If you're at all familiar with my philosophically-oriented brand of psychological suspense, you wouldn't be surprised to read Burke, Ludlum, Koontz, Camus, Chesteton, or Orwell among the list of authors whose books have influenced my writing. On the other hand, here are ten books or authors you might be more surprised by:
(10) Jubal Sackett by Louis L'Amour. One of L'Amour's more epic-scale westerns, Jubal Sackett is really the book that taught me that it's not adventure or action, mystery or wonder that really draw me personally into a book: it's the human struggle. This became the center of virtually everything I've written since reading the book.
(9) Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse. This novel, among other comedies by Wodehouse, really cemented for the important of strong, memorable characterization.
(8) As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. This book showed me that, when it's effective, voice and style and the narrative-as-such are more important than any rules or conventions.
(7) Dust Tracks on the Road by Zora Neal Hurston. While the voice might be thick at points, this book really taught me the power of voice to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
(6) Star Trek: The Motion Picture, novelization by Vonda McIntyre. Turning what I've always found to be a painfully dull movie from a beloved franchise into something readable and enjoyable was quite a feat. Because of it, I reached out to Ms. McIntyre as a teenage writer. Thanks to CompuServe, I was able to exchange a couple of messages with her; her words were the foundation of my approach to writing as storytelling.
(5) Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. I'll admit it. In all honesty, I cry every time I read the scene where Eustace loses his scales and becomes freed from the dragon curse. I'm almost crying just thinking about. This reminds me of the overwhelming power of a redemption arc.
(4) The Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton. This book more than any other reminds me that if the writing is good enough, any concept can get published. "Hi, I've got a few techno-thrillers published. How about my next book turns Beowulf into a historical account, complete with false scholarly footnotes and everything?" "You've got it, Mr. Crichton."
(3) Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis. Also, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. From these books I learned that it is possible for a writer to to engage and explore complex philosophical issues in an entertaining way -- and that, more importantly, it is not important that all readers understand what's going on in order for the explorations to be a success.
(2) The Dirty Dozen by E. M. Nathanson. I was a huge fan of The Dirty Dozen movie and its made-for-TV sequels. When I was a teenager, I even programmed a Dirty Dozen role-playing game in BASIC. When I finally picked up the book, I learned something very important: some things, especially dark things, play out quite differently on the big screen than they do in print. What flashes by in a moment on the screen, tempered by sensory stimuli, takes longer on the page, and offers the reader to distractions. There is no choice but to face the darkness. In all honesty, I could not even finish The Dirty Dozen novel. Nothing against the book or the writing; it was simply too psychologically brutal for me to handle and offered little charm to pull me through. This is something that weighs heavily on my mind when I write.
(1) Jack Higgins. While his cynical humanism has at times been drenched in nihilism and at times sprinkled with a jaded sense of hope, Higgins has always been the master of the anti-hero. Whether writing about WWII, the Troubles, or spy thriller fare, Higgins' hero is often dark, rarely more than grey. Where Lewis taught me about the power of redemption, Higgins taught me how to get readers hoping for the redemption of a character who is beyond hope, beyond help, and beneath contempt. When you start with an unlikeable character, who suddenly seems to be showing the potential for goodness, the reader is hooked. When the world becomes a game that breaks that character down, the reader starts rooting. When it comes down to the wire, and the character faces fate, the reader is squarely hoping to see redemption. And Higgins taught me that, as an author, sometimes you deliver that redemption, but sometimes you let the game win, rather than the players.
So, there you go! Anything on my list definitely surprise you? How about you? If you're a writer, are there some books that have influenced you we might be surprised by? If you're a reader, are there some favorite books that have special meaning for you, even if they're not what you usually read?
Love to hear from everyone on this!