The Masterclass I’ve been taking on Storytelling got me to thinking about the authors I loved when I was young, writers who had a profound impact on how I think a story should be told and what fiction should sound like. Here are a few, in no particular order:
- Lucy Maude (L.M.) Montgomery (1874-1942) Readers know her for Anne of Green Gables, but my personal favorite is The Blue Castle, a romance about a twenty-nine year old woman who has dwindled into spinsterhood always doing what she should. An unexpected diagnosis of a fatal disease frees her to pursue her dreams, including proposing marriage to a mysterious local bachelor who lives in the wilds of eastern Canada.
- My Takeaway from Her Books: Her characters are so alive they jump off the page because they have both strengths and weaknesses. Anne is as famous for her temper as she is for her vivid imagination.
- Edward Eager (1911-1964) He wrote stories of magic happening in the lives of everyday children. My favorite was Seven Day Magic, about children who borrow a book that has set on the bottom shelf of the fairy tale section at the library for years, with all that magic dripping down on it. The first seven days with the book provide magical experiences for the kids, but when they break the rules and fail to return the book on time, the magic turns dark.
- My Takeaway from His Books: He sets up worlds that doesn’t follow all the rules of our world but strictly enforce the rules they do have, which gives them the consistency that makes them believable.
- Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) For lovers of historical romance, Heyer is second only to Jane Austen. Her stories of Regency London sparkle with candles, cut glass and couture.
- My Takeaway from Her Books: Readers love handsome, arrogant heroes who learn to love.
- Donald Westlake (1933-2008) Westlake wrote both crime stories and comic capers. The crime stories are good but the capers are even better. One of my favorites is Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner, about a guy who says he wound up being a criminal largely because people refused to pronounce his last name, Künt, with the umlaut. It was re-released this year by Hard Case Crime and there’s a great review of it here.
- My Takeaway from His Books: Not nearly enough. I would give my back teeth to be able to write anything as one-tenth as funny as Westlake at his best. His banter is rivaled only by Jenny Crusie (who isn’t listed here because I didn’t find her till I was solidly middle-aged.)
- There are many others: Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, E.M. Hull (who wrote The Sheik, the first actual romance I ever read. It is racist, misogynistic and terrible on many levels, even given the fact that it was published in 1919. That said, it struck me, at age 13, as the acme of romance.)
- My Takeaway from this Group: A bit of mystery keeps the romance burning hot.
Who were your biggest literary influences?