Okay, geeks… So, in last week’s post I mentioned that I have a Master’s degree—it might take a while, but in time you will call me master! (I’ve always wanted to say that. Life goal completed.) It happens to be in English Literature, so this should tell you one very important and essential fact about me: I love books.
Now, I don’t just mean that I love to read (which I most certainly do); I mean that I love books… Those tangible hard or soft covered reams of paper that smell like wonder and dreams. I do own a Kindle, and have been known to purchase a digital copy or two—nice for an oft-read series like Harry Potter, which isn’t easily portable otherwise, a series I haven’t been sold on yet, or (my personal favorite) otherwise unreadable because unpublished e-books and novellas. While I love all the joys little El Feugo brings me, nothing compares to holding an actual book in my hand; it’s as if the fact that it has been printed on actual paper, and then bound and cut, and placed in boxes, and sent halfway around the world just to land in my hands… it’s as if this process somehow makes it more alive, makes it breathe and exist more truly that it would without.
My Bachelor’s degree is also in English Lit., and despite the fact that I have zero intention of “publishing or perishing” along with academics and university professors, I chose to emphasize in British Victorian Literature specifically. So basically, I have read a lot of books, mostly written by dead white men and women. Seriously… a LOT! This choice of focus—as you might already have noticed if you have read my work here or my fan fictions on Tumblr and fanfiction.net—has made a huge impact in the way I think and the way I write. My sentences tend to be longer and have more commas than the average, with plenty of tangential thoughts connected by prepositional phrases. It definitely has effected how I tell a story (my brother-in-law likes to say that I build a Swiss watch). Ask Michelle… we can get off topic and land in an entirely different solar system with our conversations, but always count on me being able to find the thread that lead us from the sun to Proxima Centauri.
Because here’s the thing about books: like a movie, they paint for us a picture of another time, another place, and sometimes another planet altogether, but unlike a film, a book allows our imagination to fill and create the space surrounding the story in an entirely unique way (sometimes unutterably so). Even those stories that provide the closest of details about a character’s costume or their facial features still give the reader’s inner eye room to discover more. There is a subtle magic to books which can never be captured, contained, or quantified; as with the truly great artists, the great reader can never be fully satisfied that their vision matches what they see each and every time.
This is one of the most fundamental of reasons why I have always considered myself a writer (and why my drawing skills remain rudimentary at best). It’s also one of the scariest professions to have, academically and critically speaking, because this medium is the most subject to alternative interpretation—the commonly heard phrase in classrooms these days being, “The author is dead/the author’s meaning doesn’t matter.” It is that very mutability, that very flexibility which constantly terrifies and energizes me as a writer, knowing that (no matter the level of careful deliberation and specificity of choice on my part) each reader can and will take their own meaning and message away from the same set of words. What fills one person with hope will seem a sentence of doom to another… It is endlessly fascinating and frightening.
That being said—and, as you know, I don’t play favorites—I will provide for you a list of some of the authors and their novels who have impacted me as a writer and as a reader. It is by no means exhaustive, so feel free to ask me if I’ve read one of your favorites or if you see a glaring omission, let me know. Remember to live free and geek hard!
- The Gothic Novel—I know that there are a lot of books that fall under this category, but the Gothic is truly the precursor to our modern day horror genre both in books and in film. More than any other category, these are the books (each Gothic in their own unique way) which have effected the way I write and the novels I read most. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (lots of sexual repression and incest, so a true fan fic reader’s delight!), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the various works of Anne Radcliffe. Just a sampling, but I highly recommend all of these in versions with a critical introduction and textual notes (Oxford World Classics, Penguin Classics, and Norton Critical Editions are all good).
- The Little House on the Prairie books—okay, so this might sound like a cliché choice, but I absolutely loved these books as a child. I cannot remember a time where I couldn’t read or didn’t want to read (my mother assures me that I did not), and before the age of 13 I had already read each of the books through as many times. So, about 13 times 9 in essentially eight years. (And I can read a lot faster now.)
- The Harry Potter series—do you really need me to go into details on this one??
- The extended works of J.R.R. Tolkien—in this I include The Lord of the Rings, naturally, but also the Silmarillion and the collected histories of Middle Earth. The extent of backstory and layers of history built into this work are Epic in the most precise meaning of the word.
- The Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey—I was lucky enough to see Mr. McCaffrey at a science fiction writer’s panel at Wonder Con last year and I walked away with the greatest piece of writerly advice: “The word “can’t” should be removed from your vocabulary; plenty of people in this world will tell you what you can’t do, but only you are able to tell yourself what you can” And the beauty of this series is that a woman took the dragon from the realm of fairytale and fantasy and translated them into the realm of science fiction and scientific possibility in an incredibly believable manner.
- Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books—known best for writing her books in trilogies, Lackey was the first female science fiction/fantasy writer I read, and thus a favorite. I have read all of the trilogies at least once through, but especially love the Gryphons.
- S. Harris, Tasha Alexander, and Sherlockiana—the first two are mystery writers who have set their detectives in Nineteenth Century Britain (though Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr novels are technically set in the Regency period following the Napoleonic wars; Lady Emily and her husband are contemporaries of the older Queen Victoria, like Holmes); both ladies have a good eye for the details without creating anaphorisms. And, while I’m not a fan of the actual works of Sir Arthur, I absolutely love the works by more modern writers in their own additional tales “released from the vaults” of Watson’s fertile imagination. Anthony Horowitz, Sam Siciliano, James Lovegrove, David Stuart Davies, and Fred Saberhagen are al standouts in this category.
- Alison Weir—while more than half of her works are biographical histories of women of Medieval and Renaissance England, Ms. Weir has taken a turn at fiction more than a time or two and the results are brilliant. Despite being obviously feminist in her outlook, she manages to write the men as compelling and realistic characters as well. I also encourage you to read some of Philippa Gregory’s novels—The Other Boleyn Girl, The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter—but caution against some of her more recent works and her Wideacre The male characters are often painted more as caricatures of themselves, rather than actual human beings, and it becomes obvious that despite her fascination with the Tudor family, she deeply loathes them all.
- Sarah J. Maas—I’m a bit behind on her Throne of Glass novels (in part because I am obsessive about all the books in a series being of the same type—mass market paperback, paperback, or hardback), and I just read A Court of Thorns and Roses. Because my reading interests are so varied, I literally have stacks of books to read through—sorted by genre, with the newest books getting tucked under the ones I have yet to read. That being said, as soon as I finished ACoTaR I immediately dove for my YA stack and started A Court of Mist and Fury. You can expect a review of the pair by the end of the week because anyone who can include the Fae/Fairie in a way that intrigues me without boring me has my vote of confidence as a writer!
- Jennifer Estep’s Spider series—set in a fictional American South where certain people can wield elemental magic, this series… I don’t even know where to begin! Having grown up around a lot of Southern transplants, the diction is flawless without being exclusive to people whose only experience of the South is from Gone With the Wind or True Blood. Gin Blanco is an amazing anti-heroine, an assassin with a heart of gold and a streak of loyalty and honor a mile wide. Estep kills it, literally! (For kicks and giggles, her superhero satires Karma Girl and Hot Mama are also fun, with plenty of tongue in cheek action.)
- Mira Grant’s Newsflesh and Parasiteology series—I hereby deem her Michael Crichton’s heir to the science fiction thriller throne! Both series are well researched and driven by relatable (if occasionally insane) characters, delivering that same awe and terror of this-could-be-happening-right-now, edge of your seat drama and suspense. Anyone with a healthy fear of Big anything and the government all the way to a Doomsday Prepper can find these books both compelling and horrifyingly possible.
- Romance Novels and Jane Austen continuations—as anyone who has read my fan fiction knows (wordsmith-storyweaver on ff.net!!), I have a tendency toward the smutty side of life. At least where my writing is concerned. I love me some good, satisfying erotica… I said that I was a Master; I didn’t say that I didn’t have my flaws/guilty pleasures. Lynsay Sands, Linda Berdoll, Sharon Lathan, Lorraine Heath, Amelia Grey, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, Karen Maire Monig, Samantha Young, Christina Lauren, Jamie MacGuire, Suzanne Enoch, Olivia Drake, Stephanie Laurens, Sarah MacLean in no particular order are favorites. Also, Tara Sue Me and Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty novels are wickedly good BDSM reads (Sue Me for realism and Rice for sheer, impractical decadence).