Authors Who’ve Moved Me

December 9, 2011

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I love some writers. I can read and re-read their work once or even twice a year. If they are writers of series work I can start with their earliest character intros and revisit them from the first to their last book.  What makes the work worth it?

Humm. Can I take that intangible and put it into words?

In the case of Cruddy, by Lynda Barry, it was the joy of reading a shocking tale told in a voice that didn’t try to be shocking at all.  As hard as it seems to be able to do, Lynda Barry managed that. Her audacious matter-of-fact showing us some big, hard things in a bored, teen’s jaded voice took my soul and squeezed.

And I loved every moment of it.

Barry takes us through two story lines. And each are just as gripping as the other. Her dialog for disaffected teens is spot on.



I was lucky enough to get a manuscript version of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s  Funeral For Horses. It was her first published novel, and I read it from start to finish in a single night. Again, it was the voice, and what that voice showed me. Publisher’s Weekly called it Brutally lyrical. And it’s hard to add more superlatives to that. This one involves a brother and sister, a mental break, a search, and a past. And the author managed to wrap all of that into a tale I couldn’t put down.



This next one is older, first published in 1972, but still in print. P.S. Your Cat is Dead! by James Kirkwood.

Funny. Funny, funny, funny. And in 1972 I really needed a laugh. If you’re a new writer, look at this novel. Ask yourself what’s going on in each scene.

De-construct the shape of this book: what leads to what? How are the stakes raised? Where are the breaks in tension? Tear down the scenes and see if you can bring something like this to the pages you are working on. This is what I suggest to many of my coaching clients.  If you don’t feel like doing it with this book, do it with one you’re in love with instead.

Jimmy Zoole is having a rough day, a rough relationship, and a rough life. Like the book cover reads, “It’s New Years Eve. Your best friend died in Spetember, you’ve been robbed twice, … and the only one left to talk to is the gay burgeler you’ve got tied up in the kitchen.”

And nothing could be funnier.

Ann Patchett’s two books I love the most are The Patron Saint of Liars and The Magician’s Assistant both about women trying to rebuild their lives in new locations. We seem to have themes when we write, and sometimes, more than one novel from the same author might bring up similar problems for characters to solve, even when the storylines are as completely disparate as these two are. In both cases it’s the following the characters that make the stories. Have you ever been reading when you come upon a line that makes you lay the book against your chest, and you just exhale in delight? I found that in these two books.


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