Under the Influence: The books (and writers) that made me so gosh-darned weird!
I think it’s no secret that one of my biggest influences is Ursula Le Guin. But I never would have read Le Guin were it not for Anne McCaffrey, and my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Fitzgerald, who kept the Harper Hall Trilogy shelved in the back of the classroom.
On the strange and fantastic world of Pern, pre-teen Menolly is trapped in a isolated fishing community where being young and female makes her less than nothing. Menolly has a gift for music that her family tries to repress. Fed up, Menolly runs away from home, even though mindless, life-devouring spores called Thread fall from the sky at irregular and unpredictable intervals. Out in the wild, Menolly’s survival is dependent on her new friendship with a flock of miniature dragons called fire lizards.
The Harper Hall Trilogy, and Dragonflight as well, set me securely on the path to SFF Feminist Weirddom.
Shortly after I read the Harper Hall books, I picked up another YA series that blew me away.
I read the series out of order- The Dark is Rising is the second book. But it came first for me. It didn’t hurt anything in the end, since the first book stars different characters. This book ate my brain. I fell madly in love with the protagonist, Will Stanton (I was nine when I read the book, so Will’s being eleven made him cool and mature). In fact, I still kind of have a torch for Will, as one of my characters in my novel is named after him.
Okay, enough gushing, here’s the gist: Will Stanton wakes on his eleventh birthday to find the weather has turned strange and animals are afraid of him. He doesn’t discover what is happening to him until it is almost too late. The Dark is Rising is moody and atmospheric as a Hitchcock movie, and holds a darkness and weirdness at it’s core that makes it feel larger than life. Susan Cooper uses British myths and folklore with a delicate understanding of what makes them so primal. As a child, I simply thrilled to her words. As an adult, I strive to tap the same veins in my own work.
Cooper and McCaffrey set me on the path of fantasy, feminism, darkness, rebellion, and strangeness. So they are the influences of my subjects. But the greatest influence of my style is and always will be James Sallis.
Jim shows a few of us lucky sods how to edit, when he is not busy writing spare, lyrical, elegant thrillers himself. When I edit, I always ask myself, What Would Jim Do? Jim teaches me how to pare the fat from my prose so as to let the boldest sentences gleam on the page.
Somewhere in the hazy future I am signing a big ol’ juicy book deal, and when that happens, I will have Jim to thank.