Don’t pick just one mystery thriller author
I once heard an editor say that her author “channeled” a famous writer. I thought, how sad. The only thing any of us has over anybody else is ourselves. That’s the one thing that makes us special. We are our own instrument.
I love to watch the top comedians on the comedy channel, because the really good ones use themselves—their world view, their own quirks, everything that has been poured into their lives so far. So—like other authors–you’ve got a guy playing piano. You have a bunch of guys who look like meth heads. You have people with props. You have people who are dirty, and you have people who are clean.
Those are all common things. But the best mystery thriller authors don’t copy anyone else. I don’t want to channel thriller and mystery writer John Grisham. There’s already a John Grisham, so anything I could do would be only warmed-over, second-best John Grisham.
But don’t be a copycat
So how do you avoid channeling John Grisham? If he’s your taste, look for other top mystery authors like him, like you. And read them all. Mix it up. Don’t read two of one author’s books in a row. There are some writers who have such strong voices that when I read them, I have to leaven them with another strong writer from another direction.
If I’m reading Sue Grafton (for fun, and because she’s one of the best), I have to find someone who will neutralize her before I start to write, like James Lee Burke. I’m a born mimic, and I have to fight that tendency—and that combination will confuse the hell out of anyone.
Choose the mystery or thriller authors who speak to you
If you choose, say, five to fifteen thriller authors you love, if you can see your work in that mold, in that grouping, you will do well to trust them. I have four writers, I call them “my boys,” and whenever I start to freak out in my writing I go to one of them, read one of his books, and it helps me to realize I can write, too.
I know I’m on the right track, that I do many more things right than I do wrong, because I’ve been over this trail a few times and each time I do the trail becomes more pronounced (They don’t know, by the way, that they’re “my boys.” If they did know, they might think I’m a crackpot and go out and hire extra security).