I was asked by Prism Book Alliance to name the top ten authors I admire. Sounds simple, right? Yet I found it wasn’t that easy for me to narrow down the list since I’ve been influenced and inspired by so many authors over my lifetime. Dickens is listed at number one–no great surprise there–though the others aren’t in any particular order. I’m not sure there are any surprises here except for perhaps the poets–Whitman and cummings–though anyone who has read any of my fiction can see the Whitman influence in my prose (and in my choice of titles). Here are the top ten authors who have influenced my writing. Of course, the list could change tomorrow…
- Charles Dickens. I do what I do (write novels) because of the influence Dickens has had on me. I get my sense of the absurd and my social consciousness from him. I try to create stories that are worlds unto themselves because of him.
- Walt Whitman. The title for That You Are Here is from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I’ve written three or four books where I’ve paid tribute to Whitman in one form or another. I love his message about being honest about who you are and being true to yourself. I think I learned more about how to put words together to create an image from Whitman than from anyone else.
- Toni Morrison. I love her writing because of the poetry in her language. I try (and fail) to replicate that in my own writing. I think of myself as a frustrated poet who writes fiction.
- Anne Lamott. She’s brutally honest in her writing and I admire that so much. I love her book about writing, Bird by Bird. I especially love her for introducing me to the phrase “shitty first drafts,” which I clutch close to my heart whenever I’m writing a shitty first draft.
- David Sedaris. No writer can make me laugh out loud like Sedaris. He’s wry and observant and I love his personal essays. I’ve read all of his books. He’s going to be here in Vegas and I already have my tickets.
- e.e. cummings. He taught me that it’s okay to break the rules, even the grammar rules, as long as you maintain control of the language.
- Natalie Goldberg. Her book Writing Down the Bones was life changing for me. I discovered that it’s okay to write for the love of writing, and that becoming a writer is a process that occurs over many years.
- Jane Austen. She’s a great example that the ladies are just as observant, insightful, and funny as the men. Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorite novels.
- Hilary Mantel. I love writing historical fiction, and she’s a master. She does a great job of weaving the research into the story so that fact and fiction flow together. I love her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, and I can’t wait for the third book to come out.
- Annie Proulx. I read Brokeback Mountain before I started writing That You Are Here, and I’m so glad I did. I love the literary quality to the story, and I love how it focuses on the love between the two men over the years, even if they weren’t able to acknowledge that it was love. That’s what I wanted to do with That You Are Here—I wanted to write a love story.
So here’s my list. I’d love to hear which authors have influenced you the most. I’m always fascinated by which authors have inspired others to become writers.