Pedestal Pusher

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I used to fear the favorite author question. I don’t have a favorite. Sure I have authors that I like, but not one that I’d put on a pedestal, which is what I think the question is really asking. And every time I read a new book, my favored author could change! And do the askers want to know who I like best for giving me chills? For fluid dialogue? For vivid characters? That simple question carries too much weight.

Recently someone asked me a question that was much worse: who were my influences. I was struck cold. My mind went blank. I danced around the questions like I’ve never danced before, while the asker gave me the names of his influences without even thinking about it…or rather, he’d been thinking about it so much, they flew out of his mouth without hesitation.

I used to think my aversion to claiming influencers was I good thing. I’m not copying anyone. I’m not narrowly defining my style by someone else.  I’m my own writer.

But now I’m starting to feel like a fraud. How can I have no influences? Maybe I’m not reading enough to have influences…and if that’s the case, I’m not reading enough to be considered a writer! Maybe if I had influences, I wouldn’t be adrift in Julia. I’d know exactly where she was going.

Many writing/publishing blogs talk about submitting queries to agents, how to pick those agents and how to sweet talk *ahem* , how to tell them why you think they’d be perfect to represent you. Basically, all the advice boils down to read in your genre, find authors you write like and pitch to their agents.

If I don’t have any influences, how am I going to find out who I write like? And how am I ever going to figure out which agents to query?

Despite my Brain Goes Boing post, I’m not close to querying an agent. But my fear is more than that.

I do read. I have been influenced by authors, but I can’t tell you who. I’m not saying I burst forth from a writing void and suddenly began writing masterpieces with no help or influence. I’m not that egotistical and I certainly don’t want to come across that way. I also work hard at writing and don’t want to come across as a naif who just picked up a pen because, gee, everyone can write a novel, it’s so easy and will make me a million…and no I’ve never read a book in my life…is that a problem?

When I was younger, I read a lot of fantasy and wrote a lot of fantasy. I know the books I read back then influenced me, but once I moved away from magic and wizards, my writing changed and I can’t think of any one book or author who did that.

Does anyone else dread those questions? If you don’t, do you just innately know who influenced you, or did it take a lot of time and analysis?

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7 thoughts on “Pedestal Pusher

  1. Joy

    Not a writer by trade, but I think I *might* be able to help… maybe… I’m leaning toward not assuming you should just KNOW, but taking time to analyze. I also don’t think the answer to this question has to be any ONE influence… I think your writing can be unique and your own, but stem from a number of different influences… and you don’t have to prioritize one influence over another if you don’t want to, IMO.

    I suggest you look WAY back… as far as your childhood, even… and see if you can say what influenced/es your reading choices, and ultimately, your writing. What is it about your favorite books that draws you to them again and again? What is it about your favorite authors that you admire? Is it possible that those authors/books will have a common trait that you enjoy? Or maybe one author influenced your way of crafting dialogue, and another your attention to detail in characters, and another your use of deus ex machina, and another… (not saying you use DexM, just an example)…

    That’s what I would do. If I get asked in a job interview which teacher from my past influenced me the most and why, I’ll be able to give them an answer right away… but, I HAVE spent some time thinking about it, and forming a response. 🙂

  2. I’ve never liked “What’s/Who’s your favorite X?” questions. Too many variables. Who’s my favorite author… what genre; what time in my life; am I reading for fun or am I reading to learn; or… do I just want to impress you with my reading history.

    Who has influenced me? Well… pretty much everyone I’ve ever read. I didn’t like X about So-and-So’s book, so I avoid that. I loved Y in Such-and-Such book, so I keep that in mind.

    Seems to me the “influence” and “favorite” questions are two sides of the same coin, and always just feel like a test I have to pass to show someone I am cool enough to be their friend.

    (being said – I can totally get the “what teacher influenced you and why” question at an interview to be a teacher)

    *rant over*

    • Well, I always want to impress with my reading history…so while I’ll follow Joy’s advice, I won’t be going too far back. “The Little Engine that Could,” while a favorite, might not sound all that impressive.

      I think Joy’s right mainly because asking which authors influence a writer is a lot like asking the teacher question during an interview. When I’m asked the question, it’s by other writers, so they may not be interviewing me for a job, they are trying to size me up. Am I a flake who really doesn’t know anything about writing? Am I pretentious? Do I write like them? Is there any common ground we can talk about? It’s a party and we don’t know each other, what can bond over (although this might be singular to writers…not sure teachers discuss this at cocktail parties)?

      But it is still a very daunting question.

      • Joy

        It might have been a bad example for me to say it’s like an interview question… I meant to just give you an example of a question I’ve had to think about and analyze before I could give a good answer. 🙂

        What I was thinking, with the reference to going back to your childhood, was what influences my taste in music… I can rattle off three or four influences from my early life that still shape the music I prefer today. So, if someone asks why I choose the music I do, I might not immediately say, “Well, when I was a young girl, I loved listening to my dad play the autoharp…” but I will have thought about that at some point, and it may be part of the flavor of my answer. You know; “well, I was raised around musical people and…”

        I wouldn’t sweat this too much though. You are well-read, a great writer, and a fine human being… and you’re never going to be able to tell if your “influences” are going to impress the particular person you’re talking to or not… so, I would just be honest about what you like.

        No, teachers do not talk about what influenced them into teaching at cocktail parties. They pretty much try to talk about anything BUT work, in my experience. 😀 But, we’re also not trying to network with each other, really… we’re just drinking and commiserating.

  3. “You are well-read, a great writer, and a fine human being”…and gosh darn it people like me. Thanks 🙂

    I don’t think the interview question was a bad example at all. It was very apt, because that’s exactly what the favorite/influences questions feel like to me.

    PS. The autoharp doesn’t get the love it deserves!

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