Writers who help me write

So, I read quite a bit, everything from the classics to speculative fiction. I have so many favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, George R.R. Martin, Michael Cisco, KJ Bishop, I could go on and on. There are so many brilliant authors in the world, and I love their work. Yet, as many times as I’ve read The Sound and the Fury, I can’t write like Faulkner. His style just doesn’t click with me. There are, however, authors who have had a great affect on my writing, they’ve made me better.

Chuck Palahniuk: I’ve always been a decent enough writer, but I definitely used to come off a little forced, like I was trying really hard to write smart. I was a little stilted. Chuck Palahniuk completely changed my basic approach to writing with Survivor and Invisible Monsters. Palahniuk’s style is so raw and unaffected, his use of the present tense adds a wonderful sense of nowness to his writing. When read aloud, both books have a certain rhythm that just sounds natural. I’ve adopted these techniques and am much better for them.

Jeff VanderMeer: I kind of promised Jeff I wouldn’t write about him, but I can’t skip his impact on me. Jeff’s use of his craft is absolutely amazing. His words form sentences that create life. City of Saints and Madmen is such a masterpiece, I feel like I’ve spent a month in Ambergris, walking its cobblestones, barricading the door to my hostel, praying to avoid the chaos and death that shrouds the Festival of the Freshwater Squid. So few have the skill to write bizarre twisted worlds and make them so real, with such vivid characters. My writing is more alive because of him.

Catherynne M. Valente: Cat Valente flat out writes gorgeous prose. She writes darkly eloquent sentences that are often astonishingly chilling. She’s truly an artist with language, she paints stunning images with words. Because of her novel, The Labyrinth, the dark things I write are far more beautiful.

I owe much of my skill to these three, their writing means a lot to me.

Who are your influences?


  1. says

    For me, it’s all over the place. Depends on where I am, where my brain is going. Sometimes I set myself up to read something, fully expecting to be blown away and it entertains, but doesn’t inspire. There’s a difference.

    The last few days I’ve been reading Emma Bull’s Territory, and I keep putting it down because I keep wanting to write as I’m reading it. Conflicting! But that’s the kind of inspiration I mean. George R.R. Martin was like that, too, when I started reading his books. When in doubt I turn to Wordsworth or Keats. Something about Romantic poetry always gets me writing in the right direction!

  2. J. Deville Bishop says

    Charles M. Schultz, Rod Serling, Frank Zappa, Maurice Sendak, Vonnegut, and that Aesop dude.

  3. KJ Bishop says

    I’m always thinking of new ones, or remembering old ones. Three that I don’t think I’ve mentioned elsewhere: Dr Seuss, Adam Ant, Mrs Ryan who with an enthusiasm for the beauty and playabibility of language taught us simile and metaphor in 5th grade.

  4. says

    Here’s a few of the most prominent ones:

    China Miéville: ‘Perdido Street Station’ completely revolutionised my view of Fantasy and its potential as a forward thinking, 21st century literary form. The book hit me like a meteorite and changed everything.

    Jeff Vandermeer: I really enjoyed ‘Veniss Underground’ but it was ‘City of Saints & Madmen’ that truly amazed me with its inventiveness and formal innovation. It really set a benchmark. It’ll be a long time before I’m even ready to think about attempting to craft something like that, if ever.

    Michael Moorcock: A towering talent. There’s only a few books I’ve enjoyed as much as ‘Dancers at the End of Time’ in my entire life.

    Clark Ashton Smith: Out of the ‘weird three’ made up of Lovecraft, Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith, I think he’s the one that inspires my writing, even though I discovered HPL first during my late teens. Clark Ashton Smith definately deserves a place amongst the greats and innovators of dark Fantasy. I’d still rather read one of his short stories than most things written these days.

    Adolfo Bioy Casares: ‘The Dream of Heroes’ really resonates with a lot of my own thoughts and feelings about relationships, the wonders and vagaries of memory, and the needs and forces that drive us as human beings. It’s a beautiful, sad story.

  5. says

    Hi Michael,

    The writers who help me write are: Jean Toomer, Jean Rhys, Ben Okri, Bruno Schulz, Wilson Harris, George Orwell, Ralph Ellison, Nella Larsen, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mervyn Peake, James Baldwin, Lewis Carroll, Carlos Fuentes, Vladimir Nabokov, Derek Walcott, Charles Dickens, Junot Diaz, Zora Neale Hurston, Reinaldo Arenas, Angela Carter, Henry James, Kazuo Ishiguro, Gayl Jones, Richard Wright, Bertolt Brecht, Claribel Alegria and Ann Petry.

    -I appreciate these writers for their ability to create palpable mood and atmosphere, take major risks (particularly during some of the times they were writing) and how they told stories in unconventional ways. Some of these writers infused their prose with poetry and have created memorable, outstanding characters or even character sketches with such depth, range and soul. What I appreciate the most about them is their ability to investigate and weave political and social ills (such as racism, sexism, homophobia and colonialism) with things of the spirit and thus mix the stories they tell with vivid imagery that read more like dreams. In other words what I think these writers do well is not sacrifice their art for political messages and consequently they don’t sacrifice their political messages for just having something pretty to say. (Though some people take issue with George Orwell and Richard Wright thinking they were mostly political writers- but I personally think they managed to merge art and politics pretty well) Brecht said it best: “You can’t write poems about trees when the woods are full of police.” What these writers do is merge the trees with the police and this influences me a great deal.

  6. jeff vandermeer says

    jesus, tiffany, that’s like a roll call of many of my own personal favorites, along with a couple I don’t recognize and must now seek out!

  7. says

    Faulkner, Nabokov, Tolkien… we all know about them, right?

    Steven Erikson for his imagination and his balls in writing that crazy sprawl of a thing that he calls a fantasy series. (Still have to read Steve Erickson… on the TBR pile)

    Murakami, for his weirdness and genius. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles is truly one of the great books. Anyone who can mesh modern angst with WWII war crimes and weird metaphysical tunnels is aces in my book.

    Lethem, as his Fortress of Solitude hit a nerve. Well, it hit a whole bunch of them, and then dumped on some gasoline and lit ’em up like Devil’s Night in Detroit. He slides the fantastical so easily into an important and psychologically acute work…

    David Foster Wallace. I was eighteen and I read Infinite Jest. And I said “Jesus Christ, you’re allowed to do that? Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me?”

    Javier Marias, for his ability in following the winding paths of thought and memory and wedding them to odd stories. Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me… just read it.

    Cormac McCarthy. His prose is, shall I say, quite singular.

    Ian McEwan. Technique, technique, technique.

    Tadeusz Borowski. Because his collection This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is simply brilliant.

    Terri Jentz, Strange Piece of Paradise. This one’s a memoir. On summer break during college, she and a friend decided to bicycle across the country. They crossed the Rockies and rode into Oregon, and while camping in a park one night a man drove his truck down and ran over their tent. Then he attacked them with an axe and left them for dead. He was never found. Terri survives, and has to cope with the fallout. Later in life she decides to try and find the man who did this. It sounds sensational, but that’s not why it’s great. As riveting as the story is, it’s the fine writing and the incredible self-perception and honesty that make this my favourite book. If I could infuse my fiction with half that reality and depth I would be blessed. Something to shoot for…

  8. says

    I’m not a fiction writer, but when I want to communicate something in an essay, I will often listen to Bob Dylan, whose lyrics tend to help me think of how I want to phrase something and how to have a rhythm to the words that flow. I also like reading Borges’ literary criticism pieces when I want to learn how to write a better review. I’ve noticed that extensive reading of Gabriel García Márquez in Spanish has influenced how I construct sentences, since I’ve noticed a tendency to more ornate, multi-dependent clause-laden sentences lately.

    But if I were to write fiction beyond the occasional doodle bit, Thomas Wolfe (the NC one who died in 1938) would be a major, major influence. Thomas Mann to a lesser extent, and perhaps Dickens here and there.

  9. says

    Oh, and Tim O’Brien too. For beautiful and powerful writing, and for being experimental without ever giving me that “Hey, look at the cool and clever stuff I’m doing!” feeling.

  10. says

    Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Douglas Adams, William Kotzwinkle, James Morrow, John Nichols

    Now, I can’t write anything like them worth a damn, but they’ve definitely influenced my world-view.

  11. says

    JV in more ways than one. He had mentioned Nabokov and Cormac McCarthy in an interview, so I picked up Pale Fire and Blood Meridian. Those books completely shattered my notions of fiction.

    Also — Jonathan Carroll, Jeffrey Ford, Tom Robbins, George Saunders, Borges, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Jose Saramago.

    When I’m in the mood for ‘traditional’ fantasy (rare these days), Stephen Donaldson and GRRM

  12. says

    William Gibson has always been a big influence, from the packed and vivid prose of Neuromancer, which implied huge swaths of the world with little details, to his spare, lean newer stuff, which inspires me to relax and write. I love the way David Simon writes, whether it’s for the page (Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets) or for the screen (The Wire).

    Right now I’m reading a fat book of Kipling’s short stories, and it’s an eye opener. His voice is, even with the slight hurdle of the period isms, remarkably casual.

    Michael Chabon is another one. Watch him swerve between details and dialogue, story and setting. Sentence by sentence, I already write a lot like him — fitting action in the midst of a line of dialog, meandering off in the middle of sentences — which makes me think there may be hope for me yet.

  13. says

    At first I thought you told Google to call the library, and it did, and that blew my mind.
    Then I realized that you actually called the library, and my mind became unblown.
    I’ll get back to work…

    If you ask my opinion about this topic I really like. Thank you for sharing your friends. Hope to see you another day.