Sunday, June 5, 2011

Under the Influence

by Jeffe Kennedy

I've always been a reader. Since I sat down in front of the first episode of Sesame Street three months after my third birthday, I've been stringing the letters together to read the words. I astonished my mother by sounding out S.A.F.E.W.A.Y a few months later (our local grocery chain). By the time I was six, I ended her reading to me before bed by looking over her shoulder and correcting misses.

After that I was Miss Nose in a Book.

I will never be one of those writers who claims to have been penning stories since I could pick up a crayon. I was too busy working my way through every book in the children's section of the library. Then the teen section. I exhausted those and started in on the adult shelves by the time I was twelve.

And yet, one of the standard author questions that I hate the very most is: who are your influences?

Um, how much time do you have?

Charlotte's Web was the first novel I read by myself - the very one my mother tossed in my direction after I corrected her one too many times. I read every book you'd expect a little girl to read, from A Little Princess to Understood Betsy to Judy Blume. I inherited all these old books from family, so I read the entire Five Little Peppers series and all of the "color" fairy tale books (olive, pink, etc.).

Then I discovered fantasy. Narnia was okay, but Anne McCaffrey's Pern books blew me away. Those led me down a dark and winding path of authors like Anne Rice, Tanith Lee, Zenna Henderson, Patricia McKillip, Vonda McIntyre, Robin McKinley. From there I followed branches into sci fi with Jack Chalker, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov. Meanwhile Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant got me going on what I thought of as stories about "ordinary people." I fell in love with Barbara Kingsolver, A.S. Byatt, Ann Patchett, Carol Shields, Margaret Atwood.

College introduced me to the religious philosophers: Lao Tzu, Patrick White, Meister Eckhart and Martin Buber. I learned to read the scientific philosophers, too: Stephen J. Gould, Lewis Thomas, Oliver Sacks, Stephen Hawking, D'Arcy Thompson. I read all of Jane Austen, all of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, Spenser, Milton, Nabokov, Kipling and Angelou.

For fun I hit the romance novels: Kathleen Woodiwiss, Linda Howard, Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz. I read Anais Nin, The Story of O and the collected works of the Marquis de Sade. I followed the fantasy crossover writers into the new era, from Mercedes Lackey to Laurell K. Hamilton to Jacqueline Carey. I love both Anne Bishop's and Stephanie Meyer's books. I admire William Gibson and Gregory Maguire and Mary Doria Russell. I got heavily into the memoirists for a while, Mary Karr, Tobias Wolff, Terry tempest Williams, Michael Ondaatje.

What am I reading right now? Waiting by Ha Jin. Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews is up next.

I am tempted to do two things, when people ask for my influences. I might just type up a list - a very long list - and hand it to them. Or I might just randomly pick one author each time and say THAT ONE.

After all, it would be true.


  1. Why, when I imagine this list set to music, does it sound remarkably like "We Didn't Start the Fire"?

  2. Oooh - now I'm *seriously* tempted to do just that!

  3. I hope your mother didn't aim for your head ;-)
    I myself was encouraged to read by both my mother and grandmother and your story about your childhood reading sounds familiar

  4. Sigh...Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley are always on my list of favorites!

  5. No, Sullivan, she was only exasperated, never malicious!

    Only those two, Laura?? So discriminating!

  6. You've got some great books and authors in your list, Jeffe. You could always just tell them 'if I've read it, it influenced me', and leave them with their mouths hanging open. ;o)

  7. ooh, yes - perfect answer! and also true!

  8. "if I've read it, it influenced me." Yes. I hate being asked to name my favorite authors - there are so damned many I love, and none are the favorite. I totally relate. By the way - not only read all of the Five Little Peppers books, I own antique copies of the series. : )

  9. Ha, Kerry! Me too - I've got 'em all, in early editions. Hmm... I should totally name a character "Phronsie."

  10. This would be a tough assignment for me. I'm influenced to some extent by everything I read, so narrowing it down would be difficult. But you did a great job of it! :)

  11. Thanks Linda - I'm still trying to figure out how to do the video...