by Dietrich Kalteis
I missed out on the question why I became an author a couple weeks ago, and since this week’s a free for all, here’s my chance.
Being a writer had been a dream since I was a teenager and penned a draft of a novel in longhand. That one never got past the shoebox of handwritten looseleaf pages stuffed under the bed, and it took quite a bit more time for me to get a novel published and to take myself seriously as an author. I’d talked about it off and on for years, but real life kept getting in the way. It was my wife who encouraged me to actually do it.
There’s been a love for books and stories since before I could read, starting with the brothers Grimm. When I started to read it was The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. As I grew, I moved on to swashbucklers and westerns. And I loved the classics by Hemingway, Steinbeck and Salinger. I don’t know how many times I’ve read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird. Eventually, I got got my first taste of mysteries with the Hardy Boys.
I do read other genres. I love the books by Patti Smith, and Hunter S. Thompson, and the beat writing of Jack Kerouac. So, I’m kind of all over the map, except to say I love reading a strong voice.
There’s something about the suspense in a good crime novel or thriller. And a great voice to take me on a journey, painting scenes of times gone by, and places I may never see, not to mention things I would never do. While I’ve mentioned them before, greats like Elmore Leonard, Charles Willeford, George V Higgins and James Crumley have been both an influence and an inspiration — a kind of a benchmark for me, something to reach for in my own writing.
I started writing short stories and a few screenplays, trying different approaches and genres to see where I fit. Early on, if I was happy with what I wrote that day, I usually hated it when I reread it the next morning. I sent some stories out and some were published and that was very encouraging. After several screenplays and a number of short stories, I wrote a piece that was a scene of dialog, and when I reread it the following morning I didn’t hate it. It was about an insurance investigator checking into a scamming housewife, trying to cheat the company he worked for. And I expanded on the idea, and although it changed quite a bit, that was the beginning of Ride the Lightning, my first novel.
Aside from the suspense and pace, I love a sense of levity in a crime story. Often it appears in dialog or in a particular character’s dumbness. But it’s great when it’s done right alongside the natural tension in that kind of book.
Since I’m influenced and inspired by what I read, I want to mention some that I’ve read over the past few weeks that I think are worth passing on to anybody looking for a good book: Emily Schultz’s Men Walking on Water, George Pelecanos’ Drama City, The Drop by Dennis Lehane, Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer, Sideswipe by Charles Willeford, Sam Wiebe’s Invisible Dead and William Deverell’s Sing a Worried Song.