Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Anna Lee Huber: 5 Novels That Shaped What I Write

When people ask me why I write what I write, the easy answer is, because it’s what I love. That intriguing mix of history, mystery and romance that keeps you gripped to the edge of your seat or sighing with pleasure. But, really, that’s a cop out. Of course, it’s what I love. You would have to be seriously deranged to spend months or possibly years writing a story you hated. The question really is, why do I love it?

I could sight my long fascination with history, my obsession with puzzles and crime-solving, my longing for a happily-ever-after, and while all of those are certainly factors, I’ve long suspected the books I read have just as strong an influence. We can’t always put our finger on the reason why, but some books touch us deeper than others. Perhaps they come to us at a moment in our lives when it just so happened they would connect with us the most. Or maybe they were always destined to worm their way into our hearts, because we are too much like the heroine, or because we have felt that very same way, or simply because they made us laugh so hard we almost wet our pants. Whatever the reason, books touch us, they influence us. And these five novels just happened to help shape what I write.

1)      Nancy Drew: The Bluebeard Room by Carolyn Keene
When I was a pre-teen, I won this book playing white elephant bingo at our church picnic. And once I’d finished it, I never stopped asking for more. I gobbled up every Nancy Drew novel I could get my hands on. I borrowed them from the library, from friends, and saved my hard earned money to purchase them from the bookstore one town over. My favorite Christmas gift was the bookstore gift card we each got every year from my aunt and uncle because it meant I could buy more. I wanted to be Nancy Drew—to go on her adventures, to have a boyfriend like Ned Nickerson. I even wrote my own story with the title character based strongly on Nancy. She was my first real introduction to the mystery genre, and I will be forever grateful to all of those authors who plugged away anonymously, spitting out Nancy Drew novels for my voracious consumption.

2)      Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
I can’t remember now how I came to possess my first Mrs. Murphy Mystery. Maybe a friend gave it to me, or perhaps I found the cover with a cat on it intriguing since I’d just adopted my own feline. However it came to me, I’m glad it did. I was at a turning point in my life. I’d recently gotten married and graduated from college with a music degree, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to go for my Masters. So I’d taken the year off to figure it out. I hadn’t truly read a novel in years just for my own pleasure, being too swamped with schoolwork. So when Wish You Were Here dropped into my hands I was at a point where I needed a good story. It turned out to be just the right mix of mystery, humor, and adorable animal antics, and it reopened a door for me I hadn’t even known I’d closed. I began to read fiction again, and to start making up stories in my head as I’d always done as a child, before the craziness of life changed things.

3)      Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Outlander might just possibly be one of the most influential novels for modern historical and romantic fiction writers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow authors expound on its significance in their writing lives, as it is for me as well. I read it just as I had finished my first attempt at writing a novel, and not only did it start me on an epic reading binge, but it also taught me just what I was doing wrong. Gabaldon is a master storyteller. Her novels are worth reading just for the lesson in character development.

4)      Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
I read Raybourn’s first novel in the Lady Julia Grey series just as I was stumbling through another round of rejection letters on my third attempt at a novel. I’d already begun a fourth novel, another historical romance, but I was feeling a bit lost. Reading Silent in the Grave was like a light bulb moment for me. Not only was it brilliantly written—the opening chapter is worth the price of admission alone—but it also combined all of the elements I so adored in one single novel. I realized that what I really wanted to write was a historical mystery with strong romantic elements, not the other way around. It took me another six months to finish that fourth novel, because it had been so drilled into me that you finish what you started, but it was number five—my historical mystery—that eventually sold and landed me my coveted publishing contract. If not for Raybourn I’m not sure how long I would have stumbled along writing the wrong thing.

5)      Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart
I adore all of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels. It’s simply impossible to choose a favorite. So I selected Airs Above the Ground solely because it was my first. And, oh, what a treat! Reading Stewart’s books is like taking a master class in suspense and setting—her two greatest gifts. When you read a Stewart novel you are instantly transported wherever it’s set, whether it’s the Austrian Alps, a tiny island off the coast of Greece, or a French chateau. And you will be riveted to the page from the opening paragraph to the last sentence.

What books have had a special influence on your life?  I’d love to hear them. I’m always looking for a few good books. I’ll give away a copy of my latest release, Mortal Arts, A Lady Darby Mystery, today to one lucky commenter!

About Anna: Anna Lee Huber is the award-winning author of the Lady Darby historical mystery series. She is a graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.  She currently resides in Indiana with her family, and is hard at work on the next novel in the Lady Darby series.  Visit her at

Mortal Arts: Scotland, 1830. Lady Kiera Darby is no stranger to intrigue-in fact, it seems to follow wherever she goes. After her foray into murder investigation, Kiera must journey to Edinburgh with her family so that her pregnant sister can be close to proper medical care. But the city is full of many things Kiera isn't quite ready to face: the society ladies keen on judging her, her fellow investigator-and romantic entanglement-Sebastian Gage, and ultimately, another deadly mystery.

Kiera's old friend Michael Dalmay is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother-and Kiera's childhood art tutor-William, has thrown everything into chaos. For ten years Will has been missing, committed to an insane asylum by his own father. Kiera is sympathetic to her mentor's plight, especially when rumors swirl about a local girl gone missing. Now Kiera must once again employ her knowledge of the macabre and join forces with Gage in order to prove the innocence of a beloved family friend-and save the marriage of another...

***Anna Lee's winner is Connie.  Please email with your mailing address!***


Mary Preston said...

LITTLE WOMEN is one that stands out. I'm from a large family of girls. I would read it & realise that my family was nothing like the March family. I have a wonderful family, but the reality is - real.

petite said...

I enjoyed your wonderful post which was captivating. Nancy Drew was always a favorite for me. Anne of Green Gables was my ultimate since I read this when I was young, in hardcover as that was the only format way back then and loved it. Best wishes.

traveler said...

Your selection is great. I too love Mary Stewart and Deanna Raybourn's novels. I have read so many memorable books but Daphne Du Maurier's novels are engrossing and unforgettable. Your post interests me greatly.

jkb said...

I love the books that you selected. I devoured the Nancy Drew books growing up. I enjoy discovering new writers and recently picked up a book by Tiffany Reisz and was wowed by her writing. Yummy.

Pat Cochran said...

The Secret Garden has been a life-long favorite
of mine. I most often read, from the sixth grade
on, the "grown-up" books my Aunt Lillian shared
with me. Authors among them: Yerby, DuMaurier,
Buck, Hemingway, Michener, and Christie.

Jo's Daughter said...

Pride and Prejudice, one of the first romantic stories I read. Little women & Good Wives, classics in every way. Also like Duchese of Dukestreet :)

Connie said...

Fabulous group of books! AIRS ABOVE THE GROUND is wonderful and I so want to read all of the rest of these. Sigh!

Lory Lee said...

Once and Always by Judith McNaught. It made me fall in love with the world of historical romance. If it weren't for that book and my best friend, I won't become a book addict right now. :)