When this came up at Melissa F. Olson’s blog, I searched for a novel that was at the core of who I am. One that made me the way that I am. Basically doing the job of that nebulous person from my future I refer to as “the prosecution.” Only I couldn’t really pick one book. There were many. Additionally, there’s that period of my life that’s a little foggy. I hear TBIs will do that to the best of us – no matter how Sheldon Cooper-like your memory is.
Below are the titles that I can point to as having an early (and not so early) influence on me. There are so many, but these are some of the highlights.
Lord of the Rings
Okay, really it began with The Hobbit. I remember getting the book for the train ride from Wisconsin to Boston. Even as a kid I never slept well, and I had a very visceral childhood memory of equating train rides with hideous nosebleeds. So, I read. In this instance I believe I finished the book rather quickly. I’m not 100%, but I think I might have picked up Fellowship of the Ring for the ride home. This was most definitely my first experience in high fantasy. Which likely lead to my past in Dungeons and Dragons, which lead (in part) to my love of reading and desire to write. It all branched out from here.
It was also these books that made me rather devoted towards playing a halfling for most of my early D&D career. Something about them made them so identifiable. Which meant I spent a lot of time playing the party burglar.
The Kundalini Equation
This was about as identifiable of a story as I could have asked for. Martial arts was my pathway into health as a teen. To be fair, cross country running was, but that dropped me to 145 pounds at 6’2″. You call that healthy until that first spinning back kick pops a couple ribs out of your sternum. Then you begin the weight training and muscle building.
In short, martial arts for me was the near opposite of what it was for the protagonist in this story, but I got him. It was also the first urban fantasy (contemporary fantasy?) that I had a clear connection to. Where I could see myself in the place of the main character. Additionally our hero faced a loss of self in his journey that addressed a very real fear I held from my childhood into my teen years (and even further). I actually mourned the loss of that book (though likely one of my in-laws probably has it in a box or on a shelf). And when I met Steven Barnes decades later, I went in search of a copy (thank you Frugal Muse) so that I could get one signed.
This was the book that made me want to write stories that people could see themselves in.
The Drizzt Do’Urden Novels
This is one of the staples of the D&D Youth. While Ed Greenwood made the Forgotten Realms, R.A. Salvatore made the drow cool. Actually, he kind of made them dicks. Which made them cool to read about. This was a society unlike any other I’d read about in my books. A matriarchal society at its core. One in which the women were easily as horrible to the men, if not more so. And the best of them (except for our unlikely hero) was still pretty evil.
Here we saw a fighter of great ability rising up against his dark birthright every morning. His actions the only things that could separate him from the rest of the drow and their dark queen Lloth. Something about that spoke to me… even if Drizzt was more of a cat person than a dog person.
In the most recent incarnation (or really reincarnation) of the series, what I am finding particularly interesting is how Regis, the halfling rogue who was part of Drizzt’s original party of adventurers, has become more of a contributing member. Back in the original series, any time fighting broke out, there was almost a need to have someone watching over him. He was somewhat of a handicap to the team. This time around he’s easily as badass as the rest of them. Though he is still the trickiest one.
Of note… these were the first books I ever had signed. They are also some of the rare titles that aren’t signed to Zombie Joe.
This was my introduction to Clive Barker, which lead me to others. Imajica, Thief of Always… It wasn’t Pinhead that brought me to him. It was the innocent who merely believed he was a monster. It was also my first experience of the movie changing things from the book. Not huge portions, but enough for me to consider the implications.
I loved the ideas of the monsters being the heroes. The innocent ones. Sure, they eat you as soon as look at you, but in this case, they were the ones wronged. So much did I associate with the creatures from Midian that when we adopted our first animal together (a black cat, picked up on Friday the 13th – of course), I wanted to name him Peloquin.
Just recently I was in submission for an anthology of stories from after the fall of Midian. I didn’t make the final cut (there were over 500 submissions from what I heard), but it was one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on to date. Sure, the story is something I can’t use now, but that didn’t make it any less fun. Writing about some of the ancillary characters from the Children of the Moon was like coming home for me. It was full circle.
Happy Hour of the Damned
This one is likely off the radar of many of you. Back when I was pimping this series like it owed me money, I was referring to it as “Sex in the City if all four of them fell down dead and got back up again.” Really that was how the author explained it to me. His main character was a zombie. As was her bestie. Their flamboyantly gay friend was the vampire. And they were all monsters. They ate people. And lots of them. All along the way they were bitchy and snarky. It was the dark comedy that I hadn’t found most other places. At least not outside of the movies.
I was introduced to several things by this book. Book review blogs for one. It was also the first series where I won a contest. An ARC of the second in the series. It was also my first ARC. Additionally it introduced me to an entire slew of new authors that wrote the snarky shit I really loved to read. A dark sense of humor was required. Damned near gallows humor. And as midlist authors, they were just as excited about the novels and my reading them as I was. These were the people that were (and are) inspiring me to make that leap to published author.
Well, them and the critique group that held a Publishing Intervention for me last year.
Red-Headed Step Child
Remember the snark I was talking about? This series had it. Additionally, it had one of the best opening lines I’d read up to that point. It grabbed me in the first paragraph. And I knew that was what I needed to do to make a book work. To ensure I published more than just a single title. It was also the book that opened up the power of the sidekick to me. Sure the Dresden Files had nearly a Scooby Gang at that point, but Giguhl was truly a sidekick. And an animal one at times to boot.
Between that, the settings, and the mythology, I was hooked. Add to it the author being one of the aforementioned inspiring midlisters (really they stalk YOU at the conventions), and I was hooked.
Of note, the first book in the series I had literally used to fend off an attack from a diving bird. I pointed out the beak prints at the first party we attended at RT. It made for a hell of a story.
Mark of the Demon
As with the last few on the list, this one makes it up here for a couple of reasons. It was another contest I had won (for a travelling book concept that was great on paper). It also featured snark and sass, a strong trait for my favorite books at this point. But it also hand some real world roots to it. The police procedural elements of it were strong and engaging. It made me feel like I was visiting a real crime scene. Which makes sense, as the author had been on the police force for something like 10 years.
My personal copy of this book also had the first signing to it that caught me by surprise. It has a personal message that convinced me that I was doing the right thing focusing this much energy on my reading and writing of stories. And I haven’t turned back since. Stumbled and tripped, sure. Turned back? No way in hell.
Plus, the recent covers for this series and her White Trash Zombie series are insane! I can only ever dream to have covers that awesome.
Now I don’t have any swag to give away, but feel free to comment below with novels that have inspired you over the years. Open dialog is never a bad thing.