One of the great things about my publisher, Evolved Publishing, is that we have a street team – a group of people who love our books and are committed to sharing them with others. Not only is it great for promotions, but it gives readers and fans a chance to meaningfully interact with authors.
This week we were asked, “Which 5 authors have most influenced your writing choices, style, and career aspirations?”
Thinking about this, there are two things that stand out in my choices – ordinary people not always coming out ahead, and prose that conveys their emotions well.
1. Ernest Hemingway.
When I was a high school junior, our crazy English teacher, Sr. Betty, had us read The Old Man and the Sea. And by read, I mean dissect every single freaking sentence in the book. Needless to say, it really turned me off Hemingway. In fact, I didn’t even teach any of his stuff in my own HS English classes. While picking books for my students’ book bingo assignment, I decided to give him another try. I picked up For Whom the Bell Tolls, and then promptly read everything else he’s written. The Sun Also Rises is one of my favorite books, and I love Jake Barnes.
The thing I love most about Hemingway is his sparse style. He manages to deeply and vividly convey characters and emotions with stripped-down prose. This is something I try to do in my stories, and it’s part of the reason I write so much flash fiction – with a smaller word count, every word has to count.
2. Annie Proulx
She’s most notably the author of The Shipping News (much better book than movie, of course, and I really liked the movie) and a couple books of short stories set in Wyoming, Close Range and Bad Dirt.
Her prose is beautiful and alive. It flows and dips, rolls and hesitates, with a life of its own. And she writes about ordinary people in bad situations, which sometimes work out but most often don’t – something that readers say I’m guilty of as well.
3. Anton Chekhov
Speaking of writing about ordinary people in bad situations – that’s pretty much all mid-late 19th century Russian lit. And Chekhov is one of the best at it, telling the slice-of-life stories of ordinary people so that they matter just as much as royalty and warriors. “Lady with a Lap Dog” is my favorite of his stories. He was one of the first to do this, focusing even more on the rustic peasant than his contemporaries Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. And his short stories are more approachable for ordinary people than their massive tomes.
4. Nikolai Leskov
Probably the best Russian author you’ve never heard of, he mixes Chekhov’s everyday characters with Gogol’s satire and offbeat sense of humor. His short stories are painfully real, with emotions that come alive as he makes his characters suffer for goals they’ll never reach; again, something I try to do. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is one of his best known, thanks to Shostakovich’s opera based on it.
Leskov’s influence is evident in the works of later Russian writers I admire, especially Soviet-era authors Mikhail Bulgakov and Ilf and Petrov (both of whom you should read).
5. Brian Jacques
Jacques is best known for his Redwall children’s series, about woodland creatures waging war. I’ve written about him before; basically, he was the first author I read who killed good guys, either for the sake of the plot or for no reason at all. For a fourth grader reading books with happy endings, this was profound. Bittersweet, is the word I’d use to describe his books.
What writers have influenced you?