A writer is greatly influenced by the books he or she reads. Of the books that influenced you the most as an author, which handful would you recommend an aspiring writer first focus on? Which books do you keep returning to again and again? Which atypical book do you use as inspiration for your writing?
This question is lifted from author Sahar Sabati's informative Ask an Author series, which ran from 2015-2016 and included responses and reflections from English-speaking authors from around the globe. Since I'm often asked these questions by readers, I have republished my answers here with Sahar's kind permission.
As a person — and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before — the book which most influenced me growing up was Dr Seuss’ Horton Hatches the Egg. My dad would read it to my brother and me, each of us sitting on a knee, and the book perched between us. Dad did the best voices: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful 100%.” It’s a statement to stand by, and not just professionally. I’ve tried to live my whole life on this mantra. Plus, my dad made it pretty clear that you didn’t want to be one of life’s Lazy Maisey birds! [You can enjoy it again, below.]
I’d love to return to books again and again — and I have reread childhood favourite To Kill a Mockingbird again this year — but I no longer have time to reread books, when my to-read list is full to overflowing with new talent to discover. However in 2016, I attended StokerCon, the American Horror Writers’ convention in Las Vegas, where Bram Stoker Award-winning editor, Stephen Jones, reminded attendees of the importance of reading backwards in our genre, to rediscover those ground-breaking writers who made the genre what it is. It’s only reading those pioneers, that we can then challenge ingrained tropes to create something fresh, and perhaps ground-breaking in itself. So I may have to re-evaluate my thinking because re-reading may be just as important as reading something for the first time.
An atypical book I use for inspiration? Hmm. Maybe reading outside our own genres. If you never read romance, maybe pick up a romance. Or if horror isn’t your thing, try it again. Sometimes, reading outside our genre can help us discover innovative ways to approach our own storytelling.