Thursday, April 30, 2009

Books That Made Us What We Are

At some time in your early life, did you discover a particular book that shaped your response to literature and helped to make you a writer? For me, the transformative literary work was DRACULA, which I read at age twelve. It lured me into the whole realm of horror, fantasy, and "soft" science fiction. This teenage enthusiasm inspired me to become a writer and major in English lit (NOT the guaranteed path to fame and fortune, by the way!). My love for speculative fiction also led to a devotion to C. S. Lewis, whose works changed my life in profound ways.

In addition to DRACULA, three anthologies enlightened and inspired me: THE OMNIBUS OF CRIME, edited by Dorothy Sayers (long before I met Lord Peter Wimsey), which, despite its title, is about half composed of horror stories; GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL, edited by Herbert A. Wise and Phyllis Fraser, a comprehensive volume of classic tales; and THE SUPERNATURAL READER, edited by Groff Conklin (one of the great spec fic anthologists of the mid-twentieth century), a mix of classic and more recent stories. Conklin's book contains the first "sympathetic vampire" story I'd ever read aside from the ones I'd written myself. It was a great thrill recently to be able to buy online a first edition of the Wise and Fraser anthology, and I've just ordered a copy of THE OMNIBUS OF CRIME to complete the "set." I absorbed all this literature before I saw a single horror movie. Thanks to this broad background in seminal horror fiction, much of my juvenilia—beginning with my first ghost and vampire stories at age thirteen—reads like a pastiche of Victorian and Edwardian fiction. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. I later developed a more contemporary mode of storytelling, and meanwhile my vocabulary and style gained dimensions they might otherwise have lacked.

What book or books made you a writer?

Margaret L. Carter (


  1. Anne of Green Gables

    Anne: "Don't you ever imagine things differently than they are?"
    Marilla: "No."
    Anne: "Oh, Marilla, how much you miss!"

  2. Margaret, I wrote my senior thesis on C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy. I am so excited to see you like it too. It seems to me that THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH is written about today. It seemed that way forty years ago too. THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS... scary! I know too much about that kind of thinking. LOL

  3. Anonymous7:21 PM EDT

    Hard to narrow it down to just one book, I devoured books when I was a kid, but Tolkien's The Hobbit and Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree are standouts in my memories.

  4. It was actually a film that made me a writer--Star Wars. I wrote fan fiction based on the film before creating my own characters. It also made me a reader, as I began reading all the tie-in novels. I'd been a reader before, but that was my first real taste of science fiction/space opera.

    Once I got over the teenage years, I read non-film related science fiction. Anne McCaffrey was a huge influence on my early writing, especially the Sassinak books, and the Crystal Singer trilogy.

  5. Hi,
    You are so right, books shape us.
    I would say Russel Baker's books and later his columns aspired me to become a columnist. So also Bill Bryson - have written a few travel articles.
    Thanks for your reply to my question on LinkedIn regarding book reviews.