March 8, 2009

25 Authors

Bull tagged me with the 25 Authors meme. The point is to list 25 authors that have most influenced my writing.

Bull has been doing some of these meemz lately, except he sometimes breaks them into multiple posts. I think it's a great idea to just use these suggestions as inspirations for blog posts. So, here's my own treatment of the subject: "some authors who have influenced me and my writing."

I used to read a lot, and I used to write a lot more different stuff. Not so much lately. But I think it'll be fun to tell you about some of my influences. I don't know if I'll get to 25. A list of "best authors" might be slightly different (though with lots of overlap) because these are chosen more for their influence on my thinking. For good or ill.

Stephen King: He knows a ton about writing, and his use of characters shows how much he knows about people. I read all of his books up through my college years, so he was a big influence. One thing that I took away from him was the power of specific examples; as my poetry teacher would say "'Maxwell House' says something different than just mentioning coffee."

Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson: I read The Illuminatus Trilogy in college and it prompted me to start writing a lot of goofy stuff with my good friend Chuck. This eventually led to us writing for the school newspaper, and I probably became closer friends with Julie as a result. The book is mainly about conspiracies, which didn't make me paranoid, but did make me want to write goofy stuff.

Frank Herbert: Out of any fiction, I think the Dune series was the most influential on my thinking in my early teen years, and so probably also influenced my writing in important ways. While other folks I knew were getting into Tolkien and hobbits, elves and such, I was fascinated by the politics and intrigue of the Atreides and Harkonnen families. Hebert's writing opened my mind to all sorts of possibilities about other people's ulterior motives. I was a pretty naive kid, and Dune made me think about just how naive I was.

Richard Feynman: An inspiring writer, physicist, and curious mind. The story of his life was fascinating to me and made me certain I wanted to work in science. Every kid should read Feynman's autobiography, not only for the science inspiration. In writing, Feynman's wife's question is one I have often reminded myself of: "What do you care what other people think?"

Carl Sagan: His writing popularized science. He has influenced me into thinking that when I know something, I should write to tell other people about it.

Martin Gardner: Wrote many columns for Scientific American about mathematics and puzzles. When I was at the age where I started picking up copies of SciAm, I was also really interested in ghosts, ESP, UFOs, possession, and other crazy stuff. Gardner's writings on skepticism finally gave me a larger, sensible context to put these into perspective. He, and other skeptics, were asking the questions that I always wondered "why don't people ask these questions." They did; it's just that the popular writers on the paranormal didn't want you to hear those questions!

Donald Westlake: If I had read Donald Westlake early in college, I'm sure I would have decided I wanted to write goofy crime stories about down-on-their luck criminals. The recently-deceased Westlake was a treasure, and he crossed genres. But my favorite of his stores (aside from his screenplay work on The Grifters) are his Dortmunder books. His rich and amusing characters are classics, and make me wish I could create some characters who would stick in the minds of readers.

I'm not much of a writer, but I do feel I've been influenced by a lot of authors. I'll do the rest in an abbreviated list form, for time's sake.

  • Kurt Vonnegut (for his amazing imagination)
  • Donald Norman (for his writing on design)
  • David Sklansky (for stimulating my interest in poker which inspired the title of this blog)
  • David Macaulay (for explaining things with words and illustrations, reminding me that writing is more than words)
  • Michael Shaara (for The Killer Angels which I completed reading as we entered the Gettysburg battlefield. It was a transforming experience.)
  • Clifford Ashley (for The Ashley Book of Knots which I have spent countless hours with. He encourages me to write "how to" posts on my blog.)
  • Doug Cooper (for Oh! Pascal! which solidified my decision to switch to Computer Science from EE)
  • Patrick O'Brian (for general awesomeness)
  • Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan (for changing the way I look at food)
  • Ron Rosenbaum (for Travels With Doctor Death -- a collection of articles he wrote for Vanity Fair, New Republic and NYT. First excited me about the idea of journalism writing)
  • Hunter S. Thompson (for, obviously, the idea of Gonzo journalism and that "sometimes fiction is the best fact." If I were to blog full-time, I think I would blog as a Gonzo journalist. When I eat spam for my blog, I am thinking of Hunter S. Thompson. Sad, isn't it?)
  • Orson Scott Card (for the Ender series. What young boy who read Ender's Game was not influenced by it?)
  • Harper Lee (for To Kill a Mockingbird. I wish I could be more like Atticus Finch, but I got to Mockingbird too late; I'd already read Dune.)
  • J.D. Salinger (I didn't read Catcher in the Rye early, like many people did, but I did read Nine Stories in school, and "The Laughing Man" was a big influence on my love of absurdity.)

How many is that? Whatever the number, I think it's probably enough.

Posted by James at March 8, 2009 3:24 PM
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Great list...I forgot about how much you were into Dune waaaaay back when...and MAN did I love the Illuminatus Trilogy...Ewige Blumenkraft und ewige Schlangenkraft

Posted by: Bull at March 8, 2009 9:43 PM

I bought Illuminatus about 15 years ago. One of these days, maybe I'll read it!

Posted by: Julie at March 9, 2009 10:16 AM

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