What’s the difference between my ‘life’ and ‘me’? When I contemplated writing on this potential topic the first thing that came to mind was: why would anyone care what books changed my life? I’m not Oprah, Lee Child or Agatha Christie, or in politics—or anyone else of celebrity. But then I thought that as a reader vs. a writer, I would be interested in knowing what books had the capacity to change lives—how people were transformed.
The first book that changed my life was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I was in high school and the radical thinking of “self-ness” was enthralling to me. She had the ability to fictionalize social issues without being boring. She was followed closely on the heels by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. He was not a mystery writer, but I loved the way he could make words sing off the page. He is my favorite to this very day. These two books are about as opposite in thought and style as books can be but their storylines are timeless from the 1930’s to the 21st century. They also had three things in common: first, they made me think about the story between the words; second, they were entertaining; and, third, the prose while wildly different was lyrical with no wasted words, and each one with meaning. I knew I wanted to write like that.
I have come to realize that true classics, regardless of genre, are stories about the human condition. That said, I write in the genre of mysteries.
I loved and still love to solve puzzles. While I read Nancy Drew in my younger years, in college my interest was snared by John LeCarre and his novels of intrigue and betrayal. Because of him, my goal to write page-turners was forged forever. From then on, I wanted to write suspenseful mysteries with twists and turns that kept the reader guessing until the very believable end.
Then there was Agatha Christie, with story plots that also kept me turning pages and P.D. James who wrote flawed characters that seemed so real. There is Walter Mosely who transports the reader into a mid-20th-century world that is just as built as any science fiction work.
I’m not a person who reads the book and then goes to see the movie version. I don’t want the exactness of the author’s words interpreted by an actor that may not fit my imagination. Books that change my thinking stand on their own as works of literature and personal growth, which may sound like a lot for a book to accomplish, but the good ones do.
Today, I find that my taste in books is not meant to change my life as much as to enhance it—to feed it and hopefully make me a better writer. Most recently, Louise Penny’s, The Great Reckoning, brought me up to attention. Her words in the context of a powerful plot touched on all my senses and emotions. Harlan Coben can do that and so can Brad Meltzer, David Baldacci, and the late Sue Grafton’s Yesterday.
As a mystery writer, I write best in the style of what I like to read. After completing my sixth book in the Hollis Morgan Mystery Series—The Identity Thief, I’ve come to realize that the best series are carried by strong characters that span a protagonist’s arc. Hollis, is a former ex-felon turned attorney, who sees life as a half-empty glass. But, it was her pardon for insurance fraud made it possible for her to take the bar exam. It was her husband, now her ex, who set her up to take his stay in prison, now, she finds herself coming to the aid of those who also face disgrace or injustice.
A good book of fiction no matter what the genre must convey “meaning” for the reader. Characters must be made real and have compelling storylines so that readers can think: “Wow, that’s the way it is for me, too.” Additionally, a mystery writer wants the reader to think: “I should have seen that coming, but thanks to the author, I didn’t.”
Franklin James is a native Californian and a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. After years of public service, and serving as Deputy Mayor for the City of Los Angeles, she went back to her first love—writing mysteries. In 2013, her debut novel in the Hollis Morgan Mystery Series, The Fallen Angels Book Club was published by Camel Press. Her second book, Sticks & Stones, was released in 2014, followed by THE RETURN OF THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB (2015), THE TRADE LIST (2016) and THE BELL TOLLS (2017). The next book in the series, THE IDENTITY THIEF was released earlier this year. R. Franklin James lives in Northern California with her husband. See more about the author on Facebook and at : www.rfranklinjames.com.