Last fall, as freezing temperatures swept away our lovely weather, my daughter posted on her Facebook wall that she hadn’t met anyone that day who was familiar with the phrase “Ice Station Zebra.” It’s almost our stock, cold weather phrase and has been for years, so I was surprised, but then I wasn’t.
Ice Station Zebra is a kick-ass novel written by Alastair Maclean (there’s a movie, too, but the book is better). I defy anyone to read it without needing a blanket, even in August. So, for our family, the title has come to represent all things freezing.
The reason many of her friends missed the book is because Maclean published his action adventure novels (and some non-fiction) from 1955 to 1989. He is rather well known in our family because he remains to this day one of my favorite authors, and I have encouraged my kids to at least try to read him at some point in their growing up years.
His books have had, IMHO, a profound impact on my books. The guy knew how to kick the suspense into high gear and keep it there. (If you are curious, you can learn more about him here.) While there are many current-to-this-century authors that I love to read, my daughter’s wall post got me thinking about other authors who have heavily influenced my writing. So that’s what I’d like to write about today—and perhaps in the process you’ll discover some new/old favorite author/s to check out.
A lot of historical authors will cite Georgette Heyer as an influence in their writing. Her books also profoundly influenced me, though not into writing historical fiction. What I learned from this master storyteller was about great characterization (and gentle humor). Her characters leap off the page and stay with you long after you close one of her books.
I discovered Mary Stewart while watching the Disney movie, The Moonspinners. (Huge Haley Mills fan, even now.) When I realized the movie had been adapted from a novel, I headed to the library and fell in love again. Stewart also taught me about ramping up the suspense (though in a less forceful way than Maclean–-lol), but from her I also learned about the subtle art of understatement—in both suspense (gore) and romance (sometimes the characters don’t even kiss at the end, but I always sighed with satisfaction)—and about character voice. She wrote mostly in first person, so her characters had to grab you and keep you in the story. It would have been easy for all her characters to sound the same, but they didn’t.
I’ve spent the last few years collecting books (not an easy feat by any means!) by another author who I also must credit for helping me become a better writer. I discovered Elizabeth Cadell when I was reading my way around the library. She wrote a wide variety of books, from light romance to light mystery, to the semi-autobiographical. From her I learned about humor, creating a sense of time and place, and about the importance of secondary characters in building a fictional world. Two of my favorite secondary characters are from her Brimstone in the Garden. Cousin Clarry is a classic feat of character creation and the two minions of the Devil? Well, you need to track this down and read it. That’s all I can say.
If you know anything about me at all, you’ll notice that my early inspirations weren’t science fiction, and yet here I am, in this new century writing science fiction romance—and throwing some steampunk in just for fun.
I will confess to being a bit startled about that, too. But when I go in an examine my own body of work (doesn’t that sound important? LOL), I find that even with my first novel, The Spy Who Kissed Me, I was already trending toward action adventure. In 2006, when Out of Time released, I had admitted to myself that my primary genre was action-adventure, and that’s what I wanted to continue to write. So, when I made the move into outer space with The Key, I didn’t notice that it was science fiction. It took a reviewer to point out the obvious—which made me panic. How could I write science fiction when I did lousy in my science classes? Unless I was writing fiction back then, too? That would explain a lot.
“They” (who are they anyway?) tell us that there is a tipping point where a person becomes a reader or they don’t. I don’t remember that tipping point. It feels like I’ve always been a reader, but the books I’ve shared with you today, kept me reading and propelled me into writing.
Do you have a defining moment, a defining book that sealed you forever as a book lover? As a reader? As a writer?