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Festival of Reading: Atkins, Dorsey, Koryta, Unger explain what books led them to write crime fiction

The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading presents more than 50 authors, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 12 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Find more information here.

We asked four bestselling crime fiction authors which books first made them want to write in that genre. Here are their answers.

Ace Atkins (The Innocents and Slow Burn) will appear in conversation with Lisa Unger at 3 p.m. in the Fish & Wildlife Auditorium.

For me, most of what I do now started with John D. MacDonald. The father of my best friend in high school, a man named Joel Copeland, knew I was a big reader. He handed off several Travis McGee novels and insisted I read them. Well, after The Deep Blue Good-by, I was hooked. How couldn't you be? The loner hero, the deep attention to place and the social commentary gave me everything I love about storytelling. When I first moved to Florida to work as a reporter, I loved meeting anyone who'd come across John D. He'd been gone about 10 years by then but his legacy and reputation only seemed to grow. I still look for any opportunity to celebrate and turn readers on to his work. He's inspired contemporary writers from me to Lee Child, James W. Hall and Carl Hiaasen. So many of us owe MacDonald a massive debt.

Tim Dorsey (Coconut Cowboy) will appear at 10 a.m. in the Fish & Wildlife Auditorium.

James W. Hall's Bones of Coral did it for me. I was mainly reading Florida books at the time and trying to get my first Florida novel started. Then I came across a review of Hall's new book. It raved about how it captured the essence of the Keys. So I went out and bought a copy, not realizing it was a crime mystery. After reading Bones, I thought, This is perfect! I can get in all the things I love about Florida by attaching it to a plot drawn from the crime stories I experienced as a newspaper reporter. And off I went ...

Michael Koryta (Rise the Dark) will appear at 2 p.m. in the Fish & Wildlife Auditorium.

I had a summer crime spree. The summer I was 16, I read Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, which led to Michael Connelly's The Black Echo, and Dennis Lehane's Gone, Baby, Gone. By the end of the summer I'd started my first attempt at a detective novel. A few years and several attempts later, one of them was actually published. Those three books were truly inspirational to me as a young writer, and they remain benchmark novels in the genre.

Lisa Unger (Ink and Bone) will appear in conversation with Ace Atkins at 3 p.m. in the Fish & Wildlife Auditorium.

I'm not sure I chose to write about crime any more than I chose to write in the first place. I've always been a writer, and I've always had a dark and twisted imagination, a ferocious curiosity about the darker side of things — so it was natural for me to gravitate to that subject matter in my fiction.

But there are two books that I recall as early influences. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote — though not fiction — taught me that one could write about crime, criminals and the horrific things we do to each other and do so with compassion as well as with great beauty. In a way, this book gave me permission to peer behind the curtain and try to understand the darkness. Capote's searing account of the Kansas murders and his portraits of the men who committed the crimes stay with me to this day.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was my first thriller. This harrowing novel of a girl caught in a web of deceit, "haunted" by the ghost of her husband's first wife, all taking place in the halls of the beautiful and terrifying Manderley is a masterpiece of suspense. And who can forget the dreaded Mrs. Danvers? I was breathless from beginning to end. I loved that feeling of turning the pages, unable to stop reading until the end. I see this theme — the ordinary girl caught in extraordinary circumstances — as a thread that runs though my own work even now. I still love that anticipation, that wanting to know what happens next — as a reader and a writer.

Festival of Reading: Atkins, Dorsey, Koryta, Unger explain what books led them to write crime fiction 11/02/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2016 5:24pm]
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