When I heard the news that Thomas Perry was publishing a new book in the Butcher’s Boy series, I was thrilled. By the way, the book is called The Informant, and yes, I’ve pre-ordered. As a reader, Mr. Perry’s two Butcher’s Boy novels simply blew me away. At the time, I was reading all kinds of books. Everything from Stephen King to James Clavell to Robert Ludlum.
In talking with other fans of Mr. Perry’s, I believe I actually read the books out of order. Because the first book, The Butcher’s Boy, may have only been released in hardcover. The sequel, Sleeping Dogs, was released in mass market paperback. So I’m almost positive I read Sleeping Dogs first.
Fast forward many years later. I had already set out on the course of being a writer. At the time, I was writing short stories, poetry, non fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, Westerns, pretty much any story that came into my head, I wrote.
The only “success” if you want to call it that – was that I was learning. Most of it was quite dreadful, but even though deeply pessimistic about my writing, I was able to admit that each story seemed to be just a smidgen better than the last.
But I vividly remember finishing a project, a short story, and feeling the itch to write another novel. However, instead of rushing headlong into the idea, I sat back and thought about it. Really, really thought about it. And I remembered the piece of writing advice that I had always considered sound: Write the kind of book you want to read.
It’s almost zen-like in its simplicity.
So I thought about my “ideal” book. What would it be like? What would its characteristics be? Its main character? Its setting? I started taking notes. The kind of plot it might have. What would be the source of tension that would keep me drooling over the pages like a hungry shark at a Weight Watchers group swim?
For inspiration, I tried to think of one book that truly felt like the kind of book I wanted to write. Obviously, we’re not talking about plagiarism here. We’re talking about the qualities of a great novel that most appeal to you. Some people like violence. Others prefer crimes that take place off stage. Love interests. Chase scenes. All of the above.
Honestly, I couldn’t do it.
There wasn’t one book. It was a conglomeration of books. But I can say that the single biggest chunk of that freaky Frankenstein compendium was Mr. Perry’s book Sleeping Dogs.
There was also a bit of Robert Ludlum, some Zane Grey, Frederick Forsyth, Ross MacDonald and others.
Something clicked when the answer became clear. I knew, deep down, that crime fiction was my calling. I had no intention of trying to be Thomas Perry. That job was already taken. But I felt like I had narrowed the field down to what I really wanted to do.
And I’ve never looked back.
So what about you? Is there one book that best exemplifies the novel that if you’re a writer, you would want to read?
Is there one author that knocked your writer’s ass into the neighbor’s yard and set you out on your very own author’s road?