Two names came to mind as first responses to this week's question, and I’m going to start with them although I don’t think they’re what the questioner had in mind.
Mary Travers’s Mary Poppins (and no, I’ve never seen “Saving Mr. Banks” or the movie of “Mary Poppins”), specifically the mystery of life itself in some scenes. The most breathtaking for me was the plotline about a baby language in which little ones can communicate clearly with non-humans, and the ineffable sadness when a baby grows out of it. To be able to create and hold me in the belief, to let me feel for myself the nuanced loss – as a child, I felt great writing when I read it.
E.B. White, whose Stuart Little charmed the pants off me. He was such a strongly defined, heroic little guy, so dapper and so loyal to his family. And as a New York kid, his playground was my own. I loved him, he was real to me, the best kind of real – living full inside the covers of a book. I wanted to be able to create my own story like that.
Skipping a few decades, I gobbled up Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novels and their very formulaic nature helped me understand how to build a puzzle. It’s both harder and simpler than it looks, but his snappy style and lead characters gave me the courage to try.
John D. MacDonald was an inspiration, not only for the long-running series, but because I won a San Francisco Examiner contest to finish a serialized story he wrote for syndication, which gave me courage. I also found myself pulled into the San Francisco chapter of Mystery Writers of America as a result and that was a huge incitement to do more than tinker with crime fiction.
I fooled around for a long time after that, concentrating on my day job and my personal life. But I did go to the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference one year near its beginning, and sat next to Sue Grafton at lunch. In that down home way she has, she told me to get down to it, not to sell myself short, to know every writer has horrible fears of failure but not to listen to those nasty voices in my head, and to let her know when my first book came out. As if I were a real writer.
It was at the same conference, I think, that Steven Saylor stood up and said he’d come to the conference a year before, had gotten so much help that he found a publisher, and he was now in print, or about to be. The details are hazy, the inspiration memorable!
Dorothy Parker’s ability to stand outside of the crowd and see it for all its foolishness has always made me laugh, as has her wry, self-directed humor. And my favorite writer on the follies of human nature and the pretensions of human society is clear-eyed, witty Jane Austen. I could not write without the example of Austen to inspire me.