What writers influence your writing? That is probably one of the most commonly asked questions that always baffles me because when I ask for clarification, the interviewer always wants to know what fiction authors made a difference in my work.
The answer is simple. None.
While I’ve read fiction all my life and have many, many fave authors, none of them have ever made a difference in my writing in any way. I’ve never tried to mimic anything about them and even though their characters and books have stayed with me and lived in my heart alongside my own, they’ve never held any kind of influence over me. Yes, I’ve admired the beauty of how Oscar Wilde and Chaucer, as well as countless others turn a phrase, but that’s their style and while I love and admire it, it’s not my style or my characters’. Writing for me wasn’t like art where I studied another artist and tried to duplicate their expertise. I give other authors their due while I continue on my own by doing things, right or wrong, my way.
But as I was doing an interview earlier today, I realized something. There are actually writers whose works have influenced my writing. But not the way most people think. Since the day I discovered Descartes’s Passions of the Soul in sixth grade (I really was a precocious little monkey who read above a college level by fifth grade), I became enamored of philosophy, and, more importantly, philosophers. No, I didn’t understand everything back then, but I kept returning to those books and mulling their words, gaining more insight and understanding with every reread.
Over the years, I didn’t absorb and believe all their theories. Some of them just don’t work for my own philosophy and ethics (Rand jumps immediately to mind), but others such as Hobbes, Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard, etc. appealed to me at my most fundamental level. More than that, they taught me to think and to evaluate human behavior for myself. I went from philosophy to psychology where I explored Jung, Pavlov, Skinner and countless others. That ability to understand the complexities, duality and most importantly the dichotomy of human behavior has influenced my writing heavily because it has influenced my cognition and forced me to evaluate every aspect of not just me, but every character I create.
Another great influence on my writing was a paper I wrote in college. My dissertation was simple and yet extremely complex. It was that human personality and individuality are defined not by our consistencies, but by our inconsistencies. Those weird quirks we all have- some for a reason and some simply innate. That is the cornerstone of humanity. And that is what I use in my writing.
Each and every book, each and every character, for me, is an exploration of the various, and often opposing, philosophies and theories I was exposed to by those writers. Without their work, mine would not be the same and so I guess in the future, I need a new answer whenever an interviewer wants to know what writers have influenced me.
The only problem now is figuring out the ones who made the most impact. Hmm… maybe I should say Homer and Hesiod, and of course, Plato… definitely Plato :)