Thursday, February 4, 2010

10 Women Writers and Their Influence on Me

Yes, I'm blogging like a madwoman. I can't help it. I'm trying to distract myself from the fact that my book is resting in the hands of the big NYC publishers and my nerves are twanging like crazy. --Rhiannon
The other day I was asked a question I am often called upon to answer: which writers have influenced me the most. This is a question I struggle to answer because most often the question is being asked by someone steeped in the zombie genre and the writers who have had the biggest impact on me are not even necessarily horror writers. In fact, I did not read my first horror novel until I was in my teens and that was a novel by Ann Rice.

Upon reflection, I realized that my list of influences may be actually quite surprising to some. Though one of my absolute favorite writers right now is Neil Gaimen, a lot of women have had an impact on me and how I write.

So here is my list of female authors and how they helped shaped me as a writer. Most of these books were read long before I hit my 20's, but they remain personal favorites and their influence continues to resonate in my writing.

Laura Ingalls Wilder - Her entire series

The Laura Ingalls Wilder stories are the first I remember reading. I'm sure there were books before this series that I enjoyed, but I only remember my old set of battered books about a little girl growing up on the prairie. These were also some of the first books I ever owned. I ordered every single novel from the school book fair. I loved those books so much and reread them countless times. They eventually fell apart.

What I remember the most from those books was how much I came to love Laura's world as she grew up and eventually married. Though I was still a child when I read the last book about the early days of her marriage, I came to understand that life changes, people evolve, people move on, and sometimes things do not always go as you had hoped. It was also the first series of books I ever read that had an end. I reached the last book and there weren't anymore. So I went back to the first one and started over.

Elizabeth George Speare - The Witch of Blackbird Pond

To this day, this remains one of my favorite books. The book has a rich historical atmosphere that is not about a lush, gorgeous exotic locale, but about the dreariness of the Puritan settlements in the Americas of the 1600's. Even though our protagonist is a bit snooty in the beginning, it became apparent this is only because of her sheltered and wealthy upbringing. Once among the plain and poor folk, she is the exotic foreign bird. How she evolves into a woman that still remains headstrong, but also compassionate, is very well done. Kit remains on of my all time favorite literary heroines and I was so happy that her tale ended on a happier note than I expected.

The dynamics of the relationships and the strength of the female characters is what I love about this book and hope that I bring those qualities to my own tales.

Anne McCaffery- Dragonsinger
Drangonsinger is my absolute favorite book by Anne McCaffery. This book so perfectly captured my own spirit of adventure, my feelings of being misunderstood, and my belief that there had to be something special about me, I read it probably a million times over in my teen years.

That spirit of adventure, the mystery of the unknown, the daunting task of surviving by your wits, and the journey to finding your special niche in the world is what I hope I brought to not only the As The World Dies trilogy, but my other tales as well.

Agatha Christie - Crooked House
When I was in my preteens and teens, I devoured Agatha Christie books. They were my favorite novels to check out of the library, and I read them over and over again. Crooked House was a novel I only found once on the library shelves before it was pulled. I was told later it was pulled because of its controversial content. The controversial content was exactly why I loved the book so much. It was the first novel where evil was not in the guise of a man or a woman, but a child.
It was the first time I read a mystery so completely outside the box and it shook me to the core. This is the first time I remember feeling "unsafe" in a novel and I loved it. Later, when I began to write my own tales, I would remember how I felt when reading this tale of a child murderer and tried to create my own "unsafe" scenarios.

I read later that this novel was one of Agatha Christie's favorites.

Doris Miles Disney-Winifred

Doris Miles Disney's books are out of print and her prose is dated by the era in which they were written, but she was still very good at twisting out tales that made you sit back just a bit in your chair.

Before I ever read The Yellow Wallpaper, I read Winifred. Both tales are about a woman sliding into madness after tragedies. Both drag you down with these women until their madness almost feels like your own. Winifred was truly terrifying because even though I knew the main character was going insane, I wanted her to somehow come out on top. I found myself hoping for her blindly even though she wasn't very likable and feared it would all end badly. And, of course, it did.

I thought of Winifred often when writing Jenni in As The World Dies. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the abuse she suffered before the zombie rising and the loss of her family, Jenni was a character that tended to do rash and not always sane actions. I recognized fairly early on that she could end up an immensely unlikable character if I was not careful. Therefore, I tried very hard to draw the reader into her mindset and let them feel what she was feeling as the story unfolded. It must have worked because Jenni remains the most beloved character of the series.

Charlotte Bronte- Jane Eyre
I love Jane Eyre. And not for the romantic relationship between our heroine and her employer. I love it for the crazy wife locked up in the attic that leaps to her death as the house burns to the ground. The mysterious and gothic aspects of the novel have always enraptured me far more than the actual romance. Don't get me wrong, I liked Jane quite a lot, but I always thought she could do better than Mr. Rochester.

The mad woman imprisoned in the attic, struggling to be free from her madness and her tormentor, always made me feel terribly sad for her and very angry at Mr. Rochester.

In the end, what Jane Eyre gave me was the love of the gothic. It took me one step closer to the genres I would come to love.

Victoria Holt - The Night of the Seventh Moon

My mom handed me a Victoria Holt novel soon after I read Jane Eyre for the first time. I was in love with the gothic feel of that tale and yearned for more. Victoria Holt's novels were just what I was hungering for, and I believe I have read every single book she has ever written. They were a staple of my teen years.

But one novel stood out among all the others. The Night of the Seventh Moon is not only steeped in history, gothic atmosphere, and forbidden romance, but has one of this best plots I have ever read in a gothic tale. It drew me in completely and has remained my favorite gothic romance next to my beloved Jane Eyre. This book was just perfection.

How has it influenced me? I hope that whenever I do have a romantic couple in my novels, they have the charisma and spark of the two characters in this novel. I completely loved them and cheered them on throughout all their travails.

Anne Rice - The Vampire Lestat

My first horror novel. My first taste of the macabre and gory in black and white. Up until I read this book, only the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe had given me nightmares. This book pushed it to a whole new level. This is the only book that I have ever read that I almost threw up reading.

This novel gets definite kudos for opening up the world of nightmares and beckoning me to enter. I was never the same writer again after reading it.

Mary Shelley - Frankenstein

It is hard to explain how much I love this novel and how it haunts me. After reading Anne Rice's novel about vampires, I had read Bram Stoker's Dracula. It left me with a hunger for more classical literature of the horror variety, so I snatched up Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I read it in a one night marathon. I could not put it down.

The next day I talked to my mother about how beautiful it was, so haunting, and how it made me cry for the creature Frankenstein had created and his terrible tormented existence. I recognized Dr. Frankenstein as the true monster and found it difficult to have compassion for his madness.

The depth of emotion I felt when reading this tale and how those emotions lingered like cobwebs is what I aspire to create in the minds of my readers.

Tanith Lee - Dark Dance, The Blood Opera Sequence
Though Tanith Lee is an icon of genre fiction, I never found her books on any bookshelves where I used to live. I did live in a remote, very conservative part of Texas, so this could be why. It would take a very long time for me to pickup one of her novels. Once I started reading, I regretted how long it had taken me to dive into the worlds that Tanith creates.

Dark Dance is out of print, but I found a copy at Half Priced Books. This was another book I could not put down. It was hideously beautiful in every way and I loved it. The grotesque, the sacrilegious, the beautiful, and the insane mixed so delightfully in every chapter, I couldn't stop turning the pages. I won't lie. The book did push me far out of my comfort zone more than once, but I kept reading. It remains one of my favorite tales.

I read the two following novels in the saga, but neither one ever made me feel quite so uncomfortable again. The disquiet that came with the themes of the book still haunts me when I think about the first time I read it.

If I could weave a mood so terrible and beautiful at the same time as to make my reader squirm just a bit, I would be so very happy.

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