Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I Wish I'd Written That!

RHYS BOWEN: At the end of August I was crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2. On the second day out we awoke to high seas and gale force winds. Rain peppered the windows and we had to hold on to walk anywhere. (Luckily it was the one rough day. The rest were smooth, bright and beautiful). But the first thing that came into my head when I saw those waves were the words "None of them knew the color of the sky."

They are, of course, from the opening line of Stephen Crane's The Open Boat, a story of surviving a shipwreck. It made a big impression on me when I first read it. The rest of the first paragraph goes like this: None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white, and all of the men knew the colors of the sea. The horizon narrowed and widened, and dipped and rose, and at all times its edge was jagged with waves that seemed thrust up in points like rocks.

Immediately afterward I was plunged into gloom because I had never written anything memorable like that--a style, an instantly identifying work that would make a reader say "that's Rhys Bowen."  So I started thinking about what pieces of literature I wished I had written.

Jane Austen, of course. I'd love to be known for Pride and Prejudice.
Walt Whitman's poetry. I'd like to sing the body electric.
Robert Frost's poetry. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood sums up my life.
More recently Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, A. S. Byatt's Possession,
and in our field Tony Hillerman's Southwest, Reginald Hill's On Beulah Height.

So how about you: What do you wish you had written?

HALLIE EPHRON: Oh, Rhys - great choices!

I just finished GONE GIRL and I wish I'd written it -- I've been a Gillian Flynn fan since her debut with "Sharp Objects." She writes completely riveting novels with nary a likeable characters. That's writing.

Also wish I'd written: Olive Kitteridge (Elizabth Strout); The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)... and The Da Vinci Code, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and all the Harry Potter novels.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Wish I'd written? Oh, what a question...I wish I'd written Bonfire of the Vanities. And Custom of the Country--there's no one like Edith Wharton. I wish I'd written Linwood Barclays new TRUST YOUR EYES--have you read it? Wow. Mo Hayder's GONE. Well, Stephen Kings THE STAND. But it's almost blasphemy to say so...it's so out of the ballpark.

And I'm with ya, Hallie, on The DaVinci Code. That would have been fun. Oh! Presumed Innocent. Mos def. A really good and fair surprise ending beats all.

JAN BROGAN - I wish I'd written The Remains of the Day.  And I really wish I'd written Lonesome Dove.
I'd also be happy if I wrote The Big Short, but only if I could have done as good a job as Michael Lewis.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, tough one, Rhys. Like you, A.S. Byatt's Possession. Dorothy Sayer's Gaudy Night. Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. Lord of the Rings and all the Harry Potter books:-) Non-fiction? Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa. Such a simple opening line: "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of Ngong Hills." Once read, never forgotten. Crime novels; Reginald Hill's On Beulah Height is brilliant.  There are so many more....

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Look, I'd naturally be proud to have written any of the books mentioned, but I'm much more likely to think - I wish I'd written that sentence or paragraph - not an entire book. It's not ego, just the way my brain works.

RHYS: Okay, I confess. I wish I'd written Harry Potter. Not just because of the money it has made but because of the way Rowling created a universe and the warm, terrific characters she put in it.
So let's hear from you. Is there one work of literature that you wish you had written?. 


  1. After I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham, I thought (for just a moment), "I might as well stop writing. I'm never going to produce something that beautiful." Luckily, I didn't heed my own advice.

    I wish I written any of Julia's books or any of Louise Penny's. I'm not sure I can express why, other than both share a kind of lyricism that I covet to be able to write.

  2. Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad. It's a treasure that I try to reread every decade or so, and discover something new every time, about myself, about travel, about the world. Brilliant, and hilarious.

  3. 'The Newcomes' by William Thackeray. (He also wrote 'Vanity Fair.') It's so good that you would not be surprised to see one of his characters walk in through the door....

  4. Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond series. The best I could do was borrow her surname for my pseudonym.

  5. The Pursuit of Love and/or Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. Brilliant and funny novels by a woman whose family was even wackier than mine.

  6. I wish I'd written LA Requiem by Robert Crais. For me, Crais is the master of writing.

  7. I do not wish to write, but I love to read. Thanks for mentioning on of my favs Deborah, Gaudy Night!

  8. Anything by Dickens, the Foreigner books by C.J. Cherryh, Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey, Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers, Plainsong by Kent Haruf, The Powers of Charlotte by Jane Lazarre, One Was a Soldier by Red Julia... And don't even get me started on poetry.

  9. Ann Fairbairn's FIVE SMOOTH STONES.
    Pat Conroy's BEACH MUSIC.

    and many more for a huge vast variety of diffent reasons.

  10. The Bean Trees.
    The Guernsey Literary etc.

    Both books with found friendships, found community, taking on the concerns of others' lives. Love. Humanity.

    I had no idea until I started listing what I liked about these 2 books how much they have in common. Even the unexpectedly adopted child.

    This is a great question. And it's an interesting exercise to focus on what I'd really like to write (despite the fact that erotic romance is actually bringing me a little money these days)

  11. I agree with the Bean Trees and the Guernsey Literary Society Susan. And then, I'd like to have written Nancy Pickard's THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTENING. Or Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. Or Diane Mott Davidson's CATERING TO NOBODY. or one of Jodie Picoult's bestsellers...or lots of the books by the Jungle Red Writers:)

  12. The Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron because I love that book. And Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, because if I'd written the book I'd have a better understanding of quantum physics, which has always intrigued me.

  13. Ramona,
    I'm writing down The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.

    I also wish I had written Nancy Picard's The Virgin of Small Plains.

  14. I agree with Gillian Flynn, totally. Huge fangirl--she's so mesmerizingly dark. Wow.

    If I were going to pick other current crime fiction writers (I'll exclude you-all here on Jungle Reds because that'll make the list too long :-)), I'd say...Laura Lippman, Elizabeth George, Tana French, and, yes, Louise Penny too. Oh, and Minette Walters -- I miss her books. I don't think she's publishing anymore--?

    Sounds like I need to read Sayers' GAUDY NIGHT.

  15. I wish I could write-anything fictional. Meanwhile, I love a lot of the books mentioned, and I agree with most of them.

  16. So many wonderful books, it’s tough to choose . . . but these are the ones I wish I’d written:

    “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” [by William Steig], “The Best New Thing” [by Isaac Asimov], “The Polar Express” [by Chris Van Allsburg], “The Velveteen Rabbit” [by Margery Williams] . . . all wonderful books with timeless themes of the joy of life, of family, of love, of hope, of the power of believing.

  17. Any of the Amelia Peabody books, and anything by Agatha Christie. Both authors have given such wonderful gifts to their readers.

  18. Oh, I didn't think of children's books. Of course--Where the Wild Things Are. Winnie the Pooh. Charlotte's Web... now you've got me started.

  19. Anything by Patricia McKillip. Every time I read one of her books, I think "I know those words. Why can't I string them together like that?" and I'm left breathless.

  20. "Howards End" by E.M. Forster, Harry Potter solely for the money as I haven't read any of them, and anything by Oscar Wilde or Jane Austen.

  21. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. A dazzling book.
    Cold Light by John Harvey. Brilliant mystery.
    Anything by Jane Austen.

    I want to read several of the books mentioned.

  22. If we're going to children's books, SO MANY greats. Top of my list (for the writing) is Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories with its Zigzag railroad that goes pfisty-pfoost pfisty-pfoost and zigzags on into the Village of Liver-and-Onions.

  23. "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- I used to teach it (Middle School), and every time I read it, I would find some new reason to love this book.

    Thanks for all of the great referrals!

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. I agree with quite a few mentioned above. "The Velveteen Rabbit" I adore! Anything by Jane Austen. The prose of Raymond Chandler. Here are a few more close to my heart:

    "Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin
    "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier
    "Witness for the Prosecution" by Agatha Christie
    "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein
    "Majipoor Chronicles" by Robert Silverberg
    "Dune" and the whole Dune universe created by Frank Herbert
    "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by Frank Baum

    I could go on & on -- and then there are poetry, nonfiction...

    Thanks, Reds. I love reading your lists.

  26. I can only wish I were able to go cruising on a historical ship one day. For now, the usual sydney harbour cruises will have to do.