Over the years many books have influenced me as a writer, but a few notable titles stand out. Some of these books were instrumental in kindling my love of reading and jump starting my dream to be a writer. Others helped me to discover which genres I wanted to work in and which styles and themes I wanted to explore. Some of these books were childhood favorites, others I read for the first time as recently as this year. I’ve listed these books in roughly the order in which they first entered my life and provided a brief explanation of why each title is special to me.
If Dinosaurs Came to Town by Dom Mansell
This was, simply put, my favorite book as a small child. This was the one I asked my parents to read me over and over. I trace my love of reading and storytelling to this lovely book and its colorful, dynamic illustrations. I would often imagine myself in the place of the nameless protagonist as his hometown is overrun by dinosaurs! If Dinosaurs Came to Town may also be the source of my recurring desire to write a children’s book about dinosaurs. Maybe someday I will!
Dinotopia by James Gurney
Another childhood favorite. Dinotopia and its sequel Dinotopia: The World Beneath were hugely influential in nurturing my young imagination. The world created by James Gurney is fleshed out in minute detail and feels like a real place! I dare say it rivals Tolkien’s Middle-earth in variety and complexity. I escaped for hours into Gurney’s gorgeous paintings and illustrations, which palpably communicate an awe-inspiring sense of wonder. Whenever I need inspiration for a fantasy project, I always return to Dinotopia. Besides the incomparable artwork, Gurney’s writing style (particularly in the first book) has had an influence on my work for years. I’ve always loved Gurney’s framing device of the long-lost explorer’s journal that just happened to be discovered and transcribed by the author. It adds a depth of realism that helps the reader to suspend disbelief.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Here’s a book that I read multiple times as a child and remains on my list of favorite novels of all time. Short by modern standards, Wells’ science fiction masterpiece is nevertheless jam-packed with adventure, mystery, and peril. The story is bleak, thrilling, and at times genuinely terrifying. In terms of fast-paced, tightly-plotted adventure fiction The Time Machine is a book I’ll no doubt return to for inspiration in the future (no pun intended).
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
Another classic of the sci-fi/adventure genre, The Lost World is a book I eagerly devoured as a kid and enjoy re-reading as an adult. Arthur Conan Doyle is a master storyteller best known for his Sherlock Holmes mysteries but his skills as a top tier adventure writer are on full display in The Lost World. The story is told in an engaging first-person narrative through the ingenious framing device of press dispatches by a fictitious journalist. The colorful and memorable characters add a dose of fun that balance the thrilling and suspenseful action sequences. As a kid I loved this book for the dinosaurs, and my early attempts at writing adventure stories often imitated its plot and style. As an adult writer who still aspires to write sci-fi/adventure stories, The Lost World remains a major source of inspiration.
Jurassic Park & The Lost World by Michael Crichton
I was way too young to be reading Michael Crichton’s technothrillers when I first read Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World (not to be confused with the above Arthur Conan Doyle novel of the same name). The profanity and graphic violence I was inadvertently exposed to at a young age would have shocked my parents had they known. Somehow, I was able to digest and compartmentalize that stuff as a kid and the experience doesn’t seem to have had much of a negative impact on me. Ironically, I avoid profanity and gory violence in my own writing. All that aside, Jurassic Park and The Lost World had a profound impact on me. It was after reading these books that I first decided that I wanted to become a novelist. After all, if Michael Crichton could make a living writing books about dinosaurs chasing and eating people, why couldn’t I? For several years, Crichton was my favorite author and many of my earliest stories were clear attempts to ape his style (sans the vulgar language, of course) and usually involved dinosaurs chasing and/or eating people. As an adult I appreciate the JP duology even more for being a striking parable about the dangers of scientific hubris and the collision between scientific progress and ethics. These are themes I desire to explore in some of my own work.
Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker
Raptor Red is a unique book in the annals of science fiction. Its central character is a dinosaur (a female Utahraptor to be exact) and the story is told entirely from the dinosaur’s point of view. Paleontologist and author Robert T. Bakker deftly transports the reader to the early Cretaceous Period and manages to make his saurian protagonist relatable without overly anthropomorphizing her. I was captivated by Raptor Red as a child and read it several times. I am happy to say that the book holds up to scrutiny as an adult reader. There really is no other novel like it and if you’re a dinosaur enthusiast it should be on your must-read list. My own recent work has been heavily inspired by Raptor Red. Two of my latest short stories, Inheritance of the Meek and Fang were, if nothing else, loving homages to Bakker’s extraordinary book.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was twelve or thirteen years old and I can honestly say the experience changed my life. I can easily divide my life as a writer into two distinct periods: Pre-Tolkien and post-Tolkien. I had already aspired to be a novelist since I was very young, but it was in reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s incomparable magnum opus that I was first introduced to my beloved genre of epic high fantasy. I knew from then on that I wanted to write a fantasy novel. Tolkien’s Middle-earth was so vividly realized that I was effortlessly transported. I fell in love with the various characters of the Fellowship and really felt like I got to know them. I was blown away by the profound philosophical and religious themes that Tolkien wove seamlessly into the very fabric of his work. My entire outlook on what it meant to write fiction was altered. Fiction could now be a vehicle for talking about big ideas, and for giving the reader the exhilarating sense that he had accompanied the heroes on an epic adventure. To say that this novel rocked my world would be an understatement. I’m keenly aware that I’ll never come close to matching Tolkien’s achievements, but the desire to write an epic fantasy novel persists with me to this day.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit was the first of Tolkien’s three masterpieces (followed by The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion). In conversations with other fantasy fans, I’ve found that most people are introduced to Tolkien’s work thought The Hobbit. My experience was different in that I only read it after having devoured LOTR. The Hobbit is a more kid-friendly kind of book from its lengthier sequel. It’s more clearly aimed at a younger audience but can actually be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I guess you could say it’s the grandfather of today’s “middle-grade” fantasy, a genre I am very interested in trying my hand at. I always get a warm feeling inside when I revisit the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and read that iconic opening line: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the crown jewels of Christian science fiction and as a writer who is interested in exploring Christian themes and imagery in my work, Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s magnum opus affected me deeply when I read it last year. I was especially struck by how the novel ends leaving several major questions unresolved. I’m convinced that this was by design and that Miller wanted readers to ponder the mysterious and ambiguous aspects of the novel’s plot and come to their own conclusions rather than simply being provided with unequivocal answers. This has led me to try crafting stories with ambiguous endings that don’t always explain the mysterious or seemingly mystical elements.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
I first fell in love with the short story form after reading Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece “The Foghorn.” This led me to seek out more of his short fiction, including in The Illustrated Man. This fantastic collection of tales contains some of my favorite short stories of all time, including “The Man,” and “The Fire Balloons.” Many of these stories are downright chilling and feel like classic Twilight Zone episodes that were never made. Ever since I started reading Bradbury, his work has heavily influenced my own style of science fiction, including my recent short story Memento Mori. I plan to write more of this type of sci-fi in the months ahead.
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
I put Zen in the Art of Writing last not because I read it very recently, but because it is the only nonfiction title on this list. Nothing less than Bradbury’s personal manifesto on the art of writing, this collection of essays on the craft inspires and uplifts me whenever I read it!