There are two questions that usually pop up during interviews, and they are
- Where do you get your ideas?
- What authors inspired you to become a writer?
The answer to the first is, of course, Schenectady.
The answer to the second, for me, is a little more complicated – or at least lengthier – because I am convinced that if we are readers – and writers can’t not be readers – then everything we read is a source of inspiration.
This kind of answer usually is interpreted as evasive by interviewers, so I usually have a list of authors I recite like a mantra.
And I thought it might be interesting to write a list, not only of authors, but also of the books by those authors I found inspiring. The books that made me say
THIS! This is what I want to write.
Who knows, maybe you need some reading suggestions for what’s left of summer. Here we go.
Robert E. Howard
I think it’s impossible for a kid to read Howard and not want to do something like that. Adventure! Action! Magic! Horror! Beautiful women!
I would be tempted to say that the book that really got me to give it a try was Conan the Adventurer, but in fact I know it was Skulls in the Stars, my first meeting with Solomon Kane. THAT was what I wanted to write.
Leiber is so good you cannot but be in awe of his discipline and his language. The first book by Leiber I read was The Big Time, and it was so different it was really a watershed in my formation as a reader. Then came Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and I was hooked for life. Choosing a single book is very hard. I’d say Swords & Deviltry but really, why not The Big Time or The Wanderer?
Murcock usually got a very bad press in Italy when I was a kid, and reading his Elric stories back to back with Howard’s Conan was a shock. I loved the imagery and the stories, but it really got me depressed. Then I went through the Runestaff and the Corum novels, and that was a lot better for my morale. The Jerry Cornelius stories were certainly an inspiration, but the real eye-opener, and the book that is still one of the standards against which I compare my work is The Dancers at the End of Time. But I’ll never be that good.
Another author that suffered from very bad press hereabouts when I was a kid. The Birthgrave was one of the first novels i read in English (the second, I think, after a minor Simak number), and I was impressed. Then I read Don’t Bite The Sun/Drinking Sapphire Wine and Lee entered into my personal pantheon. The ideas, the politics and the imagery stayed with me to this day.
C. J. Cherryh
Still my favorite hard science fiction writer out there, her work on the characters of the Morgaine cycle were the most different and the most striking I had read in a long time. It was strange, after so much stereotyped fantasy, to get a story about a man and a woman that acted like a man and a woman. Deciding on a single title in Cherryh’s catalog is extremely difficult, but in the end I’d go for the Faded Sun trilogy, for its story, its characters and its incredible worldbuilding.
Just like Leiber, Zelazny was so good it hurt. Original ideas, beautifully developed in unconventional directions, and written in a wonderful prose. Lord of Light is one of the novels I read and re-read and remains my favorite, but Zelazny’s whole catalog is highly recommended.
And then I should mention Leigh Brackett, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, Mervyn Peake… And then I might go and check the non-fantasy influences.
But for starters, the six in this short list are a good starting point.
I’ll never be that good, but dreaming is free, right?