Open Topic Thursday: Writing Influences

I'd like to talk about the authors who influenced me when I first started writing at age 11. In middle school, I wrote three mystery novellas and a collection of horror stories called "Tales of Terror." My novellas were hand-written in spiral notebooks and "Tales of Terror" consisted of notebook paper stapled together. I even had room for readers' comments. Yes, I was seeking feedback even then. (Hey, this was before the Internet and digital publishing. Imagine what I could have done if I had a computer.) :-)

The aforementioned stories were heavily influenced by my love of mystery, fantasy, and horror. And so it was primarily these authors I read. Here are a few, listed with a particular book, and why they had such an impact on me.

Ida Chittum (Tales of Terror) Yes, I know, my anthology shared the same title, but titles aren't copyrighted. And her book is much better than mine. (All my early work was subsequently destroyed.) There are several stories that stand out, including "The House the Dovers Didn't Move Into," "The Haunted Well," "The Woman Who Turned to Paper," etc.

"The Haunted Well" is particularly moving in that it's about a family tragedy that is triggered by a simple (and seemingly innocuous) act that has horrifying consequences for all involved.

What I remember about Ida Chittum's book is her use of visual imagery that made her stories all the more striking: a child scattering geese, a girl scrubbing at a spot on a window, curtains blowing in the breeze... These images still stay in my mind even years later, proof that strong imagery can make one's work even more compelling.

Phyllis A. Whitney (Secret of the Emerald Star) I checked out this book so many times in my school library, they finally banned me from checking it out. Don't know why; I was the only one reading it. Anyway, I never read Ms. Whitney's Gothic romances, but read several of her young adult mysteries, including Mystery of the Haunted Pool, Mystery on the Isle of Skye, Secret of the Tiger's Eye, and Mystery of the Strange Traveler.

Ms. Whitney's work has had an indirect influence on me in that she was the first mystery writer I read and the genre is one of my favorites. (Someday I'd like to write a mystery. The closest I've come is a crime/thriller screenplay, but that's another story.)

Madeleine L'Engle (The Young Unicorns, A Wrinkle in Time) When I was in the 8th grade, my choir teacher introduced me to Madeleine L'Engle and A Wrinkle in Time. That teacher had good taste. What I love about Ms. L'Engle's writing is she didn't talk down to young people and she made her stories accessible to adults. Intelligent, well-written, thoughtful, she explored the themes of love, family, and perseverance in a way that's realistic (even with the fantasy elements) and not sugar-coated.

Do I need any other reasons?

Stephen King (The Shining, Firestarter) Perhaps it's a cliche to list Stephen King, but I can't deny his influence. I read all of his earlier novels: Carrie, The Shining, 'Salem's Lot, Night Shift, The Stand, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, and Danse Macabre. The last novel I read was Christine. Yes, I'm behind in reading his other books, although I've read On Writing twice and a copy sits on my shelf.

King is a master of detail, no doubt about it. I'm not even sure I can achieve the level of imagery he incorporates. In the August 2010 edition of The Writer magazine, there's an article on which he talks about this very subject. What struck me is when he said, "Imagery does not occur on the writer's page; it occurs in the reader's mind."

I had never thought of it that way, but yeah, it makes sense to me. If you get a chance, read the article. Very insightful.

So there you have it, the authors who influenced me when I first decided to become a writer. Who were some of your influences?

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