>20 Questions #2

>We’re asking writers 20 questions, and some of them are actually responding! This week’s question is a little tougher than last week’s. (Anyone coming late to the game, check out last week’s entry here and either leave your answere in the comments or send me an email; I’ll post it in an update.)

Who is your favorite author, and why? Or, put another way (or to ask a completely different question), what author has had the greatest influence on your own work, and why? Do you consciously imitate another author’s work in your writing? (Okay, so that’s three questions. Sue me. They’re related.)

Update: In addition to the comments from Anonymous and Marin Heavisides, I’ve received the following:

Pamela Erens:
George Eliot has been my favorite writer ever since I first read her in college. Tolstoy is the only other writer I can think of who captures human character with as much depth and complexity–but perhaps I slightly favor Eliot over him because I find her more tender and kindly an authorial presence, and her psychology more detailed. My favorite of her novels is Middlemarch. Two noble and idealistic characters, Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, each stumble via romantic self-delusion into marriages that crush their spirits. Each is tested morally (as are other characters in the book) in fascinating ways. One comes out better than the other. I admire Dorothea, but Lydgate I’ve been in love with for decades. [Pamela Erens is the author of the award-winning novel The Understory.]

Scott Doyle:
When it comes to influences, I have to name two. Because when I think of
what kind of writer I want to be, in reference to other writers, I think: ‘I
want to be the bastard love-child of Virginia Woolf and Denis Johnson.’ A
strange pairing, I guess. But both of them, in different ways, can come to
a stop at a moment in time, and (like the special effect The Matrix made
popular) spin ’round it, viewing it from every possible angle. Or unfold
it, like a piece of origami. A teacher of mine talks about certain key
moments in a writer’s reading life, the ones where you say to yourself, ‘Oh,
so you can do THAT.’ And that’s what I felt, reading To The Lighthouse, and
then Jesus’ Son.

About the author


  1. >The author who has had the greatest influence on my writing is John Cheever. Although he is not my favorite writer. My favorite writer is anyone from a large group of authors who really haven’t reached much literary distinction. I read many stories and essays in literary magazines, without paying much attention to the writer. When I read a piece that blows my mind, and it happens frequently enough, there you have my favorite writer.

    I do consciously try to imitate other authors’ writing styles, both those writers that I have read often and those I have not. When I read a style of writing I really like, I am compelled to try to copy it.

  2. >Recent writers who’ve profoundly influenced me (and who I greatly admire) are R.A. Lafferty and Peter Barnes. Going further back, Swift, Blake, Ben Jonson, Dostoyevsky. I’ve had to absorb and get beyond the influence of all of them to find my own style, which is one of the things writers constantly wrestle with. I think anyone reading me who was familiar with these would see points of comparison (apart from specific allusions) but the chief way to resemble a powerfully original writer is to become one yourself.

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