Every writer has the authors that they look up to as inspirations. Whether they wrote classics hundreds of years ago or are a powerhouse in the industry now, there are a lot of authors to truly admire.
Up until recently, had you asked me who mine are, I’m not sure how I would have answered. I probably would have listed an author of a classic novel out of fear that I would be judged otherwise, especially when I was still in college and worried about my reputation as an English major. And, truth be told, I do love a lot of those authors: Thornton Wilder and Arthur Miller are the playwrights that made me cry from the sheer force of my emotions over required reading; I recently read and loved Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre more than I ever thought I would love a romance novel; and I’d even go so far as to say that Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich made me appreciate literature.
The creators I have listed here ,though, are the ones that stuck around. Not just authors that I’ve read and loved, but have touched me and my writing in lasting ways. True influences. And although none of them wrote classics or are even that literary, they’re still very dear to me.
So keeping in mind that I grew up in the Nineties, here are the five authors that have inspired me, in one way or another, to do what I do.
- Janell Cannon
Obviously we’re digging into some ancient history here. Cannon is one of the only children’s book writers that I grew up with and have very clear memories of reading—while I know that I’ve read Dr. Seuss’ works and other picture books, Cannon’s are the ones that I remember. The illustrations still stand out in my mind vividly despite there being close to two decades between me and the last time I opened one of her books. While the art was very colorful, the stories and characters were even more so, and even now I know that differences are ok (Stellaluna) and that growing up doesn’t mean being boring (Verdi). She was a huge influence on me during my formative years, and even though I don’t write anywhere close to the same things that she does she’s part of the reason I’m the person, and therefore the writer, I am today.
As a fun fact, you could say that I was a part of her fandom. I had my mother make me a Stellaluna costume for Halloween when I was five or six and was so proud of that fact that I announced it to literally everyone who stood still long enough to listen. I couldn’t be a princess or a witch or anything like that; I had to be not only a bat, but that particular bat. No word yet on whether or not this is when Mom knew what she was getting into with me.
- R.L. Stine
I told you my Nineties would end up showing. It happens two more times on this list.
I devoured Goosebumps books when I was younger. On one level, he was the forbidden fruit of the elementary school library: sure, the books are pretty tame as horror stories go because of the target audience, but picking them up made me feel way edgier than I had any right to be. But aside from that, they were really fun stories that kept me turning the pages, and I came to love those infamous twist endings. It got even better when I learned that Stine wrote books for young adults as well as children, and I graduated to Fear Street novels when I was a young teenager.
I think I have him to thank for my current appreciation of horror. This is not a man who shies away from the weird, imaginative, and frightening, but he trusts his audience to be able to handle it and keeps them engaged and lost within his worlds. It’s a really delicate balance to strike, and I would be so lucky to have such a gift.
- Christopher Moore
Unlike the other authors on this list, I didn’t discover Moore until way later in my life, which is probably for the best because he’s far from appropriate for children. Humor is hard to write and not something that I’m particularly good at sustaining for an entire manuscript (despite the tone of the site so far, my fiction tends to lean toward drama with moments of comic relief), so I have a lot of respect for the authors who do it well.
What I took away from Moore was not only the humor in his writing, but the kind of humor to approach everyday life. I’ve had chronic stomach problems since high school and have spent a lot of time in hospitals waiting to find out what was wrong with me. Hospitals aren’t pleasant places to be, and a lot of the tests I took involved long periods of waiting that were perfect for reading books. He is, to date, the only author that has made me laugh out loud in a hospital waiting room while I was a patient, but could still be genuinely poignant when it counted. If that doesn’t tell you about the power over language that this man has, I don’t know what will.
Moore is also the only author on this list that I’ve actually met, specifically when he came to Lansing on his Serpent of Venice tour. I’m sure that he thinks of me as a star-struck weirdo, especially after I told him an abridged version of the above story, and it wouldn’t be an inaccurate assumption: I was meeting someone who sustained me through one of the most difficult times of my life, of course I would be a little flustered. On top of being a great writer, though, he’s also a really nice human being and entertaining to listen to. He provided me with catharsis when I needed it most, and I hope to one day do the same for my readers.
- J.K. Rowling
It’s likely illegal for me to not have Rowling on this list somewhere, but I honestly had a hard time deciding whether or not she was Number One. I ultimately decided on another pick, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t have a huge impact on me.
Like a lot of people, I grew up with Harry Potter, having been around the same age the title character was when the first book came out. It was an incredible experience having characters who were practically my peers by my side for many years go through plots that matured as we did. On top of that, though, it was the first time I personally witnessed a book and its author change the world in a very visible way. Rowling inspired children everywhere to read, has done a lot of charity work, and connected an entire world of people who to this day are re-reading the books, analyzing all of the details they missed before, and still yearning to live in the world that she created.
They say that the pen is mightier than the sword, and Rowling is proof positive of this. She’s a once-in-a-generation author, and her fame would be a long shot for anyone else to reproduce. Where I wouldn’t mind matching her at outside of her worldbuilding, though, is in the fan engagement and public persona that she maintains really beautifully. She could have shut everyone out and said that she wanted to move on to other projects and not talk about Harry Potter anymore, but she didn’t. She is kind, patient, witty, fearless, and doesn’t let her success get to her head. She deserves every bit of the love that she gets.
- K.A. Applegate
“Gretchen, you’re ridiculous. How did K.A. Applegate beat out J.K. Rowling?”
It was a hard choice. It really was. But one of the criteria I set for myself in this list was authors that influenced me, and Applegate did that in the biggest way out of all of them: she made me decide that I wanted to be a writer.
Animorphs had a world that, when I started reading the books, I wanted to live in (I even wrote some truly awful fanfiction): I realize now that I probably would have been an innocent bystander, Controller, or dead body, but that’s part of the beauty of it. You could identify with the heroes and want the power they did have, which made it all the more painful when the true horrors of war began to hit them and scarier when they realized that they were in way over their heads.
What was also great about the world was how colorful and fleshed-out it was (even to the point of having a number of alternate timelines). There were a wide variety of alien races and individual entities with various abilities and cultures that interacted with the main cast, who were themselves three-dimensional people and diverse without being stereotypes. It wasn’t just a black-and-white world, either: while the lines between protagonist and antagonist started out as very clear, things begin to blur, especially in the later novels, where, as in any war, sacrifices have to be made and very serious moral quandaries begin to enter the picture. The interplay of philosophy and politics made it an incredible war story, and the science fiction setting made it engaging: the more I think about it, the more I realize that Animorphs is, in one way or another, in a lot of what I write.
It was a fearless book series, and Applegate was a fearless author for trusting her readers with the subject matter within it. I think that today’s dystopian young adult novels have a lot to thank her for. I know that I do.