Last month I wrote about which books I needed to have within reach at all times if I’m going to have a productive day writing. Several were books of words. That only makes sense since words are the building bricks of my art. Each time I pick the right word, I bring the verbal picture I’m trying to create into much sharper focus.
But there is another kind of book that I hold onto with a white-knuckled grip. They’re the ones on my keeper shelf. You know what I’m talking about because we all have a shelf like that. In my case, it’s not really a shelf, but a series of crates out in the garage. Yeah, I have a hard time letting go when a book has moved me to tears or to laugh or if the characters haunt my thoughts for days, weeks, or even years later.
I thought I’d share three of my keeper books and how they’ve affected me and my writing. I have a new release coming out next week, Bound by Darkness, and I can see the influence of all three of these books in the hero, Larem q’ Jones.
1. Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly (1990): Set in Edwardian England, a former British agent is blackmailed by the London vampires into investigating who is behind a recent series of vampire deaths. Someone is destroying them in the daytime when the vampires are helpless to defend themselves. The whole story is terrific, but it is Don Ysidro , one of the vampires who captured my attention—and a little bit of my heart. In his human life, he’d been a Portuguese nobleman, and his contact with the agent’s wife forces him to remember the man of honor he used to be. Loved it. I worried about him for years until the sequel finally came out. From Don Ysidro, I learned that redemption and reclaimed honor are powerful themes, ones I use in my own writing.
2. Midnight Rainbow by Linda Howard (1986): There’s nothing I love more than a lost soul warrior hero, and Grant Sullivan has those qualities in spades! I first read this book close to twenty-five years ago, and love it as much today as I did then especially because the heroine, Jane, was his perfect match. What I learned from reading Grant’s story ( as well as from Diamond Bay, which were connected stories) was how powerful a story can be when the hero, knowing the cost to his soul if he picks up a weapon and heads back into battle again, does exactly that to save the heroine and in doing so, saves himself.
3. Catspaw by Anne Stuart (1984): John Patrick Blackheart is a retired cat burglar, now a security expert. Ferris Byrd is a highly polished, self-made woman, who heartily disapproves of Blackheart when their paths cross over the security arrangements at a charity ball that she’s in charge of. Sparks fly from the minute the two meet, as he sets about to seduce not Ferris, the socialite, but the real woman underneath the veneer, Francesca. Blackheart has always been a man who stole beautiful things, but he has his own code of honor. In loving Francesca enough to let her choose to be Ferris if that’s what she wants, he shows his true colors.
So those are three of the early influences in my own writing. I tend to come at stories through the hero’s eyes first, which is why it’s the men in these stories who have remained clearest in my mind. However, the women in their lives were equally strong. If they weren’t, the stories would not have been so memorable.
If you’re a writer, what book influenced you in the early days of your writing? If you’re a reader (and aren’t we all), what book has been on your keeper shelf the longest and why?