Everyone (and perhaps especially authors) have their favorite books. Books that shaped us, inspired us, acted as our muses, whether they were written by our idols or people we don't particularly like. And sometimes those choices might be a little surprising, even to us!
In today's blog, I'd like to tell you about the six books that changed my life, and gave me the inspiration (and the courage) to first set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, whatever). They are, in no particular order:
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
No one will ever convince me that Anne Rice isn't the queen of gothic literature. She is. I always tell the story about how I found my first Rice book--which was actually The Vampire Lestat--on a flea market shelf. It was a tattered affair, with a ripped cover and pages that had obviously seen a puddle or two. I paid 25 cents for the copy (which I still have, snuggled right next to several signed first editions of Anne's other books.) I read it. Read it again. Devoured it. Then I went back to the beginning and read the entire rest of the series, still eagerly awaiting each new installation several decades later. I am proud to save I have been in madly love with Lestat since I was fourteen years old.
There are very few that can rival Anne Rice in her world-building, her prose, and her details. When I read one of her books, particularly those in The Vampire Chronicles, it's not as much reading a story as it experiencing it. Lestat, of course, remains my favorite of all who carry the Dark Gift, but it was Anne Rice herself who helped me to fall in love with rich descriptions, vivid detail, and emotionally complicated characters, and who gave me an appreciation for stories that tipped between fantasy, history, and horror. I am honored to say I've been so lucky as to have one online conversation with Anne, and it was the best few screens of text of my life.
Belladonna, Karen Moline
For better or worse, my parents never censored what I read, and I read Belladonna when I was way, way too young to be reading it--I think I was in seventh grade. The story, about a woman who is sold into sex slavery and then breaks free and seeks revenge, is dark, layered, haunting, and more than a little disturbing. That said, more than simply an appreciation for a book that makes 50 Shades of Grey look G-rated, this book taught me one very important thing: women are like bones. They might break, but they will reknit together with tenacity and become more durable than they were before. What was weak can become strong, and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!
Karen Moline inspired me to write women that endure, that overcome, and that seek vengeance. I still get pink cheeks when I read the parts of this story in italics, but I will refuse to ever write a woman that is less than the Belladonna herself.
The Shining, Stephen King
I have an undeniable love/hate relationship with Stephen King. I love that he is prone to penning subtle, slow-burning horror. I hate that he usually manages to scare absolute hell out of me. (There is a short in Nightmares and Dreamscapes that has given me a lifelong fear of plumbing problems.)
I have an unhealthy addiction with The Shining. I read it annually, watch the film (the Nicholson/Duvall version), have stayed at both The Stanley and the Timberline Lodge, and drink every day from a coffee mug that has the word redrum on it. It is also the only horror project involving a child that I will tolerate. Literally, the only one. (Unless you count It, which I will tolerate, but I won't enjoy it.)
I find it difficult to put into words my feelings on The Shining. It scares the crap out of me, and I can't stop loving it. I love the character of Jack Torrance, I love the concept of "the shining," and I love creepy old haunted places. I guess that's enough, really.
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
Coraline is a favorite that I didn't even know began its life as a book. Like many, I watch/ed the animated movie, and love how fantastically creepy and bizarre it is/was. Then I read the book. Then I read other Gaiman books. And I keep reading.
Even though I am a grown woman, I often read young adult fantasy/horror (I also have a small kid so we read together). Many times I find that it's more twisted and far less gorey than adult titles in the same genre, and there's something especially delicious about an author who can twist your ears in a book written for kids. I find Coraline, as I do many of Gaiman's books, to be fairly porous, with thoughts and concepts filtering and flowing through, making the entire experience temporal. As I've gotten older, I've started to interpret Coraline a bit differently, too, reidentifying as The Other Mother in a way that manages to scare me on a whole new level. Absolutely brilliant.
A Kiss of Shadows, Laurell K. Hamilton
It would be fair to say that I owe much of my literary career to Merry Gentry. I don't even remember how I got my hands on this book, but I remember I was home, pregnant, and somehow stumbled across this one. I started reading and never stopped. Merry Gentry led me to Anita Blake, who is one of my favorite female protagonists of all time (rivaled, ironically, by Merry). I also have an indescribable amount of respect for Laurell K. Hamilton. I'll probably eventually write the woman a sonnet.
Here's why: while Karen Moline taught me that the weak can rise, Laurell K. Hamilton showed me that even badass women (with a huuuuge chip on their shoulder, Anita) can still have a heart. And these layers are what make characters.
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
I would be remiss not to mention one of the classics that I so adore, Treasure Island. This book has long been one of my favorites, and arguably the thing that made me fall so hard into a love of all things pirates and nautical. I absolutely adore John Silver, and his sharp tongue and knack for staying alive through coup and mutiny alike. And event absent, one can't help but feel the presence of Captain Flint throughout the tale.
“That was Flint's treasure that we had come so far to seek, and that had cost already the lives of seventeen men from the Hispaniola. How many it had cost in the amassing, what blood and sorrow, what good ships scuttled on the deep, what brave men walking the plank blindfold, what shot of cannon, what shame and lies and cruelty, perhaps no man alive could tell.”
The topographical descriptions in this tale are as lush as the island itself (or, maybe a good juxtaposition), and I love the adventure and the bravery of all the parties--even the Squire. My favorite quote "dead mean don't bite" is antithetical to most of the other stories I love, too, so I tend to think this book is the confirmation bias I've formed all my other assumptions of paranormal beasties on, to cure the shivers of course.
Well, that about does it for my Top 6, though of course there are hundreds of titles more I could faithfully write about. Until then, watch out for drinks and devils, and when it doubt sing a pirate shanty:
Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!