Writers don’t just pop out of thin air; they are a combination, perhaps, of everyone they’ve ever met, or read. The best authors are those who can leave an indelible mark not only on the hearts and minds of their readers, but also the aspiring writer still trying to shape his or her own vocation. Before I begin reviewing books of new and emerging writers next month, I wanted to reflect, perhaps indulgently, on some of the influences on my own crazy writing—and be warned that the writers I’ve loved and were touched by are a peculiar and idiosyncratic bunch. I am not an academic novelist—my college degree is in journalism, not English–nor have I ever attended any prestigious fiction workshops; I suppose I am a literary fiction autodidact. My education has been purely though other peoples’ books—and I‘ve read perhaps many, many thousands over the decades. I have always been a voracious and omnivorous reader, although as I get older my tastes have narrowed down to the good stuff. I no longer have any patience for bad or sloppy writing. And that perhaps is one of the best preparations for becoming a writer: Reading everything, good and bad, and learning to tell the difference.
My mentor and greatest influence in this respect would have to be my father, himself an ardent reader, the man who introduced me to books as soon as I could put a couple of words together. He is also a writer. I can’t wax nostalgic about him, because he’s still around and kicking, down there on the Florida Gulf Coast; he has a big birthday coming up, so I’ll send him an online bookstore gift card so he can continue to indulge himself. Haven’t sent him The Novice Master yet. I feel a little nervous about that, because he wasn’t crazy about my first novel, which shares its main character with this new one. My father is my harshest, roughest critic: Only because, even at my own advanced age, the slightest hint of criticism causes considerable distress. I always feel like I’m letting him down somehow. Now that I have a few good honest reviews from complete strangers behind me as support, I’m ready: and The Novice Master will go off to Pensacola.
Over the next two weeks, I’ll be discussing and showcasing various authors I’ve felt were a direct influence on my own work. I know these reflective sort of blog posts tend to be my least popular: Don’t care! I can’t write about sex all the time. And let’s make it a dialogue: Fellow writers are warmly invited to add their own favorites, in the comments section. No judging on my part, I promise!