Who Influenced You?

Thea Devine posting today.  So tell me if this isn’t a bookaholic’s dream.  You’re buying a house and strewn all over the living room floor are books, a hundred or more of them.  You’re buying the house from the estate of a recently deceased widow, and you know it had been broken into, but the important things were not taken: the fireplace surrounds, the sliding doors, the books.

Among them was a uniformly bound set of novels by Augusta Evans Wilson —

— who, I came to find out, was a best selling author of her time with her novel, St. ElmoSt. Elmo has to have been the original bad boy hero who had to redeem himself to win his orphaned heroine love.  The book sold hundreds of thousands of copies just after the Civil War and allegedly was so popular that people named children, homes, streets and towns after it. and it was also said that Rhett Butler was supposedly modeled on the character.

There were a half dozen of Wilson’s novels, of which I’ve read 3 — St. Elmo, At the Mercy of Tiberius , and Inez, a Tale of the Alamo.

Which led me to think about the other best selling romance authors of their day, some of whom are long-time favorites of mine:  Faith Baldwin — who wrote career girl (usually nurses or secretaries) romance;  Kathleen Norris (rags to riches, usually set in the Mission section of San Francisco, vividly portrayed);  Emilie Loring (hometown girls in New England, richly evoked in a very distinctive voice).

I know there are some I’m forgetting, but I’m so glad I read those long ago authors long before  the idea of becoming an author myself was ever remotely possible.

Because of them, I found what I liked to read, and what I wanted to write.  From Wilson, and latterly, Catherine Clinton’s The Plantation Mistress,I discovered the pre-civil war south through the women’s eyes, so I’ve been collecting women’s civil war diaries for some time now, just out of my fascination with the time period.

Because of them, I came to love stories of heroines returning to their small town roots.  If they’re going down south, I’m there.  If there’s a plantation, I’m up all night reading it.  I love married-to-the-wrong-guy-but-maybe-not stories;  stories especially of wounded heroes and heroines overcoming their pasts and finding each other;  heroines caught in circumstances manipulated by someone else for nefarious purposes;  ghost stories; stories with conspiracies simmering under the surface that are just hinted at as the solution to the overt problems of the heroine (read gothics).

I just love old books. Love reading the “commercial fiction” from before the turn of the century, even having to plow through the dense Victorian prose and quotations from obscure poets and philosophers.  Love finding old books, as I’ve posted elsewhere.  Love it all, as witness my bookshelves and desk room floor.

But who’s on my current TBR pile then, you might ask.  Well, Gone Girl, Tatiana de Rosnay, Kate Morton, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, Karen Rose,  A Victorian Household, Carla Neggers, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, and  Macaria (another of Wilson’s novels written during the Civil War), among a dozen other books.   What about you?

So who were your influences, who’s on your To Be Read pile?  Do you like old books?  Have you read Norris, Baldwin or Loring?   Do you have other favorites, old or new?

Thea Devine is working on a new erotic contemporary romance and will be putting five backlist titles on-line soon.


6 thoughts on “Who Influenced You?”

  1. Enlightening, Thea, as I’ve never read any of the authors you mentioned. If I read old books, they are usually classics, but I do love historicals, especially those set in Regency period. I’ve read Carla Neggers contemporary stuff, and liked her very much. I’ll have to check out her Georgette Heyer’s Regency World. Thanks for the tip. As for TBR, the list is endless. I now have all my CTRWA pals on that list including Bob Bonitz, A Little Bit of Baby, and Jessica Andersen’s last installment of the NightKeepers Series, Spellfire. I’ll pretty much read anything and I go through phases of what I enjoy the most, but my early inspirations were Barbara Kingsolver and Diana Gabaldon. Those ladies can spin a tale that sucks me in as if I’m walking alongside the characters and living for their happiness. The magic of creating great, believable characters never ceases to amaze me. It’s the hallmark of a good book for me and what I strive for in my own writing. Thanks for the lovely post.

  2. I grew up in a poor household where our entertainment consisted of radio and reading. We read every night. Our books came from the town dump. We had a small bookcase full of books that I read and re-read as I grew up, including one volume from the Encylopedia Brittanica, Reading is Fundamental, a large book on etiquette, a book on the Spanish American war, Mathematics Made Fun, lots of Zane Gray, Water Babies, and The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall which I read at age 10. My first book was Now We Are Six by AA Milne, and I still have it. I was influenced by the classics, but my favorites were mysteries, beginning with the Sherlock Holmes adventures. I still read tons of mysteries, but I love to read books from cultures other than my own, women of all races and ethnicities. At my bedside TBR is NW by Zadie Smith. Currently reading, Bingo Barge Murder by Jessie Chandler.

    1. I love mysteries too. You might be interested to know, in light of women’s culteral studies, that Augusta Evans Wilson is now studied and written about along with major southern women writers like Kate Chopin and Ellen Glasgow.

      Books are indeed solace.


  3. I am submersed in the Civil War with my novel. Women who served as nurses, not mattering which side they favored. And of course the era is close to the women’s suffrage movement. With women like Helen Churchill Candee, a Titanic survivor, who was involved and a promoter of the women’s vote. I love history and books filled with stories of our courageous mothers and daughters. Thea, where are you finding those diaries? Thanks for your great post.

    1. Hey Gail. A lot of university presses are publishing them. Or go on eBay.: women’s civil war diaries. There are some nurse’s diaries: Ada Bacot, Phoebe Pember Yates among them, if you haven’t discovered them yet. I envy you starting your search.


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