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Type M is delighted to welcome award-winning mystery writer, Donna Andrews, as our weekend guest. Donna lives and works in Reston, Virginia. Duck the Halls (Minotaur, 2013) is her twentieth published mystery novel.
Donna tells us about her reading habits.
What I’m not reading now
I had two books out this year—The Hen of the Baskervilles in July, and Duck the Halls at the end of October. I’m scheduled to have two out next year—The Good, the Bad, and the Emus in July, and The Nightingale Before Christmas in October.
That’s the good news for readers, at least the ones who like my books. The bad news is that by this time next year, I’ll be even farther behind on reading all those wonderful books my fellow mystery writers are writing so diligently. Because I have a hard time reading when I’m writing, and lately, with two books out a year, I’ve been spending twice as much time writing.
When I tell people I have a hard time reading while I’m writing, they usually nod sagely and say that they understand—of course I am afraid of being influenced.
Well, actually no. If I were that easy to influence, the minute I started a new book I’d put myself on a steady diet of the best mystery and humor writers I could think of and let the influencing go wild.
The real reason is that for me, reading fiction can be an immersive experience. If I’m reading a book that I really enjoy, for the duration of that book I’m walking around in the author’s world, getting to know her characters, thrilling to the unfolding of her plot. And a lot of the time, I need to be walking around in my own fictional word, getting to know my own characters and figuring out the twists and turns of my own plot.
So if I try to read something while I’m writing, either I can’t really lose myself in it and don’t enjoy it as much as I should—or, worse, I do lose myself, and it distracts me from meeting my daily writing goals.
And yet, the urge to read it strong. I have a hard time getting through the day without running my eyes over at least a few pages of words. What’s a busy writer to do?
Nonfiction. I read a lot of nonfiction. Right now, I’m in the middle of Anne Patchett’s essay collection, This is the Story of A Happy Marriage. I particularly recommend the essay “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life” to anyone who is or aspires to be a writer. And for that matter, her memoir, Truth & Beauty, which I read during a previous writing stint. Sometimes I read books about writing craft—but not too many, or I start getting self-conscious about the work itself. Mostly I read narrative nonfiction. I get excited if I find out that Malcolm Gladwell or Oliver Sachs has a new book coming out while I’m in writing mode. I study my library’s new nonfiction ebook acquisitions. History. Biography. Memoirs. Books about science for the lay reader.
I do manage to squeeze in a little bit of fiction. I figured since Sujata Massey’s The Sleeping Dictionary wasn’t mystery fiction it would be a safe read, and I’m enjoying it very much—although I’ve had to ration it. It’s immersive. I plan to gulp the rest now that I’ve turned in my revisions.
It’s also safe to read fiction when I’m in a situation where I know for some good reason I won’t be able to get any writing work done. I had a couple of days like that lately, and devoured Ellen Crosby’s Multiple Exposures, the first book in her new series about a photojournalist. John Gilstrap’s Damage Control got me through this spring’s root canal so well that as soon as I found out I needed a second root canal this fall, I saved High Treason to get me through it. You need something pretty immersive to distract you from dental adventures, although I’m hoping to find some other excuse to read John’s next book. And since I’m in a writing group with John and Ellen, I’m working on keeping up with them.
It’s always my plan, once I turn in a book, to pig out on stacks of the books I haven’t been able to read during the final push. And all too often, when I finally turn the book in, I realize how many other things have also been put on the back burner. And knowing I won’t be able to squeeze in as many books as I’d like, I find myself, instead of reading, dithering over my to-be-read pile.
I could read Laura Lippman’s latest. Charlaine Harris’s latest. Toni Kelner’s first book writing as Leigh Perry. Dana Cameron’s first Fangborn book. I could, of course, read each and every book in the pile. Although actually, it’s more than a pile. It’s a seriously large chunk of the contents of the bedroom I’ve repurposed into my main library. I could read any of them. But not, all of them. Not before I need to start my own next book. Sigh.
And now you know why I’m always so conspicuously silent when folks in the mystery community start posting their best reads of the year. If I made such a list, half the books on it wouldn’t even be mysteries, and since I’m also one of those readers who really like to do a series in order, the other half would be my friends’ books from several years ago.
And why sometimes I’m a little envious of people who seem to find so much more time to read than I can.