This is the fifth and final part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
I thought I’d close out this discussion of influential books with a genre that I don’t usually read: nonfiction. It’s only in the last three years or so that I’ve really started delving into nonfiction; before I just passed it by as something that I don’t dealt with for research, not read for fun. However, I started finding interesting books about internet culture, fandom, introverts, and writing. So, here I am to talk about three nonfiction books that helped influence me as a person as well as a writer.
Image via dailyom.com
This book saved my life. I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that. I was deep in the grip of depression when my onii-san David let me borrow his copy of Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live by Martha Beck. I was in pain, confused, and trying desperately to claw my way out of a hole I had only recently realized I was in. I needed to make sense of what was happening to me, why I was so unhappy, and what to do about it. Listening to other people doesn’t help me much because I often find it hard to relate to someone else’s thought processes. But books…a book I can read. A book I can understand and apply to my own life and experiences. And Finding You Own North Star helped me do just that.
This is the fourth part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
The next round of influential books didn’t come until I entered college. Granted, I found lots of books that I loved between the age of 12 and 18, but truly influential books are much rarer. In my freshman year, I discovered anime and manga. Last Exile was the first anime I ever watched (I’m not counting random Pokemon episodes I saw when I was little), and reading manga soon followed. A six-year obsession with all things Japanese had begun. During that time, I read and watched so much anime that I needed a list to keep track of them all. Three series stick out in my mind from that time that remain favorites and powerful influences.
Image via mangahere.com
The first of these was Pet Shop of Horrors by Matsuri Akino. This 10-volume series is a horror manga, not my usual genre of choice. It’s both beautiful and eerie, revolving around a pet shop in Chinatown run by the enigmatic, androgynous, and amoral proprietor known only as “Count D.” Each volume contains about four stories of various people who come into the pet shop and leave with a pet…under certain conditions. Like in Gremlins, disobeying D’s instructions as to the care and feeding of their pets often results in calamity. Sometimes the pets are helpful to their new owners, but most of the time it ends in tragedy. Weaving through these tales alongside D is Leon Orcot, a detective who is sure that D has something to do with the various mysterious deaths throughout the city, but is unable to come up with any proof.
This is the third part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
Image via mycomicshop.com
While writing these “Influential Books” posts, I’ve noticed that most of these books were read between the ages of 8 and 12. I’m pretty sure I was 11 when I picked up a copy of The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore.
It was after we’d moved, but we still came back to my hometown in Maryland occasionally. I think we stopped to get Chinese food or maybe we stopped by the hardware store. Either way, we had a little extra time, so Mom and Dad let us go into a nearby bookstore. I had $20 of birthday money in my pocket; a small fortune to me. I prowled through the shelves, not looking for anything in particular, although I always wanted to buy as many books as possible. Then I noticed the lurid cover of the February 2000 paperback Collector’s Edition of The Dark Elf Trilogy, which promised to contain the first three books of the Chronicles of Drizzt: Homeland, Exile, and Sojourn. That got my attention. I love omnibuses, origin stories, and complete sets, plus I’d never heard of a “dark elf” before, so I bought it.
This is the second part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here and Part 1 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
Image via mysummergirl16.blogspot.com
One of the earliest fairy tale books I remember checking out from the library was East of the Sun & West of the Moon written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer. It’s an old fairy tale and there have been different adaptations of it, most of which involve a polar bear. (One of my favorite alternate movie adaptations is the Norwegian film The Polar Bear King.) I cannot tell you how gorgeous the illustrations are, and they’ve stuck with me my whole life. Even when I forgot the title, I remembered those pictures. The girl sitting by a pond, a unicorn in the forest, the goat with the corkscrew horns, the giant green fish with scales like mirrors, the prince’s icy prison, and the evil troll queen with a wooden arrow in her heart. The beauty of these illustrations transported me into a rich, living fantasy world and have influenced my mental imagery of fantasy works ever since. It also, for a time, made me want to become an illustrator for children’s storybooks. (Each of the illustrations in Mercer Mayer’s books are done in watercolor. Watercolor! His rendition of Beauty and the Beast is equally breath-taking.) I’d searched on and off for this book for years, but my efforts were frustrated by not remembering anything except those illustrations. But recently, I stumbled across it by chance on the internet, found the title, and ordered a copy.
But all my life I’ve wanted to be the kid who gets to cross over into the magical kingdom … Because even when I was a child I knew it wasn’t simply escape that lay on the far side of the borders of fairyland. Instinctively I knew crossing over would mean more than fleeing the constant terror and shame . . . There was a knowledge that ran deeper – an understanding hidden in the marrow of my bones that only I can access – telling me that by crossing over, I’d be coming home.
That’s the reason I’ve yearned so desperately to experience the wonder, the mystery, the beauty of that world beyond the World As It Is. It’s because I know that somewhere across the border there’s a place for me. A place of safety and strength and learning, where I can become who I’m supposed to be. I’ve tried forever to be that person here, but whatever I manage to accomplish in the World As It Is only seems to be an echo of what I could be in that other place that lies hidden somewhere beyond the borders.
— page 60 from The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
It’s ironic that, fifteen years ago, the last thing I wanted to be was a writer.
During my elementary years as a homeschooled student, composition class was my least favorite subject. I suppose regular schools lump reading and writing under the heading “English,” but for me they were two separate things. Reading was fun and fast. Writing was a torture that dragged on for what felt like hours. I remember my father tell me that I would probably grow up and become a great writer. I looked up from grinding out another line of loopy, childishly careful cursive and declared that I would never, ever EVER become a writer. Not in a million years!
Look who had the last laugh on that one. As it turns out, Dad knew where my talents lay better than I did. It’s interesting how it took me so long to come around to writing, considering how much I loved to read. Plus, I always enjoyed crafting stories of my own, which I would reenact with my long-suffering toy horses, Barbie dolls, dinosaurs, and Hot Wheels cars. (I believe we still have one of my stories involving My Little Ponies floating around on videotape somewhere…) In any case, while I loved “playing” stories, it took me years before it occurred to me to write them down, or that my world- and character-creation was essentially the same thing real writers did. I had other careers in mind.