Sunday, 15 March 2009

Sunday Salon - 25 Most Influential Writers

The Sunday

Ok, let's talk. Which writer most influenced you in your life? Amy at My Friend Amy and Emily at Telecommuter Talk tagged me to do the the 25 Most Influential Writers Meme that she says she first saw on Dorothy's blog over at Of Books and Bicycles , which is where Amy also saw it first. Well, I can't resist this. We've talked about our favourite writers, our favourite childhood authors, current authors we read everything by, but we've never discusses who has influenced us. It is not made clear if it's fiction or non-fiction, so Amy included both, and Emily divided hers between children's writers and authors for adults.

Here are the instructions:

"Name 25 writers who have influenced you. These are not necessarily your favorite writers or those you most admire, but writers who have influenced you. [Silly bolded disclaimer. I can't possibly admire an author without being influenced, at least in some way, by him/her, and very few -- although I have to admit, some do spring to mind, like Thomas Pynchon -- authors I admire are missing from the pages of The Big Book of Emily's Favorites.] Then you tag 25 people.”

I've given this some thought between reading this since reading it yesterday. Not writers who I necessarily like, but those who have influenced me. I'm choosing ones who have influenced in my thinking, as well as in my writing, those who have lit the way for me.

1. Rainer Maria Rilke - I read Letters to a Young Poet every couple of years. It reminds me that creativity isn't easy, that it does demand protection from the outside world sometimes. When I have stopped saying no to outside invitations, and have stopped writing, I turn to this to remind me why I need solitude too. And when I doubt that I am a writer, I turn to this also, because I am always most unhappy when I am not writing, and I always end up answering yes (to my deep relief) to his question, " This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple, "I must." then build your life in accordance with this necessity; ".

2. May Sarton - The first time I read Journal of a Solitude, I thought she was talking to me on every single page. Then I read her other memoir, Plant Dreaming Deep, and I knew it was her I was reacting to. It's like a conversation, one of those intimate conversations where I say yes, nod my head, underline almost every single page. She feels like someone I should know, that I would have understood instinctively, if we'd ever met. She tried to live creatively, led by her creativity, deeply responsive to the natural world around her, and it was like seeing myself there - yes, yes, exactly! I say aloud as I read her. So I always return to my journal determined to be honest there, at least, and in my writing.

3. Charles de Lint - the first Canadian urban fantasy writer, and his Newford books always, always make me want to create my own Newford-type books. The fact that he is Canadian is inspirational, and the fact that I love his characters and really hope mine are as realistic as his, and believable, would be a dream come true.

4. Stephen King - Both his horror - especially The Shining, and his non-fiction writing book On Writing, made deep impressions on me that I carry to this day. The Shining, because it showed me how horror could be done, and On Writing, which teaches me daily to dig deeper into my own writing to reveal what lies there.

5. Anne Frank - she has taught me over and over that our life has meaning, and that the human spirit is unquenchable. She also helped me write my first diary, since I copied her style at first, and then recognized I was copying and I felt a bit silly. I've continued to write diaries and journals most of my life. She taught the need to express through writing is a good one.

6. Lucy Maud Montgomery - one of my favorite childhood writers. She taught me that children's lives - little girl's lives - did matter, and that I wasn't alone in wanting to write when I was very young. Her heroines - Emily, Anne, Marigold - were my role models. Her heroines had to deal with death and loneliness and betrayals, and taught me I could get through mine, too. And Anne quoted poetry, which I was just beginning to discover, and got into trouble. She spoke breathlessly, and had best friends, and didn't want to save the world, she just wanted to have a home.

6. Sylvia Plath - didn't she show the way for all of us? Her poetry exploded across women's poetry and letters, so powerful that as a 19 year old I read Ariel and The Bell Jar. I'm not saying I understand everything.....but in some deep intuitive, wordless, feeling level I understood everything. And it made it possible for me to be as honest as I could - no matter how painful or honest - if I could find a way to tell the truth, that was the important thing.

7. Clarissa Pinkola Estes - Women Who Run With the Wolves sits by my shelf. I've read most of the book by now, some parts several times. She writes about all the different ways we can be female and women, using fairytales and myths as our guide to understanding how our lives unfold. To see myself in a fairy tale - that usually my dreams reveal - to see fairy tales analyzed not for literary merit but applied to our lives - to see ones I've actually gone through - was amazing. I find myself sometimes wondering as people tell me their problems now, which fairy tale might apply. Now that's influential!

8. John Donne - How he uses language, and twists meaning, and ends up back in the beginning, unexpectedly, with that wonderful tone of sarcasm/bitterness/anger/bewilderment and love. He makes me aware of words and how they are used.

9. Jane Austen - I could never write like her, with her delicate touch and sly irreverent poking fun at every one, but I now know that writing about love and romance can be stylish and joyful and true.

10. Carolyn Keene - Nancy Drew! The earliest things I ever wrote were mysteries. I devoured Nancy (readers familiar with this blog will remember this is also the first book I ever bought as a birthday present for a friend, which I also deparately wanted to read!) Nancy, George, Bess, and Ned still hover there at the back of my mind, shaping how I write mysteries.

11. Kathryn Kenny - Trixie Belden was the other mystery series that I loved. Trixie and her brothers lived in upstate New York. And they fought, and they shared adventures, and had friends, and they solved mysteries. I think of Trixie and her best friend Honey, and wonder how many of the friendships I create in my writing are based on those two!

12. J.R.R. Tolkien - no list of mine would ever be complete without Tolkien and his fantasy books. Every fantasy I write has traces of his work, whether it has magic, or a quest, or a wizard, or a talking tree (or creepy tree, remember Old Man Willow?), shadows, etc. It doesn't stop me from writing (on my good days, that is), I have to remember that creating is sometimes about taking what someone else has done and making it new again. There has to be something original I can bring to the work, and Tolkien makes me strive harder to make mine come from deeper within me, to capture my own joy/horror/fascination with myths and quests and destiny.

13. Shirley Jackson - The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always LIved in the Castle - I still think about The Lottery - in fact I made a joke about it at work the other day! The awful eeriness in her writing makes me shudder even as I recognize the truth that we are all strangers, and I at least have moments when I wonder if I am sane (many of her characters feel insane or wonder if they are). I think whenever I write a horror story either she or Uncle Stevie are there over my shoulder, watching me write!

14. Ray Bradbury - My introduction to strange writing that was some science fiction some fantasy, some horror, some strangeness, and always tremendously moving. I also own a copy of Zen in the Art of Writing, which is one of the writing books I keep close beside me. He is the one who teaches me the power of one word, and how one word can be a whole story if I let it.

15. Liza Cody - the Anna Lee mysteries. Something about this character, single, in England, and the detective agency she works for, feels so real, that a) I'd like to work there, and b) I really want to be Anna's friend. I miss her, Ms Cody has said that in order to keep British TV from ruining the character, she is not writing any more books. And except for the last book where she went to Florida, they were believable mysteries, something that is a rare quality in sleuthing these days, with all the CSI shows and forensic breaththroughs, because in real life, there are still too many unsolved mysteries.

16. Gerald Durrell - My Family and Other Animals. I discovered him as a teenager. Living on a sailboat for two years as teens , meant my sister and I read (devoured) any book that came our way, me more than her. We both read this one. I discovered that other families were odd like mine, and that animals were hilarious. I almost wanted to be a natural scientist because of this book, but I knew I wasn't fascinated enough to live with nature the way he was. He made me aware that animals needed care and our attention to survive in the world.

17.Farley Mowat - He introduced me to humour - The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, The Boat That Wouldn't Float, People of the Deer, Lost on the Barrens. These are as much a part of me that make me uniquely Canadian as anything I've read. Whenever an animal doesn't act like itself we often make jokes that it must have read the book or be related to the Dog Who Wouldn't Be. He made me aware that being Canadian can be funny, and that there were things in life we could write about, everyday things we can make fun of. if I ever write a non-fiction book, I would hope it would have the sense of humour of either Mowat or Durrell somewhere in it.

18. Brenda Ueland - If You Want to Write is another indispensible writing book I read and revisit regularly from an author who I believe only wrote this one book. She says, attention to details makes the character come to life. Basic concepts that I need reminding of, over and over. Her book has 5 bookmarks in it, places to remind me of things I know I need in order to write. For example: "And again I tell you this because I want to show you that the creative impulse is quiet, quiet. It sees it feels, it quietly hears, and now, in the present." (Italics are hers).

19. Agatha Christie - she continues the Nancy Drew - Trixie Belden theme in my mystery part of my life. I have read most of her books through my teen years. She made me aware of the different kinds of mysteries that could be written, different kinds of sleuths to solve them. So many possibilities! And sometimes the crimes were genuinely moving or horrible, and always her gentleness came through.

20. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Sherlock Holmes. Incomparable, inscrutable, a genius, genuinely puzzling mysteries, derring-do, and always, Dr Watson to give the human involved side - and make it ok that I as reader had no clue sometimes to the answer either! One of my role models when I am writing my mysteries. Not that mine are this smart, but I always wondered how he wrote those mysteries, did he have the solution first or wrote them as he went along?

21. PD James - An Unsuitable Job For a Woman - I loved Cordelia Gray. I even watched the tv series from Britian, even the series where Cordelia gets shockingly pregnant (never in the books though, James said she would never do this to Cordelia). Then I discoverd Adam Dagliesh, and for me, Roy Marsden playing him was perfect as the poem-writing detective. James made detectives clever, intelligent, kind, in a time when they were becoming more violent and American-0riented to being criminal (on the take, etc). I like Dagliesh, and I want to know what happens to him, and the crimes he solves are always so vivid in their violence, and I like the revulsion and outrage that he (and James) feel towards the crimes. How I would like my mystery writing to be!

22. Enid Blyton. Famous Five, Adventurous 4. I read them all. I think every single adventure I write might have some roots here.

New to Me Authors now influencing me:

I had to create this category because I became aware that several authors are changing how I think right now, this moment in time, about work I'm doing. These are authors I've discovered while doing this blog:

23. George Eliot - As most of you know, I finished reading Middlemarch for the first time, in January this year. Not only am I thrilled to have read a classic and enjoyed it (other than Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters), but this one is now one of my standards on how to write characters. They live - Dorothea, Fred, Mary, Tertius, Will. How they relate, the seemingly infinite ways she creates each character - it is breathtaking and wonderful. It is one of the greatest novels in the English language. I have no idea how it is influencing me, just that it is.

24. Neil Gaiman - he writes poetry about fairy tales! They live on in my mind, reoccuring, haunting me. Coraline lives there too - not the movie, but the scary black and white drawings in my version, and the terrible mother and the horrible' neighbors that aren't' in the alternate world. One of our more original authors, I think, and he is making the way possible for me to imagine horror and fantasy in different ways now.

25. Mary Oliver - another poet I have just discovered. Every poem is a relevation of the natural world, and she makes me wonder how I've missed seeing it, even as I nod my head that what she writes is so true, and I end up embracing her view of the world. I haven't dared write poetry yet since discovering her last year, not until I find what I want to say about nature around me, and I already know her style is influencing me in unimaginable ways.

And just because I don't know where to fit this in yet, nor where it will fit for me:
26. Alan Moore - I'm still reading Watchmen, and I know it's a revolutionary book for me. I recognize so much in there, and at the same time I'm astounded at the depth of writing and characterization, the emotions and attitudes. It's like a veil was ripped away, so that our society could see itself in all its many layers, stripped down to the bones. Who knew a comic book could do so much? I have bookmarks already in different sections, which is a sign this book means something to me.

All these writers live inside me, influencing me, guiding me, inspiring me. They have shaped me, inspired me in so many different ways to write myself, held my hand when my life was hard and I could not see the way forward, helped me laugh, and see the world around me with a different, sharper gaze. If anyone ever says reading is boring, then tell them - reading, and words, are powerful ways of shaping the world. Books can save a life.

So, tell me: which 25 authors influenced you in your life?

And I have to add, like Emily, there are some authors I've forgotten to add, and I'll think of tomorrow, and some that I couldn't fit on, even though I really wanted to.

Instead of tagging 25 people, I'd like to tag all of you who consider that authors have influenced you in your life. Let me know, I'll come visit you!

Happy reading this Sunday!


Bybee said...

We are book-twins! I read Plath when I was 18, 19. There WAS no other writer during that time. I wanted only her. I read the Edward Buschter biography to shreds.

You had many others on your list that I was going yes, oh yes, but that one really jumped out.

One thing that points up our country of origin's went with Lucy Maud Montgomery where I would go with Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Bybee said...

And hooray for Shirley Jackson -- both the horror stuff and her family stuff. Genius!

Emily Barton said...

Oh, how could I possibly have forgotten Brenda Ueland when I did my own? No one, but no one, had a bigger influence on my writing than she did. And glad to see someone else was inspired by Gerald Durrell to become a naturalist. Anyway, thanks for playing. It really is an interesting exercise, isn't it?

Debi said...

Oh Susan, this was an absolute delight to read! I wish I was introspective enough to even come up with a list like this, but I'm afraid I'm sorely lacking in that department. I do know your list includes some of my very favorite authors (Stephen King, Mary Oliver, Ray name a few), but I guess I'd really have to sit and let things play around in my mind to come up with thoughts on who has influenced me most. Thanks for the wonderful post!

Jeane said...

I loved reading your post- I really like that you explained how these authors have influenced you, instead of just listing their names. You've mentioned many authors that are dear to me (for similar reasons) and others I've never heard of before. I don't know if I could do this meme- it would be hard for me to think so thoroughly of them.

Susan said...

Bybee: wow, we are, aren't we?! :-D and there I was, all alone when I discovered her. I have the book edited by her mother, Letters Home, which I hope to read this year after I finish Birthday Letters.

I had Laura Ingalls Wilder on my list! but then I had too many authors, and I had to reconsider, who actually influenced me, versus an author I just enjoyed? As Emily and Amy both said, it's hard because the ones we like do influence us (or I'd hope they do anyway!) but what I wanted was to find who I could actually see influencing how I thought or how I write. I loved Carrie, Laura, Grace, Mary, but I can't see them in my writing, whereas Anne's bubbly influence is everywhere :-D

I haven't read Raising Demons yet, and I really want to find a copy!! I had it in Hardcover before I went to England, and gave it to a friend who really wanted it, and have never seen it since for myself :-(

Emily: I finished my list and by the time I crawled into bed 20 minutes later I'd thought of another author I should have included!! So you have Brenda's book too, isn't it a refreshing, down-to-earth book about writing? Now if I finish reading MR James ghost stories, I can talk with you about what we each like and how he influences our ghost stories. I think he did Monkey's Paw, which is one of those that lingers, but I haven't read enough to say he's influenced me yet. Rats, there are so many authors who could go on this list!! C.S. Lewis - Narnia series.....

Debi: I'm glad you enjoyed reading it so much. It was fun to do, and I even learned a couple things I didn't know before. If you do it, let me know! I'd love to see who's influenced you :-D other than Mary and Stephen, the latter whom I think it's safe to say has influenced everyone of our generation! I'm glad to see him turning up on all our lists, because he certainly still doesn't get any respect from the Book establishment as a worthy author, and he should be.

Jeane: it was surprisingly easy to list the first 10 or so, and then surprising who came on the list after! I enjoyed it, though as always I didn't mean to spend quite so long on it. What authors do we share?

DesLily said...

I would be surprised (make that shocked!) if anyone that reads fantasy did NOT have JRR Tolkien on that list!

I think The Hobbit gave me permission as an adult to still "run away and be somewhere other than where I was"...

Jeane said...

May Sarton, Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, John Donne, Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Gerald Durrell (I only just discovered him, so I've only read two of his books), Farley Mowat, Brenda Ueland (I used to have a coyp of If You Want to Write but now I can't find it anywhere!). I have Women Who Run with the Wolves on my shelf, but haven't gotten to it yet. Soon!

Kailana said...

That was a great list! Most I have read, while others I plan to read sometime in the next century! A couple I hadn't heard of and ended up adding to my wish list...

Susan said...

Deslily: I know! I like that 'be anywhere else' phrase you use. Fantasy is 'escapism' literature....I for one am so glad it exists!!!

Jeane: thanks so much for answering! and I'm amazed at all the poets we share :-D Did you want to be a writer once (or still do) with having the copy of Ueland's writing book? Which Farley Mowat book do you like the best? I'm so thrilled you've heard of him!

Kailana: Really? I had books/authors that you added to your wishlist? Hurray! Which ones? I'm glad you enjoyed reading it, it was fun to do.

Cath said...

Yay! for another Gerald Durrell fan! Actually, about fifty per cent of my answers, if not more, would be the same as yours. Wonderful post.

Christy said...

First of all I am so excited about finding your blog. I think this idea, 25 most influential writers is an excellent idea. I am going to have to do this, eventually. :) I love your blog and am looking forward to reading it daily.

Susan said...

Cath: Wow, 50%! It might be interesting to see who you left off, then! lol I hope you do it, I'd be curious to see yours. I think its' fun that across time and space, the same authors have affected so many different people the same way.

Christy: I can't take credit for the idea of the 25 authors! Emily said it came from Facebook, changed to fit book blogs :-D Welcome to my blog, I'll come visit you and say hi! thank you so much for leaving a comment so I can find you :-D