Five Movies and Books that made me the writer I am today By Harry Hunsicker

The creative process requires a great deal of input, a constantly changing stew of ingredients. Trying to narrow down only five things that have influenced me as a writer is a difficult task, like trying to rope the wind. In no particular order, here are three books and two films which have had a big impact on my writing.

A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR by Dennis Lehane. Arguably one of the finest detective novels of the modern era. Lehane’s debut takes all the old tropes—a troubled investigator, his attractive associate, a psychopathic sidekick—and makes them fresh and believable, giving the characters a depth and emotional resonance rarely seen in genre novels. The plot is straightforward; the hero must find a missing file. But sometimes straightforward is a worthy goal, especially with these characters and the seedy but brilliantly described Boston underworld. This novel showed me the limitless possibilities available using a simple plot and a first-person narrative.

ICED by Jenny Siler. Another first-person crime thriller dripping with atmosphere and well-crafted characters, this book could be a companion piece to Lehane’s debut. Set in Montana in the winter, the story follows an ex-con named Meg who is working as a car repo specialist. Meg repossesses a murdered man’s vehicle, one which contains a briefcase belonging to the Russian mob. Complications ensue, but the prose remains as clear and cold as a January morning on the great plains. My takeaway from this novel was another lesson in how simplicity could make for compelling storytelling.

THE POWER OF THE DOG by Don Winslow. An epic in the best sense of the word, the current generation’s Godfather. This is a story of drug traffickers and the men who battle them, spread across generations and international boundaries. A massive work, nearly 600 pages, the book is hard to put down. The stakes are high, but it is the small, human moments that make this story so compelling. From this novel, I learned the power telling a story on a big canvas.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the film written and directed by the Coen brothers, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. The Texas of myth and legend is on full display in this magnificent movie, the unending terrain of the Big Bend region, bleak yet beautiful, a hard land populated by hard people. The book, which is also excellent, was originally written as a screenplay. When McCarthy had trouble selling the project as a film, he dusted off his Olivetti typewriter and converted the script into a novel, which was then adapted for the screen by Joel and Ethan Coen. A circuitous route to be sure, but all those iterations burnished the story into something stark and beautiful, a haunting tale of wrong choices and desperate men. My lesson from this story (film, book, and script) is the power of a fully realized villain, in this case Javier Bardem’s breathtakingly evil Anton Chigurh.

THE STING, directed by George Roy Hill from a David Ward screenplay. So now we leave simple plots behind. No matter, this 1973 caper movie, set in the Depression, is a brilliant if implausible tale of grifters working the big con, i.e. The Sting. Funny yet poignant, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were at the peak of their box office powers, effortlessly displaying the same chemistry movie goers responded to so well in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid four years earlier. The Sting, while not universally loved by the critics, won seven Academy Awards and taught me at a very early age the power of humor and likable characters.

Harry Hunsicker is the former executive vice-president of the Mystery Writers of America. His work has been short-listed for both the Shamus and Thriller Awards. His sixth novel, THE DEVIL’S COUNTRY, is out now.