This is the fourth in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association. NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/
How an Author’s Reading Impacts Their Writing,
By Connie J. Jasperson
Every author I know is a book junkie. The works an author gravitates to fires their imagination, inspiring them in subtle ways.
My literary ambitions were fueled by tales about dragons, knights, barbarians, booze, morality, and the Regency, as lived vicariously through the imaginations of the great authors. Running out of books to read gave me permission to write my own stories.
In the 1960s, our TV antenna only reliably got two channels. Thus, reading was a passion in our home. My parents were prolific readers and were members of both Doubleday Book Club and Science Fiction Book Club. They also purchased two to four paperbacks a week at the drugstore and subscribed to Analog and several other magazines.
I was a sneak-thief when it came to reading—anything in my parents’ bedroom was fair game as long as I didn’t get caught.
My earliest literary influences were the crazy mix of testosterone-fueled sci-fi novels my father read, the scandalous romances my mother devoured, the Dr. Seuss books I read to my younger siblings, my “appropriate for a ten-year-old” subscription to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book clubs.
I was sent home one day in 5th grade for bringing “lurid and unsuitable” literature to school for the reading hour—Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. My mother took umbrage at that, and the fight was on.
When we children ran out of those books, we had the Encyclopedia Britannica and my parents’ library of The Great Books of the Western World, a series of books originally published in the United States by Encyclopedia Britannica.
There was always something new and wonderful to read around our house. My father insisted we attempt to read everything and discuss what we could.
Some of the Great Books were mostly understandable, such as William Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys. At the age of 14, I didn’t comprehend what an awful, arrogant man Pepys was considered to be by his peers, but I read his diary.
While we were bass fishing on a Saturday morning, Dad would talk about the contrasts and similarities of life and morality in Pepys’ London and our existence in suburban America in 1969. His thought was that I should learn about the 17th century and the Great Fire in London from an eyewitness, just as I had learned about the human cost of the war in the Pacific from John F. Kennedy’s autobiographical novel, PT 109.
I read the works of Byron, Shelley, Elizabeth Browning, and all the brilliant 19th-century romantic poets—too numerous to list here. I fell absolutely in love with William Butler Yeats, consuming his work like some demented fangirl.
- Scott Fitzgerald educated me about my grandparents’ era, the 1920s.
In Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes gave me permission to write satire and dark comedy.
To this day, I watch very little television. Reading is and always will be the most crucial influence in my writing life.
Reading teaches me how to tell a good story.
The most important book I ever stole off my father’s nightstand was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I was enchanted, swept away by the enormity of the story, and the complexity of the world Bilbo lived in.
Tolkien taught me about world-building.
I was also a confirmed Fritz Lieber fan. My first completed novel, written long ago in a galaxy far, far away, began with the idea of writing a book Fritz might write if he were still alive and had consumed several hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The work I produced had no resemblance to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and was nothing like anything Fritz would have written. However, my friends told me that the bones of a good story lurked within the uneven plot and overblown dialogue.
My friends also told me that I needed to relearn the fundamental rules grammar that I had forgotten, so I bought the Chicago Manual of Style and used it.
Grammar was only part of the problem. I had to learn how to craft a readable story, so I bought books on the subject and studied them.
At that point, I began reading with a more critical eye, and what I learned in that process profoundly influenced my work.
I became a confirmed fan of modern epic fantasy in 1988 when I first read a book written by Tad Williams. The Dragon Bone Chair blew me away. Each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The arrogance members of each race have, the assumption of innate superiority, illustrated a fundamental truth about the real world.
Give me the Flawed Hero over the Bland Prince any day.
But I’m also a poet, and I love words.
Tad Williams blends complex world-building and compelling characters who aren’t exactly squeaky clean with sharp, beautiful prose. I sense the slightest hint of rebellion in his work, which makes his work a little wild.
Patrick Rothfuss writes brilliant, poetic prose and gets a deep story told in the process. The opening paragraphs of “Name of the Wind” are sheer beauty.
Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is a shining example of a beautiful, poetic fairytale written in modern times.
Looking back, I see that I learned about world-building from Samuel Pepys and Tolkien. I studied how to develop characters and character arcs from Fritz Lieber and Tad Williams. I was taught to craft prose with my own voice by authors like William Butler Yeats, Neil Gaiman, and Patrick Rothfuss.
It is because of the uncountable other authors whose works I have been privileged to read that I was inspired to write, not just poetry and short stories, but novels.
For me, writing has always been as necessary as breathing. In the beginning, my writing was unformed, a reflection of whatever I was reading at the moment. As I matured and gained confidence in writing vignettes and poems for myself and my children, I developed the courage to believe in my own ideas and stories.
Once that happened, I became a writing junkie.
Some days I write well, and others not so much, but every day I write something.
Every day I look for the new book that will rock my universe, a new “drug” to satisfy my craving, even if I struggle to find time to read it.
I’m addicted to dreams and the people who write about them. Reading is my form of mind-expanding inspiration.
Without the authors whose works formed my world, I would never have dared to write. My advice to every author is to read with wonder, and also read critically.
Reading is the elixir of creativity. Never stop reading.
Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine fantasy novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy. You can find her books on her Amazon author page: http://bit.ly/CJJASPauthor
Follow Connie J. Jasperson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cjjasp