First of all, I think just about every book I’ve ever read changed my life in some way. A pretty broad statement, I know, but as an example, the romance novels (in my teens I read a lot of romances) struck me as too smarmy even for a young lady with notions of being swept away by the love of her life. Eventually I caught on that I’m not a romantic soul. Great books of many genres have taught me what I want to write; the clunkers taught me what I don’t.
A point here. It is my firm belief that being a reader is part of being a writer. You can’t do one without the other. Reading forms your opinions. It lets you see varying styles, and shows you the kind of writer you want to be. Also, whether one ends up as a mystery writer, a romance or science fiction writer, a mainstream or literary or even a writer of westerns, what you’ve read and enjoyed and that fired your imagination is probably what influenced you to write in a particular genre. Changed your life, in other words.
When you select a genre, you’re going to connect with the people who also love that kind of book. Just think how much simpler it is to sell a book to someone who is predisposed to want to read it. I’ve had people brush away my westerns. On the other hand, some people won’t read science fiction. Or “made up stuff.” It’s our job as writers to educate them and broaden their views, right?
Way back, I read just about every book in my school library. Okay, so the feat may not be as impressive as it sounds. It wasn’t a huge library. The population of my rural farming community was a whopping 270 in those days. My graduating class was the biggest in years. Twelve of us. Nevertheless, the library contained many of the classics, including Shakespeare, along with the likes of Sinclair Lewis and Kenneth Roberts. Libraries are where I discovered what kind of writer I would become, having known from the time I was six or seven I wanted to be a writer. Of those authors I just mentioned, Kenneth Roberts had the most influence. He made me love history. One of his books showed me the way to write.
I learned most of what I know about the Revolutionary War from Kenneth Roberts’s books. History as viewed from both sides, British and American. In one of his books, Oliver Wiswell, an elderly female character gives Oliver advice on how to write a book. “You need an idea,” she says, “a determination to make the sentences clear and readable …” She goes on to say, “The way to write a book is to write one sentence and then write another, and keep on doing it every day, rain or shine, sick or well.”
Talk about one book changing a life! A whole course of education in a couple of paragraphs. Would others find those words so inspiring? I don’t know, but they certainly resonated with me.
Other writers have influenced me. The first science fiction I read was by Robert Heinlein, but I wanted something different. I found Lois McMaster Bujold and was hooked.
Tony Hillerman showed me contemporary western mysteries. Way back there was John Creasey, Agatha Christie and Dick Francis with their British mysteries, all very different. Janet Evanovich introduced me to humorous mysteries that blend romance. Spencer Quinn mysteries have a dog as a narrator⏤and it works! There’s something to learn from every writer. Something that changes your life. My parents read lots and lots of westerns. These were my first experience with adult fiction and had tons of influence over my choices. You can probably guess why I write my own kind of western mystery adventure⏤when I’m not writing fantasy or contemporary mystery.
Four Furlongs, the fourth book of my China Bohannon western mystery series, features an 1890s bookkeeper who’d rather sleuth than type. There’s a race horse, a Bedlington terrier dog, a bit of a love interest, quirky friends, and as always, a dangerous adventure awaiting my heroine in the case she has to resolve. The book released this month from FiveStar/Cengage Publishing in hardcover and eBook formats.
BIO: Born and raised in north Idaho on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, Carol Wright Crigger lives in Spokane Valley, Washington. Imbued with an abiding love of western traditions and wide-open spaces, Ms. Crigger writes of free-spirited people who break from their standard roles. She is a member of Western Writers of America, and is a two time Spur Award finalist, in 2007 for short fiction, and 2009 for audio. Her western novel, Black Crossing, was the 2008 EPIC Award winner in the western/historical category.