Almost every time I go somewhere to speak about writing for publication, someone in the crowd asks me what authors I like to read and who has influenced me. And nearly every time I draw a complete blank. I mumble a couple of names of popular writers who I like well enough, but I can never think of a good examples. I know, I know, we writers are supposed to be quick on our feet. Not true. We just make ourselves look that way in print.
Sam’s non-exhaustive list of the signs of fiction done right made me think of a few authors that I really do enjoy reading, and more importantly, why.
I’ll begin my list for no particular reason with Daphne duMaurier, author of Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek among others. Not only did her genre and the period and region of which she wrote appeal to me, I love her style. She always stands out in my mind as someone who did it right.
Jane Austen and Fannie Flagg are two more women writers I adore. Unfortunately I’m not smart enough to read much of Ms. Austen’s work. The language differences, coupled with her pacing and style of writing, leave my tiny little Midwestern brain spinning on its top. But I love the stories, her sense of humor, and her insistence that women had something to say at a time when no one else was listening.
I can’t say enough about Fannie Flagg. Her books are so funny and subtle and strike me where I live. Ms. Flagg’s characters ring true with people I once knew and take me back to a time before my experiences but where I can picture myself. She can take a story about dropping a mason jar on the floor and make it so real, you sweep your kitchen floor to make sure you got all the shards.
I also love reading Ken Follett and Robert B. Parker. Unfortunately because of the content and language of some of these books, I have to close them and put them aside. The last Ken Follett book I read was Whiteout, and I made it all the way to the end. A wonderful book. Again pacing and style are why I love his books. My sophomore high school English teacher handed me The Eye of the Needle by Mr. Follett and told me I’d love it. I handed it right back and said, “I don’t like spy stories.” She insisted I take it. Since I trusted that she knew me well enough to know my reading tastes. I read the book. I’ve never seen the movie, starring Donald Sutherland, but I’ve read the book several times and love it every time. It’s one of the few fiction books in the world I’ve read more than once.
My sister has become disabled from work so is toying with beginning her writing career. She told me the other day that her problem is filling in all the gaps between scenes. You know, Heroine goes to the market. Hero drops his kid off at soccer practice before discovering dead body in marshland. Heroine bakes cookies while pondering better place to hide dead body.
I assured my sister not to worry about the gaps and read her a page of a Robert B. Parker book I had on loan from the library. Sidenote: I couldn’t finish the book because of an annoying curse word that appeared too many times for my comfort level.
Open any of Mr. Parker’s books at nearly any point and you will see mostly dialog. At the beginning of each chapter, he has a paragraph or two setting up the scene and then he hits the ground running. There is very little inner monolog that appeals to female readers, but with him behind the wheel you won’t even miss it. Everything is quick, quick, quick, ohmygosh, I never saw that coming.
This was definitely not an exhaustive list, but now I’ll have a few writers in mind the next time a reader at a book signing asks who I like to read.