Friday, September 11, 2009

5 Novels That Shaped My Writing Voice

These are not influences on what I write so much as how to write, I don't claim to write like anyone here so much as they influenced my thoughts on voice, technique, and what I hope to accomplish as a writer.

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
I read a lot in the blogs lately about people not liking Hemingway,(Prusso excepted) I used to not like Hemingway but that was back in High School when I was forced to read the Old Man and the Sea. I hated it because I was force-fed all this gibber
ish about what it really meant and I couldn't have cared less. Years later I found quotes by Hemingway that there was NO ALLEGORY to it, that the old man was just an old man, the sea was just the sea, the fish was just a fish and the sharks were just sharks and anyone who thought otherwise was full of $h%T. Man I wish I had that back in Mr. Grant's sophomore English class. I decided years later to try my hand at reading classics and I chose "The Sun Also Rises" and I really liked it and found I had better re-think Hemingway. I read a lot of his other stuff some better than others and found "A Moveable Feast" really spoke to me and influenced how I would write, at least when it came to thinking about how to write and interpret a natural true dialogue. Most of W. Prusso's Hemingway blog post from a few days ago is taken from Hemingway's writing advice within "A Moveable Feast".
The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Yes, I love all of his other stuff as well, but not even LOTR's has the same farreaching epic quality of this fantasy bible. I completely give that some of the parts are difficult to follow but among them are so many gems to be mined when it comes to dealing with human nature even if its an elf, dragon or dwarf. As a huge history buff, this book fascinated me in relation to the Hobbit and LOTR and all that entails. I don't expect that this would be on many other peoples list's in comparison but because of the depth behind the more beloved stories this meant a lot to me. I was also very pleased when The Children of Hurin was released because it just meant a greater depth to a great tale from the Silmarillion.

Conan the Usurper, by Robert E. Howard

This wasn't actually a book by REH so much as a compilation of his short stories put together some 30 years after his death but still it's relatively his prose even if it was edited with a heavy hand and strung together. It contains the earliest of Conan stories written by Robert E. Howard alongside some of the last. It was put together for the chronological sake however. Reading these fantasy tales written in the 30's by a true American master had me re-think how to present action stories period. I have to credit REH as my biggest writing style influence for Heroes Of The Fallen.

The Iliad, by Homer
There is something about the translations I have read or listened to (I have the audio for this as well) that makes it such a savage joy for me. The heroic nature of men speaking with one another and the beautiful poetic lyricism describing how men die is like nothing I have ever read. I love the Odyssey and the Aeneid as well but I can't say that they shaped how I want to write like the Iliad does. Someday I want to write my own tragic battle tale and no not even Heroes of the Fallen is going to be like these others, I am thinking on the Jaredites, specifically Coriantumr, Shiz and Ether and would probably make it a stand alone book rather than a series.

Wolverine, Comics from about issue 31 to 109, by Larry Hama
This is probably rather unorthodox but I imagine to list a comic book writer as a major influence for someone who would like to think they are literary, but I
practically learned to read on comic books. Larry Hama has had a rather distinguished career in the field having helmed G.I.Joe back in its heyday of the 80's when I was a major fan of that as well. And its obvious to anyone else who is a fan how much his G.I.Joe and Wolverine titles had in common. They each had indomitable characters who could persevere and survive whatever was handed them. I'm listing Wolverine here because of how much Larry's voice as a writer influenced how I would like to say things and I would especially recommend the series after issue 75 when Magneto ripped the adamantium from Wolverines skeleton making him significantly more vulnerable, that just made for a better book in my opinion.

When I think of what has shaped me as a writer there are a million different things but when I try very hard to think on it and narrow it down these were the top, strange as they are.


Karlene said...

I'll give you The Iliad. I liked that. Could not wade through Silmarillion. And the other three? Pfft.

Now, my 5 books would have to be Harriet the Spy, Dune, and... uhm... I'll have to think about this for awhile.

L.A. DeVaul said...

I love Ernest Hemingway. Having to read The Old Man and the Sea in high school and actually liking it, made me realize how talented he really is. (It was the only book I enjoyed reading in high school English class.) He has beautiful simplicity, and so do comic books. (I was obsessed with them too in my pre-teens. I love Excaliber, and X-men.) Our reading tastes may be similar, but I think our writing styles vary greatly.

Th. said...


The only Hemingway novel I've read is The Old Man, shortly after leaving college. And I liked it. I've been wanting to hit him again, but haven't been sure where to start. I'll take this as a recommendation.

I can't vouch for the Iliad though. Frankly, I'm amazed at its popularity and I'm always surprised when someone genuinely likes it. Like Canterbury Tales, it's unimaginable to me. In my mind, it's only read because it is old and of historical importance. Not because it still speaks to people. But I'm glad to know that it does speak to some people. That makes me feel a lot better about all the students who have to read it.

I'm nervous to even attempt this meme for myself. I could maybe narrow it down to five authors, but to five books?

And also, I think my truest influences may be do incorporated into my own DNA to be recognizable as having a foreign origin. I don't see any connection between what I do and the Hardy Boys for instance, but I read all those books more than once --- and Nancy Drew at least once --- how could it not be part of who I am?

And the clearest influence on my current novel FLBlock's Weetzie Bat I just read earlier this year. (But what an experience. It was like being set free.)

And comics are interesting too. I devour comics (though not generally quote-unquote simple ones), but I don't really know how they might impact my own writing. (Although if I was offered a gig writing comics I would snap it up and see what I could do.)

So I'm going to think about this. You are what you eat.

And these days I hardly ever eat from the same plate twice. So this is a tough one for me. But I'm going to think on it....

David J. West said...

Yes authors may be easier but I was trying to think on 5 novels that have shaped my writing whether its voice, technique or even what I hope to achieve as a legacy. I still have decent sized list of honorable mentions but I didn't want the post to go on forever. And naming a whole authors run on a comic book series is cheating too I suppose.

I know that these 5 are things I have come back to numerous times because of the sheer enjoyment to me and yet I can acknowledge that they may be aquired tastes, such as I can understand why Karlene couldn't get into the Silmarillion but I would suspect she has never tried Robert E. Howard but then again that old pulp fiction heroic fantasy is not to everyones tastes, but it struck a chord with me that was a supernova, a rediscovery of a great new continent. I must stress it has to be REH original Conan's and not any of the relatively recent more familiar material-Robert Jordan wrote 7 Conan novels in the 80's and they were nothing special whatsoever.

When it comes to comics, sometimes I did read them more because I liked the character or even a good artist, but my point was some writing for comics is great but is unappreciated because it is a comic-book. Oddly enough as much as I thought Larry Hama was an absolute 10 for G.I.Joe and Wolverine I never got into his other numerous titles, I even thought when he tried his hand at a Conan limited series it was pretty poor, so I hope I'm objective.

I like your analogy of what you eat, at the moment I'm trying E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroborous but then I like the archaic poetic language and don't really have a hard time following it but I understand if most people would. I guess I am thinking pick out those 5 that you know have moved you. I had never even heard of Weetzie Bat until you mentioned it.

Brian Murphy said...

Great choices.

If you like Hemingway you have to read his short fiction: The Killers, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, The Undefeated, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and more--all great. Hemingway is one those authors, who, like Stephen King, is arguably better in the short form.

David J. West said...

Thanks Brian
I have read most all of Hemingway's short stories and I definetly agree with you when it comes to King.

Th. said...


I'm loathe to recommend WB to you.

Also, dude, you need a search function.