Q: What authors particularly inspire you? Do you read them when you are working on a book?
I fall back to Jane Austen when I’m pushed to say who really influences my writing. That combination of wry wit, social satire with deft and utterly believable characterization gets me every time. How is it that every time I read one of her novels, I am caught up in a drama whose ending I know as well as I know the names of my children? To me, it’s magic. I’m not sure how she does it, but I reread her books to catch the sparks and to remind myself that dialogue has to sound real without being real, if you know what I mean.
One recent novel that I love has some of those elements. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is an epistolary novel, itself a kind of throwback to another era, and the author (Shaffer wrote it and her niece Barrows helped whip it into shape when Ms. Shaffer became too ill to see it through to publication) tells her World War II tale through the voices of a handful of individuals whose correspondence brings them together. The uniqueness of each letter writer, and the way they carry the story forward so smoothly is something I aspire to get right some day.
Tim Hallinan’s series about a man named Poke Rafferty who lives in Thailand and has created a family of people I love almost as much as the protagonist does appeals to me as a writer. The affection he writes into his portrayals of the young characters is only one of the reasons Tim is considered a writer’s writer. (His Bangkok is hot and steamy, corrupt and exotic.) Poke is a rounded character, softened by his love for the vulnerable people he’s drawn to protect. I hope to create some of that warmth in my own work.
There are others, authors and books that do something so well that I want to hang onto the experience and try to do it my way in my stories. But I don’t deliberately dig out a book when I’m writing as if it were a primer. I’m not trying to copy or mimic them so much as incorporate what I got from reading them into my own voice. I read all the time, even when I’m in the midst of a manuscript, but so broadly that it’s hard to say there’s a direct influence. When I’m deeply tangled in plot issues, I read non-fiction, though, because I can only keep so many balls in the air – or my brain – at one time.