Literary Influences: Pt. 2

Reading during my teenage years heavily formed my vision of what stories should achieve. My novel, The Closing Prophecy, is YA speculative, but it's largely influenced by women's fiction, as is the majority of what I create. Women's fiction seems to be my base, and that started around 13, when, instead of reading YA about mysterious missing hamsters and terminal illnesses and first periods (YA has changed dramatically from when I was a kid), I gravitated towards fiction written by adults for adults about teenage girls. 


Before this, my tween years were spent reading Danielle Steel (which tweens should never read--take note, parents!) I thought that was serious writing. Glamorous locations, glamorous events, a lot of plot stuff that I didn't care about, drama. I thought I was hot stuff for reading such grown-up material. I was always insulted when I'd drag the step ladder over to the romance section and get the side-eye from others. Didn't they know what a sophisticated reader I was? 


Truthfully, Danielle Steel novels were ultimately unsatisfying for me, and disturbing. (The last one I read, Malice, ended up being thrown across the room.) I did want to read "serious" books, but I was sick of reading about characters I couldn't relate to.


The book that seemed to change things for me was Heat Lightning by Leah Hager Cohen. At 13, I had no idea what "character driven" meant. After reading so much Danielle Steel, I thought everything had to be about dramatic plot. I was haunted by Heat Lightning and was so dumbfounded by that. I said to my mom, "Nothing really happened, but I couldn't stop reading." Scenes from that book are still so vivid that I feel  like they're my own memories. I didn't know you were allowed to  write about everyday interactions and quiet things, that plot could be secondary and the story could get inside you like that.


Another huge influence during my teen years was Elizabeth Berg, who wrote, among other things, the Katie books (Durable Goods, Joy School, True to Form). I know Berg didn't invent conversational voice, but she may as well have to me. Katie was just talking to me, and this "new" way of writing blew my mind.  There was no flowery language or labored description, which I had always hated reading and writing. I just wanted to get to the story and the feelings. I didn't know you were allowed to just skip over the stuff you didn't care about, and it really felt like a whole world was opening up for me. 


The Katie books also changed my goals as far as what type of writer I wanted to be some day. I read these books when I was going through a horribly insecure phase (that lasted oh, 15 years), and I saw so much of myself in Katie. I still remember one passage in Joy School where Katie said her only friends at school were the lunch ladies who liked her because she asked for everything, even the vegetables. I was like, "This girl is me." Katie didn't think too much of herself, but she was awesome, and maybe if we were so much alike, that meant I was awesome, too. This was an epiphany for me. I decided that when I grew up and became a writer, my goal would be for readers to be able to recognize themselves in my characters, feel understood, and like themselves more, which would require me to be as honest as I possibly could.


Here are some other books from my teen years that are still on my shelf:


Object Lessons-- Anna Quindlen

Paper Wings-- Marly Swick

The Catcher in the Rye-- J.D. Salinger

Before Women Had Wings-- Connie May Fowler

Map of the World-- Jane Hamilton

Crooked Little Heart-- Anne Lamott

In Dark Water-- Mermer Blakeslsee


How about you? What are the books that really stood out in your adolescence? What books from your teen years still haven't left your shelf?

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