One snowy Sunday afternoon when I was twelve I found myself with nothing to do. It was too cold to do much outside (even for us Minnesotans), and I had already played with the dog, brushed the cat, done my homework, and found nothing of interest on the three channels that passed for television back then. It was one of a handful of times in my life when I have been utterly bored. Then my mother changed my life forever.
I was sitting in a chair in the living room when my mother came out of her bedroom with a book in her hand. Now, I was a voracious reader and at twelve was reading well above my grade level. I had long since read––and read again––all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, but had not yet bumped up into a real grown-up novel. Until now. “I think you might be ready for this,” my mother said. And then she handed me a Dick Francis novel. I read the first sentence and was so hooked that I knew right then that I wanted to be a writer.
For the uninitiated, Dick Francis was a British author and former steeplechase jockey who rode for, among other clients, the Queen mother. His forty-two mysteries combined horses, intrigue, love, and dysfunctional families, and I thought I had never read anything nearly as good. I still feel that way.
I had the good fortune to meet this award-winning author, my hero, in Nashville in the mid-1980s. He had come to town for a national steeplechase event that was being held at our own Percy Warner Park. I rarely get star-struck, but I have to admit that I was quite nervous when we met. We chatted for a few minutes about the weather, the race, Nashville, and his books, and I told him he was the reason I had become a writer. He became quite flustered, but also shook my hand heartily and wished me well.
It later became a well-known secret that Dick co-authored his many books with his wife, Mary. When he began writing back in the 1960s, it was thought that having a man’s name on the book’s cover would sell more copies. Back then that might have been true. Fortunately, we have come a long way since then and I believe our genre is now one of the most gender-equal places on earth.
I don’t believe that readers today care whether a mystery or thriller is written by a man or a woman, they just care that the book is great. Dick and Mary Francis wrote great books. Mary passed a number of years ago and Dick passed away more recently at age eighty-nine. Theirs is a loss felt deeply across the literary world. Many of us never get to meet our heroes, our inspirations. I was lucky.
Dick and Mary Francis changed my life, and gave me direction and a passion. My books read nothing like theirs. Over the years I was able to find my own voice, but I never would have been able to do that without books such as Reflex, The Danger, and Bolt.
That’s why I love conferences like Killer Nashville. It’s a place for readers (and writers) not only to meet their heroes, but also to talk with them and maybe even share a cup of coffee.
I hope that every reader finds their own author hero, the one author whose books read like old friends, whose characters are as familiar as childhood classmates. Because that passion for the written word is what reading and writing is all about. Editors, publishers and authors today talk endlessly about social networking, reach, and branding, but when it comes right down to it, it really is just the writing, the reading, and the book.
Lisa Wysocky’s fun, debut equestrian mystery, The Opium Equation, received four prestigious awards, and rave reviews from Midwest Book Review, The Library Journal, etcetera. She is hard at work on the sequel, The Magnum Equation (Spring 2013). This award-winning Nashville author/horse trainer also co-authored Front of the Class, which aired as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie and co-authored Walking on Eggshells (May 2013) with Lyssa Chapman, daughter of Dog the Bounty Hunter. Lisa is a PATH instructor who educates horses for therapeutic activities and has been named one of the Top 50 riding instructors in the nation. http://www.LisaWysocky.com
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at email@example.com.)