First, the worst advice.
When my first stab at a novel was accepted – and by a well-known and respected U.K. agent – I thought I’d better learn something about writing. I was living in London, went to the nearest bookstore and bought a truck load, small truck, of books on how to write. I don’t remember much about them with one exception. I recall a published author stating that he never did any reading for pleasure while he was working on a novel, for fear another writer’s work might somehow influence his own. Novice that I was, I thought this well-intended advice had a certain logic. So while working on my own creations in those early days I eschewed the work of others. I did not read fiction. It was, for me at least, terrible, terrible advice.
What was I thinking? How did I expect to learn? By osmosis? I could write a rather lengthy book merely expressing the state of my ignorance about writing at the time. I did not know what tools of the craft I lacked because I did not know what the tools of the craft were. Et cetera.
The first to disabuse me of this self-defeating notion was Stephen King. He said he read constantly. He didn’t need to say he also wrote constantly, his extraordinary output was evidence enough of that. So I thought I maybe should read. Something.
But where to start? I had done very little reading for pleasure for years. I was a lawyer and it’s not uncommon for lawyers to experience a sort of reading ‘burn-out’ after their years of law school. But fate dropped a jewel into my lap, a memoir of a life spent traveling and reading by the writer beloved for his western tales, Louis L’Amour. One of his last books was a look back on his younger days called ‘Education of a Wandering Man.’ There was a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, a list of the books he read and the years he had read them as he traveled the world. I was also wandering at that time of my life, living in Austria and tromping into Eastern Europe; renewing my love affair with France. I had copied L’Amour’s reading list and carried it with me everywhere I went. It contained classics from ancient Greek to contemporary. I was roaming through non-English speaking countries, but was surprised to find that even in the smallest bookstores in the smallest of villages, I was able to find classics on Louis’s list. In English. It sure added to the education of this wandering man. Thanks, Mr. L’Amour, Sir.
Fast forward a few years. After experimenting with several genres, a friend suggested I write a thriller. Once again fate took my hand. A dinner conversation with friends. Asked what I was working on, I said I was writing a thriller. A gentleman in the group was an avid thriller reader. He gave me names. Said I should start with Robert B. Parker, who had learned from Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Then he shared names of his current favorites and I noted them on a napkin. Oh, the places I went. Lee Child. Michael Connelly, John Connolly, John Sandford, Greg Iles. I stepped back in time and reread Ian Fleming. Kept up with John Grisham and met Vince Flynn and Brad Thor; Nelson Demille and Daniel Silva. And others like Graham Brown, Andrew Peterson and Brian Freemantle.
And I could go on and on. And as far as reading these authors, I’m sure I will.
As for my writing, these gentlemen have set the bar high, but they encourage me each morning as I face my computer. I’m inspired to work and work harder. Must meet my daily quota.
So I can get back to my reading.