Artists are a rather odd dichotomy, I think.
Every artist is unique, be they an author, a musician, or visual artist. Every person lives through experiences that belong to him or her alone, and thus no one’s art can be truly duplicated. Imitated, perhaps, but never duplicated.
The irony is this: every artist is also the lump sum of his or her influences. There are some experiences that are shared—in some way—by nearly all of humanity, and thus we see common threads in almost everyone’s creative output.
But there’s only one me. No one writes quite like ol’ ‘Crazy V’, after all. Some authors may write similar content to mine, and others may have a similar style … but in the end, they’re not me. But that idea begs the question: who helped make me ‘me’? Whose work thrust me headlong into paradigm shifts that forever altered who and what I am as a writer?
Let me give you a glimpse …
Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus) by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Knowing what I know of Mary Shelley’s life, I can honestly say that I do not share her morals or social philosophy. She—like her husband and peers—was a shameless hedonist. But I first read Frankenstein when I was around eight or so, and the book blew my fragile lil’ mind. I didn’t have a happy childhood, and the ghosts of my past haunt me to this day. Shelley’s work taught me that dark literature can be cathartic. It taught me that one can turn fear and pain into art, and in so doing, strip fear and pain of some of their power. Honestly, I believe reading this novel began my journey as a writer, even if I wouldn’t pick up the pen until years later.
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
I first read this book when I was nine. Literary scholars call it ‘the first American novel’, and I agree. As much as I love Frankenstein, that novel was English. And early American authors—such as the talented Washington Irving, and the deplorable James Fenimore Cooper—were distinctly British in style and tone, despite being American. Mark Twain was the first American novelist to use words such as ‘ain’t’, and the first to exhibit the dry, sarcastic style that would forever become known as American humor.
Above all else, Twain taught me that yes, you can actually write the same way that you talk. I am often described as having a ‘conversational writing style’, and I consider that high praise.
Mark Twain taught me how to write that way.
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
I was fourteen when I first read Rebecca, and the story blew my mind. I have suffered my entire life from insomnia, and on the rare occasions that I do actually sleep … well, let’s just say that I don’t really sleep. Vivid dreams and nightmares torment my every slumbering moment.
Rebecca—as does all of Daphne du Maurier’s work—feels like a dream. It feels like a tale completely removed from reality, one that makes sense only according to those ill-defined, ever-changing terms that always define a dream.
It was Daphne du Maurier who taught me how to pull my dreams out of my head, and turn them into fiction.
The Brute and I, by Suzanne Smith
I researched dozens of romance novels when I decided to venture into that world. Most of them were published by Harlequin, and honestly? Most of ‘em sucked. I learned a hard lesson, pretty quickly: romance can often be a brilliant genre, but because of the sheer consumer demand, a lot of sub-standard work slips through the cracks. That’s just a marketing reality. There is so much demand for romance that publishers often cut corners, in ways that they would never do with less popular genres like science fiction or fantasy. (The only bright spot in my research was Daphne Clair, who writes for Harlequin; she truly is a brilliant writer.)
So I wrote When the White Knight Falls, which is now available from Black Velvet Seductions. I took what I learned from ‘the Harlequin formula’, and found a way to make it my own.
Then I read Suzanne Smith’s The Brute and I ...
Suddenly a whole new world opened up. Romance is meant to be a beautiful, heart-warming genre … but it can also be ugly. It can reflect the darkest parts of the human psyche, and learning this tied my new-found grasp of romance to my roots in horror and dark fantasy.
The Brute and I brought my understanding of romance full circle. It taught me that I can work in romance without disavowing the darker side of my work. I would later read Patrick, by Callie Carmen, which cemented the lesson I learned from The Brute and I. Both novels are defined just as much by mental illness as they are passionate love.
There’s only one me. No one else could ever write like I do. But I am also Mary, Mark, Daphne, Suzanne, and Callie. I carry their legacy like an eager apprentice, even as I revel in my uniqueness.
And that’s what it means to be an author: to be forever original, and yet forever derivative. To glory in new creations, while always carrying the torch for those who made you who you are.
Every writer is one of a kind.
And every writer is also part of an ever-expanding coven.
That’s a beautiful thing …