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I received my thoughtful critique from the Romantic Novelists’ Association last week, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to translate its suggestions into substantive changes in my novel. I need to enrich the plot and deepen the characters (sounds easy, right??). But before I dig in, I’m taking a step back to do some research, and the first bit of that is thinking about the books that have stayed with me in the past year. These are the books that pop into my head out of nowhere, weeks and months down the road:

Before I Go To Sleep, S.J. Watson. This is the book I’ve returned to most often since I read it last year. The portrayal of the female protagonist is so real that I assumed the author was female until I was most of the way through the book. I marveled at how the book was structured, how intricately it needed to be plotted to pull off the story. But most of all, I remember how I could not put this book down. It was the combination of being in this sympathetic character’s head and the fear of what might happen to her that kept me up late into the night. There was a ticking time bomb that this character had to grapple with every single day.

The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown. I still can’t understand how the author made a small town in Ohio feel like somewhere foreign and a bit magical (and I grew up in Ohio, so I know whereof I speak). I also liked the first person plural point of view which Brown used in certain sections; it added an immediacy to the storytelling, though it was told largely in the past tense, and this point of view fit the story of three sisters who knew each other so well though they were so different.

The Way Through the Woods, Colin Dexter. Economy of words, dexterous switches in point of view, effortless introduction of new, unique characters. Interesting, relevant quotations at the beginning of each chapter. A mystery that keeps spinning until the end.  And an irascible, yet lovable, main character.

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman. I feel I’m in the hands of a master craftsman when I read Gaiman’s books. The characters jump off the page at you; the word “plot” sounds entirely too mechanical a concept for his stories. But what gets me most about Neil Gaiman’s stories and characters are their humanity, their empathy. This is why I loved Nevermore recently, and why my chest still hitches up a bit whenever I remember The Graveyard Book, which I read several years ago.

Using these very good books as an education for my own writing, I realize I must work really hard on my revision, I mean really, really hard. I thought I had worked hard up to now but I was wrong. I need to go deeper. I’m giving it three to four months. In the end, my book will probably have been wholly rewritten. And then, I hope, the pages will turn themselves as my characters fight, love, despair, and ultimately win.

What books have influenced your writing? Can you point to specific works that have inspired you?