What authors and books inspire me? It may sound glib to say that I try to be inspired by everything I read, but it’s true. Why read, if not for some kind of inspiration? Some kind of breath—whether it be a breath of fresh air, a breather between projects, a spark for the next project, a moment when all is still, all is moving, all is changing. I am inspired by the good books I read: Louise Penny’s A Beautiful Mystery challenged me to dive more deeply into my characters, to get at what motivates them, how they respond the way they do, and to not hold back in playing with language. Dial C for Chihauha, a laugh-out-loud mystery by Waverly Curtis, reminds me how much fun it is to laugh when you read — and my readers probably enjoy that, too.
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Alan Bradley’s 4th Flavia deLuce novel, reminds me of the importance of the central character and her unique point of view. Flavia is 11 in 1950, a chemist living with her widowed (and still grieving) father and her older sisters in a great-but-declining English country house, a charming mix of precosity (Is that a word? Well, I used it and you know what I meant, so I guess it is.) and naivite. Bernadette Pajer’s first mystery, A Spark of Death, a historical mystery set in early Seattle, inspires me to use time and setting fully. Broken Harbor by Tana French inspires me to tell the story the way it needs to be told, and not worry about conventions or whether a passage is going on too long or whether readers will stick with tough stuff because their own lives are tough; they will, if you tell it true.
What of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain? Well, if Enzo the Dog doesn’t inspire you, nothing will! Plus it taught me a few things about driving. And that you can make the reader’s heart sink and her stomach ache because she knows what’s coming next and she knows it’s going to be bad and she can’t take her eyes off the story—it’s just so darned well done.
And Ivan Doig’s A Bartender’s Tale inspires me to use voice, to use my love of place, to dive into a story boldly and not be afraid of it.
Even the books I haven’t liked inspire me. They teach me what not to do, yes, but more than that: they remind me how much of reading is simply taste. “I like this, I don’t like that; your mileage will vary.” And that writing is bold and scary and to those of us who do it, as essential as breath.
What inspires you?