I was at my book store last week. Normally I enjoy one of the perks of working at AuthorHouse - I get to read the great books that our AuthorHouse authors publish with us. However, there was a sale on when I was in the shop this particular day, so I was looking for something new to read.
I came across a Dick Francis novel on sale for $1. I am not a horse racing fan, but I do love sports fiction. Well, that is the genre I am trying to establish myself in with the book I am writing, after all. I had also heard a lot of good things about Francis’ books as well, so I thought I would give it a shot.
The book I bought was Under Orders starring one of Francis’ more popular characters, Sid Halley. I have just finished reading it and have been thinking how I can incorporate his style of conveying authentic description of a particular sport and creating a realistic, plausible story within that sport’s environment and confines.
Interestingly I came across this article in Megan Smith’s blog, Megan’s Minute, entitled What I Learned About Writing from Bestselling Mystery Writer Dick Francis. I thought it would be interesting to compare what she learned to what I learned from Dick Francis.
Below are selected excerpts from Megan’s Minute along with my own thoughts. You can read Megan’s complete, fascinating article here
1. “Francis’ sparse, yet descriptive, first-person style.”
This is certainly something Megan and I can agree on. Under Orders is a very easy read, but Francis keeps you engage with focus on the characters. There is very little clutter in terms of sub plots or intricate detail. He gives you just enough information to keep you informed and to follow the story, but does not go off on a tangent.
I also found his first-person narrative effectively drew me to Sid Halley, the lead character. I am sure the next Dick Francis novel I read will be another Sid Halley murder mystery.
2. “All of his novels were set in the world of racing and after reading them all, I learned more about how to fix a horse race than I ever thought possible. I also learned that fashion models have nothing on jockeys when it comes to compulsive weight control. And the Kentucky Derby? That’s nothing compared to riding a steeplechase in a raging downpour.”
Here again, I have never been a horse racing fan. One of the things I enjoyed most about the sport is the new knowledge I gained about the sport, thanks to Francis’ detailed, yet simple to follow descriptions of events and the intricacies of the sport.
This is something that makes Michael Crichton one of my favorite storytellers. I always feel I have learned something new at the end of a enjoyable reading experience.
3. “His protagonists, though often similar, were always different characters. And they always had some kind of important personal issue or decision they had to deal with while tracking down the bad guys.”
Sid Halley is a very interesting character. A former champion jockey whose career was cut short after an horrific accident in a race. That accident cost him one of his hands as he uses a prosthetic arm in every day life. This makes for an extremely interesting dynamic within the story line.
4. “After reading Reflex, every year when a new Dick Francis book came out, I would make a pilgrimage to the Murder Ink bookstore on the upper west side of Manhattan for his book signing.
“And there he’d be, a small, bright-eyed man, signing my book with a smile and a handshake. As the years passed, the arthritis in his hands became more pronounced and the signing events became shorter and shorter.”
Megan wrote her article as a tribute to Mr. Francis upon his passing. Unfortunately I will never have the opportunity to meet him myself, but I do hope I can attain his level of personal interaction with readers when my book is finally published (if I have any readers in the first place!)
5. “You know how you connect with some writers because of the point in your life when you discover them? It was like that for me with Dick Francis.”
Megan credits Dick Francis as contributing massively to giving her confidence in her own writing. This is similar to my experiences with AuthorHouse authors inspiring me with my own book.
I think where Dick Francis has helped me most with my writing is through his ability to entertain a non horseman with a story that centers around the horse racing world. I hope i can do this with my sports fiction writing.