You can't be a novelist without a love for the art form. But there is a balance to be struck between what you love to read and the influence it can have over your own work.
Reading is an essential part of my day. It provides me with entertainment, escape, inspiration, therapy, meditation, and so much more. I read at night before going to sleep. I read in snatches during the day if time and circumstance permit (and sometimes a story is compelling enough to get me to read during the day even if time and circumstance don't permit).
I read on a Kindle, because having my entire collection of books along with me at all times in a convenient, lightweight reading machine makes more sense to me that the walls of loaded bookshelves I'd need to house if I still bought everything in analog form.
I prefer detective fiction and police procedurals and even though I write supernatural thrillers. And nothing is more pleasing to me than a writer who is efficient and proficient at their craft, who has built a world, with living, three-dimensional characters, who can carry me off for a series of books at a time. So I enjoy reading entire series of books in order, to fully explore the characters and the world and watch them evolve.
Reading soothes me, but it also wires my brain for storytelling. Here are the series I've read in the past couple of years:
Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch Novels: Harry Bosch feels is a character I feel I know as an actual living person. What amazes me most about Connelly’s writing is how fully-formed Bosch seemed to be from the very first book, "The Black Echo." Character elements, including Bosh's primary mission in life and the motivations behind it, were there from page on and a true today in the twentieth novel, "The Burning Room."
Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware Series: Dr. Delaware's psychology-infused adventures and partnership with the gruff, oversized detective Milo Sturgis are capable, hypnotic stories. What I love about the Delaware character is how Kellerman allows him to be selfishly-motivated, even if it costs the character in his life. Like the Bosch novels, the Delaware books are also an ode to Los Angles. Kellerman's ability to interlace suspense with psychological insight keeps me hooked from "When the Bough Breaks" to "Serpentine."
James Patterson and Maxine Paetro's Women's Murder Club Series: I'm not an obsessive Patterson reader. His writing style (which features a lot of collaboration with other authors), for me, means that Patterson's books don't feel as if they come from one novelist's hand (I fall in love with an author's voice as much as their individual stories). This series though, written with co-author Maxine Paetro, feature strong female characters, is light, fast, and fun to read. Real escape fiction that doesn't have the heavy tone of something like the Bosch novels.
John Sandford's Prey and Virgil Flowers Series: I love the Lucas Davenport character for much of the same reasons I love the Alex Delaware character. Smart, focused, driven to do the right thing, but ready to set up a situation where the bad guy gets a deserved ending (even if he has to color outside the lines to make the final confrontation come together and lead to the outcome he wants). Virgil is just a loveable scamp, a character with charisma. Sandford's ability to deliver a world where these two characters exist, and eave intricate plots that allow these characters to flourish, with them being two sides of the same coin so to speak, is really rewarding reading.
John Sandford's Letty Davenport Books and Kendra Elliot's Mercy Kilpatrick novels are two shorter series that have brought me great joy (and inspire me to try and write novels at their level). These discoveries felt like stumbling upon hidden treasures. Readers of the prey novels have known strong-willed and independent Letty Davenport since she was adopted by Lucas after her mother was killed in one of the early books in that series. Seeing her grow into a federal agent with Davenport's influence means a new series is just emerging from Sandford's brilliant ability to craft compelling page-turners. I found Elliot's Mercy Kilpatrick series through the Kindle and love her lead character, her fresh perspectives, and powerful narratives.
Ed McBain's 87th Precinct Series: I am currently reading McBain's masterstroke from the 1950s, the 87th Precinct series. The series launched the precinct-based police procedural that became a television staple (think NYPD Blue, Law and Order, and so on). The series is a testament to timeless storytelling. The intricate plots and surprisingly sophisticated narratives in this 53-book mean that I have a new cycle of series to enjoy and learn from.
Exploring these series isn't just about unraveling crimes—it's about witnessing the evolution of storytelling over time and learning from women and men who have become masters at a craft I am still working at. The intricacies of character development, the nuances of plotting, and the art of weaving together multiple threads of a narrative are lessons I absorb as I lose myself in these compelling worlds.
What about you? What do you read? And what does that reading do for you?