Sunday, December 03, 2006

Another Collection of Giants

The first fantasy novel that grabbed me and truly pulled me into the genre was The Hobbit, read between seventh and eighth grades. I'd read a lot of random things before that, but never really delved into a specific genre until that point. LOTR followed quickly, and then pretty much any fantasy & SF I could get my hands on. I was hooked. So, in terms of drawing me into it all, J.R.R. gets the main credit on that one. I know there were fantastic stories for me before that (for example, I read Greek mythology voraciously in sixth grade), but nothing as seminal as The Hobbit.

In terms of authors who have influenced me, or to whom I look as examples in some way...

Roger Zelazny
In many ways, Zelazny is The Man in my writer's book. His prose, craft, dry sense of humor, imagination, and ability to weave myth and religion and future and past together has always wowed me. He's one of the few authors I find I keep coming back to over and over, just for the pleasure of it. I can see his impact on my style, and I'm honestly happy for that. I'll always be thrilled that I got to hear him do a reading in New Mexico.

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett
I've always loved hard-boiled detective fiction in the movies and, later, in printed fiction. I tend to forget how much these two men have effected my narrative flow, my story structure, my themes, dialogue, and characters, until I start to re-read them (as I am doing now). Wow. It's sometimes frightening to see just how much I have pulled from their styles. Some of my first stories were pale shadows (or deliberate send-ups, in some cases) of their work. To this day, I still favor first person narration in much of my writing.

Edgar Allen Poe
Even though I don't write much that is classically dark, Poe was one of those authors I read early on who made a deep impression on me. His morbid imagination and sense of the darker side of man, and the world, resonated with me. He's not as much to my taste now, but he was there early on, and continues to linger.

George Alec Effinger
When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, The Exile Kiss. Holy shit.

Arturo Perez-Reverte
A more recent influence for me (the past eight to ten years?), but a strong one. His writing is simply beautiful, his plotting sharp and tight, his research and presentation fantastic. Just plain wonderful stories on many levels. Someday, maybe, I hope to write half as well.

Big Trouble In Little China
Okay, it's a movie, not a book or writer, but it's damn fun. It's also what I want at least some of my fiction to be: a fun, fast ride that you'd like to go on again (and again, and again). And, let's face it, Jack Burton has his moments as a hero, and some damn good lines, too. There are worse thing to aspire to.

An Author Who Shall Remain Nameless
Someone whose book (part of a series) I literally threw across the room in disgust in college, causing me to proclaim, "Well, hell, I know I can do better than that! Maybe I can be a writer." This is no revelation now (I know bad books get published all the time), but at the time, it was a powerful validation of my own early aspirations as a writer. It also gave me some very real motivation.

After that, there are various authors or books that have impacted in some significant way: Glen Cook's early Black Company books; Stephen Donaldson's first Covenant series (it taught me it was okay to loathe a protagonist); Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries; Steven Brust - his first books were remarkably similar to my 0wn writing in tone and style at the time, which told me there was a market for what I was doing after all; Mike Resnick's Santiago, for the sheer fun of its space-frontier approach; Thieves' World; Alexandre Dumas; various musical artists; several good (and not so good) movies.

I am sure there are other influences I no longer remember; but the ones listed above are those that still linger in my consciousness, or that I sometimes glimpse wandering through my prose. The neat thing is, I don't mind finding them there at all.


lydamorehouse said...

Stephen R. Donaldson is one of those authors that crosses a line for me into becoming a Nameless One. I so LOATHED the Thomas Covenent series that I think I first aspired to write fanfic because of my disapointment. Yet, Donaldson is such a craftsman that I never threw the book across the room, and neither could I quite (even at the tender age in which I read it) truly blame the author -- that is to say, I realized the Thomas Covenent was a bad guy and written to be that way -- skillfully.

Stephanie Zvan said...

One of the things that sets me at a certain distance from my friends is that I'm not a Tolkien fan. I understand his historical importance. I recognize that a number of stories I love wouldn't be the same without Tolkien's work. But I was in my twenties before I tried to read him. I'd already discovered other fantasy that was, from a literary standpoint, better written. I couldn't do it.

Greek/Roman and Egyptian mythology were my staples as a child, as were any fairy tales I could get my hands on. I gobbled up most of the packaged children's mystery series (Nancy Drew, etc.). I still read children's/YA, but now it's mostly from the last two centuries--contemporary when it was written (Montgomery, Streatfield).

My parents tried to feed me Heinlein's juveniles, but it was Norton's "Spider Silk" that hooked me on modern genre fiction.

James Schmitz was another revelation, with his ecology-based stories, his calmly kick-butt female characters, and the tendency of all his characters to either think on their feet or pay for the lack.

Tanith Lee's "Mirage and Magia," which I discovered in high school, opened more worlds for me. She has an amazing knack for writing about wickedness and redemption, gods and monsters, while never losing the human scale of her stories. Of course, this means a reader has to have a strong tolerance for less than sympathetic characters. Julian May hits the same notes, but in much more recognizable worlds and with bigger casts.

For character and prose, I tend to turn to my favorite mystery writers: Margery Allingham, John D. MacDonald, Rex Stout, Steve Brust (yes, he counts). Allingham is fascinating in the way she took a nominally single-character series and never fell into a formula. Brust is doing something similar in the Taltos books.

My favorite book is Kushner's Swordspoint, but I don't know that I'll ever learn anything from it. For me, it just is, without any seams to pick at and peel back the surface.

Other writers I love abidingly: Saberhagen, Shetterly, McKinley, Millay, Doug Allyn (who writes perfect short stories), Thurber.