Who are your favorite authors to read? The ones who most influenced you as a writer?
I divide books into two categories: those I would KILL to have written myself, and those I’m so glad someone else wrote so I can just sit back, put my feet up, eat bonbons and enjoy them.
In the first category, Cherry Wilder’s Rulers of Hylor series (A Princess of the Chameln, Yorath the Wolf, The Summer’s King), Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books (but not her other books), Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist, Evangeline Walton’s The Island of the Mighty, Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse, a few others.
In the second category: Tolkien, of course; Dune (but not the rest of Frank’s turgid little sandtraps — what a squandering of great characters, great concept, great subtext…); Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris’s terrific Adept series; E.F. Benson’s Lucia books (molto divinissimo!); Watership Down; Anne McCaffrey’s wonderful Pern books; and probably my favorite book of all time, Austin Tappan Wright’s mighty Islandia — I don’t just want to reread it forever, I want to live there…
My influences as a writer, and I steal from them endlessly, are Rudyard Kipling (for storytelling, narrative flow and pacing; read almost anything, especially some of the more spiritually-themed short stories, The Jungle Books, Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies); Lord Dunsany (for beauty of language and image; of his novels, try The King of Elfland’s Daughter or The Charwoman’s Shadow, of short stories The Kith of the Elf-folk, On the Dry Land, The Sword of Welleran or anything in the collections The Book of Wonder or Tales of Wonder); and E.R. Eddison (who wrote Elizabethan prose in the 1930’s; The Worm Ouroboros is the best of his works).
I don’t read very much contemporary science-fiction or fantasy, because I don’t want to be influenced, or tempted to nick cool things, or have to throw myself in the river because somebody else already did what I wanted to do and did it better. So I read my friends, or people I know or have at least met/corresponded with, or whose work I am already familiar with and know I can trust: Annie and Katherine, Jane Gaskell, Judy Tarr, Jennifer Roberson, Joy Chant.
On the boys’ side, not so much, though Owl Goingback is a new add. I used to read Larry Niven, before I realized what a sexist mannerless creep he writes like (and doesn’t dear Walt Whitman tell us “Understand that you cannot keep out of your writing the indication of the evil or shallowness you entertain in yourself”?); I still read, from time to time, Poul Anderson and Arthur Clarke; and reread frequently and with endless delight the great, the amazing, the ever-to-be-honored Cordwainer Smith.
I don’t like hard sf, or cyber-dystopian anything; but I don’t like most of what passes for fantasy these days either, all that unicorns-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden stuff, or Fluffy Elftrash(TM). To paraphrase dear Miss Parker, “Tonstant Weader fwows up.” It’s a struggle; that’s why I usually end up with history or other nonfiction as pleasure reading, or with mysteries (Martha Grimes, until she actually started mentioning Jim in her books!; Charlotte MacLeod; Susannah Stacey; Patricia Moyes; Jonathan Gash).