I always read as a kid. There was so much magic to reading that it makes me sad that kids don’t seem to have that same atmosphere to grow up around. The elements are still there but there’s so much more push to be on computers, or pull to be on cell phones, that reading for fun seems to be a hobby in decline.
I remember how much fun it was to go to the library and to be able to look at all those thousands of books, those many worlds and stories, and I could take any number of them home with me to read over the course of a month. It was like when I first started renting movies – eyes bigger than my ability to get through everything, taking out more books than I could read (and later renting more movies than I could watch). But just HAVING the books there meant something.
Then in school there was the Scholastic Book Fairs, which were about selling you books but it showed you so many exciting book options that it was almost as fun looking at the catalog as it was to get the books themselves.
Readathons were the best though, a day of comfortably laying around and reading for the entire day. It seems so weird to imagine such a thing now, but it was so wonderful, and weird. The quiet, the communal reading. The importance of it all is hard to overemphasize – teaching kids that 1. Reading was great 2. Your friends read and 3. That reading was part of learning.
As I got older and my tastes changed and my reading habits changed, I started to read more for myself. I have never been someone who read what people told me I needed to read, preferring to read what I wanted to read instead. For the joy and wonder of it. When I started writing seriously in my mid-teens, I am not sure who I wanted to write like, though I am sure Stephen King and Clive Barker were two of those early people for me who wanted to emulate. Heck, I remember writing a story, about the woods, if you can imagine that, called THE STAND that wasn’t inspired at all by the title of the King novel. Sure. Not. At. All. The more I read though, and the more I wrote, the more I started to really admire the craft of writing and how people crafted stories.
I was so deeply in love with stories, and still am.
I don’t know that I look as deeply into subtexts and why someone wrote something or any of that so much as I look at the story. Did I like the story? And that’s what I want, is to write compelling stories. The rest of it is important. Is part of the process and the fun. First and foremost, though, I want to write good stories.
With the passing of author Toni Morrison, one of the titans that inspired and enthralled me, I wanted to take a moment to notice those people.
Stephen King is the big one for a lot of authors who favor horror. I discovered him as a young teenager and remember being in 8th grade and people reading IT not long after it hit paperback. I have always admired King’s craft for characters. He makes horror real by making his characters real and full of flaws and insecurities. He crafts immense tales but it’s the intimacy of the people that populate them.
Clive Barker was the second of the big ones for me and while I haven’t read as much of his newer work, he still can craft worlds as good as anyone out there. That was what made me fall in love with his writing. His embrace of the weird, horrific, and gruesome, and his expansive worlds that seemed to live between the cracks of this world. People, grudges, and passions as old or older than Mankind that shadowed the lives of all around it.
HP Lovecraft was one of those authors that has found himself being re-examined of late for the subtexts of his stories and his life. He was a flawed man with a closed life and closed view of the world and, hearing his works now, I see that. He was a product of his upbringing and lifestyle, and it shows, in the worst of ways. Beneath that though, beyond it, were vast vistas of horror that defied explanation and understanding. His stories seemed to embrace a view of the universe that was as cold as his view of other humans – that we were but ants living beneath vast gods and monsters that could crush us were they to notice us or could enslave us were they to bother. There was though, within that hopeless horror, the germ of a chance that we could find a way to live to fight another day, if we but trusted in the ancient words and texts and stood strong.
Kathe Koja I discovered one day when I was home sick. My mom had gotten me a copy of her first book The Cipher at the drug store and I devoured it. It was a mix of real and surreal. It felt gritty and real and hid secrets in the corners that begged to be discovered. That was a harsh reality to her writing and a sense of ease to it that made me fall in love with her storytelling. It’s only been in recent years that I have discovered her as a person outside of her writing and have gotten to know her a little as such and it’s made me appreciate the passion she brings to her story telling all the more.
Mark Twain was a hell of a storyteller. A born storyteller I’d wager. I discovered him in college and fell in love with his dry wit and wise prose. He was able to examine the world in a way that made you absorb it as you focused on the story. His was truly a rare gift and one that stuck with me all these years.
Ray Bradbury is an author that brought literary chops to science fiction and fantasy work. He brought a hometown charm to his stories and a dangerous undertone. His Martian Chronicles are the top of the pops for me but he is an author that deserves to be remembered and celebrated by how darn good he was as a storyteller.
Finally, Toni Morrison, who I also discovered in college. I remember when I first fell in love with Ms. Morrison’s writing, and that was by experiencing it through someone else. I was in an English class in college and we were reading Song of Solomon and my professor asked a colleague to come in to teach the book. My god, I have never had a teaching experience like that in my life. She was so passionate about the book and the story that she got tearful about it. She didn’t love the book she LOVED it in a palpable, physical way. Her passion made me fall in love with the book as well and it became one of my favorites. A mother of magical realism, she brought the real world into a unreal place in ways that spoke to the mess of a human race we have.
That’s them. Those are my titans. There are other authors that touched me. Many, many, many books that touched me, but these are the authors that helped craft who I am as a writer. I am in no way reflective of them in my skill or topics, but you can’t be influenced without showing that influence in some way. My heart aches to have lost Ms. Morrison, but I know her works will live on long past her, as all of these authors’ works will. Were it not for them and their passion, I would never be the storyteller I am, whatever that may mean.