Wicked Wednesday–Who Are Your Aspirationals?

Julie Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes interviews Elizabeth George at the New England Crime Bake
Julie Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes interviews Elizabeth George at the New England Crime Bake

The weekend before last we all heard Elizabeth George say you should read writers who are better than you are. That’s the best way to improve your craft.

So I’m wondering, Wickeds–who are your aspirationals? What authors do you read when you want to be inspired to be the best writer you can be?

Sherry: I usually read for entertainment, that said I love Julia Spencer-Fleming’s books and the conflict she set up with Clare and Russ. I have a story to share about our very own, Barbara Ross. Right before I was asked to write a proposal for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, I edited Barbara’s first book in the Maine Clambake series, Clammed Up. I loved it. Her characters are real people not caricatures, her plots are intricate, and the setting is fabulous. She works hard, researching, creating layers, thinking about theme — so much that you don’t see but it’s what makes her books so wonderful. I loved Gus in Barb’s books and created Angelo in mine. I’ve always wondered if I hadn’t just read Clammed Up if my proposal would have been as good. I’d be thrilled to be compared to Julia or Barb!

Liz: Totally agree with Sherry about Julia Spencer-Fleming and Barb. It’s a widely-known fact that I’m also completely obsessed with Dennis Lehane. His writing just pulls me in and doesn’t let go. Tana French is the same way – there’s a haunting quality about her settings and characters that keep them in your head long after the book is done. Also, R.J. Ellory, who often talks about the one thing he keeps in mind when writing: How he wants people to feel when they’re reading. I aspire to that–having a lasting effect on my readers.

Julie: I loved interviewing Elizabeth George. She is one of my aspirationals. Add me to the Julia Spencer-Fleming fan club as well. I am also a huge Jane Austen fan. What I learn from her is good story telling, wit, and not pandering to audiences. I have specific books that I aspire to–Gaudy Night, And Then There Were None, A Christmas Carol, The Eyre Affair.

Edith: Great topic! I’ve said ever since I read my first Julia Spencer-Fleming book, “If I dwell-nyt-best-3could write like her, I’d die happy.” I just wish she’d write a little faster – the wait between books is hard. I also think Deborah Crombie tells a great story – language, setting, plot, characters – all are rich and expertly woven.  I aspire to read even one Elizabeth George! Didn’t get to it before Crime Bake, but she’s still on my list.

Jessie: I really admire Martha Grimes. I enjoy all her work but I especially love the Emma Graham books. Her ability to render both mood and character astounds me. I also adore anything by Alice Hoffman. The way she portrays relationships between characters, especially women, is so rich and vivid. Both Fannie Flagg and Billie Letts write with such affection for their characters while somehow not pulling their punches. That’s a rare feat in my opinion. Annie Proulx’s writing is a wonderment. It is lush and spare and poetic and gritty all at the same time.

Readers: What about you? If you’re a writer, who do you “read up” to inspire your craft? Others, who do you look up to in your own field or hobby for inspiration?

26 Thoughts

  1. This is a great topic. I could add a long list but I’ll just say: Penelope Lively. With some of her books, I don’t even think “I wish I could write a book that good, ” I think,”I wish I could write THAT book, the one I just read.” And there is this: years ago, trying to understand writing mystery short stories, I bought the newest “Best American Mystery Stories….” anthology. I would read some great ones and try to figure out what they did. I started with a Lawrence Block and then closed the book. We not only weren’t on the same playing field , we weren’t even in the same game.

    1. I’ve had that feeling, too, Triss. The “I might as well give up right now” feeling. Luckily I didn’t bow to it! Must check out Penelope Lively.

  2. Yes, great topic! I’m fascinated by Louise Penny’s ability to immerse herself in the village of Three Pines, in the lives of the villagers, and in the heads of all the main characters, villains and victims and sleuths alike. Every book draws me in and won’t let go until justice is served. On the lighter side, I love Sally Goldenbaum’s knitting mysteries on Cape Anne, especially the joint effort by the friends to solve the murder and restore well-being to their town. Great cast of characters in a setting I remember with fondness and enjoy revisiting if just from my living room. –kate

  3. Great topic. My list is long. 🙂 One of the authors who is aspirational for me is Katherine Hall-Page. I love how she made the cozy modern and creating a sleuth that I can relate to.

  4. Dorothy Dunnett, especially her Lymond Chronicles. But truthfully, with all due respect to Elizabeth George, I’d rather spend my reading time on light, escapist fare and I don’t aspire to be more than what I am, a moderately successful midlist genre writer..

  5. I would have to say the writer who most inspires me to be a better writer would be Pearl Buck. She has it all. Other writers who are aspirational for me would be Amy Tan and Elizabeth George. I love Elizabeth George, and it was all I could do not to gush over her when we met. I want to write just like her when I grow up!

  6. I am making a to-read list from everyone’s comments! My aspirationals? Too many to list but I’ll just say that for me, Kate Atkinson can do it all – humor, grit, pain, poetry all meld in her mysteries. Elizabeth Peters and Dame Agatha always had so many tricks up their sleeves. Dennis Lehane and Julia Spencer-Fleming for the emotional richness of their books….Oh boy, I could go on.

    1. Kate Atkinson! How did I leave her off my list? She is definitely there. And Dennis Lehane and Julia Spencer-Fleming. Oh, and I agree with Jessie about Fannie Flagg. Her care for her characters and her underlying optimism very much inspire my cozies.

  7. Hi. Here’s the Wicked who forgot to reply to her own question! My aspirationals/inspirationals include Louise Penny, Elizabeth George, Deborah Crombie, Sharyn McCrumb (the Ballad mysteries) and my two giants–P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, both of whom we lost recently. In short story Alice Munro, though I don’t even aspire. Nobody knows how she does what she does.

  8. I wish I wrote faster, too! And my inspirational writers: Margaret Maron, William Kent Krueger and Archer Mayor. They all write richly emotional characters grounded in their beautifully detailed landscapes. Oh, and in the non-mystery field, Lois McMaster Bujold. Someone once compared Clare to Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and I nearly passed out from the thrill.

  9. I know I keep saying I’m not a writer, but if I were…

    One author I would love to emulate is Sandy Dengler. She wrote books in the Christian market, and I read them during my teen years. She wrote historical fiction and mysteries. Two series of mysteries came out as I was hitting college, and they were the first adult mysteries I read. Fortunately, I reread one of those series in the last year, and I found they held up quite well.

    Obviously, her books had a great impact on me just because of the time I was reading them. However, one area I would love to emulate is her writing style. She has an almost lyrical quality to her writing at times. I find myself slowing down in her books to take in everything she is doing.

    I really need to reread more of her books.

  10. I enjoy most of the authors mentioned and will have to try those I haven’t yet read. Thanks for mentioning Gaudy Night – one of my all time favorite books. and I have started re reading Gladys Mitchell.

  11. What Jessie said about Annie Proulx is right on: a wonderment, poetic and gritty. And I’m especially fascinated by her dialogue, being not exactly social-forward myself, it is beyond my comprehension how she comes up with her characters and their jargoned interactions. Proulx is hands-down my favorite contemporary writer/author. Another I enjoy though for different reasons, another Annie, Annie Dillard, and along the same deep vein, Madeleine L’Engle. Of course the writings of mystic Maria Valtorta are (literally) out of this world. And I’ve found the voice of up-and-coming author Lauren Groff to be refreshing.

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