D.J. McIntosh: 5 Books & Albums That Changed My Life

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery. Better known for her classic Anne of Green Gables, Montgomery’s The Story Girl really captivated my heart in childhood. I couldn’t put it down and managed to come down with a mysterious illness to stay home from school so I could read it. When I’d finished, I read it again. It’s a book that may have been autobiographical for the author since it’s about a girl living on Prince Edward Island, Sarah Stanley, who spins such wonderful stories, people come from all around to hear her. The novel is narrated by two children, feeling a little lost because their widowed father has left to work in another country and the story girl brings light into their life. I read the novel at a time of trouble in my own family and so that fictional heroine gave me some solace, just as she had to the book’s characters – an analogy of how books can become some of our best friends. The Story Girl also made a deep impression because of Montgomery’s magnificent, lyrical, descriptions of the countryside. While I didn’t consciously make up my mind to be a writer then, the author’s great art has stayed with me and inspired my own writing in many ways.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Now a well known classic, this book is one of the first historical mysteries and remains the best one to this day. It’s a great romp, an action story, and an engrossing read.

Set in Medieval times, Brother William Baskerville (love the sly reference to Sherlock Holmes) travels to a monastery to find a serial killer who patterns his crimes after the Book of Revelation. The novel brilliantly manages to illuminate history, philosophical concepts and religious beliefs without ever making the reader feel preached at. These ‘lessons’ about history and western thought are woven so expertly they become an integral and fascinating part of the book. It changed my life because I knew after reading it, this was the kind of book I’d love to write.

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. Among so many great mysteries and thrillers I’ve read it’s really a challenge to single one out but Presumed Innocent is a truly brilliant genre novel. An instant bestseller on its release, it taught me so much about the skill of writing. I especially liked the remarkable portrait of his lead character, an ordinary man facing very high stakes saved by both luck and his own intelligence and the irony of a prosecutor accused of a serious crime. Turow also proved to be a master of the twist. The twists are delivered very subtly and arise organically from the novel’s subject matter. It has one of the best endings in the history of crime writing. This novel should be on all the lists for anyone who wants to learn the craft.

Live at the Astoria – Steve Vai. The experience of writing your first novel and seeing it published is something like sitting backwards on a very long roller coaster ride. One minute you feel as though you’re soaring and next, the bottom drops out on you, and you often don’t see either extreme coming. I imagine seasoned authors learn to level out but that first time has many moments of both high anxiety and joy.

Throughout the long process, music has always been a great friend and rock guitar virtuoso Steve Vai has been one of the best. He’s known for his amazing technical skills; one of his famous performances was a guitar duel in the movie Crossroads. But beyond that, he creates emotional expression few musicians can match. Aside from personal pleasure, on the Live at the Astoria soundtrack I found several songs, like Whispering a Prayer and For the Love of God that really resonated with the subject of my novel and the persona of John Madison, my central character. So much so I wrote one of them into the novel.

Out of Our Heads – The Rolling Stones. Aptly named I guess because this was one of the hallmark albums for any college age student when rock was at its prime. As a sheltered girl from a small town, leaving home for a big city university campus was truly liberating. Life suddenly switched from constant studying in high school to: partying, making great new friends, partying, boyfriends, partying and oh, occasionally taking in some really interesting lectures. And the centre point of our all night (almost) parties was dancing to the Rolling Stones. We would sing along as we danced, all of us knew the words off by heart. Yes, we were joyously “out of our heads” and it was great!

D.J. McIntosh is a member of the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies, and meticulously researched antiquities to create a thrilling story centered around little-known ancient Assyrian lore and its profound significance for the world. With its interesting and original premise, THE WITCH has become an international sensation and has been sold to nineteen countries.