This month’s Merry-Go-Round topic is a hard one for me, though perhaps not for the reasons you suspect. The topic is “If you could be another writer, who would you want to be? Or what have you learned from them?” While I do not want to become another writer, I have certainly learned from many. This answer will have some crossover in my favorite reads because that’s whom I learn from as well, but the focus will be different.
My earliest influence as a writer has to be Andrew Lang, who compiled a series of fairytale books. From those, I learned the patterns, tropes, that underlie many genres, and I learned my first rebellions. My early stories were all fairytales, but while some followed the tropes, others broke them by empowering the female characters, undermining the concept of clear good and evil, and making other changes to reflect my complex reality. I think of one in particular where the beast terrifying the land is the ensorcelled twin brother of a simple peasant…and my “princess” is another peasant who goes to the king to demand assistance, and ends up accepting both brothers into her life.
That twistiness didn’t come out of nowhere either as another early influence would have to be Rudyard Kipling. My father used to read us tales and poems from Kipling as he attempted to articulate the complexity of the British presence in India and the Middle East, something quite compelling as I was growing up in Afghanistan at the time. He provides a rich landscape of description and uses point-of-view focus to break expectations and give perspectives that are often overlooked even while maintaining a largely omniscient narrative. The social questioning aspects are more obvious in his poetry and in novels like Kim, but The Jungle Book demonstrates both his description and the differences that can be found between various groups. You might laugh with the monkeys, but they still make you uneasy. That’s talented description choices where there are multiple layers, some only recognized subconsciously.
Which brings me to William Shakespeare, the author I most wanted to write like for so many years. What I love in his works, and hope I manage to some degree in my own, is his ability to appeal to the different audiences at once. I want my stories to be enjoyable for those who are just looking for a fun adventure, but I want aspects to linger and raise questions. I don’t intend to provide easy answers for my discerning readers. I hope to give them things to ponder, questions about choices and also about society’s reactions. A simple example is Samantha Crill, the Natural in The Steamship Chronicles. Should her society have condemned all Naturals simply because of their nature? And to what degree does Sam hold responsibility for what happens to her? These are only a few of the questions readers might come to ask as they are enjoying a wild steampunk adventure, and the questions can lead to pondering societal treatment of any difference—but they don’t have to. Readers can just enjoy the story and look no further. I attempt this in all my writing, and to some degree, I believe I have succeeded. I wouldn’t have even known to try without Shakespeare.
From Marian Zimmer Bradley and Anne McCaffrey, I learned to love cultural anthropology and wanted to absorb those elements into my writing. I learned the power of family in narrative, both to the good and the bad, and the ability to use a tale to expose conflicts of culture and experience. From Arthur C. Clarke, I drew a love of technology and the heights it could take us, from Robert Heinlein how a broken character could become the heart and soul of a story. James A. Michener had a hand in my influences too with his deep descriptions and ways of making the simplest event epic and the momentous event seem part of a flowing pattern. Jane Austen taught me the power of dialogue, especially with people saying what they didn’t mean and using implication to make a point without owning it. Charles Dickens taught me to remember the grittier side of society often hidden under the glitter. Roger Zelazny showed me how you could step outside traditional narrative and still tell a hauntingly good story. Holly Lisle taught me the value in a simple narrative with her earlier works and then of more complex ones as I kept reading…
I could go on. The list is as endless as my reading because with every book I enjoy, there’s something to be learned or at least a lesson to be reinforced. This is at the heart of why I would not want to be another writer though I’m delighted to learn from them. Each writer’s perspective is unique as is their style. It may be a collection of a billion pieces of influence, but that influence is never exactly the same nor does it affect the reader in the same way.
So, having read my list, how about you? Whether you write or not, name an author who has influenced your approach to writing or life, and tell us what aspect caught your imagination.
Today’s post was inspired by the topic “Masquerade/Influences: If you could be another writer, who would you want to be? Or what have you learned from them?” — October’s topic in Forward Motion’s Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Read the thoughts of nearly twenty different authors at various stages in their careers on this same topic. The next posts in the series are by Lisa Janice Cohen and Bonnie R. Schultzman.
Check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour to learn more. You can find links to all of the posts on the tour on the group site. Read and enjoy!