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Little Willow

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What Inspires Your Writing?

Books can influence our reading, our writing, and our lives. When you open the cover of a book, you enter a new world; when you close it, you might have a new outlook on the world around you.

Want to know who inspired YOUR favorite author to become a writer? Keep reading!

I asked authors to name books they recently read and enjoyed as well as their favorite classic and contemporary authors. "Tell me whose books you devoured as a kid," I said, "or whose novels you collect now as an adult." I also asked each author whose writing career he or she would most like to emulate.

"Strictly speaking, Stephen King was a major influence on my writing -- because reading his book On Writing inspired me to actually finish the first draft of my book. I've always loved Roald Dahl -- 'the ordinary kid, otherworldly situation' aspect has colored my writing tremendously. Stylistically, I love Paula Danziger -- her characters are so honest, and her writing is so clean and unaffected. I can't leave out Laura Ingalls Wilder, either -- I re-read her entire series about a hundred billion times, and from her storytelling, I hope I learned a bit about world-building and setting up scenes without going overboard. Jane Austen brought out the romantic in me, and Ayn Rand opened my eyes to the fact that a story can be about an idea -- not just a chronicle of events, but serving some larger purpose. My larger purpose has turned out to be showing teen girls that they don't have to drink, do drugs, diet, covet name brands, act dumb, and pander to boys, just because those things seem to be all that's expected of them. At least I hope that's how it comes across!"
- Katie Alender, author of Bad Girls Don't Die (coming out in April 2009)

"The first book I truly remember reading was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton when I was thirteen. I absolutely went crazy over this book, I think because it was so far from what I knew in my very middle-class upbringing. It was a whole world with struggles and obstacles I knew nothing about. Today, I have a real addiction to books and I basically stick with modern stuff. For me, the trifecta of YA authors are Sarah Dessen, Maureen Johnson, and Meg Cabot. These are authors I wish I were like in different ways -Sarah's heart, Maureen's wit and Meg's sass. These girls rock my bookshelf. And, truthfully, I wouldn’t say one author inspired me to be a writer. I read shamefully little until I was in college, but writing was something I always instinctively knew I was good at, even when I didn’t know what to write."
- Taylor Morris, author of Total Knockout: Tale of an Ex-Class President

"My favorite author as a teen was VC Andrews. She introduced me to dark and suspenseful fiction, and created stories that made me feel. My favorite contemporary teen fiction authors are Sarah Dessen and Rachel Caine just to name a couple. I enjoy these authors for different reasons. Sarah Dessen can bring me into someone's life as if I know the characters personally, and Rachel Caine has me speeding through her adventures and always leaves me wanting more. And really there are so many more I could list."
- Kelly Parra, author of Invisible Touch

"Francesca Lia Block [is] the queen of the modern fairy tale. Without her and her words, a recent discovery, I would know that my work has a place in this world...and my memoir fairytale soon will be."
- Jennifer Sky Band, author of A Model Life: A True Fairy Tale (not yet published)

"Judy Blume was the one who inspired me. Sometimes I wondered if she had a secret hidden camera following me around. How else could she understand me so well? Her characters were like the big sisters I wished I had. They answered my questions, led by example, and were just as imperfect as me. As an adult, I still love Judy's books. I also love Kate DiCamillo, Jack Gantos, Sharon Creech, and, more recently, Linda Urban and Lauren Tarshis. My goal in writing is to honestly portray kids, to make my readers laugh or cry, and to help them see themselves or the world around them in a new way."
- Brenda Ferber, author of Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire

"When I was 13, I wrote two fan letters. One to the Nancy Drew author and the other to Margaret Sutton, [who] wrote 38 Judy Bolton mysteries. Obviously Carolyn Keene never wrote back, but Margaret did, and I was so excited by her long typed letter that I carried it around school and still treasure it -- plus the 30 years of additional letters/cards. Margaret came to my high school graduation party and years later we co-wrote the 'one more Judy mystery' that fans begged for. When I was 14, I wrote of my dream to be a series book author, and in my early 30's, this dream came true with my first original series. While I would love to have a long series, I think I want to create short series that excited readers like Tamora Pierce, Scott Westerfeld and Margaret Peterson Haddix and Meg Cabot. Also, that series book passion as a teen carried over to a huge book collection from Anne of Green Gables to Trixie Belden to Zanballer. When my series collection hit around 5,000 books, I had to create a separate room as a library in my home."
- Linda Joy Singleton, author of The Seer series

"My favorite classic authors are Jack London, Stoker, Shelley, and Poe. I'm torn on Dickens. Some of it I think is interminably boring, but then there are things like A Tale of Two Cities, which I love. Favorite contemporary authors - far too many to name, but I can list a few. My favorite mainstream writer is John Irving, hands down. Out of genre (though it's a subgenre all its own, I think), I love Poppy Z. Brite's G-Man and Rickey books set in the New Orleans restaurant scene. In mystery: James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley, Ken Bruen, Don Winslow, Carol O'Connell, early James Ellroy, and Joe Lansdale. In fantasy, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Robert Holdstock, Tim Powers, and Tolkien, of course, if you count him as contemporary. In horror, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Graham Joyce, Mike Carey, Joe Hill, and, again, Joe Lansdale."
- Christopher Golden, author of Poison Ink

"As a young reader, I was a great fan of Judy Blume. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret was my favorite of her middle grades, Tiger Eyes my favorite of her YAs. Although I've used third person for younger readers, I seem to always go with first person for tweens-teens, and I'm sure Judy's writing is a big part of the reason why. I also read most of the Newbery books, and of those, my favorite was The Witch From Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, a book much about the love of reading. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson was the one that probably most influenced by own writing. Sometimes I think my [book] Rain Is Not My Indian Name was a response to her friendship/grief arc, asking what happens after that first step toward healing. More recently, the YAs that influenced me most were Thirsty by MT Anderson and Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause."
- Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Tantalize

"When I was younger, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume were my favorite contemporary authors. An author I've recently discovered who inspires me is Allison van Diepen. As for classics, I adore Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens."
- Wendy Toliver, author of The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren

"As a child, I LOVED Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. Lewis Carroll was right up there, too. But I'd have to say Stephen King was the author who made me really want to be a writer. He had such a down-to-earth style, and what a storyteller. Today I find myself gravitating towards essay and memoir writers - David Sedaris, Haven Kimmel, Suzanne Finnamore, Jen Lancaster, Paul Feig; as for novelists, I adore Jonathan Tropper, Shannon Olson, & Jennifer Belle."
- Jess Riley, author of Driving Sideways

"As a teen, I loved Robert Cormier, John Irving, Anne Tyler and Stephen King. When I was younger, I adored Katherine Paterson and Constance C. Greene."
- Jo Knowles, author of Jumping Off Swings (coming in 2009)

"Growing up, I devoured everything Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder . . . the usual suspects. And later, Margaret Atwood and Stephen King. Of the contemporary stuff, I love MT Anderson -- I think he does a great job of writing very compulsively readable stuff while still giving the story heft and meaning. No easy feat. E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, Dan Ehrenhaft . . . There's so much good stuff out there, there's no way I could fit it all into one measly little comment!"
- Micol Ostow, author of GoldenGirl: A Bradford Novel

"As a kid, I loved Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop, Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn, Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer, and Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry. I also liked a lot of series I turn my nose up at nowadays: The Baby-Sitters Club, Christopher Pike, and Sunfire Romances. Now my faves tend to be authors I admire as much as enjoy: Donna Jo Napoli, Richard Peck, Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, Shannon Hale, Gary D. Schmidt, Anne Lamott, Bill Bryson. I'm pretty darn sure there isn't any one book that inspired me to become a writer. (I have issues with the notion of "inspiration" anyway -- it sounds too magical and instantaneous somehow.) I am completely nuts about Donna Jo Napoli's books, though. I think they showed me there was indeed a market for the kind of stories I liked best: the kind I hoped to write myself. As for whose career I'd like to emulate? I sure wouldn't mind following Richard Peck's path of writing perfectly decent books and then suddenly writing GREAT books. Lois Lowry's breadth of talent is amazing. She's basically an ICON, so that's a nice daydream. How about I bring up Donna Jo Napoli again: steady writing, steady sales, devoted fans. Tough to beat."
- Sarah Miller, author of Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

"My all-time favorite children's book -- the one that I wrote about in my college essay and I swear, it got me into Stanford -- was and is The Phantom Tollbooth. I also loved Edward Eager, Maud Hart Lovelace - I love Betsy-Tacy - Paula Danziger, and of course, Judy Blume. My kids inspired me to become a writer. There it is, plain and simple. My kids. And now, my readers. Especially those who I've met at inner city high schools who tell me that they really *get* my stories, and that just inspires me to work even harder for them. I think K.L. Going is our modern day Shakespeare. She's so authentic and compelling. I would buy anything written by her. It would be wonderful to have a career as long and enduring as Judy Blume or E.L. Koenigsburg, to be able to touch generations of readers. And for me personally, to show the kids who need stories the most that they can author their own happy endings."
- Justina Chen Headley, author of North of Beautiful (February 2009)

"Oh! The Phantom Tollbooth. How much did I/do I love that book? Read it a zillion times as a kid and read aloud to my own kids a couple of years ago. From that book I took the notion that stories can go anywhere at all. And that language is a toy to be played with. Other faves, then and now: A Wrinkle in Time and Jane Eyre. Both center on extraordinary, flawed but deeply principled heroines who prevail because of who they are at their core, not because they are cute or someone rescues them."
- Maryrose Wood, author of My Life: The Musical

"In childhood, I devoured Nancy Drew, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Miss Pickerell, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, The Boxcar Children, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Then, during my teen years: House of Stairs, Interstellar Pig, The Stand, and The Thorn Birds. Who inspires me now? My fellow readergirlz divas, of course: Justina Chen Headley, Dia Calhoun, Mitali Perkins, and founding diva Janet Lee Carey. Also, Karen Hesse, Kate DiCamillo, Ellen Hopkins, Markus Zusak, and John Green. My latest rave is Looks by Madeleine George. It's amazing!"
- Lorie Ann Grover, author of On Pointe

"As a teen, I was hugely influenced by Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, Stephen King, Robert Heinlein and Anne Tyler. I also devoured Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Wharton. I didn't read many teen books as a teen, primarily because my parents always let me read from their collection - which is why I read Thomas Tryon when I was in sixth grade! Ooh, I'm probably still screwed up because of that. I still read everything Tyler and King write as well as Elizabeth Berg, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Michael Chabon, and Umberto Eco. When they have new books out, I am all OVER them."
- C. Leigh Purtill, author of All About Vee

"I vote for E.L. Konigsburg, too. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was absolutely magical for me, and my twin sister loved Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. My neighbor is her relative, and she laughs at me because when she tells me they're going to visit her for holidays, I swoon."
- Julia DeVillers, author of How My Private, Personal Journal Became a Bestseller

"My favorite children's author and the one I'd most like to emulate is Katherine Paterson. While I admire so many of her books, including Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, the one I studied to learn the craft of writing was The Great Gilly Hopkins. That novel made me laugh and cry, what I hope my readers will do too."
- Carmela Martino, author of Rosa, Sola

"I'm a re-reader, so the books I loved most I read over and over again, and continue to read. I sometimes worry they're buried so deeply in my head I'm plagiarizing. Edward Eager was a huge influence, but also Betty MacDonald - how I loved Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic! - and my absolute touchstone, James Thurber's The 13 Clocks. Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis are must haves - is there anyone who doesn't list those? - as well as White's The Once and Future King. My current favorites are Ellen Potter's Olivia Kidney and Victoria Forrester's new book, The Girl Who Could Fly. Wowza!"
- Laurel Snyder, author of Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

"As a kid, I loved A.A. Milne -- the gentle humor and the plays on words in the Pooh books. As a teenager, I loved James Herriot -- again, deadpan humor. And a rich sense of place. Now one of my favorites is Terry Pratchett. Quirky humor this time. And dead-on sense of story and characters. Hmm . . .I seem to be a lifelong Anglophile. I don't know whose career I would emulate. I guess just any author who can make enough from writing to be able to keep writing."
- Stacy DeKeyser, author of Jumping the Cracks

Speak Up

How about you? Have you ever read a book and then almost immediately written your own story - or been moved to create something like a song or a piece of art?

This piece was written in July 2008 for The Edge of the Forest, a children's literature monthly.

Tags: articles, books, interviews

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  • Red Hands by Christopher Golden

    A new Christopher Golden book is here, and I can't wait to get my hands on it! Here's the jacket flap summary for Red Hands: In bestselling author…

  • Annual Book Fair for Ballou High School

    It's that time again! Colleen Mondor has once again organized a book fair for the students of Ballou Senior High School. This time, the books are…

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