No writer is an island. Further, no writer exists in a vacuum. We — all of us human beings — are constantly inspired by people, places and things around us. For writers, those things often sneak into our writing in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. This list comprises only a few of the many books that have inspired me, first to be a writer, and second, to be a better writer. Some of these books (okay, most of them) I re-read every now and again, and in most of them, I find something I missed before.
Last Call, Tim Powers
Last Call is all about cards, Las Vegas, symbolism, magic, and too much more to cover in any depth. The way the author draws in threads of real history, skillfully blending them with his own events made up out of whole cloth and using the entire tapestry to tell his stories, is magical to me.
The Shining, Stephen King
He’s not considered a “master” of fiction for no reason; having just finished his On Writing, I admire the wisdom in his approach to the craft. The Shining is a clear case where the book is VASTLY superior to the film (particularly the 1980 version directed by Stanley Kubrick), so if you’ve only seen the film, you are REALLY missing out.
Sunglasses After Dark, Nancy A. Collins
Nancy A. Collins’ stories of Sonja Blue, vampire and vampire hunter, are full of mystery, intrigue, supernatural beings, and sex. These vampires don’t sparkle, but they have schemes that put Machiavelli to shame, and Sonja’s interactions with other supernatural creatures may be among the highlights of these books.
Drachenfels, Jack Yeovil
Set in the universe of Games Workshop’s Warhammer world, Drachenfels utilizes the “play within a play” trope very nicely, and features a cast of characters probably in the hundreds. It weaves a rich web of detail, telling the story of a young man’s quest to prove himself, the crew he recruits to help him, and the ancient, barely human enchanter who is the target of his quest. This book dates from the time when Games Workshop was still willing to take chances on interesting projects. Jack Yeovil is a nom de plume for author Kim Newman.
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein
I first read The Hobbit as a young boy, and fell in love with the story’s naive charm. While it is perhaps not a literary masterpiece, it is a well-told tale, with characters that I find entrancing and a setting full of wonder and delight.
Them Bones, Howard Waldrop
Them Bones is in essence, a time travel story, about soldiers from a fucked-up future earth going back in time to find a way to fix things. One soldier gets separated by the time stream, ending up in an earth that may not have existed exactly as portrayed, but his adventures with the people he finds are engrossing, horrific, and full of wonder. Waldrop is one of my favorite authors, and I advise anyone reading him to leave your preconceptions at the threshold, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
A Hunger Like Fire, Greg Stolze
Set in the universe of White Wolf Publishing’s World of Darkness, This novel is about Chicago to a small degree, and the vampires who run to town to a much larger degree. Stolze has talent and skill sufficient that, even though these are monstrous beings capable of terrible, ferocious savagery, they are still highly sympathetic characters, and intriguing ones at that.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
When I first heard the premise for this book, I was thrilled. I was still very nearly as thrilled reading it for the sixth time as I was for the first. Gaiman’s imaginative powers are formidable, and he brings them all to bear in this novel of former deities trying to get by in the modern-day United States.
Bridge of Birds, Barry Hughart
I fell in love with these stories of “an Ancient China that never was” on the recommendation of a friend, and not only didn’t regret it, I engaged in operations to acquire the other two books in the series, even though they were out of print at that time. Reprinted more than once by niche publishers, it won major awards (World Fantasy and Mythopeoic Fantasy Awards) and was followed up by two sequels, but sadly Hughart seems to have given up on writing.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
YA fiction that tells stories of kids who (generally) use good judgement, deal with the ramifications of their actions, and work to help others and stand up for what’s right in spite of very personal consequences. Oh, and there’s some magic involved from time to time. This is the second book in the series, and since (if I recall correctly) it features the main character’s step-family a little less, I like it more.
Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
Despite the hue and cry over the conclusion to this series by those who over-romanitcize vampires, I found the ending to this series fitting and quite satisfying. Harris takes us for a ride with a young woman whose gift of telepathy is more of a curse, until she meets her first vampire, whose thoughts don’t transmit to her at all. The mysteries in each book are well thought-out, and the stories are peppered with a bit of sex and a great deal of intrigue. This first book introduces several of the main characters and most of the primary themes for the series.
Stephen King has a useful piece of advice for writers: Write a lot; read a lot. There is no better way for any of us to support the writers whose work we enjoy than by buying their books. Whether you buy through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite independent bookstore, please buy books, and more importantly, READ them!
And if you have a moment, write a brief review for Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com to tell others what you thought of the books you’ve read — what you liked or didn’t like, and why. It doesn’t have to be great literature in itself — just an honest opinion. Spreading the word like that can help sell a few more copies, and hey: every little bit helps.
But wait, I hear some of you yelling — that’s ELEVEN books!
Yep; consider it a bonus.