Every creative tinkerer has artistic influences, both positive and negative, which help shape and define her work. I am no exception. In fiction, I look to several different authors for guidance when I write. Consequently, I chose a list of the top ten books which have changed my life and/or my writing in some specific way. Some of my influences are quite mainstream while others are more controversial. Strangely enough, some books on my list were once cause for controversy but now seem quite bland, while others that were once deemed standard fare are now widely criticized. I’m not sure what that says about the books or about me. Maybe it simply means that great literature is bound to irritate someone.
In any event, I have listed each book in the order I read it as well as the reasons why each holds such high impact for me. Because this discussion is so long, I’ve split it in half. Five books will appear this week and five will come next week. I hope you enjoy my selections, or, at the very least, that they provide you with an interesting new perspective on literature.
The Bible by God through various authors
The Bible is one of those rare books that I read constantly. I find that its stories of love, loss, sorrow, perseverance, faith, and joy constantly encourage and inspire me. Since I grew up in a Christian home, this was one of the first books ever introduced to me. I was taught basic stories from this book as a child to help me understand the value of living a wise and honorable life. As a teenager and adult, I began reading the full versions of those childhood stories and many others for myself. I cannot adequately describe how much my life changed once I recognized that Jesus Christ was the missing person that filled the void in my life. That first glimpse of true love and my deepening friendship with Jesus ever since then have been the two most amazing, fulfilling experiences I’ve ever known.
The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson
I was a terrible reader as a child, and so I hated books. To help alleviate my frustration, my parents enrolled me in special education classes to boost my reading skills and my confidence. During my homework hours, Dad would read my textbooks aloud as I followed along while Mom corrected my English papers side by side with me. The combination of those three things vastly improved my reading and writing abilities, however, it was my dad’s decision to read novels aloud to the family during our vacations that finally changed my attitude toward books. The Dragon and the George was the first fantasy fiction novel Dad had ever read to me and it made quite an impression. For the first time in my memory, I wanted to read a story. With this book and those in the series after it, reading ceased to be a chore and became an adventure.
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
I had read many books in McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series before I picked up Dragonsong, but something about this book’s main character Menolly grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. It was the first time I had ever encountered a character that I could really relate to despite the fact that we came from completely different worlds and family backgrounds. This story made me want to write a book of my own. In fact, my very first character, Lauraisha, was somewhat inspired by Menolly.
This Present Darkness by Frank E. Peretti
Peretti’s work influenced me in a couple of different ways. First, This Present Darkness, was the first fiction book that I’d ever read dealing directly with the sensitive subject of spiritual warfare. Namely, the book posed the ideas that God and Satan do indeed both exist, and that their respective allies, angels and demons, battle daily for control of humans’ lives. It certainly wasn’t a new concept when Peretti penned it, but the gritty way in which he depicted this hidden war seemed the most accurate of any portrayal I’d yet discovered on the subject. Much of the Christian literature I’d read up to that point was fluffy and sentimental, which in no way depicted my own walk with Christ. It quite was refreshing to read something that felt real for a change.
Secondly, Peretti was the first author I had ever known who didn’t always kill off his bad guys. His antagonists did indeed get punished for their heinous crimes, but they didn’t always die. Interestingly enough, there were times as I read one of his later books that I actually felt bitter sorrow when a specific antagonist did die. It’s a rare writer who can provoke that level of empathy in me toward a character I’m rooting against.
The Tragedy of Puddin’ Head Wilson by Mark Twain
While Puddin’ Head Wilson is one of Mark Twain’s lesser-known works, it’s impact on me was even more significant than other books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Mark Twain was an astute student of the foibles of human nature and I loved the way he used his dry wit and thinly veiled cynicism to lay it bare. While Twain’s writing style proved weaker in Puddin’ Head Wilson compared to Tom Sawyer, his use of a fiction story to call attention to the social injustice and absurdity of slavery in America was absolutely brilliant. While it wasn’t the first time I had seen an author make an overt political statement through fiction, Twain’s lambasting of slavery remains one of the most entertaining.
Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!