Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to interview a lot of wonderful mystery and suspense writers, and one of my favorite questions for them has been, “What writers have influenced you? Who has taught you by example?” Here are some of their answers.
“Richard Price has shown me what one can do with a voice, an ear and endless empathy; I can't begin to reach his heights, but I'm inspired by his work. George Pelecanos has proven that crime novels can be very serious. Also huge and sprawling (Hard Revolution) or as tight and laconic as the author himself (Drama City). Daniel Woodrell works the English language, Ozarks style, like no writer I've ever known. Val McDermid and S.J. Rozan have shown me the sky's the limit. I could go on and on and on.”
“I grew up on Flannery O’Connor and Margaret Mitchell. I loved the novel (to me) idea of women writing meaty stories. What I learned from them is a sort of fearlessness. I suppose I benefitted from not knowing that women are supposed to stick to romance or children’s books. I wanted to write about violence and social issues and tie them all up with some sort of social statement. I think good writers do this effortlessly, so it’s always been my goal to reach that point of craftsmanship.”
“Margaret Maron, Archer Mayor and Sharyn McCrumb for their regional settings. Lawrence Block, Steve Hamilton, and Elmore Leonard for language and dialogue (although I'll never manage to be as spare as they are). Outside the genre, Lois McMaster Bujold, Joanna Trollope, Jodi Picoult--women who create the perfect reading experience for me.”
“Listing the fiction writers who've taught me by example would crash your server. Every book you read can teach you about writing--both what works and what doesn't.
"[These] books are examples of what works superbly well: Ken Bruen's Priest, Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, Alan Furst's Dark Star. “
“Some of my favorite crime writers are P. D. James, Elizabeth George, Martin Cruz Smith, Ian Rankin, Minette Walters, and Iain Pears, among others. I've also [enjoyed] books by Leslie Silbert, Michael Connelly, Denise Hamilton, Mark Billingham, Natsuo Kirino, John Connolly, David Hewson, Janet Gleeson--there are so many others I've been meaning to read, too, but haven't had a chance yet. I seem to have a weakness for historical crime novels, and stories that are grounded in very specific places or cultures.
“To me, there's an element of mystery in all great fiction writing; there may not be a murder or a swindle at the heart of the story, but not knowing what will happen next keeps you turning the pages. My taste in mainstream fiction is pretty eclectic, but I'm extremely fond of A.S. Byatt and Edna O'Brien. The list could go on and on--Roddy Doyle, John Fowles, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Alice Munro, Tim O'Brien, Michael Frayn. For sheer glorious entertainment, you still can't beat Dickens, Austen, and Tolstoy. And I'm a theater person at heart, so of course you must include Shakespeare, Shaw, and Chekhov, along with contemporary writers like David Hare, Michael Frayn (again), Brian Friel, August Wilson.”
“One of my favorite writers is Donald Westlake, who's not exactly a mystery writer, but I find him one of the funniest writers ever. I try to copy his manic sense of humor in my writing, but of course it can't compare with his. I love Agatha Christie, Rex Stout's Nero Wolf, Ruth Rendel,l P.D. James, Michael Dibdin. I tend to keep the mystery books I buy, and have run out of bookcase room. I probably read two to three books a week, mostly mysteries, and borrow a lot from my local library. Just last night I learned a tip from reading Patricia Highsmith, how to allow a point of view character to see into another character's thoughts without the reader suspecting it's a trick.”