If we are what we read;
Then I’m a werewolf
With cyborg feet.
Okay, so it doesn’t rhyme, and I’ll be honest that it’s a modification of a poem I read in Highlights magazine when I was a kid. Amazingly I still remember it. (“If we are what we eat, then I’m a pizza with avocado feet.” Well, the avocado part is true at the moment at least.)
I’ve been digging around in literary agent websites and have a browser full of tabs and various articles about how to tell good agents from bad and editors versus predators and funny articles about the things you’ve been dying to ask an agent and have never had the courage. One of them was an article about four questions you might be asked in a pitch session, which was interesting because I could answer all four of them, thank goodness. (I over think things sometimes.) But the one that interested me the most was “what are your favorite authors and how have they influenced you?” (As I paraphrase.)
I find as a writer and reader, I like homey, family oriented themes that focus on the characters and often delve into the realms of good versus evil. They are satisfying and have good and hopeful endings. My favorite authors and books tend to reflect this. These are not books that stand out in my mind from other books. These are the books that I turn to for comfort food and reflect best my own style of writing.
If we want to start with the oldest books and authors, then I’ll have to start with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I know, I know, predictable. The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings/Chronicles of Narnia, these are books about the everyday hero going on adventures and getting mixed up with lost kings, wizards and witches, talking beasts and things from the realms of legend. A product of the times of the Great Wars, where evil would win if good men did nothing. Hobbits and children are the least expected saviors of the day. There is hope and there is faith and there are happy endings. I find these types of books to be grounded epics.
I’ve mentioned in this blog before that my favorite teacher, Mr. Filmore, would read to us during lunch. He is the one who introduced me to Tolkien. He also introduced me to Brian Jacques. Brian Jacques’ Redwall series is one of my favorites. The world of Mossflower woods was a fascinating place. He kept his world building both rich and simple. These books were full of adventure, riddles, songs, sword fights, food, and good versus evil. (Did I also mention food?) Family, brotherhood and working together for the good of the community were also important and emphasized. It was hard to go one hundred pages in the books without some mention of a community feast of some sort. The journeys that the young characters took not only have them going to far off places, but maturing as well. My favorite book in this series would be Mattimeo, a young mouse’s involuntary journey to become a warrior outside of the shadow of his famous warrior father.
I started reading the next two authors at about the same time. Though it took me a long time to realize why I enjoyed them so much. Interestingly enough, one is a fantasy writer and the other is a science fiction writer.
I started reading Mercedes Lackey mostly through her Valdemaar series. I liked Valdemaar. It was a well built universe with interesting characters. There were compelling stories there. However, I found as I read more of her works, I enjoyed her Tales of the 500 Kingdoms, Elemental Masters and her Jousting Dragon books more. I liked the way these stories took older stories and broke them up and mashed them together for something new. There was the comfort of the familiar with the enticement to see where the changes would lead. (There is a trap there of doing the same concept too many times as well.) Then, even when there were major things happening in the world out of the character’s control, Mercedes Lackey’s stories were always character driven. The people were the heart of the story, not what was going on. And whether or not the characters were outcasts, thieves, sword maidens, fairy godmothers or bratty princesses, they are always interesting.
The Star Wars expanded universe was my gateway into science fiction. The Star Wars EU is huge. It covers comic books, novels, video games and role playing games. There were a lot of very talented writers that worked within it. Since it wasn’t done in a progressive fashion, this did eventually end up being too many cooks so to speak and the universe was a contradictory mess. I’d like to say that Disney is onto something with scrubbing it out and starting over, but at the same time, I can’t. To use an old idiom, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, because in the EU there was and is a lot of great stuff. (I’m not talking the twenty years after the trilogy stuff. They can throw that out as much as they like. Shudder.) My favorite part of the EU was the X-Wing Wraith Squadron books by Aaron Allston. These were later books in the X-Wing series. Commander Wedge Antilles wants to experiment with the way X-Wing squadrons are formed and Admiral Ackbar lets him only on the condition that if Wedge fails, he takes the rank of General and joins Ackbar’s advisory staff. (Since Wedge hates being out of his cockpit, Wedge better not fail.)
The X-Wing novels were all about ensemble writing. An X-Wing squadron by default is made up of twelve people. Those are twelve personalities to bounce off each other and Aaron Allston (and before him Michael A Stackpole) chose about half a dozen of the characters as main characters then focused on their stories. This requires juggling and making them distinct personalities. And because these are pilots, even in the space future, there was also a lot of humor.
My last favorite author of influence is the self-proclaimed writer of dark fantasy, Anne Bishop. I like to think of Anne Bishop as the cautionary scare fiction tale spinner of the fantasy world. Instead of the evils of technology, she writes about the twisting of society and how if social mores and taboos are ignored or even encouraged that society will fall. All it takes is greed and a lust for power. Portions of her books can be very disturbing. However, she uses contrast to great effect. The rest of the books are very focused on family interaction, such as the perils of parenting, the trials of teenagers, sibling interaction and the bounds and bonds of friendship. There is heavy emphasis on the friends that you make your family and that life is in taking care of the small things as well as large.
If you’ve read my reading history, you know that I’ve read many more authors than this. I know what I write and I know what I write well. And other authors don’t really fit with my style. Different writers resonate with people for different reasons. These are the writers who resonate with me theme wise and stylistically and as a result, have influenced my own writing.