A little while ago, a meme bounced around blogland concerning literary influences. A couple people (not naming any names, Catvibe, Linda, and Sarah) encouraged me to do it. I found the task a bit daunting, however, because despite being a writer and a languages major/minor in college (Major: Latin; Minor: English), I always felt somewhat out of place in literature courses. Others could rattle off obscure writers and quote memorized passages they kept close to their hearts. My brain just doesn't work that way. So I'm going to approach this challenge a bit differently.
These books may have influenced my writing, but they also represent signposts in my growth, my development into the person I am today. You'll find that their influences on my writing are amorphous, because I believe copying others' styles produces flat, soulless writing. I've done a ton of work to develop my own writing voice. Over countless hours and more years than I have fingers. I'd like to think my style is largely sui generis (had to throw some Latin in, LOL). And why not? I'm the product of my unique experiences. A writing style flows from the same process.
So Let's Walk the Pages:
1. Edgar Allan Poe, Tell Tale Heart and Pit and the Pendulum. (9 years old.) My first foray into adult writing. I copied Mr. Poe for a long, long time afterward.
2. Jay Anson, Amityville Horror. (11 years old.) Began a long fascination with fear as an engine for stories. One night when we were visiting family in Florida, my cousin tried to terrify me with stories of Jodi the demon pig. Something about her passion for a good scare mesmerized me.
3. Stephen King, The Shining. (14-ish years old.) A tale of fear executed beautifully. I was mesmerized by the depth and skill and intricacy.
4. V.C. Andrew, Flowers in the Attic. (14 years old.) The first story I read that broke severely from human conventions. I thought something beautiful emerged from the horrendous circumstances the children were put in. It made me think about connections with people. Special people. Deeper and more meaningful connections than are commonly formed.
5. J.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings. (14 years old.) The first time I was swept away by a world so epic. This story, along with Forrest Gump, to this day represent a unique kind of pain. What if your life experiences pile up too early? If you experience hugely momentous things when young, what do you do with the rest of your years? How do you survive the let down?
6. Constance Westby, Night Stalks the Mansion. (16 years old.) A wonderful "true" ghost story set near where we live. It was the culmination of my feelings that ghost stories and hauntings represent an odd kind of romance. An enduring connection to the past.
7. Frank Herbert, Dune. (17-ish years old). Taught me that people can be read. That people have plans and thoughts hidden from you. It taught me that interactions can have many levels, and the stakes can be deadly.
8. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. (17-ish years old.) The beginning of the modern, Gothic novel. It taught me not to repeat the past. I saw how people like Stephen King had taken the concept farther. We need to take the next step, and the next, not go backwards to what was done before.
9. Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. (36 years old.) Suggested to me by a blogger, who likened my writing style to this book. I was blown away. I felt validated that tight, but poetic and dramatic language, could carry a story and make it shine.
10. Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves. (36 years old.) An avante garde, groundbreaking, post-modern Gothic novel. I was challenged to push the writing experience farther. To make reading itself an experience that mirrors the action. A story need not be told from a distance. It can be brought to life directly. (If you've read it, you know what I mean.)
11. Alice Sebold, Lovely Bones. (37 years old.) Taught me that tough, intricate emotion can carry a story and make it unique and compelling.
12. Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants. (38 years old.) Taught me to strive for uncommon stories and plots. Don't just rely on convention and stories that have been told hundreds of times before.
So there you have it. A bizarre, but hopefully insightful, list.