I’m at the end of reading a novel that I loved–The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. And it’s reminded me that I’ve read LOTS of dark fiction in my time. Dark fiction, to me, is different than horror. Horror aims to scare. Dark fiction means to disturb. I think “disturb” lasts longer. But that’s not my point for this blog. I was thinking about which authors have stood out, for me, above others. And it made me wonder how much they’ve influenced my writing.
I’ve said before that I was a James Fenimore Cooper fan when I was in middle school. His most famous novel was The Last of the Mohicans, but he wrote an entire series with Natty Bumppo (later known as Hawkeye) as his protagonist. Natty’s parents were settlers, but he was raised by Delaware Indians and became involved in the conflicts of the Mohican and Huron Indians, and the white settlers and the Indians. He developed a set of ethics that were his own and a moral ambiguity that combined his Indian upbringing and his white heritage. And that’s what appealed to me about those books–that feeling of straddling two worlds, sympathizing with the good of both and irritated with the wrongs of both. I like stories about protagonists that don’t fit in anywhere. Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson was raised by werewolves, but she isn’t one. Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels has magic and a bloodline that she tries to hide, and Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock has a heritage that she’s slowly starting to remember. That type of protagonist–the loner who struggles to live by her own rules–spilled over into my Fallen Angels novels. Enoch is fighting a losing battle. He doesn’t want to stay on Earth, but Caleb doesn’t ever want to go Home.
During high school, Latin and Shakespeare filled my mind with myths and legends, tragedies and political intrigue. I enjoyed the epic battles to wrest power from one another, both on Bosworth Field and at Troy, as the Greeks tried to defeat the Trojans. Myths have crept into many of my stories, especially Empty Altars and some of my novellas. And as I read Prince of Thorns, I couldn’t help comparing The Prince of Thorns with Shakespeare’s Richard III. Both Jorg and Richard decide to become villains and to excel at it–at least in literature.
The next author who captivated me–and held me for years–was Agatha Christie. With a few deft strokes, she created characters that I felt I knew, and she taunted me with red herrings and clues as I tried to solve her mystery’s puzzle before her protagonist did. But it wasn’t just the murders that dazzled me. She often wrote about exotic locations, and she firmly believed…and stated…that anyone was capable of murder, if put in the right circumstances. Christie taught me the fine art of plotting. I followed my Christie years with books by Nancy Pickard, Martha Grimes, and Elizabeth George. They might not be the masters of puzzles and plots that Christie was, but they took mysteries and pushed them into literary gems. Their use of language and characterization made me long to string words together to higher levels.
The last authors I’ll mention in this post are Jane Austen and Georgette Heyers. They fascinated me for an entirely different reason. They excelled at social mannerisms, which was just plain fun, but they also excelled at the independent, feisty female protagonist. I tried out a few female P.I. novels, but they didn’t give me the same sense of enjoyment. I don’t mind sarcasm or cynicism–it often appeals to me–but the P.I.s I read felt just plain jaded. And that didn’t intrigue me. I didn’t find heroines I liked nearly as much until I found urban fantasy. And those females added more. They didn’t just have wits and smarts and a thumb-your-nose at the world attitude, they also carried weapons and knew how to use them. A literary bonanza.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, among all the authors I found and loved, I also found a supply of short stories that became a steady stream of entertainment for me. Every Christmas, I asked for the anthology, The Year’s Best in Fantasy and Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. And I slowly indulged myself in the best twisted, dark stories available for that year. As I said, I like dark…
What authors are your favorites? And how have they influenced you? Or your writing?