Earlier this month, Bethany Maines asked us Stiletto Gang members the question so many authors struggle with: "what other authors are you like?"
My answer to this question has evolved over the past twenty years. At first I didn’t even know it was a question—one I was supposed to be readily able to answer. Then a kindly bookstore employee explained that publishers and booksellers find it helpful in publicizing authors if they can be compared to other more famous writers. Okay, so I do get that. After all, I didn’t spend my whole previous career in public relations not understanding the point of publicity.
Then the difficulties set in. How could I presume to compare myself to a well-known author? How presumptuous. I took an online test that suggested it could analyze my writing and figure out where my style matched someone else’s. The answer was ludicrous—and instantly forgettable. (For example, someone like Herman Melville. No, I think not.)
Next I realized that there were certain authors of historical mysteries who had inspired me. Here I began to strike pay dirt. Jacqueline Winspear is the most relevant for me. Her Maisie Dobbs mystery series is a direct inspiration for my Austin Starr mysteries. Winspear began her early stories in the 1920s in England when the entire society was trying to recover from the horrors of the conflagration that was erroneously labeled “the war to end all wars.” We now call it, sadly enough, World War One. She successfully evokes that time period and makes us readers believe we are back among those fraught times when my grandparents were young.
Before I discovered Winspear’s books, I had only read historical mystery series written by men with their male protagonists. Many of these tales were set in the 1930s, emphasizing events that led up to World War Two, and then also during that war itself. British author Philip Kerr writes about Bernie Gunther, a Berlin detective who gets co-opted by the Nazis. Kerr’s plots are unusual and his historic research is impeccable. Alan Furst also describes the interwar period in a set of loosely related (very loosely) mysteries that are steeped in atmosphere. His evocations of Eastern Europe and France are so successful that when I read his books, I feel as if I am walking down a Parisian street and smelling the Gauloises cigarettes smoked by passersby.
There are other mystery writers who inspire me by setting their stories against a background of important social issues. Sara Paretsky is the queen of this group. After all, she was a pioneer of the female private investigator V.I. Warshawski as protagonist. When she saw the difficulty women writers were having getting published in America in the 1980s, she did something about it. She was a founding mother of Sisters in Crime. How’s that for being a successful author and activist too. Write on, sister!
There are easily ten more authors I could mention whose work inspires my writing, but those I’ve listed here are the ones who continually bubble up in my mind first. I would never dare say that my writing is like theirs, but I am happy to give them a tip of my metaphorical hat and say, “Thank you for being you, thank you for writing what you do. And please, do write on and on and on.”~~~~~~~
Kay Kendall’s Austin Starr mysteries <http://www.AustinStarr.com> capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s. DESOLATION ROW (2013) and RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) show Austin, a 22-year-old Texas bride, set adrift in a foreign land and on the frontlines of societal change. Austin learns to cope by turning amateur sleuth.