ALH Anna Lee Huber

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5 Novels That Shaped What I Write
May 21, 2015

When people ask me why I write what I write, the easy answer is, because it’s what I love. That intriguing mix of history, mystery and romance that keeps you gripped to the edge of your seat or sighing with pleasure. But, really, that’s a cop out. Of course, it’s what I love. You would have to be seriously deranged to spend months or possibly years writing a story you hated. The question really is, why do I love it?

I could sight my long fascination with history, my obsession with puzzles and crime-solving, my longing for a happily-ever-after, and while all of those are certainly factors, I’ve long suspected the books I read have just as strong an influence. We can’t always put our finger on the reason why, but some books touch us deeper than others. Perhaps they come to us at a moment in our lives when it just so happened they would connect with us the most. Or maybe they were always destined to worm their way into our hearts, because we are too much like the heroine, or because we have felt that very same way, or simply because they made us laugh so hard we almost wet our pants. Whatever the reason, books touch us, they influence us. And these five novels just happened to help shape what I write.

1)      Nancy Drew: The Bluebeard Room by Carolyn Keene

When I was a pre-teen, I won this book playing white elephant bingo at our church picnic. And once I’d finished it, I never stopped asking for more. I gobbled up every Nancy Drew novel I could get my hands on. I borrowed them from the library, from friends, and saved my hard earned money to purchase them from the bookstore one town over. My favorite Christmas gift was the bookstore gift card we each got every year from my aunt and uncle because it meant I could buy more. I wanted to be Nancy Drew—to go on her adventures, to have a boyfriend like Ned Nickerson. I even wrote my own story with the title character based strongly on Nancy. She was my first real introduction to the mystery genre, and I will be forever grateful to all of those authors who plugged away anonymously, spitting out Nancy Drew novels for my voracious consumption.

2)      Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown

I can’t remember now how I came to possess my first Mrs. Murphy Mystery. Maybe a friend gave it to me, or perhaps I found the cover with a cat on it intriguing since I’d just adopted my own feline. However it came to me, I’m glad it did. I was at a turning point in my life. I’d recently gotten married and graduated from college with a music degree, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to go for my Masters. So I’d taken the year off to figure it out. I hadn’t truly read a novel in years just for my own pleasure, being too swamped with schoolwork. So when Wish You Were Here dropped into my hands I was at a point where I needed a good story. It turned out to be just the right mix of mystery, humor, and adorable animal antics, and it reopened a door for me I hadn’t even known I’d closed. I began to read fiction again, and to start making up stories in my head as I’d always done as a child, before the craziness of life changed things.

 

3)      Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander might just possibly be one of the most influential novels for modern historical and romantic fiction writers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow authors expound on its significance in their writing lives, as it is for me as well. I read it just as I had finished my first attempt at writing a novel, and not only did it start me on an epic reading binge, but it also taught me just what I was doing wrong. Gabaldon is a master storyteller. Her novels are worth reading just for the lesson in character development.

4)      Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

I read Raybourn’s first novel in the Lady Julia Grey series just as I was stumbling through another round of rejection letters on my third attempt at a novel. I’d already begun a fourth novel, another historical romance, but I was feeling a bit lost. Reading Silent in the Grave was like a light bulb moment for me. Not only was it brilliantly written—the opening chapter is worth the price of admission alone—but it also combined all of the elements I so adored in one single novel. I realized that what I really wanted to write was a historical mystery with strong romantic elements, not the other way around. It took me another six months to finish that fourth novel, because it had been so drilled into me that you finish what you started, but it was number five—my historical mystery—that eventually sold and landed me my coveted publishing contract. If not for Raybourn I’m not sure how long I would have stumbled along writing the wrong thing.

5)      Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

I adore all of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels. It’s simply impossible to choose a favorite. So I selected Airs Above the Ground solely because it was my first. And, oh, what a treat! Reading Stewart’s books is like taking a master class in suspense and setting—her two greatest gifts. When you read a Stewart novel you are instantly transported wherever it’s set, whether it’s the Austrian Alps, a tiny island off the coast of Greece, or a French chateau. And you will be riveted to the page from the opening paragraph to the last sentence. 



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