The question came up in a writing group: who are your influences?

And being writers and overthinking everything (it’s what we do!), the question mutated to cover stories that made you think, even if your thoughts ended in a completely different direction than the author intended. And again, to cover authors you hated, whose influence lies more in the direction of spite books: “I can do better than you messed that up!”

I’m going to ask you not to list the last, because spewing hatred, bitterness, and vitriol neither encourages nor makes the world a better place. Not that stubbornness and spite can’t make the world sweeter, though… ask anyone who’s tried making maple syrup at home!

When I was a kid, Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources didn’t care if you lived in state or out; they’d send a newsletter focused on geology, ecology, biomes, habitats and the lands and laws local to the state, with a lot of in-depth articles written at mostly-layman level, with line-drawing illustrations. I remember looking forward to the odd texture and colour of the newsletter (recycled paper, heavier bond than copy paper) in the mailbox.

Combine that with such fantastic possibilities as Jack Vance’s Blue World, and Larry Niven’s The Integral Trees, and yes, you find me sitting down with friends who are geologists and water law specialists (you have to understand your ecosystem, including the history on the geological scale, to understand the law and its impact) and biologists and… and bouncing ecosystem ideas off them, right down to “What trophic levels do you need in order to sustain predatory fish like cod or yellowfin tuna?” And I get people telling me that the world doesn’t need that level of research, but I also get people telling me that my worlds actually feel real, and they really enjoy that.

Yes, even that guy who checked my math and had to tell me that he knew where in the solar system I’d pulled my crater from, and I was right, it was large enough to form the weather systems I’d given it. (I know! I did the math too, which was a special hell for a dyslexic like me! But I wanted to make sure it would be right, and I had someone who’s far better at math than me check it!) …You know, on the balance, if he was motivated enough to check my math, then that means he liked it enough to do so. Yay for that, eh? Jim Curtis tells me he has had fans who’ve actually gone and recreated shots from his Grey Man series, and emailed him to say that they were possible, so I’m not alone! Though I am perhaps feeling a fair amount of pressure to make sure that any profession heavily featured in the books can be read with pleasure by members of that profession.

Speaking of friends, yes, you’ve not seen the unpublishable early fiction (and pray G-d you never will), but yes, after enough years of being married to Peter and hanging with the gang, more has sunk in than the stray u’s that have crept into my accent and my spelling; there’s less fish & wildlife & customs & cops in it, and more military.
(Peter once said to me with a fair amount of puzzlement, “Why do you use the Napoleonic-era spelling of amoung? It’s not wrong, just archaic, but…”
I blinked at him until the question penetrated a brain lacking in caffeine and sleep, and said “Ah! Was I spelling things phonetically and dyslexically in the rest of the email, too?”
He nodded, and replied, “Lack of coffee, that’s why. I love you.”)

Sitting down over a tagine with a table full of friends, and being the only person there who hasn’t done an arms deal in a souk, will eventually rub off on my subconscious and influence my fiction. It also means I have the best alpha-readers I could dream of when it comes to small-group actions… although when I mention to someone whose career was in anti-submarine warfare that I’m researching magnetotellurics, I have only myself to blame for the firehose of information forthcoming.

What, you thought I was going to start listing books? Perhaps I should. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was in a small town and extremely bored, broke, and years from being posessed of a driver’s license or car. So I set myself the project of reading every single library book in the entire adult scifi and fantasy section, even if the cover and blurb didn’t appeal.* This was long enough ago, many were the DAW yellow spine on the pocket-sized pocket books, and a number were Ace doubles. (Which, come to think of it, may have influenced the way I view 50K as a perfectly good length of story to write, even as I’m surrounded by people who think novels should be 100-120K.)

Do I remember most of the titles? No, but that doesn’t mean no few characters and concepts stuck with me. I also developed both a deep fondness for Luis Royo’s work and the sad realization that no matter how much I liked his cover art, I inevitably hated the book so covered. (Later in life when a serious wine aficionado told me, “The cuter the label or bottle, the worse the wine.”, I would nod sadly, and say “Luis Royo covers on paperbacks are exactly the same. Michael Whelan not so much, but Royo? The more I like the cover art, the worse the book inside.” and sigh in commiseration.)

Influences? My Magic: the Gathering cards were organized alphabetically. By the last name of the artist. Yes, I was that goth. That, too, like Michael Whelan and Luis Royo, Boris Vallejo, Bev Doolittle, and Wyland shows up in my worldbuilding. How about you?

*The librarian let me into the adult section after I complained, “But I’ve read the entire kid’s section!” And she pulled up my checkout card file and realized I had started methodically from the upper right corner by the checkout desk and worked my way to the lower left corner of the other side of the room, including all the picture books for completion’s sake. Nancy Drew books get really repetitive after 15th one. Would my life have been different if I’d started on the classics instead when I got into the adult section? Probably, but mom was pushing me to read those as “good for me”, so I read the SciFi & Fantasy section in stubborn rebellion instead. You’d be amazed how many concepts and history I picked up anyway from old SF&F, though my Calmer Half laughed when I told him I finally read Xenophon only to realize Anabasis was March Upcountry set in the past.)

13 thoughts on “Influences

  1. I grew up reading my mother’s books, mostly, which fell mostly into two groups; books of poetry that her mother had given her, but my mother had never read, and 1960s New Wave SF that my mother bought to look cool in college and outrage her mother, but which my mother had also never read.

    So I ended up being influenced by a mixture of Dick and Dickenson, while missing out on a lot of what people both in the mainstream and in genre fiction would consider The Classics.

  2. Classic sci-fi, classic fantasy, and military history, because that’s what Dad had around. And medical history, and some travel, and biology and natural history, because of Fontanelle Forest park, which was where my parents would unleash Sib and I when we needed to burn off energy (that or Desoto Bend. The forest was closer.) I found the Horseclans books at the public library and devoured them, along with other pulps, at the same time that I collected Dr. Who novelizations (of which I still have almost a hundred). But I bounced around. So I’d be re-reading C. S. Forester _The Good Shepherd_ and then _The Blue Sword_ and _Hero and the Crown_ and Rudyard Kipling or Talbot Mundy and then Capstick, and then McCaffrey and David Drake and Pournelle and Stirling and . . . .

    And people wonder why I”m strange.

  3. My early influences … a lot of late Victorian classical kid-lit. Alice in Wonderland, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows”, and A Child’s Garden of Verses, Little Women and other books by Louisa May Alcott. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. And weirdly enough, my parents had a copy of Osbert Lanchester’s “Here of All Places” which permanently warped my sense of humor in the direction of dry and wry. Then later on – novels like Robert Louis Taylor’s Travels of Jaimie McPheeters … which probably put me in mind of writing letters in the voice of various characters.

    1. Favorite quote from Farmer Boy: “We didn’t use ALL the sugar”; it’s my kids favorite Wilder book.

  4. You know, on the balance, if he was motivated enough to check my math, then that means he liked it enough to do so.

    :glees: Yes, you definitely did good,then.
    “Hey, this is a really cool idea…huh…. would it work?
    *checks it out*
    *then actually goes and has a nifty-fit at author because it worked*

  5. We had a few books at home but very few because there wasn’t any money to buy them. The library was a Godsend, both public and school. I read everything that looked even remotely interesting. I read our Worldbook encyclopedia.
    When I could start buying my own paperbacks (babysitting money) I bought all of Andre Norton. I loved her books.

    Right now I’m reading Peter Dickinson, because I got lucky at Cupboard Maker Books and picked up a stack.
    If you want a really offbeat mystery, Peter Dickinson is your writer. The Green Gene or Poison Oracle are like… well, not much like anything else.

  6. Kids today don’t know how meagre the offerings in SF and fantasy used to be in libraries. . . .

    There were also the fairy tale collections. Lang’s were big, but there were plenty.

  7. Influences. Hmm.
    Positive influences, classic SciFi by Fred Saberhagen, James H. Schmitz, Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Yngvi is a louse!!!), Tolkien, and lately Larry Correia. Obviously others, because I’ve read endlessly for many years, from the 1960s until ~2012.

    Other positive influences, anime and pre-1992 comic books. I love me some over-powered protagonists with some G-rated harem confusion for the romance part. Examples this year, “That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime”, “Sword Art Online”, and similar. Sucked into another dimension and turned loose with massive powers to save the world from evil, what’s not fun about that? I love that!

    Negative influences, just going to mention Scalzi [spit], Ian Banks and Charles Stross being the proximate cause of me ditching reading circa 2012-ish and writing instead. Bank’s last book contained a lot of screechy, jarring preaching that should have been edited out, disappointing from a formerly great author. Stross vanished down the Woke ™ rabbit hole about 2011 and hasn’t been seen since, and of course then there was “Little Fuzzy.” What a friggin’ travesty. I read those things and I just couldn’t be assed to read anything more from Dead Tree. It was all the same dreck, exemplified and crystallized by those three. The last ten years they’ve just accelerated and made explicit what was happening kind of under the table in the 2000’s.

    Other negative influences, all Hollywood SF since ~2003 that wasn’t Marvel, and Marvel/DC comics since 1992. Its ugly, screechy/preachy SJW trash, and I hate it.

    I Can Do Better, and by Jimminy Cricket’s little yellow spats, I have. ~:D

    1. Upon re-reading I see there was a -not- in that sentence. The one about -not- listing those negative influences? Yeah. [sigh.] Selective reading for the win. ~:(

  8. Still reading and learning, when I get time…
    Growing up, my parents had no TV, and lots of books. My father read to us every night, so I lot of books (including TLOTR) I first heard, and read later. Plus, of course, I went through the school libraries, and we’d go to the local library, although I certainly didn’t read everything there.

    I read widely, including fiction, history, military (Naval stuff first, then aviation – since my gram pa was a pilot, I was up in Cessna 172’s way before I was in a jet), theology, philosophy, mythology, and computers. On the fiction side, a wide variety plus science fiction (including genre space opera – can’t remember the authors), a lot of fantasy (the ones I remember: Tolkien, Lewis, McKillip, McCaffery, Lloyd Alexander), some mystery (Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes) but no romance.

    In college, I was tried to study in the library, but (for good or bad) the library had open stacks, so I was easily distracted. After college was when I really got into classics (Jane Austen!), Wodehouse, and mystery (Victorian, Christie, Marsh, Sawyers, Stout, Chandler), and Calvin & Hobbes. In the past few years, I’ve added fairy tales.

    All this reading hasn’t had an impact on my writing since so far I’ve only written a couple of technical manuals, but the love of learning has helped in at work.

  9. Man, I loved those Ace Doubles! I would ask my older sister to check them out of the high school library until I finally got old enough to go there myself and check them out. Pretty much all of the older SF authors mentioned by the other commenters were ones that I read and usually enjoyed. I also liked the “Rick Brant Adventures Book Series”, but never got to read all of them when I was a teen – just a few here and there. I really wanted to be Rick, and have those adventures – much more so than wanting to be the Hardy Boys.

    Thanks everyone for bringing back good memories of books read long ago.

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