Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Anita's Attic: What Makes a Favorite Author?

I love to read. Some of my earliest memories are of going to the library with my mom. I loved Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit. I remember going to the library and marveling at those rows and rows of little green books. They all had green covers then, unless I'm confusing my memories. It was like entering a world of magic. Later on, I found the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I couldn't read them fast enough. I loved following the clues and watching Nancy solve the crime. I think it's so great that now my daughter loves Nancy Drew.

When I was a teenager I found Harlequin. That was before romance was so sizzling. And I adored Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Elizabeth Peters. I was enraptured. I could spend hours with my head in a book. My problem is when I find something I can be impatient and obsessive. Back then, I wouldn't start a book unless I could finish it. It was unthinkable to start a book, put it down, and pick it back up the next day. So I would read like a maniac and when life got in the way, I would stop reading for a while. It was on one of the reading frenzies that I decided I could be a writer. I hadn't been reading for a few years. I was busy with young kids, then we went on vacation to our friend's cabin in the Adirondacks. I thought, why not take a book. I picked up a Carla Neggers and BOOM. I was back into reading. I read incessantly for three years. I don't know how I got anything done. I still love to read, but as we've mentioned on this blog, it's harder when you're a writer. You don't have as much time, and the writer's part of your brain can interfere with reading pleasure. I still have my favorites. And now, as a writer, I want to know what made them my favorites? There are so many great books out there it can be hard to choose. What makes me want to pick up this author instead of that author? I believe as writers we need to write books that would blow our own minds as readers, so I want to know what is it about a particular writer that draws me in. Here are some of my favorites and what I think they do well.

Diana Gabaldon: She does everything well. Her books are long, but she can wring more plot from a book than almost anyone I've read. After I read her first book, Outlander, I couldn't believe it when my Cp said Diana had written seven books about the SAME characters. But she has, and each one is filled with amazing plots, and the characters never get old. I'm anxiously awaiting book eight. The way she writes setting is brilliant. You can feel yourself in the place, seeing it through the characters' eyes. She really plays up on the sense of smell. Her characters are so real, you would swear you can touch them.

Elizabeth Peters: I love the world she's created with Egypt and the pyramids and this wonderful character, Amelia Peabody. Amelia is an amazing woman. Smart, sensible, and not afraid to speak up. She's a woman ahead of her time. Her husband, an alpha male who knows when he's met his match, is the perfect mate for her. I love watching her keep him in line as he gives his Emerson scowl, and she's always ahead of everyone else, mentally and physically. She wields a parasol like a sword and carries a big bag containing anything anyone could need to survive. Her son is hilarious when he's young and mysterious as he grows older. These books are so funny and just darned interesting. The writer is an Egyptologist, and the authenticity shows in her writing.

Kristan Higgins: Kristan Higgins writes romantic comedies, and she's a genius at making ordinary characters larger than life. She writes emotion in such amazing way. I don't cry easily, but most of her books will bring a tear to my eye. But they aren't sad books. That's the brilliance of it. They're funny. She'll have me wiping a stray tear then laughing until my sides hurt. Love her.

Jeri Westerson: Here's another writer with an amazing ability to write setting. I can almost taste those dirty streets of London. I really like her character, Crispin Guest, and his sidekick, a little boy named Jack. I think what I love about her books is they have a Sherlock Holmes feel, and she always has a really interesting mystery.

Harlan Coben: This man can write mysteries. He can do plot twists on top of plot twists. And he's another one that does emotion well. But the emotion in his books is so understated that it packs a blow. I love getting to the end of his books, and after the mystery is solved, you discover that there's still more to the story. The last page can be a shocker.

Janet Evanovich: I don't care so much for her old romances, but the Stephanie Plum series is great. I can pick up one of these books, and I'm laughing by the first page. I love the humor of the characters. They're so unique that they couldn't be real, but she does them so well that they feel as if they must be. This is one book that I will buy in hardback.

Linda Howard: She's an amazing writer, so good that her stories compel me even though I don't really like her settings or characters. That's saying something. If I read a blurb on the back of a Linda Howard book, it's not going to appeal to me, but she can write so well, she makes any character and setting intriguing. And she understands the power of sex. She is wonderful with love scenes. They're never flowery. They're raw, real, powerful. I had the opportunity to hear her last workshop last year at RWA in Orlando. She presented her "12 Steps to Intimacy". It was powerful. She really understands how and why males and females think and interact the way they do.

These are just a few of my favorites. I would love to know what it is about your favorite writers that makes you pick their book. What do they do well that we can learn from as writers?


Liz Lipperman said...

Love this post, Anita. Most of the ones you listed are my favorites, also, but I do tend to gravitate more toward mysteries and thrillers these days.

Won't it be nice when I list Anita Clenney as one of my favorites because her Highland warriors captured my heart?

Donna Cummings said...

What a great list. I've never read any Elisabeth Peters' books, but now you've convinced me I need to. :) You're so right about it being hard to get sucked into a book, so when it happens, I definitely add that author to my "Gotta Read More" list.

I tend to read a lot of romantic suspense, because it's not anything I plan to write. I absolutely loved a new-to-me writer, Tara Janzen, I came across the other day. It has sexy special ops heroes, a little paranormal aspect, great 70s muscle cars, edge-of-the-seat tension -- I consumed that book in no time! Thank goodness she has lots more in that series. LOL

My "comfort read" is always Suzanne Brockmann. I love her characters like they're family, and I can re-read the books multiple times and feel like there's something new each time.

Alexa said...

Great post! I'm only going to mention two of my favorites. First is Laura Griffin, who writes romantic suspense. I LOVE her stories. I think it's because the ideas are fresh and different. The settings are usually places I know. The suspense is intricate and well thought out and the romance, while not as prominent in the stories, builds slowly and perfectly for me.

My other favorite author is Jill Shalvis, who writes contemporary romances. I also LOVE everything she writes. She's funny and I always find I identify with the heroine. I find myself laughing in all the right places and nodding my head in agreement with the heroine's thoughts, actions or words. I love learning about deep POV from her work. With every one of her books I pick up, I know I'm guaranteed a great escape into a wonderful story.

D.R. Grady said...

Loved this post, Anita. My favorite writer is Jayne Ann Krentz (Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick). Her books resonate with me in a way I long for my books to someday resonate with readers. I love the way she tells a story.

Also adore Christine Feehan and Jenny Crusie for totally different reasons. Christine's characters are pretty amazing and Jenny makes me laugh out loud. Her characters are so real, and the way she spins a story is inspiring.

Anita Clenney said...

LOL, Liz. I started to list you as a favorite, because I know your books will be with that sense of humor you have.

Anita Clenney said...

Donna, I haven't heard of Tara Janzen. I'll have to check her out. Thanks for the suggestion.

Anita Clenney said...

Alexa, I've read Jill Shalvis, but it was years ago. I think it was a Harlequin. I remember liking her writing then. I'll have to get something new by her.

Anita Clenney said...

DeAnn, I like Jenny Crusie. I haven't read her for a while. She really made me laugh. I haven't read Jayne Ann Krentz in a long time either. I heard her speak at RWA. She was hilarious.

Kristan Higgins said...

Thanks for including me on this amazing list, Anita! What a thrill!

Anita Clenney said...

Kristan, thanks so much for stopping by. You aren't just a great writer but the sweetest person ever. And you're funny as heck!

Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you for your post, Anita. I think what makes a great work of fiction is a great theme. The core concept is what the other elements, including plot and characters, revolve around. Or should.

This aspect is often overlooked in discussions of popular fiction. Usually authors talk about their characters and readers talk about their favorite authors.

But for me, theme rules! And my favorite theme in romance fiction is the power of love. I dig reading about how characters motivated by love brave daunting obstacles, endure great hardships, make tremendous sacrifices, defy the rules and authorities, and think and act outside the box.

I can't find anywhere near enough romance fiction of this type, so what do I do? You guessed it. I write my own!

Good luck with "Awaken the Highland Warrior" and your future releases.