One of the questions all artists get asked all the time is, "Who influenced your art?" Musicians give a long list of previous artists who inspire their style, their business choices, their image, their music. Painters do it, sculptors, actors.
Writers have that too, generally -- a list of other writers who somehow inspire the way they use words to paint images readers can feel in a tangible way, down in the depths of their hearts and souls. Today I thought I'd share with you some of the authors I love, and how they inspire me to strive to do better for you.
You might wanna get some coffee and a snack though, and settle in because this is a long one. But then again, you are a reader, so that won't bother you a bit, hmm? *wink*
Diana Gabaldon is my writing hero. Her Outlander series is both beautiful to read as only a reader, and incredibly inspiring to read and study as an author. Her style (at least, throughout the Outlander novels) is a sort of rambling conversational style that makes you just know that you're digging into something deep and touching, something that will teach you and grow you even as it entertains you. Her characters are beautiful people, if not always in physical appearance than in depth of spirit and breadth of story, and they stick with you long after the novel has run out of pages and the story is over. She has way of weaving a story that you can get utterly and completely lost in, a story that you want not only to read, but to fall into and feel and see and explore for yourself. This talent is only rivaled in modern times by ...
Joanne Rowling is a genius on the same level as Diana Gabaldon, but with the extraordinary skill of making her work appropriate for children of (almost) all ages. Like Diana, Joanne writes stories you get so lost in that you learn from them without even noticing, until you've finished and you realize that somehow the characters have become a part of you forever. She writes with an incomprehensible depth of soul and spirit, and you just know that her characters are real live people for her -- you know without even an inkling of doubt that she knows every detail about them. She knows them inside and out, knows things that she doesn't even tell you, knows every nuance of what makes them who they are. Or at least, that's what happens to me -- every single time I reread the Harry Potter series.
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Frances Burnett penned timeless stories that have been with me since I was child. She brought Sara Crewe and little Mary Lennox to life for me as a child, and I have since been thrilled to bring those characters to life again by reading them to my children. In kind with the authors I've mentioned already, her stories are written in a wandering style that feels conversational even when utilized in a third person perspective, with a mix of long sentences and short ones that each feel as if they've been lovingly crafted specifically with a reader in mind. I've heard people compare books in food many times in recent years, saying that there is a clear difference between a "fast food book" and a "gourmet read." Well, every moment since the first time I enjoyed either A Little Princess or The Secret Garden, Frances Burnett has been a "comfort food" writer for me. These stories are ones I can go back to at any time, with or without the actual book in hand, when I need to lose myself in a story that offers life lessons, innocent childhood love, and hope that lasts forever.
Once known as Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain was the author of such priceless works as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and They Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Often censored or even banned for language or portrayal of interracial relations of the setting times, his works were fun, funny, and incredibly amusing. Mark Twain had a perhaps unconventional sense of humor and at times a viewpoint on life that many others disagreed with, but he did have an undeniable skill with words and characters that remains timeless as literature -- despite the more politically correct environment of today. He was the first to teach me that you must write what you must write, regardless of how the content will be taken -- and yet, you must also write it well.
The Bronte Sisters
I was first introduced to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre through the movie, but I loved it so much I sought out the book and settled in for what turned out to be an emotionally wrenching read about love found in the most unexpected (and perhaps somewhat unwelcome) of places. The quality of that particular novel is still in deep rivalry over a hundred years later with Wuthering Heights, an incredible work penned by Charlotte Bronte's younger sister, Emily. Both books are written in the same rambling style that I tend to love best, and thus are full of beautiful prose and rich, deep emotion.
Johanna LindseyI'm pretty sure the first romance novel I ever read was Johanna's Love Only Once; I was in middle school and while I loved the story and the characters, the Regency era setting, and the quaint dialogue styles I hadn't previously been exposed to, I was utterly and completely scandalized by the sexuality and erotic nature of some of the writing. I like to think I've grown a lot since then, but also that her portrayal of eroticism and romantic sex greatly influences mine (in that it is sexy and nice to read without being too "vulgar" or unnecessarily detailed). Also, I still love an occasional Regency novel ... they're a sort of "comfort food" to me as well, with the fond memories of my first days spent with Johanna Lindsey's rich and richly entertaining characters.
Danielle can hardy be left out of any romance writer's list of inspiration sources. A beautiful story teller with a knack for developing characters that step outside of the books and become real to those who read them, this remarkable talent was one of the first contemporary romance writers I fell in love with. Though I am never too shy to express that her publishers could likely have afforded to spend a bit more time editing her works, I am also quick to admit a certain admiration for the way she could take simple characters with simple stories and weave them into something you wanted to read over and over. A prolific writer with an unbelievably impressive resume, Danielle's Journey was a book that has stayed with me through the ages. It was the first story I read that featured a running theme of domestic violence and a woman's power to escape any situation she found herself to be unhappy in. This book and the characters in it helped me survive at times, reminding me that all things are temporary that no matter who you are or where you began, you have the power to steer your own life. It also helped inspire my courage when it came time for me to write Fighting For Freedom, a story largely inspired by my own personal experiences as a grown child of domestic violence.
With over 200 books in her backlog Nora Roberts is, and will likely always be, a legend in the world of romance novels. I'm not sure there's any topic or circumstance that she hasn't conquered, and her talent is rock solid. Her characters are generally spot on, her research is solid, and the strength of romantic love that runs through all of her novels is timeless. As far as the sheer number of successful novels and business ventures, Nora is the prolific writer I want to be when I "grow up," the skilled and constant novelist that I think all romance writers pay most attention to. Her constancy inspires me to keep pushing on in these early days of my career, and reminds me always of the old adage, "Slow and steady wins the race."
Like Nora, Debbie Macomber is a legend among romance readers and writers alike, and is depply inspiring to me on a personal level. She rivals Nora Roberts in talent and skill as well as in her constancy and regularity. Her books are generally what is now referred to as "Sweet Contemporary Romance," sweet, emotional and sensual without stepping over the line into erotic. Her stories are solid and believable, her characters feel real, and there's truly no comfort read quite like a Debbie Macomber novel.
Nicholas Sparks took the world by storm with The Notebook, and he went on from there to write the kind of quality novel that makes people clamor to see it unfold in real life, the kinds of characters that readers want to be able to touch and see and talk to, the kinds of stories that make us want to bury ourselves in the pages even as the plot lines rip our hearts out and shred them into little pieces. He inspires me to write stories that feel real, that touch real life issues -- stories full of characters that could be you or me, our neighbors or our friends. His novels aren't always sweet; sometimes they delve into the dark and gritty things that make life so unpretty for so many of us -- but they almost always offer hope for love along with a glimpse at the kind of safety and redemption many of us are only wishing for.
Told you it was a long one. Which of these authors have you read, and if you've read them, which is your favorite?