Who’s In Bed With Me? by Emily Barnes
The only way to be a beautiful writer is to read beautiful writing. Mystery author Emily Barnes shares the beautiful books that have shaped her as a writer.
I can still remember that magical day when, as a first grader, I learned how letters came together and made words. And those words could be arranged in endless combinations to make sentences. So with my crayons or Number 2 pencil, I began to write. That was decades ago, and I’m still stringing words together.
I started small and tried making up my own nursery rhymes. Of course I didn’t know I was experimenting with rhythm and imagery. But letting words wash over me was better than ice cream. And soon I was reading every poet, from Robert Louis Stevenson and Christina Rossetti to Browning and Dickinson. And ever since I can remember there’s been a book of poetry by my bed. Right now I love The Other Voice, poems by Octavio Paz. Don’t let poetry intimidate you, think of it more as inspirational, almost like meditating. Fill your head with beautiful words and have beautiful dreams.
From poetry, I graduated to short stories. I’ve written more than 70 and love the art form. There’s always an anthology of some sort next to my bed. Not to be confused with a short story “collection” by one author, an “anthology” usually centers around a theme and contains a dozen or more stories by a variety of authors. This is a great way to discover new writers. All tales in Hollywood and Crime take place at the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, each set in a different decade. Short and sweet, this anthology is like a box of chocolates.
It was my mother who cultivated my love for horror movies and novels. We’d pass our favorites back and forth. From The Haunting of Hill House to Rosemary’s Baby, we read them all. But when I read Stephen King’s The Shining, I had a new hero. A year without a Stephen King novel is a dull year. Right now I’m on the last few chapters of Mr. Mercedes, which I’ve been reading a little slower because I don’t want it to end too quickly. This is King’s first crack at a thriller featuring a retired cop turned private eye. He must have done something right because the Mystery Writers of America recently awarded him an Edgar Award for this novel.
I drive myself crazy spotting misplaced periods or missing words. The editor in me has been known to toss badly written books aside. But when I read the Erik Larson bestseller, Devil in the White City, I was hooked. His novels are brilliantly flawless. Considered non-fiction, which always sounds so dry, these are on a level all their own. Issac’s Storm, about the deadliest hurricane in history was exciting. And I recently finished Dead Wake, about the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I. I know what you’re thinking. Boring! But not at all. Larson gives the reader a close and personal look at not only the passengers on board but also the crew in charge at the time. And I certainly wouldn’t think that I’d be entertained learning about German U boats, but I was.
As I’ve gotten older, biographies seem to be what I enjoy the most. There’s always one on my nightstand or coffee table. I reason that in order to create new, believable characters, a writer has to be interested in every type of person. But I know a large part of my interest is the gossip. I’ve read biographies of every kind of person, from historical figures to actors, politicians to pop stars. For Christmas I received Debbie Reynolds’ Make ‘Em Laugh. This is a random telling of personal stories. It’s light and funny. Read a few pages and pick it up the next night. No heavy plot here. This is popcorn for the brain.
I once read that the only way to be a beautiful writer is to read beautiful writing. And the only way I know how to do that is expose my heart and soul to all sorts of genres and authors. But that’s the fun, isn’t it? And you don’t even have to get out of bed…or your pajamas…to have an adventure.
Emily Barnes is the author of The Fine Art Of Murder (February 9, 2016; Crooked Lane Books) in which a retired police chief returns to her hometown to comfort her recently divorced daughter and spend time with her grandson—but must step back into a professional role when murder strikes. An artist herself, Emily lives in Clarksville, MO, and has published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. For more, visit www.crookedlanebooks.com
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