders. They are currently reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" and HATING it. I read it as an adult and it's in my top ten list of favorite books. So is Catcher in the Rye, another book that many of our middle school students dislike. Maybe it's the idea that they HAVE to read the books, but they resist like billy-o. Go figure.

  18. Such a wonderful subject. Reginald Hill. What a brilliant writer.

    Black Beauty fans: I still own the copy of Black Beauty that I was given when I was seven years old. I read it over and over again. And all the other horse books I could get my hands on.

    No one mentioned Nancy Drew. Couldn't get enough. Raggedy Ann.

    Pink Motel people: try Swampland. Not a mystery, but an amazing debut novel that came out last year.

  19. Yes, I definitely think there should be a prize if you could actually stick to 2! I certainly wouldn't be able to!

    And Elizabeth - My one daughter (in high school) had to read To Kill A Mockingbird (for HS English), and I think it is still her current favorite book! Maybe it's the age??

  20. I wasn't a horsey person, but did love the Misty of Chincoteague series Ro. And Debs, if the movie is like the Broadway play, you should not worry about going to see War Horse. I'm a huge animal softy and I loved the show.

    Loved loved loved A Wrinkle in Time. Also the Borrowers series--what a great imagination. And The Wind in the Willow, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond....oh, oh, all those I didn't choose are just bursting out! And by the way, if anyone needs recommendations for young people's mysteries, love Peter Abrahams' Echo Falls series

  21. ECHO FALLS Books!! Can;t resist echoing...

  22. I love all of your choices. It brought back my early reading, besides Nancy Drew. Does anyone remember "Lad: a Dog?" "My Friend Flicka?" I read all of Louuisa May Alcutt, which shaped my love of family and character especially when they are presented in a good intriguing mystery. I have to re-read some Reginald Hill. wonderful writer, nice man.

  23. Wow Elizabeth,

    I can't imagine anyone hating to Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye in eighth grade. But I remember being pretty difficult all around in eighth grade, so maybe they just resist EVERYTHING!

  24. I couldn't have matched because there are many of those books I didn't know of. But life is amazing. In december, I picked up a book at the public library. It was written by you Deborah and I enjoyed it a lot. During my reading,I learn that TLC is closing and then Hank invites us here at JRW.
    So I was hooked on your work when I came here where you blog and I want to say how I appeciate your books. I have now read two and intend to continue.

  25. Danielle-momo, thanks so much! What fun that you have lots of books to catch up on from (with the new one Feb. 7th) AND all the other wonderful Jungle Reds!

    And we are going to talk about how much we love our librarians later this week.

  26. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, still do. Thought Catcher in the Rye was okay, but have never been tempted to reread, so don't know what I would think now.

    We had to read Of Mice and Men and The Old Man and the Sea, neither of which I liked. Still not crazy about Steinbech or Hemingway, although I recently read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's autobiographical book about his years in Paris, and really enjoyed it.

    But weren't most of the books that were required reading not only written by men but very male-centric, if that's a word? What women were we given to read other than Harper Lee and maybe Carson McCullers?

    Have things changed? What are kids required to read these days, Elizabeth and any other teachers out there?

  27. Late, as always. Deb, I believe you hit the nail on the head by saying most, if not all, writers of the books required in school were men! I'd never made that connection before, but that makes sense for me. Though I can name more, I have to say (and I've said it here before) Deb's Dreaming of the Bones and Tey's Daughter of Time. The latter was the first mystery I read that centered around one of England's historical mysteries. I wanted to write that!

  28. danielle-momo---I absolutely got goosebumps. The world does work in mysterious ways!

    Catcher in the Rye--adored from moment one, and i bet I stlil would.

    Old Man and the Sea--I just did not understand it in high school. Years and years later, I read it..and cried for days.

  29. Carol Ryrie Brink and CADDIE WOODLAWN! Oh my, yes! And all the other wonderful kids' classics you've all named. Did anyone else read all the Arthur Payson Terhune collie books? (He wrote the original Lassie book that the movies and TV series were based on--ever more loosely as time went on).

    For mystery, Sayers' GAUDY NIGHT, all of Josephine Tey and Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Tony Hillerman, Margaret Maron (a great, vastly underrated writer), Nancy Pickard. When I decided to try to write a mystery, I went to my local mystery bookstore and asked them to show me the best of the newer crop since I felt I was out of date, only reading my favorites (because I'm also a science fiction/fantasy reader and with reviewing lit/poetry books, there went my reading time). In that first group were three remarkable writers who just made me sit up with my eyes wide open--Louise Penny, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Deborah Crombie. And since finding Jungle Reds, I've had the joy of discovering the individual strengths of each of you. Many thanks!

  30. Though I am getting awful impatient waiting for Hank's new book to come out and start her new series!

  31. Oh, have made my day. Thank you.

    I can tell you, then, only here because it's just I got a real copy of the cover. It's amazing. I am nervous and so excited. We shall see. No presssure, of course. It's just the rest of my life...xoxo

  32. Oh, that's so exciting when you get the cover, Hank! Makes you start to think that maybe it's real, after all, doesn't it?

    Just tell them to hurry up about it, will you?

  33. Linda, it's some kind of publishing relativity thing. Sometimes it seems very far away. Sometimes--it seems like tomorrow--and I'm not ready.

    But ALL the time-I am so grateful for your interest! xooxo And so reassured..

  34. I didn't find out about Tony Hillerman's death until about six months after he died. It was a triple loss, as Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee died with him. I cried for about two days. I can reread all his books, but it's not the same as looking forward to his next book.

    As a child, I adored Lucy Maud Montgomery's books, as well as Louisa May Alcott's, Laura Ingalls Wilder's and Maud Hart Lovelace's books. I know I am leaving out other favorites.

    I think I probably read every mystery ever written for kids, and devoured an entire series of biographies. The bookmobile came to our neighborhood, and I overcame my shyness long enough to follow the librarian around to ask if there was something new that I needed to know about!

    I read To Kill a Mockingbird a year or so after it came out - I was pretty young. I thought it was just "okay". I never could understand why people loved it. Last year I decided to read it again, and see what I think of it as an adult. I just could not get into it,and I returned it to the library. (I bought my own copy when I was a kid but it is long gone.) I really DO want to like it, because so many people love it, but it is just not calling me to pick it up and read it through.

    My verification word is "rests", most likely a hint that I should get to bed!

  35. Can anyone guess I was a horsey girl? I even took lessons. What do you mean we can't afford it? Get me out of ballet! So yes, BLACK BEAUTY, MY FRIEND FLICKA . . . all of those. Wonderful!

  36. Deb, yes. All of those. Especially for me were ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and the LITTLE HOUSE . . . books. Scout and I did a children's-writers cross-country pilgrimage that focussed on the places featured in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Books and included others such as Mark Twain. I love that my Scout loves to do these thing too. XOXOXO, Scout.

  37. So many books, so little time! It seems as if I always wanted to be a writer. I've always read everything -- even cereal boxes and road signs, from the age of 8! Scott Turow and John Grisham, with Presumed Innocent and then The Firm inspired me to try. Those books proved readers would enjoy books about lawyers. Yes I know Erle Stanley Gardner and Perry Mason inspired a generation of lawyers -- but that was before my time! LOL!