In addition to fiction, I write biographies, and I am pleased to announce that my latest biography, about the 19th-century author Rebecca Harding Davis, has been awarded a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title award for 2018.
THE IMPORTANCE OF READING for authors
"The past beats inside me
like a second heart."
John Banville, The Sea
I agree with novelist Katie Kitamura that reading is part of a writer's work. One must read to write, so I’ll mention a few authors whose works have been especially helpful to me. The list will be updated periodically as I discover new and important influences. Most are recent, but some are classics that continue to resonate with me:
Tayari Jones - a master of unique voices. I love An American Marriage for many reasons, but none more
than the way in which she demonstrates the importance of voice to characterization.
Sarah Blake - if you want to see what extraordinary powers of description are like, just read the first ten
pages of The Guest Book, and you'll have an education in style and how to keep readers wanting
Louise Penny – everything she writes. I consider her one of our best living authors.
Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent and Melmoth– wonderful ability to immerse readers in the
environment. Indeed, the environment is as much a character in her novels as are the humans.
Caleb Carr, author of The Angel of Death – though perhaps best known for The Alienist, I loved this
second novel in the series for Carr’s ability to immerse us in the culture of the period. The paperback is 750 pages, and yet I never felt it ran too long. I wanted to read more. City scapes are not easy to render in fiction, and he is a master.
Jennifer Egan, author of Manhattan Beach – I have studied the opening chapters of this novel several
times as an amazing example of how to create characters about whom a reader immediately cares and wants to see what happens to them.
Joanne Dobson - all of her Karen Pelletier mysteries and the beautiful The Kashmiri Shawl. Dobson's
wonderful characterizations and settings are a model for any writer.
Katherine Howe, author of The House of Velvet and Glass – writing in the third person has its
challenges, and Howe is a wonderful example of how to use this voice with grace and effectiveness.
Gregory Blake Smith, author of The Maze at Windermere – not everyone likes novels that move back
and forth in time (confession: I do!), but Smith is so skilled at interweaving place (Newport, Rhode Island) and the generations of its inhabitants—including their changing uses of language—that his novel is a model for capturing voices and places of the past.
Toni Morrison - anything by Morrison, for whom history is written on every page, regardless of the
era in which the novel is set. I had the pleasure of having dinner with Morrison once when she spoke
at the university where I was teaching. A uniquely brilliant mind and a gracious spirit.
Beverly Swerling, author of City of Promise – third book in the series, I chose this one because it covers
part of the era that interests me, but Swerling’s talent runs throughout her books: the ability to weave history deftly into a good story.