Something Fun Before the Holidays

The past six months have been pretty exciting for me.  I finally made the leap into taking my passion for writing seriously and despite the occasional breakdown, I’m really happy.  So I wanted to do a fun post that went back to what made me want to write.  Reading.

About a month ago Susan Bischoff did a post The Facebook 15 Authors Meme. The meme went like this:  Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

In the post she expanded on the facebook list with a little bit about what each author on her list meant to her.  I did the meme too, but with no blog all I had was a list.  Now that I have one, I can share my fifteen in no particular order . . .

1. Joss Whedon-I didn’t catch on to Buffy until its fifth season and my introduction was the episode “Buffy vs. Dracula”.  The dialogue was quick, the action was plentiful and the laughs were many.  I was hooked and happy to find the season had a continuing story as opposed to a monster of the week thing.  This was my first lesson in how larger stories could be told in pieces, but in a way that didn’t alienate viewers coming in the middle and respected the ones with you from the beginning.

2. Kelley Armstrong-Werewolves are my thing and I came across Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series because of that.  The first book, Bitten had one of the best opening chapters I’d read.  So good in fact, that it could easily have been a short story.  It also dealt with themes of who you are vs. who you want to be.  A big deal to me and a major plot point of my WIP.

3. Caleb Carr-This is the blurb from The Alienst:

Step into another time-an unforgettable terror.  The year is 1896.  The city is New York.  The hunt is on for a baffling new kind of criminal . . . a serial killer.

This story takes place less than a decade after Jack the Ripper.  Criminology was at its infancy, so these aliensts (experts in the minds of those alienated from society) are forced to go to the gruesome crime scenes in order to get into the killer’s mind.  It created a perfect setting to dissect what makes a person evil.  Whole chapters were devoted to these characters discussing their theories and what they thought the killer would do next.  I was amazed that a 500 page book with so much talking had me turning the pages for hours until I finished.

4. Lee Child-The ultimate escapist fiction.  Child’s series stars Jack Reacher, an ex MP that’s done being told what to do and wants to be left alone.  He travels from place to place with only the clothes on his back and a toothbrush.  Here’s the problem; he has a strong moral code and can’t turn away from a person in need.  Without diminishing Child’s talent, this is the basic of premise of every book and after fifteen adventures, I can’t wait for the next one.

5. Janet Evanovich- The Stephanie Plum series have all the things I look for in a story.  Colorful characters, snappy dialogue, laughs and a good mystery.  I learned a lot about supporting characters because they’re written so well and full of life, they could be stars of their own books.

6. James Cameron- My first James Cameron movie was Aliens.  I was pretty young, but I was one of those weirdo kids that didn’t get nightmares about this stuff.  The story totally mesmerized me, of course because of the action, but also the connection between Ripley and Newt.  I try to think about the story without that element and it becomes a movie without substance.  In watching other movies I saw that element pop up again and again  and I realized that and not the action was what I was responding to.

7. Michael Crichton- This may sound strange, but aside from loving his books, the bibliographies were just as impressive.  Crichton didn’t pump out multiple books a year.  The usual wait was more like three.  As a kid in school, this really opened my eyes as to how much work goes into telling a great story.  Of course, not every story needs that much research, but part of the process does take preparation.

8. Iris Chang- I’ve read one book by this author and I may never read it again.  It’s called The Rape of Nanking and is the true story of the Japanese invasion of a small town in Nanking around the time of World War II.  Chang describes this massacre as a metaphor for unspeakable evil, but her skill isn’t in retelling the atrocities.  Instead she gives the reader a clear picture of the events leading up to them and also talks about the heroic missionaries that could’ve escaped, but stayed behind to protect the Chinese.  An amazing book about good and evil that completely altered the way I imagine heroes and villains for my fiction.

9. Donna Boyd- Another werewolf series find and one that always seemed unfinished after only two books.  These are also the first romance books I ever read, but since they’re tragic love stories I don’t know if they really fit in that genre.  In a nutshell the wraparound story of both books involves the murders of prominent werewolves that may spark a war with the humans.  The main stories go to past and shed light on what might’ve lead to the murders.  Despite the paranormal aspect, the love stories were so human that I really felt for what the characters were going through.  Other stories have come along with similar aspects, but you know, you never forget your first.

10. Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child- No matter where these books take place I feel like I’m going on a big adventure.  The first book, Relic, introduces you to a bunch of characters that have popped up here and there in later books.  Recently, they’ve concentrated on Sherlockish detective Pendergast.  I always increase my vocabulary reading their books because they literally know the specific word for everything.  It’s not a destructive fire, it’s a conflagration.  It’s not a large roof in front of an entrance, it’s a porte cochere.  They’re also very good at mixing dialogue and action so the characters hardly ever have to say, intone, ask, explain etc.

11. Robert Kirkman- Now that The Walking Dead is such a hit, Robert Kirkman is getting pretty well known as the zombie guy.  What isn’t known unless you’re a comic book fan is that he writes three other, very different books and is constantly coming up with more ideas.  Not all of them stick, but that doesn’t stop him from pumping them out.  A big inspiration to keep writing and to push myself to come up with fresh ideas.

12. Erik Larsen- Unlike Kirkman, Larsen puts all his energy into one comic book, The Savage Dragon.  It’s been around since 1992 and the reason I still read it is because I never know what’s coming next.  This book has thousands upon thousands of characters and none of them are safe.  That’s how he keeps it fresh.  That’s why it’s so much fun.

13. Brian K. Vaughan- I’m a fan of a lot his work, one of the coolest ones was a comic series called The Runaways. It’s about a group of kids that find out they have superpowers at the same time they find out their parents are a group of very powerful super villains.  That’s a small piece of what the bigger story is, which is typical of his work.  So, I guess this is an extension of what I’ve talked about already, but still worth checking out.

14. Stephen King- I’ve learned so much about pacing reading his books.  Especially in his longer works, the emphasis is placed on the slow build. The characters and their motivations are dissected to the point that you understand everything about them.  This in no way makes for a boring story.  Another lesson in the importance of strong characters and letting the story take it’s time to get to the climax.

15. Stan Lee- Seeing the man behind Marvel comics now as this larger than life almost cartoonish guy, it’s easy to forget he created some of the most iconic characters.  Between Marvel and DC, I’m a Marvel guy and that’s because I can’t connect as well with DC characters as I do with Marvel.  Spider-Man saves the world daily and can barely make rent.  The X-Men have all the amazing powers kids dream of and the world hates them.  That’s the important stuff, not where they got their powers.  As long as there was a vat of chemicals or a radioactive creature nearby, he was good to go.

So that’s my list, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida version.  What do you think and what’s yours?  If you decide to blog about it, leave the link in the comments so I can check it out.

8 comments on “Something Fun Before the Holidays

  1. Lee Child totally rocks. I’ve only read a few books in that series, and it’s one of those I would love to keep reading until I figure out all the reason why he, and Jack, are so awesome. One thing that jumps out at me: most books with that much thoughtologue are fail. Reacher spends a lot of time thinking, about things from his past, about the events before him, and about what he’s going to do about them. But it’s never boring, and it never feels like you’re being pulled out of the story for Reacher’s thoughts. Because Child rocks that way, and Reacher seems endlessly fascinating. Another thing I appreciate about them is that while Reacher is a love ’em and leave ’em character, the way he (and Child) think about and treat the female characters is always respectful. They’re not just two dimensional figures, thrown in just to be bedded in some wish-fullfilment ego-fest. That makes him one of the few male authors I’ve read and really enjoyed.

    • I love having someone new to talk Jack Reacher with! In light of you said about the female characters, I suggest Tripwire and Running Blind, in that order. In Tripwire Jack meets a female character he tries to have a relationship with that carries over into the next book. It was a cool storyline to go with all the action.

  2. I love many of the authors you mentioned! Your reading tastes are very similar to mine. I’m always glad to find another fan of Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Don’t you just love Pendergast?

    • I’m such a sucker for detective stories as my list shows. With the Pendergast mysteries, I feel like I get Sherlock Holmes plus The X-Files all in one. I wish Relic had been a more successful movie so we could’ve gotten more Pendergast.

      • My friend and I keep trying to figure out the perfect guy to play Pendergast in the movies. The best we’ve come up with so far is Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds. Of course, he would have to dye his hair. And maybe he’s a little too young…. LOL

        • I always like when unknowns are cast for those larger than life parts. That way you can totally focus on the actor’s performance. I can’t think of anyone who really looks like Pendergast, but since he’s such a complex character I’d trade a less than perfect likeness for an actor capable of nailing all his mannerisms.

  3. Great list! I love Joss Whedon and Stan Lee!!! I did a roundtable blog entry a while back that is sort of like this. Mine was: 3 Authors from my Childhood. The roundtable just means that I had two other writers chime in with me. Check it out if you’d like: http://jenniferxjoseph.com/jennsblog/2010/09/20/3-authors-from-my-childhood/

    • I checked out the roundtable. Good stuff in there. Spider-Man is a favorite too and I read it to this day because I still identify with the character. I hope, like you said, my writing will evoke the same reactions I had when I discovered reading.

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