Jan Christensen : 4 books that influenced me:

It’s pretty hard to pick out books that have influenced us over the years, but I did come up with four in particular, and also a list of a certain type of book that made a strong impression on me. I recommend making a list like this yourself. You will most likely, as I did, find a pattern that might help you focus more on your own reading choices and writing, if you’re also a writer.

First, Alice in Wonderland/Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll:

When I was  five, my mother read both of these to me several times. I remind myself of them when stuck writing my own work. Being outrageous is fun, and readers seem to like it, too. Oddly enough, I’m not a big fan of fantasy as an adult, which is probably why I prefer reading and writing crime fiction. Takeaway: Outrageous is good.

Which leads me to these guys:

Earle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason, discovered by me in the library first, then later, his A. A. Fair Bertha Cool books. (And how cool it was that he chose a pen name that would have both series sitting side-by-side on bookstore and library shelves.) Next came all those guys like Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, and Shell Scott. And adding my all-time favorites, John D. MacDonald and Donald Westlake. But if I were forced to rank them, the ones with humor would be first in line. See a trend here? Takeaway: Humor is good.

Then, to get serious, Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, plus Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott:

Also read when I was young, Cheaper by the Dozen made a lasting impression on me. I enjoyed the story of all the siblings and their family dynamics (and they all lived a few towns away from me in New Jersey), but I also took away their father’s ideas about time management and being organized.

Then I read Anne Lamott’s sage advice, particularly for the beginning writer, and especially her statement that writing turns out to be its own reward. She discusses technique, writer’s block and suggests joining groups and having a critique partner. And she may have come up with the phrase about the “shitty first draft”–it being the necessary start to the whole project. One of  the most important points she makes is that you have to complete writing a book in small steps. If you think of the whole thing, it’s overwhelming. But a daily goal? Not so much. Takeaway: Slow and steady wins the race.

And more On Writing with Stephen King:

This one. First we get a surprisingly succinct autobiography, starting with his childhood writings and on to the aftermath of the auto accident that almost killed him. Then comes the advice about writing where he discusses grammar (he calls the nuts and bolts his toolkit), talks about character and story being more important than plot (who knew?), and discusses and critiques several popular writers, telling us of their strengths in particular. I like best the advice that for every hour of writing, the writer should spend an hour of reading. Takeaway: Combine outrageousness with humor, add slow and steady. Get a great novel. Or two.

And along the way, interspersed with the others, last, but not least, Anne Tyler:

Especially The Accidental Tourist. Tyler’s books are filled with eccentric characters who charmingly muddle through life. As they do, the reader can learn from their mistakes and laugh at their oddball antics. And maybe even pick up a trick or two about how to get through the tough times just fine. Takeaway: When all else fails, be wildly different.

So, my first published book, Sara’s Search, had some outrageous characters, but not quite as oddball as Anne Tyler’s or those in the Alice books can be. Next up were a couple of darker suspense novels, Revelations and Blackout probably subconsciously influenced by those tough guys I read way back when. After those, I had to try writing about a female PI, a la Bertha Cool and again by all those guys who wrote in that genre and produced Perfect Victim, first in a series. And then, a cozyish novel, Organized to Death, also first in a series, about a personal organizer, influenced by Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Cheaper by the Dozen.

Jan Christensen grew up in New Jersey and now resides in Texas. She’s had over fifty short stories appear in various places over the last dozen years, two of which were nominated for a Derringer Award. Jan mainly enjoys writing mysteries, but every once in awhile steps out of that comfort zone and goes for something else, including non-fiction articles. She has a column about reading in the ezine, “Mysterical-e” and blogs regularly at her website. Learn more from: www.janchristensen.com