With the recent passing of genre giant Ursula K Le Guin, and the hundreds of remembrances of fans and fellow authors who were introduced to science fiction and fantasy via her novels and short stories, I got to thinking… I don’t think I’ve ever read any of her work! I do now own one of her recent short story collections, The Unreal and the Real, that I’ve yet to crack open. I’m well familiar with the titles, of course. She’s one of the list of authors I will almost always find in bulk at used book stores.
So what did I read when I was first starting out as a teenage writer? Well, that’s a good question. I tried and failed at reading The Lord of the Rings in junior high because I had little patience for it. I read some YA here and there, a lot of music books and magazines. Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine was one of the few reading assignments I adored. My freshman year I devoured Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I went through a short spell reading Vonnegut and Asimov. Some comics. But that was about it. I spent more time enthralled by radio and records, as well as visual outlets like MTV, Miami Vice and the various movies we’d rent on the weekends.
And it kind of stayed that way, to be honest. I read books here and there, but not nearly as voraciously as I do now. I went through a Stephen King spell in the early 90s, maybe a few other authors here and there. Douglas Coupland was probably the only mainstay for me then. Instead I watched a lot of movies (and anime, whenever I could find it). It wasn’t until maybe the late 90s, right about the same time that I started taking my writing a hell of a lot more seriously, that I decided that maybe I should start reading more, especially in my genre.
Occasionally I’d head to a book store and pick up one or two paperbacks. By 2000 (right about the time I switched jobs and started the trilogy), my visits to Barnes & Noble and other book stores were becoming more frequent. For a good couple of years I’d do a run to Leominster (about 30 miles east of my home town) that started at Newbury Comics for a cd run, and ended with a three-hour browse at the B&N up the road. That was when I finally started finding my own literary influences; Kate Elliott, CJ Cherryh, Richard Paul Russo, Lyda Morehouse, Anne McCaffrey, and so on. Interestingly, a lot of female genre writers and not that many male writers. I looked for writers that jumped out at me, that did something unique that fascinated me in some way.
I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until around 2007, to be honest. And I finally read Neuromancer around the same time. I still don’t think I’ve read any Philip K Dick, Alfred Bester, Harlan Ellison, Brian Aldiss or many of the old-school classics, many of whom had movies made from their books by that time. Some, but not nearly that many as others.
Still, I’ve found my influences in my own way to get where I am today, and I’m still discovering more. Haruki Murakami is a big current favorite of mine, for instance. I’m fascinated by storytelling from different angles and avenues, different cultures and points of view. Just like my avid movie watching back in the day, it’s all about a story that makes me stop in my tracks and think two things: How the hell did they make that work?, and Okay, I need to get back to my computer RIGHT NOW and start writing! Whether it’s a movie, a book, a manga or an anime, if it moves me just the right way, I’m hooked and inspired.