Monday, February 14, 2011

You are what you read.

Every published author’s blog/journal/website I have ever read usually has an FAQ, and on that FAQ is usually the question “Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?” and I swear on everyone the answer is “read”. Read what you like, read what you don’t like, read in the genre you want to get published in, read stuff completely different from your own, it doesn’t really matter what just read, read, read! and as an avid reader ( as one who reads about 50 books a year, more if I have a lot of free time and don’t want to socialize) and aspiring author I completely agree. I believe books can change lives, but they can also change your writing.

I was not always into reading; actually it was something I kind of avoided. I didn’t used to think books could be that engaging or entertaining. My friends would wax poetic about books we were assigned for class/books they picked up. And I just didn’t care. I found nothing special about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or whatever we had to read that month. Sure I had read a read a few things that I liked and I was reading Harry Potter with all of my friends, but that didn’t even click with me till number 4. But I never LOVED a book. But I can pin point the book that changed my life, I know without a doubt that without this one book I would have never become obsessed with writing or reading for that matter. And thinking about that book made me want to write this post. Not to tell you every book I have ever read that changed my life but to pick out the special ones and talk not only about how they changed my life but also how they changed my writing. In order, the 4 most influential books in my life so far.

1: Tithe by Holly Black (2002)
What it did for me:
I can remember the day I found this book so perfectly. My parents were on the cusp of getting a divorce (that happened a year later) I was spending some time with my dad and he took me to the library and told me to pick out two books to read. I was not thrilled about the idea, but I figured worse comes to worse I don’t read them and I return them. Whatever. (I was a surly and jaded 16, perhaps why I liked Kaye so much now that I think about it.)And Tithe was on display, in the new release section or the staff recommendation section, and it glared at me. Actually I hated the cover. I thought it was hideous. And I made a point of not picking it up. Yes I thought the original cover that ugly (the paperback cover was beautiful however, and even the new paperback covers are not horrid). But it kept staring at me. Like it knew something I didn’t.
Finally my time was running out and I had yet to find a second book. So despite myself I picked up Tithe and read the synopsis.  Still not sold I put it down. Wondered around. Came back to it. Left it again. Came back. Finally my dad came and found me and said we had to go, so I grabbed it just to make him happy. I didn’t want him to think his efforts wasted or me ungrateful.
And to make a long story short, I read it eventually and I was in love. A love so deep and powerful my dad literally had to rip the book from my hands so he could return it (ironically, I still have the library copy of the other book I picked up that day, Sirena by  Donna Jo Napoli). Never before had a book spoken to me so deeply, seemed so real. It was not a book that pretended everything was ok, no the world is a messed up place and just because you are the MC does not mean that you are free from pain. Bad things happen to everyone and there is no way to hide from them, but if you are strong you can weather the bad stuff and come out stronger on the other side.  The good are not always good just cuz they are supposed to be and the bad are not always bad; there is a lot of gray in the world. And that is how my life felt right then. I will always love Holly Black for this book and changing my life. She opened a door I had closed, and over the next few years I would need a lot of books to make it through the shit storm that became my life.

What it did for my writing:
The truth hurts, the real world sucks, but you can still find beauty in it. Holly Black taught me that in my own writing I don’t have to pull punches. I can tell the nitty gritty truth and it can be beautiful. Also it taught me that I can set a fantasy book in the real world, that I don’t have to invent someplace magical for magic to happen because it is happening all around me all the time.  Also characters go through the same things that I do, they feel the same things I feel, they can be real people. That they NEED to be real in order to matter.

2: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (2002+)
What it did for me:
Ok like most people HP changed my life, I became obsessed, a crazy fan girl, it was something for me and my friends to bond over. Sure I eventually grew disenchanted with the whole thing but I can still respect that HP became a great escape for me and I will be ever grateful for that.

What it did for my writing:
You could ask anyone of my high school friends, I hated Harry Potter the character. I hated him. I loved the adult characters and I loved the world. But for any of the main cast I could care less. I didn’t like their characters, but I loved their world. The world is want drew me in JKR did an amazing job of creating a wonderful world that I could get lost in. and in fact I did. I began to RP in the Harry potter world. Lisa Turpin, Pansy Parkinson, Theodore Nott, I loved exploring characters that did not really make into the books for any extended period of time, I loved being able to create characters that already had a defined world. I met an amazing writing partner through HP RP, and to this day we still write together, though now we write original stuff together. And without HP I would have never have found  my love for writing again.

3: The Songs of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce (2003)
What it did for me: 
ok, just to say that just SotL changed my life would be a little bit of a lie, it was all of her Tortall books that did it for me. But started with SotL, and to this day SotL is still my favorite. I was sort of strong armed into reading this by one of my oldest friends and I am forever grateful. I just loved Alanna, and could relate to her (as a redhead with a short temper who hates bugs and cold, I mean come on!) but what I loved most was he struggle. Nothing was ever given to her and she had to work for her dream. I liked that. It seemed to me that to often MC’s just seemed to be able to do things, born with gifts that they just knew how to wield to win the prize. Even her magic she had to work at. But she also had great friends to support her and I think in a way Tamora taught me to have friends and to be a good friend. 

What it did for my writing:
If there is one thing I think Tamora knows it is Tortall, her world, and her books taught me the importance of knowing your world, knowing the laws and govern the people and the land.  She also taught me the importance of character relationships, and that characters need people they can lean on sometimes or at least people to offer to help even if the MC won’t accept it. She also taught me the importance of names, especially pet/animal names.  And that bad names can break a book. I love you Tamora, I would consider you my favorite author but I cannot stand how you name animals. Your character names are fine, but ever animal seems to have been named by a 5 year old girl and it kind of drives me insane.

4: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (2005)
What it did for me:  
 I am sure this book saved my life.  And I do not say that lightly, I was in a very dark place when I read this book.  And there where so many quotes from this book that I could have sworn were written just for me. Something about Victorian girls trapped by society norms but longing for more, longing for magic, longing to be free touched me. But when I was depressed, on the verge of doing something drastic it was Libba words that spoke to me, that stayed my hand.
“But forgiveness... I'll hold on to that fragile slice of hope and keep it close, remembering that in each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We're each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real. We've got to forgive ourselves that. I must remember to forgive myself. Because there is an awful lot of gray to work with. And no one can live in the light all the time.
The wind shifts, bringing with it the smell of roses, strong and sweet. Across the ravine, I see her in the dry crackle of leaves. A deer. She spies me and bolts through the trees. I run after her, not really giving chase. I'm running because I can, because I must.
Because I want to see how far I can go before I have to stop.”

What it did for my writing:
It taught me that words can be beautiful. That words can change lives and speak to the soul. That you need to take care with your words for they can make or break you.  They can make or break your audience.

And that is not to say that only these 4 books have changed my life or my writing (really I could list about 30 books but that seemed a little long for this post) but these are the 4 that had the deepest impact in both areas.

What books have changed your life?  What books have changed your writing?


  1. Thanks for the glimpse into how reading has influenced your writing. I recently finished Les Edgerton's HOOKED, and he said that he always has at least 30 other novels open when he's writing, so he can see how others approached a particular situation. Since reading his advice, I've started paying much more attention to the actual writing when I read (and marking pages I think might be helpful at some point). Thanks for signing up for my blogfest!

  2. Hey there fellow Crusader, I'm stopping by to follow. I really loved Libba Bray's series as well. Wow.

  3. Tithe was an amazing book. Holly Black is a truly talented writer. Have you read any of her other books?

    Harry Potter rocks my socks. Today is actually Ron's birthday (I know you probably don't care as you said the biggest thing for you was the world, I just like being able to remember that kind of thing).

  4. I've read the three from the Tithe world, the first two spiderwick and white cat ^.^ I actually got to meet her once at a signing for spriderwick (so I was the only one in the audience over 11) she is amazing, I love her.

    And I swear I have forgotten more about the HP world then most people know, I remember Ron was a Pisces but I forgot the exact date. and I liked Ron, it was HP himself that I despised ^.^