Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thursday Thirteen

On Facebook my friend Becky, who writes Peevish Pen, had a list of influential authors "who will always stick with you" listed in a note. I thought it would make a great Thursday Thirteen! These are not necessarily in order of importance but I did find it interesting to see who came tumbling out for the list first, for they are listed in that order. Although I have read many of the classics, the names of those authors did not present themselves to me with any immediacy.

1. Carolyn Keene. Who? Why, the author of the Nancy Drew books! Mildred Benson wrote the first 23 of the first 25 books in the series, and then the name was taken over by ghost writers who cranked out mysteries that starred the motherless female detective and her friends George and Bess. At one time one my life's goals was to own every Nancy Drew book, but I only collected 25. The writing lessons I learned from these books included how to create empathy with a character and how to keep a plot moving forward.

2. Laura Ingalls Wilder. The author of the Little House series of books taught me how to use detail to "paint" a story and bring a time period to life. The history settings in these books allowed me to see that some things should be remembered.

3. L. M. Montgomery penned the Anne of Green Gables series. These adventures feature a young orphaned girl who is raised by a stern woman who grows to love her cheeky charge. I found the first book online in its entirety here!

4. Victoria Holt. I read my first Gothic romance when I was nine years old (far too young, but they were in the drawer in the babysitter's hallway desk - who could resist?). It was called The Secret Woman and it was full of intrigue, mystery, death, and a little sex. The book held me rapt for days and I have never forgotten the story line.

5. Annie Dillard. The author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a narrative nonfiction book that reads like poetry, was the subject of an independent study I undertook as an undergraduate at Hollins College. The book was an exercise in minutiae, detail and self-preservation and similar to something I could see myself writing - one day. I learned that there is value in every moment and that the finest and slightest detail can make a huge difference in perception. She also graduated from Hollins.

6. Walt Whitman. Studying Whitman's poems, most especially "Song of Myself," gave me shivers when I was in school. I love to read his work aloud and to this day find inspiration in his words. I have somewhere in a drawer a very longish poem that I wrote during the time I was studying this poet.

7. Sharon Olds. Her first collection of poems, Satan Says, made me gasp with recognition and understanding. Her later collections seemed almost (but not quite) a parallel of my life when I read them (The Gold Cell is another good collection). I heard her read at Roanoke College in the 1990s and you can hear her read one of her poems here. From this poet I learned that the stuff of life is infinitely important when written down with love, direction, and attention. If you're not familiar with her work, I highly recommend it.

8. Lee Smith. I have read many of her books, including Saving Grace, On Agate Hill, Family Linen, and Oral History. She is another Hollins College graduate but her fictional works are nothing like Dillard's introspective narrative. Smith tells stories of women who are searching for that undefined something. Sometimes they find it. Strong characters and good stories set in my locale taught me the value of writing what you know. I've seen Smith at Hollins several times over the last 20 years.

9. Janet Evanovich. The author of the mystery series about Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, taught me how humor can add to a story.

10. Phyllis Whitney. Another Gothic romance writer. I began reading her stories about the same time I began reading Victoria Holt. My first Whitney book was called Thunder Heights and like the Holt book it was one I found when I was looking where I shouldn't have been. I loved the idea of a female heroine who could outsmart the men and move on with her life, and I still love it. Additionally, Whitney's Guide to Fiction Writing is one of the best books on writing as craft that I have ever read and I keep it on my desk.

11. Jeanne Larsen and Amanda Cockrell. Okay, so these are two authors but they both were my professors at Hollins and left marks (in a good way). Jeanne, my undergraduate professor who mentored me in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is the author of the Silk Road series, which are mystical stories set in China, as well as many books of poetry. She taught me to believe in myself and to persevere, among other things. Amanda, my graduate professor who mentored me about seven years ago, is the author of several trilogies, including The Deer Dancer trilogy. She taught me to always look forward and to stay the course.  She also taught me that it is okay to write under a pseudonym and that you don't have to write the Great American Novel the first go-round. Both of these women have been among my greatest influences.

12. Dorothea Brande and Brenda Ueland. Obviously I cannot keep at 13 in this list. Brande's book, Becoming a Writer, struck at my heart as it hit all of the right notes with regards to the desire and need to write. Ueland's If You Want to Write did the same thing and offered encouragement to a fledgling writer at a critical time in my life.

13. J. K. Rowling. So I might have preferred a Henrietta Potter instead of a Harry, given my preference for female heroines in my reading, but no matter. The Harry Potter series taught me a great deal about epic story telling. In particular I have often found myself comparing the Potter books to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings because I see many similarities there. Both are good versus evil plots that also bring with them strong characters and much detail.

Looking back I find it interesting to note that aside from Whitman all of these authors are female. Whitman, as I recall, was rather feminine so perhaps this is no mistake. I also know there are many that I haven't listed - the Bronte' sisters, Mary Johnston, Tamara Pierce, Terry Goodkind, Barbara Michaels, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, a plethora of Newberry Award winning book authors whom I read when I was young, and many, many others. I am influenced somewhat by every book I read, I think, because one cannot be a writer and not learn from the good (or bad) writing of others.

Who are your favorite authors?

Thursday Thirteen is played by lots of people; there is a list here.  I've been playing for a while and this is my 164th time to do a list of 13 on a Thursday.


  1. Good list. I keep thinking of more and more authors who have inspired me.

  2. Natalie Goldberg is high on my list. She writes poetry too. I have not read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek but want to. I read Dillard's memoir and LOVED her writing, although her upbringing (kind of upper middle class wasp)was foreign to me.

  3. Interesting list. Thanks for sharing.

    THe Food Temptress

  4. I am familiar with at least half the authors on your list, and a few of them wait patiently in the TBR pile for me to discover. We read Dilliard's A Writing Life in a college English class, and I recently found four of Whitney's books in a TBR bin, never been read, and no idea how I came into posession of them. So many books, so little time...

  5. I absolutely loved the Harry Potter books right up until that last one. Then I was horribly disappointed.

  6. Great list. some of my fav's!

    Have a great day!

  7. Great list, although I wasn't familiar with a couple of the writers in the middle. I've been talking about Victoria Holt recently because she was such a huge influence on me. My recent historical release, The Spurned Viscountess has gothic elements because of my love of Victoria Holt.

  8. I was just thinking the other evening how much I enjoyed the Little House series and that I should read it again. I will have to check some of these other authors out!

    Happy Thursday!

  9. Good recommendations...thanks!

  10. I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't read any of those authors! Well, actually I've just started reading the Little House series. I'm still on the first book. Kelly finished them all already. Kids are better at everything.

    Some of my favorite authors are Bobbie Ann Mason, Carolyn Chute, Mona Simpson, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Andre Dubus, Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Allison, Ann Beattie, Anne Tyler, Alice McDermott, George Orwell. Oh, I could go on and on. Now I feel like reading something.

  11. Love your list! My special likes there are nos. 2,3 and 6. Oh show us your Whitman-inspired poem :)

  12. I absolutely positively without-a-doubt loved Nancy Drew novels growing up. What a wonderfully empowering series for a girl to be reading!

    My favorite author, hands down, is Piers Anthony. He has so many genres to choose from that I almost never get bored. :)


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