I don't spend very much time reading fiction when I'm writing. It's only a guess, but I think a lot of writers feel the same way. The obvious reason is that I become afraid I might "repeat" or outright steal something without knowing that I'm doing it. (I mean, if you're going to steal something outright, you probably ought to be aware that you're doing it so you can hide your tracks!) But the more important reason, for me anyway, is that I've filled my head with a new cast of characters and a new story. There's no room left.
So getting a chance to read a novel is always special. I should add that I have a habit of reading the books I love over and over again. If I really like a book, I need to reread it every year or so. The reason I mention this is that two weeks ago I paid another visit to one of my all-time favorite authors.
Elmore Leonard changed my life. Two books in particular had an impact on me, and for several years, could be found stuffed inside the back pocket of my jeans. THE SWITCH and UNKNOWN MAN #89. What I like most about these books is the way Leonard handles his bad guys. Leonard can do a scary heavy about as well as anyone. But it's the losers in his books, the lowlifes, their ignorance, their humanity, the idea that I know people like this are really out there, cut against the idea that I'm grateful I've never met them, the sense I have that I can hear Leonard laughing out loud as he works his way through the chapter.
I had this experience when I wrote THE LOST WITNESS. There's a hit man in the book, Nathan G. Cava, who becomes addicted to prescription drugs and has a meltdown while trying to murder a woman in a Beverly Hills mansion. Every time he sees an ad from a pharmaceutical company on TV, Cava thinks he has the symptoms and starts using the drug. Nathan G. Cava is a complete loser, a real head case, and writing about him, meeting him and laughing with him and being frightened by him, will always be one of the greatest experiences of my life.