I’ve been writing for roughly three-thousand 19 years. Strangely, I remember most of the artists who were big influences on my writing, and the exact impact they had. And there have been a lot of them.
As A Young Reader — Stephen King: King is a master storyteller. Ask anyone who’s ever read his work. I have to credit King more with getting me interesting in reading than with writing, but any writer will tell you that’s just as important. I’ve never really considered King a direct influence on my style, but I’ve always had profound respect for him as an author, and when I was a teenager I couldn’t get enough of his work – in fact, I read King almost exclusively for years, and books like The Stand, The Shining, Misery and Night Shift kept me up long into the night.
As A Young Writer – Clive Barker, Tanith Lee: If you’ve read my work, you know I’m big on descriptive prose. Much of my fetish for rich and darkly painted detail comes from these two British wunderkinds, authors who dabbled in both horror and fantasy and whose collective body of work produced in the early 90s had me completely enthralled. Barker’s The Great and Secret Show, Imajica and Weaveworld were filled with masterful invention and world-building. Lee’s Dark Dance, Heart-Beast and Personal Darkness taught me how to be efficient with my prose, packing as many memorable visuals as possible into a short space.
As A Fantasy Writer – Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Terry Goodkind, C.S. Friedman, Stephen Erickson, George R.R. Martin: When I started writing seriously (I was in college at the time), I was also running a major Dungeons & Dragons campaign. My interest at that time was entirely focused on epic fantasy – some of my favorites were Jordan’s The Eye of the World, William’s To Green Angel Tower and Friedman’s When True Night Falls — and it was during this period that I learned not just to describe things, but to build them. Now I had to think not only about what was happening and what it looked and smelled like, but how it existed in the first place, how imaginary worlds worked, how one small story could be a part of a greater world that had to go on making sense even when the small part of it that I was writing about no longer had a tale to tell. (Not surprisingly, I added a History minor to my Creative Writing degree to support this interest in world-building.)
As A Geek — Role-Playing Games: Not everything that influences my writing comes from a writer. As I mentioned above, I played and wrote material for Dungeons & Dragons for years. People don’t give role-playing games enough credit for their deft plotting and brilliant description. Running an RPG is all about telling a story, after all, about knowing what details to provide and how to involve your audience.
Where I’m At Now – China Mieville, J.V. Jones, John Meaney, John Marco, Cormac McCarthy: I faded out of writing for a few years while I was transitioning from Colorado to Washington and focusing almost entirely on writing Dungeons & Dragons materials. This wasn’t by choice – it was just one of those things that happened. Soon I wasn’t working on D&D stuff anymore, either, and instead I was just…well, not doing much of anything aside from getting up in the morning and going to work.
I wanted to get back into writing, but I was lacking the spark….so I decided to start reading again. John Marco’s The Jackal of Nar, China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and J.V. Jones’ A Cavern of Black Ice not only got me back on track in the writing department, but their work also shaped the way that I write now. My prose became more poetic. My characters became more real. My descriptive prose got tighter and more efficient. My storytelling became more fluid. I started writing in shorter sentences…
More books like John Meaney’s excellent Bone Song and Cormac McCarthy’s instant post-apocalyptic classic The Road helped me hone my writing voice. Taking a bit of a break, as it turned out, was the best thing I ever did.
Looking back, I don’t know if I can say that any one of these authors had a profound effect, but they all helped shape my style into what it’s become today.
The best way to learn is to do. And the best way to do is to follow the best.
Steven Montano is the author of the Blood Skies series. He also only manages to read about 2-3 books a year, but wishes that number was much, much higher. Behold more of his madness at bloodskies.com