Writers That Thrill (And, Possibly, Inspire)

You know how it is at the beginning of a relationship, when you’re all goony and moon-eyed, and everything you see, hear, smell, whatever reminds you of that other person? I think the same thing can be said for writers (and most artists, really) at the beginning of the creative process. I’ve been working on something for the last few days and, I’ll be honest, I’m completely smitten. I love the idea. I love the main characters. I can’t wait until I can spare a few hours and get my sorry ass to the library and do some hardcore research (until then, thank you Wikipedia!).

At times like this, I can’t help but think about some of my favorite authors. I have a lot, I’ll be honest. I love Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Jane Austen. I’ve repeatedly devoured the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Harry, Ron, and Hermione coexist quite nicely on my bookshelf next to Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn. And, I don’t think there’s a detective around who can hold a candle to Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, or Philip Marlowe. But you just don’t get the same giddy anticipatory nerd-gasms from these folks that you get when a contemporary author you love comes out with another book.

So, just because I can, I’m going to share some of my favorite contemporary authors with you. Maybe you’ll be inspired to pick one of their books up and enjoy them as much as I do. At the very least, you’ll kill a few minutes of your day reading this post.

1. Jim Butcher

I’ve mentioned Jim Butcher before. Several times. He’s just that good! Remember a while back, when I said there isn’t a detective around who could hold a candle to Holmes, Wolfe, and Marlowe? Well, that’s not entirely true. Butcher’s Harry Dresden can. Actually, forget the candle, Dresden could light them all on fire, if he wanted to. Harry’s a wizard and a private detective working in Chicago. He’s pretty hardboiled (in the “I get the stuffing beat out of me by the bad guys for about 250 pages” kind of way), but he’s also the king of the pop culture reference. I confess that I don’t really get the whole Urban Fantasy thing, but I get Dresden. Plus, I’ve met Jim Butcher and he’s a hell of a guy.

2. Steve Berry

Poor Steve. I think he got overshadowed by the colossus that was The Da Vinci Code. I get why. A lot of his books deal with the Catholic Church (and religion, in general). They usually involve decoding various riddles and puzzles handed down through history. But, Berry is a much better writer than Dan Brown (and I like Dan Brown, so I’m not being a dismissive jerk). Plus, it’s easier for me to believe that Berry’s Cotton Malone can run around and dodge bullets and fight crazed zealots because, unlike Brown’s Robert Langdon, Cotton used to work for the U.S. government. He also owns a used book store in Copenhagen and has a photographic memory. How cool is that?

3. Neil Gaiman

I’m going to take for granted that most, if not all, of you at least know who Neil Gaiman is, even if you’ve never read anything he’s written. For my money, Neverwhere is one of the best books ever written. And, if you ever want to see how to portray pagan deities in a modern setting, read American Gods or Anansi Boys. Then there’s Good Omens (which Gaiman co-wrote with Terry Pratchett)–think the Book of Revelations as written by Monty Python.

4. James Rollins

I’ve only read Rollins’s Sigma Force novels, but they’re pretty awesome.  The basic premise behind them is that there’s a top secret government agency staffed by “soldier scientists”–members of the military who were sent to earn advanced degrees in chemistry, biology, physics, what-have-you.  They mission is to protect America’s technological superiority.  Frequently that involves investigating things like ancient batteries or anti-matter.  Rollins stated that some of his favorite books growing up were Tarzan, Baum’s Oz books, and the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells…and it shows.  His Sigma Force books are the literary equivalent of a big summer blockbuster: pure, unadulterated fun.

5. Michael Crichton

In 1992, during Christmas break, I read a little book called Jurassic Park (maybe you’ve heard of it?  I think there was a movie or something based on it).  That summer, I read pretty much every novel Crichton wrote up until that point–except The Great Train Robbery and Terminal Man, but I’ll get around to them, too.  Lucky for me, the nation was caught up in Crichton Fever–which could almost be a plot from one of his books–so his older novels were everywhere (I got mine at the local Pathmark).  I credit Crichton for introducing me to the “techno-thriller”, a friendship that continues to this day, much like I credit Caleb Carr’s The Alienist for introducing me to the historical novel.  Sure, there have been a few bumps along the way (I’m looking at you, Disclosure), but I’ll still pick up every new novel that has Crichton’s name on it.

6. Stephen King

Thank the gods Uncle Stevie decided to continue publishing books (remember when he said that after he finished up Dark Tower, he’s stop publishing?), otherwise I couldn’t include him on this list.  He’s the Master.  No doubt about it.  He put the “pro” in prolific–I guess he could have put the “fic” in it, too…I’m not sure.  Sure, some of his books end a tad abruptly, but I for one always enjoy the journey.  Here is a man who loves what he does, and I think it shows.  Besides, IT is still the creepiest, most disturbing book I’ve ever read.

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12 responses to “Writers That Thrill (And, Possibly, Inspire)

  1. I haven’t been able to take Crichton seriously since he became the poster-boy climate change skeptic. Admitedly, I don’t know a whole lot about his position on the subject, but the idea that a science fiction writer would be called as an expert witness before congress to debunk the 99% of climate scientists who’ve concluded it’s real, strikes me as rediculous. Nevertheless, this has nothing to do with the quality or enterainment value of his books, which I would certainly agree with.

  2. I don’t know exactly what his position is on climate change, either. But, the point he was trying to make in “State of Fear” (which is the book that caused all of the fuss) is that the climate changes constantly and it’s only recently that politicians and the media have started to focus on it as a way to frighten and control the masses, or something along those lines.

  3. Your recollection of his book strikes me as correct. I would also say that, of course, the climate scientists are trying to frighten us with what they believe we’re doing to the climate, and in this way they’re trying to drive us into action — sort of controlling, but I don’t think it’s as conspiratorial as he’s painting it.

    I read The Alienist when it came out…the tone and the evil nature of the serial killer character reminded me a little of the Stray Toasters comic books from the late ’80s…did you ever read those?

  4. Oh…and take maximum advantage of your inspiration to write! Have fun with it.

  5. Stray Toasters? Umm…no, can’t say that I’ve ever heard of those.

  6. Here’s a very brief citation in Wikipedia for the similarly brief series:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stray_Toasters

  7. King’s Delores Claibourne is one of those books that stays in my memories. Beautiful writing.

    Another contemporary I love is Nick Hornby. About a Boy had me rolling and crying throughout the whole book.

    Just to throw in a few contemporary female authors (not that I noticed you failed to include any….but I forgive you because you mentioned Jane Austen as one of your favorites) –Fannie Flagg and Sharon McCrumb (only when she writes about the Appalacians). Oh, and there is this wonderful screenplay writer by the way of Adams…

  8. I’ve heard of this Adams person…I hear she’s quite amazing.

    Kathy Reichs is also really good, although I must confess that I prefer the TV version of Temperance Brennan to the one that appears in her novels.

  9. ……….I’m someone who believes you will find more “truths” and insight into the human condition in the best genre fiction, than you ever will in so-called literary fiction. Marlowe, Flashman, Athos, Dresden, Alan Breck and a dozen others have more to say and do it in a more pleasing fun exciting way, than any number of damaged emo-tagonists coming out of Williamsburg or the Iowa writers workshop. I would rather eat an Ian McEwan novel than read another one.

  10. Back when I was teaching a class on Detective Fiction, I came across an article that said pretty much that: because of the speed at which they are written, “genre” works better capture the spirit of the times in which they are written because it’s done subconsciously. If you try to force it, it rings false.

    I think a copy of that article should be printed in every book published, included in the NYT Book Review, and posted outside of the Strand.

  11. ………..can I second the lady who bigged up Sharyn
    McCrumb’s “Ballad” books???? They are simply wonderful. F’rinstance read”Ballad of Frankie Silver” – only “Shot in the Heart” & “Executioner’s Song” come close as meditations on the death penalty…….but you know if some pasty-faced muppet drives by Huntsville and writes a book about the death-penalty, that’s what the literati would embrace……

  12. Pingback: In Which I Bid Farewell to an Old Friend « Faust’s Fantastically Fantasmagoric Forum

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