Hello, SEers, and welcome to another Five for Friday. For “Mae Day,” I want to trot out five books that greatly influenced my life as a writer. We all have them, right? Those books that left a lasting impression, and are responsible for pushing you into putting words on paper. This is a quick look at mine. At the end of the post, I’d love to hear which books impacted you.
The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House
By Mary Chase
This is the book that started it all for me—the one that made me want to be a writer. I think I was in third grade when I read this story. The main character, Maureen, is a dreadful nine-year-old girl who manages to creep into a boarded-up home where she discovers seven portraits of elegant women in long flowing gowns. This book had everything that I still love today—a creepy old home, time travel, horse-drawn carriages, and women with lofty names like “Sylvia” and “Constance.”
It spurred my love for mystery, mysterious homes, and a time period (the late 1800s) that I’m still besotted with today.
Planet of Death
By Robert Silverberg
This was the first science fiction book I ever read. I was in fifth grade and was attracted by the cover. The original cover—the one I remember—was solid black with odd, ferocious-looking plants in neon pink, green, and yellow.
The main character and a team of scientists get trapped on a planet with, you guessed it—man-eating plants. After reading this book, I became smitten with science-fiction, and spent my high school years writing in this genre.
By Stephen King
I think I was in ninth grade when I read The Shining. It wasn’t the first King book I read, but it’s the one that sticks with me the most.
It introduced me to a whole new level of creepiness, including ghosts and isolated locations.
Those are elements I still work to spin into my stories today.
The Fellowship of the Ring
By J. R. R. Tolkien
In tenth grade I took a glass called “science-fiction and fantasy.” As students, we could read whatever we wanted in those genres, followed by writing book reports. At that point, I didn’t know fantasy existed. My teacher, Mr. Partin, gave me his copy of The Fellowship of the Ring to read, and it was like discovering an entire new world. I was gobsmacked! Where had this stuff been all of my life?
For the next decade I wrote (almost) exclusively fantasy. All full-length novels, including 2.5 books of a trilogy, and several stand-alones.
The Night Sister
By Jennifer McMahon
This one is fairly recent. I read The Night Sister in 2015. It was the first novel I read by Jennifer McMahon (who has since become an auto-buy author for me), and also the first book I read with alternating timelines. The impact of those dual timelines struck me with the same sense of wonder as The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House when I was a kid. I was so taken by the concept, I used it in my Hode’s Hill series of novels.
Dual time lines have become trendy, and I’ve read a ton of books that employ them. But The Night Sister is the one that set the bar for me. More than that, I realized you could blend creepiness, supernatural elements, isolated locations, myth, mystery and past timelines into modern day settings and spin one heck of a tale. It made me realize there is an audience for what I write.
Now that I’ve shared the books that influenced me, I’d love to hear which books live in your memory. Tales that linger from childhood, or that made you say—That’s the kind of story I want to write. I think all of us have at least one. Why not share yours in the comments below?
Ready, set, go!