By Carolyn Smith (aka Caroline Clemmons)


Sadly, this past week southwestern author Tony Hillerman died. My family and I have read his works with pleasure. I’ve loved that he brought the Southwest to life for readers all over the world. His passing started me reflecting on how his writing had shaped mine. That set me thinking about all the writers whose work I love. Not counting the Nancy Drew mysteries that started me reading voraciously, there are too many favorite authors to list. However, a few people had a dramatic impact on my writing and my reading.

Not a writer, but a storyteller, my dad first interested me in both history and in the family tales that bring history to life. He’s no doubt why I chose to set my books in Texas. And his stories are probably one reason those old western movies I saw on Saturdays seemed not only real, but also current to me. (My heart still hasn’t recovered from learning that Roy Rogers had failed to wait for me to grow up and had already married Dale Evans.)

A western writer whose works I continue to reread is Louis Lamour. His art of storytelling is amazing. He once spoke to Romance Writers of America National Conference. He stated that his concentration was so great that he could write sitting in a folding chair in the middle of Hollywood and Vine with a typewriter balanced on his knees. How could I not admire that dedication and professionalism? In addition to his short stories, he worked his way back and forth across America at many jobs. It was his early job in a coalmine that killed him when black lung took its final toll. I believe his books will be around for many decades to come. My husband and I have all of his books. They’re great stress relievers.

Recently, a group of friends and I were sitting around a table. Of the nine of us, seven were reading a Nora Roberts novel, one was about to start one, and the only other person had read many of Nora’s works but was reading something else at that time. What other contemporary author can claim this popularity? These were not writers gathered to talk about writing. This was a group of women at a prayer/Bible study group talking about books and authors they loved.  Many authors are bestsellers, but I can’t think of any other who’s reached this status of popularity with such a wide range of fans. I read Nora’s first published novel, although it was many years after it had been written. I had decided to write romance, and my mother-in-law loaned me some of her Harlequin and Silhouette novels. Wasn’t I lucky to pick Nora as a model? If only I could attain a tenth of her popularity, I’d be in heaven!  She is one great storyteller.

It isn’t only the writers we love who shape us. While reading, we also see things that don’t work, that we hate, and that we want to avoid in our own work. The fact that a book is published doesn’t make it perfect by any means. Writers are a hard audience—we know what’s supposed to happen. We see anachronisms, incorrect word use, and other errors that most readers probably miss. I once tossed a historical romance when the author’s third anachronism caught my eye in as many chapters. But she’s a very popular writer, so her readers either don’t mind or don’t catch the inaccuracies.

Subconsciously, everything we see, hear, or read leaves its mark on our minds. Consciously, we strive toward goals, set our standards, and write. And read. We have to keep reading. Writing with persistence (and a lot of luck), perhaps someday a new writer will choose one of our books as one that influenced him or her. Wouldn’t that be great?