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Their ability to condemn while showing compassion, to admire characters they pity, to blend hilarity and suffering are the guideposts for my own writing.

A few other authors whose novels have made great impressions on me are Robert Penn Warren and the lyricism of All the King's Men; Kazuo Ishiguro and the restrained perfection of The Remains of the Day; Emily Bronte and the tortured psyches bound to a tortured place in Wuthering Heights; Patrick McCabe and the likable horror of The Butcher Boy.

I also believe, though, that a writer is influenced by more than just other writers.

Every writer has a world they portray best but before they can begin to write about it they have to feel for it. They have to possess the passion and empathy to capture a place, a culture, a people with an honest completeness. A writer needs to have not only an understanding of the world she writes about but a very real place within it.

Keeping that in mind, I have to add my late grandfather, H.E. Burkett, to the list of people who have influenced my writing. My grandfather was a country banker in western Pennsylvania who filled me with stories of people in the region and the troubles they faced when the coal and steel industries pulled out. He showed me how hardship can make character, or break it. He helped me understand how good men could be driven to do bad things by the simple relentlessness of responsibility and arrested pride. He taught me to evaluate a person not only by his words and actions but by his history and his circumstance.

During his lifetime my grandfather never felt a need to venture outside his valley and during fifty-five years of marriage, he never felt a desire to be away from my grandmother for more than a workday. His love for her and his patch of Pennsylvania has inspired and sustained me always.


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