Monday, June 15, 2009

My Favorite Authors - Cara Summers

My Favorite Authors—(the ones who’ve shaped me as a writer and perhaps as a person)

I’ve always been a reader. Growing up, my favorite thing to do was to curl up with a good book. And I credit my parents with my lifelong addiction to popular fiction. My dad read to relax, and he was always willing to share from the pile of paperback mysteries and westerns he kept on the table near his bed. My mom subscribed to several magazines. My favorites were Good Housekeeping and Redbook because each month in addition to short fiction they offered a full length novel. I even had a favorite place to read—a window seat that could be screened off by a curtain. I could hide there and read to my heart’s content. Whenever I had a doctor or dentist appointment, my mom would take me to a bookstore afterward and I got to choose a new book.

If I hadn’t been such an avid reader, would I have eventually become an English teacher, a college writing teacher, and a published writer? I don’t think so.

I was recently asked in an interview to name some writers who’ve influenced me, and that started me thinking…

At the top of my list is Carolyn Keene. You may not recognize the name, but Carolyn (probably a pseudonym for several authors) wrote the Nancy Drew Mysteries. My Aunt Kathleen gave me my first one when I was seven. It took me a long time to finish it, but I did. And then I was hooked. By the time I was ten, I had read every Nancy Drew book that had been written.

And Nancy became my heroine. She was bright and independent and she drove a convertible—a coupe. (I had no idea what that was, but I wanted one.) Nancy had two best friends (George and Bess), a handsome and fairly undemanding boyfriend named Ned, and a father who was supportive and rarely interfered in her life. She had exciting adventures, she solved mysteries, and she had an ingenious way of getting herself out of scrapes! Was it any wonder I wanted to grow up to be Nancy Drew? I still carry an image of Nancy in my head. She’s tied up in a locked room, and she gets herself rescued by tap dancing S.O.S. in Morse Code on the door. Amazing!

Perhaps I owe Carolyn Keene for the fact that in every single romance I write there’s always some kind of intrigue in the subplot. And I frequently put my heroines in jeopardy. (So far none of them has ever tap danced her way out of a locked room, but…)

The next writer who has influenced me is Mary Stewart who wrote several modern gothic romances before she turned her attention to the Arthurian legend. My favorite is Nine Coaches Waiting. The book is a superbly crafted, twentieth century version of Jane Eyre, and reading it reawakened my love for the Bronte sisters and also led me to read other modern writers of gothic romance such as Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Daphne DuMaurier. (If you’ve never read Nine Coaches Waiting or DuMaurier’s Rebecca, I highly recommend them.)

Two years ago, my editor invited me to write a modern sexy gothic for the Blaze line and I jumped at the chance! I set it near San Diego in a Spanish hacienda with a mysterious past. All of its mistresses had met an untimely death, and two of them had jumped from the hacienda’s tower. And, of course, that tower is where my heroine finds herself in the climactic scene! I had so much fun writing that story (aptly titled Tell Me Your Secrets…) and playing around with all the gothic elements, not the least of which was creating a hero who just might be the villain.

In addition to inspiring me with her books, Mary Stewart also influenced me to start writing. In an interview she was once asked what inspired her to write her first novel. She said that one summer she simply couldn’t put it off anymore. She had to write. I wish I could say that after hearing that I sat down and wrote my first novel. But I didn’t. Still, her answer kept coming back to me until I finally stopped finding excuses to put off the compulsion I had to write. One summer I set myself the goal of writing a romance. I wrote it on yellow legal pads, and I found that I could finish about eight pages a day. Did I sell that first book? No. It wasn’t very good. (The word dreadful comes to mind). I didn’t even word process it. But I’d written it. And I stopped putting off my dream of “becoming a writer” and wrote my second book…and my third…and all the rest.

Who are my other favorite authors? The list is a long one, but I’ll mention a few more. Charles Dickens is on the list because of his ability to create characters that stick in my mind forever. (Who could forget Scrooge or Miss Havisham, the jilted bride who never changed out of her wedding dress?) Also near the top of the list is Harper Lee who wrote one wonderful book, To Kill a Mockingbird. I taught that novel to fourteen year olds for fifteen years straight, and each time I reread it, I found something new. If you haven’t read it in a while, read it again. And I’ll end the list, for now, with William Shakespeare. His romantic comedies, with their devices of disguise and the recurring theme of appearance vs. reality, have had a huge influence on my books.

In my two Blazes that are out this summer, Twin Temptation and Twin Seduction, identical twin sisters switch places and walk around in each other’s lives for three weeks. Where do you think I got that idea? Betcha Disney got the idea for The Parent Trap from old Will too. But in my books, of course, someone is trying to kill both of the twins. (Thanks to Carolyn and Mary!)

Who are the authors who have most influenced you?



Lee Hyat said...

Cara, you've name two of my favorite authors from when I was a girl too - Harper Lee and Carolyn Keene. I remember haunting my school library for every Nancy Drew book I could lay my hands on.

Later on I also fell in love and was influenced by Jane Austen and M M Kaye. They gave me a love for historicals and so many hours of enjoyment.

Laurie said...

LM Montgomery & the Anne of Green Gables series, JR Tolkien - loved the Hobbit & LOTR, CS Lewis's Narnia series, Mark Twain's The Prince & the Pauper, Madeleine L'engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Richard Adams's Watership Down, The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas.