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The Twenty Books that Most Influence Us

Hand sticking five gold stars to a blank wall.

Here at the Writing Bloc we have a growing community of authors, aspiring authors, and avid readers. We’ve tapped into that community and asked them to tell us which books have been the most influential to their own writing. The question prompted a fascinating conversation in our Facebook group and the creation of this impressive list. Check it out, then feel free to join the conversation on FB.

The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Cover of the book“Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding a large letter ‘H’.”

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!

Brian Fitzpatrick, author of Mechcraft:

“The depth of interweaving storylines for one. Things in book 6 would explain aspects of book 1. So well thought out. Her style, the characters, the plot. Literally everything about this series inspires me.”

Susan Hamilton, author of Shadow King:

“I agree with Brian about the storylines — and it all seemed effortless. Nothing at the end felt like it got tagged on or rushed. And her ability to create really wonderful characters — my best example is Snape. He was mean, vindictive, and angry — and it would have been so easy to just let him be the nasty bad guy. But instead, she created really believable reasons for why he behaved the way he did so that you went from hating him to loving him. At least I did.”

G. A. Finocchiaro, author of The Knightmares:

“I agree with the above, but I’ll also add that I loved the characters, their depth, the humor, and the world building most of all.”

Jason Chestnut:

“For me, I think it’s a great lesson in building story and character complexity. The first couple of books are pretty simple and straightforward and they just build upon one another. I learned a lot about world building and character development from those books to be honest.”

Cari Dubiel, author of How to Remember:

“The way she uses language to create the character names. The world-building is seamless. It’s amazing to think that this series came just from her mind.”

Robert Batten, author of Blood Capital:

“The world was the first thing that blew me away. Everything about it was so well thought out and inventive — it took many element we know and love, but didn’t feel derivative, while adding many new touches. Like most of us, I still dream of going to Hogwarts. Second were the characters and their growth throughout the series, from young children to young adults. I can’t wait until my son is old enough to start his Harry Potter journey.”

Debbie Munro, author of APEX:

“J.K. Rowling inspired an entire generation of young people to become avid readers, for which I’m eternally grateful. I so admire her ability to build in the necessary scenes and foreshadowing in order to carry out an epic reveal, not only at the end of each book, but all the way through the series of eight Harry Potter novels. The feeling is one of completeness, like everything she said on the page was essential to the story, no more, no less.”

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Cover of the bookAfter three years in prison, Shadow has served his time. But as the days and hours until his release tick away, he can feel a storm brewing.

Two days before his release date, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town.

But the storm is about to break . . .

G. A. Finocchiaro, author of The Knightmares:

“Gaiman is a master. Reading his books are like poetry. I loved the depth of Shadow’s experience, the twist that I should have seen coming but had no clue when it dropped right in front of me. I loved the gods! And how they were personified. This book helped me to realize the importance of research in writing.”

Jason Chestnut:

“I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan and he’s so great at creating a completely different tone and attitude from story to story. American Gods is so tonally different than a lot of his other works, but still retains as Gino said, the poetry of his prose. I think it’s important to adapt your writing to the type of story and tone you want to project.”

Cari Dubiel, author of How to Remember:

“All his books have a strong voice. If you listen to him read them, you can hear it.”

Christopher Lee Eichenauer, author of Nemeton:

“While Dune influenced me heavily in so far as structure and drama, Gaiman was incredibly hard to put down. I read American Gods front to back in two days. His words were intoxicating.”

Steffen Kønsen:

“I love this book. What struck me so much about it is that it felt real, the way he presented everything. I believed him. It didn’t feel merely like a book; it was so immersive that I was transported to a place where the story actually happened.

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

cover of the bookMeet Harry Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard P.I.

Turns out the ‘everyday’ world is full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in.

Harry’s business as a private investigator has been quiet lately – so when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, he’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name.

Magic – it can get a guy killed.

Cari Dubiel, author of How to Remember:

“World building again – mythology that spans over the course of all the books, even in a long, somewhat episodic series. I feel like it’s gotten a little off track in the later books, but the first ten or so were tight. And I still enjoy reading/listening to them. Harry Dresden is a great character. And his voice, again, is pitch perfect.”

Jason Chestnut:

“Probably one of the best examples of world building and my go-to example for writing effectively in first person. I also have a soft spot for the kind of hero who seems to have the worst luck imaginable. Jim Butcher said he based Harry Dresden partially on Peter Parker, a regular guy trying to do good when everything seems to backfire on him. I can’t think of a more realized character than Harry.”

Robert Batten, author of Blood Capital:

“The Dresden Files is an incredible series that manages to maintain both its intensity and quality throughout a long run. I love the world these books are set in, but Harry is the star. He’s stubborn, flawed, and snarky. He doesn’t cruise through life like an action hero and he doesn’t always get it right. Despite his magic, people relate to Harry. They wince when he’s hurt (which is a lot) and cheer when he succeeds. The other thing about this series that always strikes me is how well it presents the grey — nobody is all good or all bad. The “good guys” are incredibly unjust, but necessary, while not only does Harry repeatedly need help from those who might classically be evil, but (redacted spoiler alert).”

Jurassic Park

book coverAn astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them – for a price.

Until something goes wrong….

Cari Dubiel, author of How to Remember:

“The science! Crichton could write science like no other.”

Debbie Munro, author of APEX:

“Michael Crichton was a medical doctor, and he uses this strength to make excellent, believable science in his novels, like Jurassic Park. As a scientist and engineer myself, I strive to accomplish the same in my own writing.”

 

Ready Player One

book coverIn the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the OASIS, a vast virtual world where most of humanity spends their days.

When the eccentric creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a series of fiendish puzzles, based on his obsession with the pop culture of decades past. Whoever is first to solve them will inherit his vast fortune – and control of the OASIS itself.

Then Wade cracks the first clue. Suddenly he’s beset by rivals who’ll kill to take this prize. The race is on – and the only way to survive is to win.

Brian Fitzpatrick, author of Mechcraft:

“The plot twists and pacing.”

G. A. Finocchiaro, author of The Knightmares:

“I think what struck me the most about this book was how it actually created a scavenger hunt for the reader. Many of us who lived through 80s pop culture could almost try to figure it out with the characters. I know the book took a critical smashing, but I always felt it was an ode to what inspired me. I think it helped me to realize that we as writers are best when we draw writing inspiration from the things we know and love. Putting your heart into a book can mean many things, and sometimes it means more than just effort.”

Cari Dubiel, author of How to Remember:

“Yep. It’s a mystery/science fiction blend, with that scavenger hunt/gamification element. Great voice, as well, and character building.”

Andrew Fantasia:

“In a small but fun way. I’ve never written fan-fiction before, but I fell so in love with the world Cline created in RPO that I felt compelled to play in that sandbox for a bit by writing a story set in the same universe, just for giggles. It’s pure candy-coated fun.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

book cover“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, ‘I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive …’”

Phil Rood:

“I nominated/voted for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Cat’s Cradle and I did not only because these books kind of turned my world upside-down when I read them, but because they really showed me how unique a 1st Person narrative voice could be. Hunter Thompson doesn’t even make a character (unless you count his regular public persona) and tells the story as himself. They’re both exercises in a person inserting their voices into stories that could be very pedestrian if their commentary was not there. Both are told in very matter-of-fact ways that leave you wondering what’s real and what’s embellished (esp. F&L, as it is based on an actual trip he took).”

 

The Shades of Magic series by V. E. Schwab

book coverMost people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There’s Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There’s Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London…

Robert Batten, author of Blood Capital:

“Lila. Is. A. Boss. This series was my introduction to V. E. Schwab’s writing and she’s now one of my literary heroes. This series has everything: amazing characters, four incredible worlds (Londons), an epic plot… Pretty much everything about this series is flawless.”

 

 

The Abhorsen series by Garth Nix

book coverFor many years Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the random power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won’t stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and to find him Sabriel must cross back into that treacherous world – and face the power of her own extraordinary destiny.

Robert Batten, author of Blood Capital:

“Everyone should read Garth Nix. Personally, I recommend starting here, but it’s all good. Nix creates the most incredible worlds for his stories, and he’s a fellow Australian, so he scores bonus points. The world building is just so good — so grounded — and the mechanics beautifully imaginative.”

 

 

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

book coverFuture Atlanta is an interesting place to live: one moment magic dominates, and cars stall and guns fail. The next, technology takes over and the defensive spells no longer protect your house from monsters.

Here skyscrapers topple under the onslaught of magic; the Pack, a paramilitary clan of shapechangers, prowl through the ruined streets; and the Masters of the Dead, necromancers driven by their thirst for knowledge and wealth, pilot blood-crazed vampires with their minds.

Kate Daniels likes her sword a little too much, and she has a hard time controlling her mouth. The magic in her blood makes her a target, and she’s spent most of her life hiding in plain sight. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, she must choose to do nothing, and remain safe, or to risk her life by pursuing his preternatural killer. Hiding is easy, but the right choice is rarely easy …

Robert Batten, author of Blood Capital:

“Ilona and Gordan Andrews (husband and wife writing under a single name) are kind of who I want to be if I grow up. There are writers. And then there are writers. Everything these two touch turns to gold and they give back to their fans so freely. The Kate Daniels series is some of the best urban fantasy — period — and the tenth (and final) book is now out, so it’s the perfect time to jump in. Once more, the world building is foundational to these books — perfectly executed and wonderfully unique, but the characters and their stories do not play second fiddle. The entire series is brilliant from start to finish.”

The Keltiad series by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison

book coverWhen lore became legend on ancient Earth and the powers of magic waned, the Kelts and their allies fled the planet for the freedom of distant star realms.

But the stars were home to dangerous foes, and millenia later, the worlds of Keltia still maintained uneasy truce with two enemy empires -the Imperium and the Phalanx. Then, at the start of the reign of Aeron, mistress of high magic and queen of all the Kelts, an Earthship made contact with her long-fled children. And while Earth and Keltia reached out to form alliance, the star fleets of the enemy mobilized for final, devastating war…

Susan Hamilton, author of Shadow King:

“I picked The Keltiad Series. For me, part of why I love it is the combination of sci-fi and fantasy. The world it is set in is one where there is space travel and a war between two planets, but the most powerful weapon is one character’s magic. That character, Aeron, is also multi-dimensional and she has to navigate a very difficult path where she often makes mistakes and has to learn that the people who are her “enemies” might actually not be. And it is the whole combination of setting, story, characters that just resonated with me on a different level than some other series’ I’d read — so a little part of it is intangible.

I have copies of all three books, that are tattered with messed up spines, and I went and found duplicate copies of each that I have tucked away so that when my originals finally do fall apart I won’t lose them forever (the books are out of print now so you can only find them used).”

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

book coverPublished in 1847 under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell, Wuthering Heights was the only novel of Emily Bronte. It relates the complex history of the love between an adopted son, Heathcliff and his notional sister Catherine Earnshaw. The narrative is heavily influenced by the landscape around Haworth and transfers the harshness of the natural landscape into the relations of its characters. Heathcliffe, alongside Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, is thought to be heavily influenced by Emily’s brother Branwell.

Katherine Forrister, author of Curio Citizen:

“Wuthering Heights is one of the most passionate novels I have ever read. Its driving emotions of love and hate are expressed through the events, the characters, and even the wild landscape and atmospheric houses. The structure of the novel is unique and tells a very intimate story from an outsider’s view–discovering the story of his mysterious neighbors after he moved into the area. The various ways that he learns the story (letters, the testimony of a housekeeper, etc), are all extremely well done, making you feel like you are really there despite their outside viewpoint. It is also a story that encompasses generations and feels epic while remaining a relatively slim volume, which I think is a testament to the quality of the writing.

Although not all of my books echo the dark, wild, passionate tone of Wuthering Heights, the raw emotions and depth of character, the use of setting as an integral character in and of itself, and the unique writing structure are often aspects I like to imitate. Also, Emily Brontë herself faced backlash from writing such a violent, macabre novel and also had to publish under a male pen name to get her work into the public eye. I admire her perseverance as an author.”

Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice

book coverIn the fifth Vampire Chronicle, Lestat is searching for Dora, the beautiful and charismatic mortal daughter of a drug lord. Dora has moved Lestat like no other mortal ever has, and he cannot get her out of his visions. At the same time, he is increasingly aware that the Devil knows who he is and wants something from him. While torn between his vampire world and his passion for Dora, Lestat is sucked in by Memnoch, who claims to be the Devil himself. Memnoch presents Lestat with unimagined opportunities: to witness creation, to visit purgatory, to be treated like a prophet. Lestat faces a choice between the Devil or God. Whom does he believe in? Who does he serve? What are the element of religious belief? Lestat finds himself caught in a whirlpool of the ultimate choice.

Michael James Welch, author of Preservation of Occult Figures:

“Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice – I’m fond of saying that this book changed my religion. I’d never read such a practical telling of the fall of Lucifer. What really resonated with me was the characterization of God as a disinterested ‘tinkerer,’ someone who might very well love all of his creations, but more in the way that a pet shop owner loves all of the various tropical fish in his store…not like a parent loves a child. It’s always resonated with me and I dare to say has been a touchstone of my belief system ever since.”

Blood Meridien by Cormac McCarthy

book coverAn epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion, Blood Meridian brilliantly subverts the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the “wild west.” Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennesseean who stumbles into the nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.

Michael James Welch, author of Preservation of Occult Figures:

“I’ll be the first to say that McCarthy’s genius sometimes flies directly over my simple mortal head, but aside from No Country For Old Men, this book solidly hit home for me better than any other of his works, including The Road (which is brilliant in different ways). The raw brutality told without judgment or fervor very strongly resonated with me – as opposed to someone like Stephen King, who, I feel, often assigns emotion to his action rather than simply depicts it. That might not come out correctly, as I lack the words for the visceral effect Blood Meridien had on me, but the book stuck with me LONG after I put it down, and still does. That, to me, is influence.”

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

book coverAudrey Niffenegger’s innovative debut, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

Cari Dubiel, author of How to Remember:

“The Time Traveler’s Wife was a big influence for me in tone, characterization, and plot.”

Robert Batten, author of Blood Capital:

“This book is so different from anything else I’d read (and remains so). The premise — a man who randomly jumps through time (in his case due to a genetic quirk) — isn’t necessarily unique, but to then tell a love story between him and his wife is a masterstroke. So much happens in this novel, sliced through different time periods and jumbled — just like Henry’s life. And that ending. Wow.”

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

book coverA father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

Michael James Welch, author of Preservation of Occult Figures:

“My gateway drug into McCarthy’s writing. A simple tale written about the biggest possible thing – the end of the world – and written simply. McCarthy’s style (nearly no punctuation, sentences without end) doesn’t serve the story as well as it does in, say, Blood Meridien, but it’s still effective enough to have an impact. The spartan utility of his prose amplifies the character’s struggles. Why this book resonates with me so deeply is that McCarthy was incredibly effective with getting the emotional thrust of the story across. It’s about little more than a father’s love for a child. And that is hammered home without a single bit of fluff, mush, or judgment. Something to aspire to as a writer.”

The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

book coverOn a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There’s an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE on the planet…

Alexandra Welch:

“I love the humor and insight. I also love his approach to fantasy in general. No matter how outlandish the circumstances are, the way characters respond to them and each other is grounded in reality. I also voted for Coraline and the May Bird trilogy. These are coming of age stories framed as urban fantasy that made a place for unconventional heroines, and opened the door to other authors that have taken it even further. And again, the emphasis is on bringing a sense of humanity to fantastic circumstances. Overall I like books where I feel like I’m among friends, and I strive to recreate that sense in my own work.”

 

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

book coverTwo families, who would otherwise never have come together, meet by chance at the Baltimore airport—the Donaldsons, a very American couple, and the Yazdans, Maryam’s fully assimilated son and his attractive Iranian American wife. Each couple is awaiting the arrival of an adopted infant daughter from Korea. After the babies from distant Asia are delivered, Bitsy Donaldson impulsively invites the Yazdans to celebrate with an “arrival party,” an event that is repeated every year as the two families become more deeply intertwined.

Jason Pomerance, author of Women Like Us:

“Tyler writes about every day people — her characters seem like they could be your neighbors, or maybe a relative. And yet somehow she always makes them so much larger than life. This book covers so many themes it’s almost breathtaking. What it means to be a mother, a daughter, and a son; what it means to be an American. It’s laugh out loud funny in parts, but also heartbreaking in others. I aim for this in almost everything I write, and any time I’m stumped I go back and reread portions of it. If I can ever get even a tiny bit close to what Tyler does in almost all of her books, I consider it a success.”

The Light At The End by John Skipp and Craig Spector

book coverAn adrenaline-charged tale of unrelenting suspense that sparks with raw and savage energy… The newspapers scream out headlines that spark terror across the city. Ten murders on the New York City subway. Ten grisly crimes that defy all reason — no pattern, no m.o., no leads for police to pursue. The press dubs the fiend the “Subway Psycho”; the NYPD desperately seeks their quarry before the city erupts in mass hysteria. But they won’t find what they’re looking for.

Because they all think that the killer is human.

Michael James Welch, author of Preservation of Occult Figures:

“Written and published in the mid-80s. One of the first shots across the bow of the ‘Splatterpunk’ movement. Which now, looking back, there’s nothing all that shocking about the book. It was simply horror melded with a bit of torture porn and a punk aesthetic… but like The Clash, as in, they knew how to use their instruments correctly. They wanted to look like the Sex Pistols, but they were technically adept. Brought horror down from dizzying heights to street level for me. Relatable characters, relatable, flawed villains. Showed me that the most interesting villains can be both flawed and powerful, but that they were at their most dangerous when they were picking themselves up off the floor after a setback, when the heroes are punching each other on the back and figuring out where to celebrate with drinks. Their style (abrupt fragment sentences) was a massive influence on me.”

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan

book coverThe Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

Andrew Wood:

“It wasn’t the first epic fantasy series I ever read, but it was the one that showed me the scope and depth that these sorts of stories could reach. I was immediately enthralled and inspired to work on my own fantasy, and WoT’s impact on my writing can be felt through every page I ever write down.”

 

 

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

book coverFresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

Laney Wylde, author of If She Were Blind:

“Gillian Flynn revolutionized my writing style by demonstrating the fewest words needed to make the most impact. She writes with a scalpel, and you feel every slice. Since learning from her, people have told me that I write with a punch. Few words. Big impact. She’s also crude, with female characters who are vulnerable without being feminine.”

 

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Robert Batten
Robert is the author of Blood Capital, a dystopian sci-fi novel of espionage and rebellion set in the ruins of Sydney. It is due for release by Inkshares in January 2019 after winning two major prizes in the 2016 Launch Pad competition: the Inkshares Publishing Prize and Ridley Scott / Scott Free Guaranteed Option Prize. Ever since acquiring his latest glasses, people have been telling Robert he looks like Clark Kent. He’s since sworn to never buy another pair of glasses again. When not imagining himself as the man of steel, Robert reads and writes science-fiction and fantasy novels. He loves reading David Eddings, Jim Butcher, Ilona Andrews, Sarah J. Maas, V.E. Schwab, Laini Taylor, Garth Nix, among many others. Until he achieves the success of his literary role models, Robert earns a living as an IT consultant.
https://robertbatten.net
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