This is a subject to be addressed on a number of levels, but for the moment, we'll stick to Writing. If I had to pick one writer of influence, it would have to be Harlan Ellison. His titanium steel prose, take-no-prisoners attitude (both on and off the page), fierce imagination and true love and passion for the craft after over fifty years of writing are really quite remarkable.
Also of note is Stephen King. Here, too, is a writer characterized by a singular love of the craft. His inspirational, informative and vastly entertaining 'On Writing' is one of my prized possessions, and his seminal 'Dark Tower' series is one of the hallmarks of contemporary fantasy. His guy-next-door narrative voice, compelling characters and horror-in-your-own-backyard sensibility remain forces to be reckoned with. He easily shifts between novels and short stories (and in fact, there's a respectable argument for the idea that he's better at the latter than the former), and seems to finally be getting some of the respect he's deserved long before now.
No such accounting would be complete without mention of Richard Bach, author of 'Illusions: the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah' (my very favorite book), 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull,' and 'Running From Safety,' among many others. His unpretentious narrative style and often provocative philosophies have added quite a bit of spice to my life, and given me the courage to espouse a few philosophies of my own in the context of my own work.
Ray Bradbury is a true American icon of letters. His peerless imagination and incomparable use of the language is only barely short of poetry. Works of note for me are 'Dandelion Wine' (also on the short list of favorite books) and 'The Martian Chronicles.'
I must also mention Steven Millhauser, whose peculiar book, 'The Knife Thrower & Other Stories' provided a great deal of inspiration for my foray into the short story form. Millhauser's meticulous narrative style and fearless capacity for weirdness proved quite provocative to me.
I recently discovered the work of Ann Beattie, and have found her character work, narrative grace, and capacity to make the ordinary extraordinary to be quite profound and inspirational.
Neal Stephenson is a force of nature. His quintessentially entertaining narrative style, remarkable capacity to present complex information in a palatable way, and ferocious imagination make pretty much anything he writes short of his shopping list A+ reading material.
Christopher Moore's laugh-out-loud, go-for-it sensibility, fantastic imagination, and excellent characters, on top of his rocket-speed narrative style have kept me enthusiastically entertained for quite a few years, and I suspect, will continue to do so for quite a few more.
Fritz Leiber's 'Fahfrd & the Gray Mouser' tales are quintessential examples of peerless swashbuckling, and the cornerstones of excellence for my own writing in the Sword & Sorcery genre. In my book, Leiber has few equals and no superiors. The F&GM tales are incredibly imaginative and often very funny, and the characters themselves are compelling, believeable and ceaselessly entertaining.
Michael Moorcock's tales of Elric of Melnibone and his demonic albatross, the sword, Stormbringer, have also provided enormous inspiration. Moorcock's spectacular imagery, compelling characters, and earth-shaking imagination and storytelling skills remain both vital and formidable. Remember what I said about Leiber having few equals? Meet one of them.
Roger Zelazny's 'Chronicles of Amber' proved quite influential to me. His roguish and nventive narrative style, ambitious use of dialogue for exposition, excellent characters and incredible imagination make these tales nothing short of outstanding. I only wish there were more of them.
Robert E. Howard's 'Conan the Barbarian' tales are possessed of a driving intensity and grittiness that remain peerless. Accept no imitations. This guy's got the goods.
I'm a fervent lover of the comic book form, and very much hope to work in this arena at some point. Its unstoppable energy, visual impact, and powerful storytelling potential can't be beat, no matter how many XBox games you buy.
I also have enormous respect and admiration for poetry. Though I'm not particularly skilled in this form, I find myself fascinated by its mysteries. Its use of compressed language to create imagery and impact often equal to that of any novel is almost magical in nature. I'm far from an educated reader of poetry, but I'm fond of Robert Frost, Ranier Maria Rilke, ee cummings, and Shakespeare, among others.
I can't leave this section without mentioning Charles Dickens. 'Great Expectations' remains one of my favorite books. The wonderful characters and intricate plotting make this novel an incredible inspiration and aspiration for me.
To be continued!