MIND MELD: What Authors Influenced Today’s YA Writers When They Were Young?

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Today’s Young Adult authors are undoubtedly a big influence on young minds with the stories they tell and the rich worlds they create, but I’ve always wondered what authors and novels made an impression on them when they were young! So I asked them:

Q: As a writer, and especially as a young adult author, you’ve no doubt influenced many young people with your writing and the worlds you create, but what authors and books influenced you the most as a young person, and why?

Here’s what they said…

Mindy McGinnis
Mindy McGinnis is an assistant YA librarian who lives in Ohio and cans her own food. She graduated from Otterbein University magna cum laude with a BA in English Literature and Religion. Mindy has a pond in her back yard but has never shot anyone, as her morals tend to cloud her vision.

I have two rather different answers – Stephen King and Madeleine L’Engle. They both illustrated to me in different ways that you if you set it up properly, you can sell even the most ludicrous of storylines, and have your reader completely invested. If you’ve ever tried doing a one line pitch of any of their books you’ll see – you sound ridiculous! But in your heart you know it’s so good!

Jonathan L. Howard
Jonathan L. Howard is an author, scriptwriter, and game designer. He is probably best known for the Johannes Cabal fantasy series that began with Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, and for the Russalka Chronicles YA SF series, the second of which, Katya’s War, is published in November 2013 by Strange Chemistry.

Firstly, it depends a little on how young you mean, but I shall interpret that as whichever stories I tended to go back to.

At primary school, one of my most heavily reread books was Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood and its sequels. To the uninitiated, it’s a story in which a group of children discover a whole community of assorted magical eccentrics living within the trunk of the huge Faraway Tree. That appealed to me in itself, but the Faraway Tree’s main party trick is that there’s a ladder at the top, and whenever you climb it, you come out in a different strange land where adventures are to be found. I bought the collected volumes for my daughter when she was little, and was unsurprised that one thunderingly racist chapter had been cut. It was still an enjoyable read, though, I was relieved to discover. You know, with hindsight I see that tree’s actually a precursor of the TARDIS.

That bring me onto another favourite of primary school when I was a little older. In 1973 I picked up the Target reprints of three Doctor Who novelisations from the ‘sixties, including David Whittaker’s brilliant reworking of Terry Nation’s “The Daleks” script, here rendered in prose as Doctor Who and the Daleks, a pithier title than the original 1964 one, Doctor Who: In an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks. Positively trips off the tongue, doesn’t it? Whittaker was script editor of “Doctor Who” for several years, and possibly understood it better than anyone at the time. Certainly his opening drops all the stuff about teachers investigating the bizarre background of one of their students, and replaces it with a very atmospheric scene in thick fog out on a common. I still have my ‘73 copy with the lovely Achilleos cover.

Also while at primary school, I picked up Tales of Mystery and Imagination from my local library, which delightfully saw no problem having Edgar Allan Poe in the children’s section. “The Black Cat” astonished me with its violence, and I hungrily read the rest.

Somewhere around then I also got into Ray Bradbury. The first of his collections I read was The Illustrated Man, which affected me deeply in terms of expanding my understanding of what prose can do. I read all the Bradbury I could after that, and was delighted to find his nod to Poe with the story “Usher II” in The Silver Locusts, the UK title for The Martian Chronicles. I’ve since discovered that some editions didn’t contain “Usher II,” so I was lucky there.

I eagerly read John Christopher’s Tripod Trilogy, The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire. I’m not even sure these are still in print, which is a crime. I’ve just checked; they are back in print, which is nice; I shall have to buy new copies as mine went walkabout years ago. They’re very cinematic and would, in my opinion, make a better set of films than most of the series being foisted on us at the moment. The BBC televised them back in the ‘eighties, with mixed results. The first season based on the first novel was slow and strangely paced, but the second season was a vast improvement and finished on a cliff-hanger. At which point Michael Grade, the same towering genius who cancelled “Doctor Who” a few years later, canned it.

I really don’t like Michael Grade.

And, oh yes, I kept buying the new Target novelisations of “Doctor Who” as they came out, although my enthusiasm waned a little when they stopped using Chris Achilleos for their covers. I know, I know, that sounds really shallow, but the new artist was just awful and had an understanding of perspective that would make Father Dougal McGuire sad. But I digress. I do that a lot.

Also from primary school up, I was reading books that were aimed at a slightly older age group (I was reading Poe at nine, remember. Age banding baffled me with its redundancy, and I know I’m not alone in that respect). I read Heinlein’s juveniles, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel fascinating me particularly with its hard science explanation of the minutiae of how a spacesuit works. I read as many of Hugh Walters’ U.N.E.X.A. novels as my library could lay hands on. At about fifteen I bought a copy of Kurt Vonnegut jnr’s Cat’s Cradle and that triggered a new obsession, resulting in me reading all of his stuff I could lay my hands on.

Oh, and as for the time I picked up the two paperback volumes of Again, Dangerous Visions… That was a very educational read in all manner of ways.

With hindsight, I’m glad there were only three TV channels and no internet when I was growing up, because it gave me the time to read a damn lot of books. Anyway, the above mentioned are the ones that did the main job of messing me up and making me what I am today, for better or worse.

Gail Carriger
New York Times Bestselling author Gail Carriger writes comedic steampunk mixed with urbane fantasy. Her debut novel, Soulless, won the ALA’s Alex Award. Her Parasol Protectorate books, their manga adaptations, and the first of her new series, Etiquette & Espionage, are all bestsellers. The second YA book in her Finishing School Quartet, Curtsies & Conspiracies, releases Nov. 5, 2013. She was once a professional archaeologist and is probably drinking tea and reading Tamora Pierce right now.

Twenty-five years ago or thereabouts I wandered into a bookstore, picked up newly released hard back with a redhead, a horse, and a sword on the cover and managed to persuade my rather poor parents to see to the exorbitant expense by refusing to let that book go.

I was eight when I brought Alanna home with me and it could have been yesterday.

Until that moment, immured in a world full of Tolkien, Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Water Babies, and Wind in the Willows (AKA men writing about men for boys) I did not know a woman in fantasy could be strong, smart, stubborn, witty, and courageous. Alanna: The First Adventure is responsible for changing who I was as a reader, but also who I was as a female.

Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series defined my young adulthood, the final book in the quartet released just as I entered junior high. They became the four books that I could recite from memory, read over and over again and never find boring. These books gave me the courage to start writing, because suddenly I knew that I could write about something familiar, being a girl with guts.

They literally (and I do mean literally – pun intended) changed my life. In high school, a mutual love of Alanna cemented my relationship with the girl who would become the woman who is still (20 years later) one of my best friends in the entire world. That same friend still beta reads my novels for me, and still keeps me honest to the tenants of Tamora Pierce as we see them: women with the courage to be themselves. She is also the friend who took me to my first Science Fiction convention. She was there with me when we got to meet Tamora Pierce in person.

Ask me to name my favorite series of all time and I still don’t have to think about it. If I could read nothing else for the rest of my life it would be the Song of the Lioness quartet.

The reason I write, is to be that author for someone else.

Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is a Melbourne author of SciFi/Fantasy. His first trilogy, THE LOTUS WAR, was purchased in the three-way auction by US publishing houses in 2011 and is set to be published in over a dozen countries. The first installment STORMDANCER, was critically acclaimed and shortlisted for several SF/F awards. The second installment KINSLAYER is out now in the US, UK and Aus/NZ. He is as surprised about it as you are.

Jay is 6’7, has approximately 13520 days to live and does not believe in happy endings.

I could write a decent-sized novella on this one, but I’ll try to confine myself to some of the ultra-faves and a few girlish squeees.

Stephen King – when I was a kid, my mother would drop me off at the newsstand while she did the grocery shopping. I was too young for her to let me watch horror films, but little did she know for the 90 minutes she was off wandering the aisles, I’d be face-first in Stephen King books. I used to tear off pieces of bus ticket and use them to mark my place for next week (hiding “my” copy at the back so nobody would buy it). Mark Petrie in Salem’s Lot was the first hero I really identified with – a geek kid with problems just like me . . . apart from the whole Ravening Horde of Undead™ thing, that is.

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. This was the first children’s book I really “got”. Hungry Caterpillars and seeing Spot running (again) was all well and good, but it didn’t seem to have much bearing on the life of Young Jay. But a beautifully illustrated tale naughty lad getting sent to his room, and learning a lesson about the ultimate futility of anger and getting what you want? This book is Zen Buddhism for eight year olds. Even now, when the wild rumpus is running in my head, I think back to young Max and remember to be careful what I wish for.

JRR Tolkein – The Hobbit. I know its hipster to rip on old Professor Tolkein these days, and god knows Peter Jackson needs someone to sit him down for a serious conversation about brevity, but this book was a doorway into an entirely new world for me. It was my gateway drug to geekdom. It was the moment I discovered there were books out there for people “like me”, and it set my imagination on fire. So for that alone, I take my hat off.

Bio of a Space Tyrant – Piers Anthony. Because pirates. In SPACE. That is all.

Jonathan Maberry
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, writing teacher and more. His novels include Ghost Road Blues, winner of the 2006 Stoker Award for Best first Novel, the novelization of The Wolfman, Patient Zero, the first in his Joe Ledger series which was optioned for TV, Marvel comics including Wolverine, Punisher. In nonfiction, The Cryptopedia, winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction. And ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics Of The Living Dead, which won the Heinzman and Black Quill Awards and was nominated for a Stoker Award. Jonathan is a Contributing Editor for The Big Thrill (the newsletter of the International Thriller Writers), and a member of SFWA, MWA and HWA. His latest and 5th Joe Ledger book, Extinction Machine is out from St. Martins, a very fun action-thriller read. He can be found on Goodreads, Twitter as @JonathanMaberry and via his website at JonathanMaberry.com.

When I was a kid my middle school librarian was the secretary for a couple of clubs of professional writers. She dragged me along to some of the meetings and over the course of a couple of years I got to meet authors like Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Sprague DeCamp, and others. This was in 1970 through ’72.

Once they found out that I genuinely wanted to be a writer, Matheson and Bradbury took me under their wing and offered a tremendous amount of advice and encouragement. They introduced me to science fiction and fantasy –which I hadn’t read much of by then. I’d been reading comics and mysteries. They read some of my efforts and gave solid critiques, while explaining what ‘critical analysis’ was. They also encouraged me to not only read outside of my comfort zone but to write outside of it as well. I’ve since made a very successful career of genre-jumping, and of dodging back and forth between nonfiction and fiction, short and long form, and prose and comics.

For Christmas one year, Bradbury gave me a signed copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes and Matheson gave me a signed copy of I Am Legend. Since then I’ve bought new copies of those books every year, read them Halloween week, and donate them to a different library each year.

Laura Bickle
Laura Bickle’s professional background is in criminal justice and library science, and when she’s not patrolling the stacks at the public library she’s dreaming up stories about the monsters under the stairs (she also writes contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams). Laura lives in Ohio with her husband and six mostly-reformed feral cats. THE HALLOWED ONES is her first young adult novel.

I first read Robin McKinley’s THE HERO AND THE CROWN when I was thirteen. It was the first fantasy book I’d read with a strong female protagonist who slew her own dragons. The other fantasy books I got my hands on mostly featured male protagonists battling magical wars with mighty beasts and mysterious powers. They were great stuff, but I didn’t connect to them fully, as the women seemed so peripheral to the stories. I couldn’t really put myself in their shoes, whether they were velvet slippers or barbarian boots.

Aerin from THE HERO AND THE CROWN became my hero – she was without magic and didn’t fit in to castle politics, but she created her own quest and sought her own answers. She wasn’t a princess in a tower in need of rescue. She wasn’t a castle accessory or functioning primarily as a love interest to more powerful men. Her story was hers, and hers alone, as she left her home to seek dragons, made friends of wild cats and wolves, caught the wrong end of some dragon fire, and ultimately saved her kingdom.

That book ignited my love of fantasy. I gobbled down Robin McKinley’s other books, including THE BLUE SWORD. Her work was an excellent introduction to the genre for a young woman. Years later, when I worked in a library, I still recommended those books as wonderful works for people of all ages.

Soman Chainani

Soman Chainani’s first novel, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List, has been on ABA’s National Indie Bestseller List for 11 weeks, has been translated into languages across six continents, and will soon be a major motion picture from Universal Studios.

As a writer and film director, Soman’s films have played at over 150 film festivals around the world, winning more than 30 jury and audience prizes, and his writing awards include honors from Big Bear Lake, New Draft, the CAPE Foundation, the Sun Valley Writer’s Fellowship, and the coveted Shasha Grant, awarded by a jury of international film executives.

When he’s not telling stories or teaching in New York City, Soman is a die-hard tennis player who never lost a first-round match for ten years . . . until he started writing THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL. Now he loses all the time.

I never read very many children’s or YA books when I was young (though I do have a soft spot for ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg). Instead, I was happily stashing books that were way inappropriate for a kid to read at age 12 or 13 — specifically Interview with a Vampire, by Anne Rice and The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. Both tackle amoral universes and taboos with incredible elegance and delicacy. What I remember most about adolescence was the constant ‘tension’ of it, whether romantic, familial, or at school. Both books are unmatchable in their ability to capture tension at its most primal and intense.

Martha Wells
Martha Wells is the author of a number of fantasy novels, including The Cloud Roads, The Wizard Hunters, and the Nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer. The Siren Depths was published in December 2012 by Night Shade Books, and is the third in the Books of the Raksura series. Her YA fantasy, Emilie and the Hollow World, was published by Angry Robot in April 2013. She has had short stories in Black Gate, Realms of Fantasy, and Stargate Magazine, and in the anthologies Elemental, The Year’s Best Fantasy #7, Tales of the Emerald Serpent and The Other Half of the Sky. She has essays in the nonfiction anthologies Farscape Forever, Mapping the World of Harry Potter and Chicks Unravel Time. She has also written media-tie-in novels, Stargate Atlantis: Reliquary and Stargate Atlantis: Entanglement, and a Star Wars novel, Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge.

A lot of books and authors influenced me, but I’m going to list just a few of the ones I read when I was a kid.

* Andre Norton’s fantasy and SF novels. I read many of these when I was still reading books out of the children’s novel section in the library. My junior high school library had a large selection of them too. Norton was the first one, or one of the first, to use a lot of the ideas that are standard now in SF, like stargates, and parallel universes where your evil duplicate has a beard. Her specialty was starting her characters off somewhere strange and taking them somewhere even stranger. She was a huge influence on me.

* Virginia Hamilton and The House of Dies Drear. I think I read that book until it fell apart. I’ve always loved mysteries, especially the kind that involve spooky old possibly haunted houses, and I think this book was a big part of that.

* Ruth Nichols, and her books A Walk Out of the World and The Marrow of the World. Another two books I read until they fell apart. Both are classic “kids from our world fall into a fantasy world” stories, but both are very different. A Walk Out of the World is a lighter adventure story, and The Marrow of the World is the darker, more frightening version.

* Lloyd Alexander and The Chronicles of Prydain series. The library my parents took me to didn’t have the first book in the series, so I started it with _The Black Cauldron_. This was a common problem in this library, where books would be lost or destroyed and the library couldn’t afford to replace them. It didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the series, and it made it that much more rewarding later when I was finally able to find a paperback copy of The Book of Three.

* Lucy M. Boston and the Greenknowebooks. These are strange old house books, some with real ghosts, some with seriously scary horror elements, and some with fantasy. Each book was very different from the others but they were all excellent stories.

* Ursula K. Le Guin and Earthsea. If The Chronicles of Prydain was a starter class in epic fantasy, then Earthsea is the more advanced course. The setting of the archipelago, and Ged’s journey through it and how he becomes a wizard, his mistakes and successes, made a huge impression on me.

Robin Wasserman
Robin Wasserman is the author of the Seven Deadly Sins and Chasing Yesterday series. She was also an associate editor at a children’s book publisher. Her newest novel is The Waking Dark.

My old grad school advisor would kill me (or at least fail me) if I answered this question without first taking issue with the whole concept of influence, which has been defined as “the capacity or faculty of producing effects by insensible or invisible means.” The idea of influence, especially when applied to books, takes agency away from the reader and puts it in the hands of the author and the text—as if, when by a book, I’m magically reaching into kids’ brains and shoving their thoughts around until they falls into line. I prefer to think of the readers as the ones in charge, reaching into the book, pulling out whatever seems especially resonant, and using it to reshape their minds and lives.

That said, given that all I did as a kid was read, books did more than influence me, they created me. Especially:

It, by Stephen King: This one’s been on my mind a lot lately, having spent the last few years writing my own small town horror epic, The Waking Dark. I read this over and over when I was a young teenager, desperately searching for confirmation that the world was as frightening as it seemed to me—and for evidence that I could survive it.

House of Stairs, by William Sleator: Sleator is, to my mind, the most underrated children’s book author of the last thirty years. His books—Interstellar Pig, Singularity, Fingers, etc—each hinged around a single, mind-shattering (at least if you’re 11) concept that blew apart any idea I might have had about how a book, or the world, was supposed to work. House of Stairs is the simple story of a bunch of kids trapped in a strange house of (you guessed it) stairs. It’s also one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever read.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle: Like It, this one stayed in constant rotation all through my child and teen years, until it was held together my scotch tape and willpower. The book was my first taste of science fiction. It opened my mind to the weird ways the universe could operate and was the start of a lifelong obsession with relativity, quantum physics, parallel universes, and the big questions of How Things Work.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, A Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony, Dream Park by Larry Niven and Steve Barnes: I lump these together, because once I discovered science fiction, I went on a crazy binge and read little else (except Stephen King) for the next seven years. Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke…they carried me through a time in my life when I felt completely trapped, stuck in a small, drab, miserable world, beset on all sides by the tyranny of the small-minded (also known as junior high). They were my escape route, my own wrinkle in time. They promised me there would be a future, and it would be glorious.

Susann Cokal
Susann Cokal is a moody historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and professor of creative writing and modern literature. Her new magnum opus is The Kingdom of Little Wounds, set in the Scandinavian Renaissance; it just received a starred review in Kirkus, which called it “mesmerizing.” Her previous novels include Mirabilis and Breath and Bones. The Kingdom of Little Wounds is recommended for mature young adults and for regular adults.

As a wee child, my favorite books weren’t necessarily what is now considered Great Literature, though some of them were. Literature, I think, is anything that makes you look at the world in a new way, and when you’re a child, almost anything can do that for you. I read Nancy Drew, Maud Hart Lovelace, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (I think that’s the book I’ve read most in my life), Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Narnia books, Edward Eager, Louisa May Alcott … I was less fond of books like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, all those nineteenth-century-style novels that trained girls to give up their own wild rebellious desires (such as riding horses or refusing to quilt) and made them into model self-sacrificing Angels in the House. I’m not a particularly rebellious person myself, and I certainly wasn’t then–but I love the possibility of creating your own destiny and figuring out your own world. That’s what Nancy Drew does, for example. She finds hidden rooms and follows shaky clues to an answer; she gives hope.

There was also a book called A Room Made of Windows that also moved me enormously, though I read it only once as a child–a girl lives in Berkeley and wants to be a writer. Decades later, I was a woman living in Berkeley and trying to become a writer, and when I found that book at a friend’s used bookstore, it was as if I’d been suddenly flooded with light and happiness: I’d found one of the great texts of my life.

I still reread these books, and other childhood favorites, when I need a boost. Girls and boys figuring out how the world works–magically or not, with or without rebellion against the norm–will always inspire me. That’s plotting. That’s Life and it’s certainly Literature.

E.C. Myers
E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. His first novel, Fair Coin (Pyr, 2012), received the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy Book and was a finalist for the 2013 Compton Crook Award. He currently lives in Philadelphia.

I always assume that I’ve been influenced by everything I read when I was young. I find it interesting that often, when adults are asked about their favorite books, many of them are children’s books, which is one of the reasons I love writing young adult fiction — I would be thrilled if one of my books one day has that kind of positive impact on other young readers. In terms of the fiction that I like to read, and write, several of those influences on me are clear. First, as others will likely mention: the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Though the Christian ideology was invisible to me as a child, my sense of wonder likely began with that first trip through the wardrobe, as well as the idea that there are other worlds out there that exist alongside our own. My fascination with the juxtaposition of the magical and the mundane (the lamppost in a wood) also must have begun there, as well as the realization that something seemingly inexplicable can be explained later; reading The Magician’s Nephew many books after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was mind-blowing, as it related the origin not only of the lamppost, but Professor Kirke, and altered the context of the books that preceded it. That was a revelation to me in how stories can be told (probably not the kind of revelation Lewis had hoped for) and the reason I vigorously defend reading the Narnia books in their order of publication rather than chronology.

I discovered fantasy through Narnia early, but my earliest encounter with science fiction was through William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig, which was practically fantasy with its quasi-magical board game and aliens masquerading as vacationers. But it was through Sleator’s book Singularity that I became just as intrigued by science, specifically quantum physics. This, perhaps, is also where my interest in twins and identity was born, and Sleator’s skillful balance of characters with complex plots has informed my own interests in storytelling. The dark, thought-provoking turn the book takes and the ominous tone throughout also showed me what was possible in fiction. And though I didn’t read Sleator’s The House of Stairs until I was an adult, the edgy, dark psychology in that story continued to push the boundaries of what I thought children’s books were capable of. Similarly, The Silver Crown by Robert C. O’Brien has been a huge influence on me ever since I discovered it in my elementary school library. Long out of print, I wasn’t able to reread it until I was in my mid-twenties, but I thought about it often over the years. This is one of the first books I encountered that mixed fantasy and science fiction and subverted readers’ expectations. It was also dark, beginning with the supposed death of Ellen’s family on her tenth birthday, and the plot twists and turns on itself to a very surprising conclusion. It astonishes me that Sleator and O’Brien were not more successful authors — O’Brien only wrote a few books, of which Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is his most well-known, thanks to the animated adaptation — but their example continues to guide me: My definition of a successful author hinges not on critical acclaim or financial security, but on whether an author’s books connect to readers; whether they entertain, inform, and surprise; and hopefully, whether they stand the test of time.

Cat Winters
Cat Winters’s critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, is a nominee for YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults and was named one of Booklist’s 2013 Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth. Her second novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, is coming Fall 2014. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit her online at www.catwinters.com.

The novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett (A LITTLE PRINCESS, THE SECRET GARDEN) made me fall in love with historical fiction. Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD sparked my interest in stories about difficult subjects, told through the honest voice of a young person. The Brontë sisters, Daphne Du Maurier (REBECCA), and Edgar Allan Poe captivated me as a teen and directly led to me becoming a Gothic novelist.

Katie Alender

Katie Alender grew up in South Florida. She is the third of four children (three girls and a boy) and the child of three very loving and encouraging parents.

She attended high school at the Palm Beach County School of the Arts, studying Communication Arts. From there, she went on to the Florida State University Film School, which led her to her current hometown, a tiny hamlet on the West Coast known as “Los Angeles.”

She enjoys writing, reading, sewing (especially quilts), practicing yoga, photography, visiting friends’ blogs, and hanging out with her husband (known on the blog as “the husb”) and her daughter.

Her first brush with publication was in high school, when her article “So You Want to Live On Mars?” was published in Sassy magazine in December 1991. More recently, she was the head writer on the 48-Hour Film Project “Best of Los Angeles 2007? winner, Project 96-B, and worked for many years as writer/producer for the Animal Planet Dog Championships and AKC/Eukanuba National Championship dog shows on Animal Planet. Currently, she is a mostly-full-time author.

She is represented by Matthew Elblonk of DeFiore and Company and is a member of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and ITW (International Thriller Writers).

She does not like scary books or movies, but apparently the books she writes are considered scary by many people. She is also a huuuuge fan of talking about herself in the third person.

As cliche as it sounds, I was most influenced by just about everything that I read. The books I really loved — like the Little House on the Prairie series and almost everything by Roald Dahl and Paula Danziger — kept drawing me back in, even after I’d read them a dozen times. They introduced me to the reality of losing yourself in a book, a world, a universe. Of caring for the characters and wishing they were people you knew in real life. What my favorite authors seem to have in common is an “otherness” — by reading their work, I was able to put myself into the lives of people nothing like me. One of my favorite books is Paula Danziger’s This Place Has No Atmosphere. It’s about a normal high school girl in the year 2057 whose family decides to become pioneers on the moon. I loved the mix of everyday teen issues like school, romance, siblings, and the world-building of the moon colony. That book is probably what has most influence the way I like to insert normal characters with normal issues into extraordinary circumstances. Oh, and I adored Gordon Korman, because his books are laugh-out-loud funny.

Michael Scott

An authority on mythology and folklore,Micheal Scott is one of Ireland’s most successful authors. A master of fantasy, science fiction, horror and folklore, he has been hailed by the Irish Times as ‘the King of Fantasy in these isles’ and praised for his “unparalleled contribution to children’s literature.” He lives and writes in Dublin.

His epic young adult fantasy series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel has been published in over 30 countries. He is online at @flamelauthor and dillonscott.com

Let me ask you a question. Take a moment and think about it: I’m sure you can remember the book you were reading last week? And what about the week before that … and the week before that. Now, can you think of a title of a book you were reading last year or even five years ago?

I’m guessing you’re struggling.

But now, think about a book you read as a child.

You can remember those clearly enough: authors, titles and probably the covers too.

That is the power of a good children’s book and, as someone writing for children, it is just a little daunting to think that something you are writing now will be remembered, ten, fifteen or even twenty years and more down the road.

I’m not saying that the books children read now will have an influence on their lives, but some books will affect some readers. Every writer I know was an avid reader as a child and it is also true that we tend to write the books we read and love. So, if a young person reads a lot of science fiction or fantasy, for example, it is more than likely that they will continue to read the same literature in adulthood, and if they turn to writing, then that is the genre they will write in.

For example, I can clearly – very clearly – remember reading Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, and reaching the end of volume four, The Borrowers Aloft (1961), and thinking, well what happened next?

I desperately wanted to know what happened next. But there wasn’t another book. And so I sat down and began to work out how the next book would go or should go. I think I would have been about eleven or twelve at the time. Mary Norton did write another Borrowers book, The Borrowers Avenged (1982), but I had to wait a long time for it, and when it came it was nothing like how I had imagined it would be and by then, I had already started out on the road to becoming a writer.

But if any single book influenced me to be a writer, then it was The Borrowers and my own early attempts to write what we would know call fan-fic.

There were others of course, and I have them all to this day. They are on a bookshelf almost directly behind me, so that on those days when the words are not coming as easily as they should, I can spin around and look at the books which made me a writer.

Sitting alongside the Borrowers series is The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. It is a brilliant piece of modern myth-making and, in so many ways, my own Flamel series, was born out of the spirit of those books. The series is still in print today and only very recently I finished Susan Cooper’s new book, the extraordinary Ghost Hawk, which is set in Massachusetts in the 17th Century.

Next to Susan Cooper on the shelf is Alan Garner. I have everything he wrote, but the book which made the greatest impact on me as a young reader was The Owl Service. It is beautiful, mysterious and haunting; this was when I discovered that words could be terrifying.

JRR Tolkien is not on my young adult shelf, though he’s around somewhere. I always preferred the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. I was too young to realize the message he’d layered into the text; maybe that was why I enjoyed them more as simple, straightforward fantasy.

Beside The Chronicles is a very battered pair of books which have been read so often I dare not read them any more, lest they fall apart. (I do have other reading copies.) They are The Adventure of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and they are, without doubt, my all-time favorites. If I have a preference, it is Huck Finn and I have no idea how many times I’ve read them.

And finally, in their bright yellow Daw paperback covers, Andre Norton’s Witch World series. She is one of the great storytellers of the 20th Century and, unfortunately, shamefully out of print. She wrote over 200 novels, and my favorites are those belonging to the Witch World cycle. I was twelve when I started reading Witch World. They instantly captivated me and I wanted to read more but, living in Ireland (and this is pre-internet days!), the books were not freely available and so I began to create my own stories set in Escarp. It was another step on the road to becoming a writer.

And finally, at the extreme end of the shelf is a two volume Penguin edition of The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. I was probably in my early teens when I first read Graves’ version of the Greek myths. It started a life-long love of mythology which ultimately created the series which became The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series.

Anne Ursu
Anne Ursu is the author of The Real Boy, just out from HarperCollins/Walden Pond Press, as well as Breadcrumbs and The Cronus Chronicles–all fantasies for young readers. Anne lives in Minneapolis with her son and cats, and teaches at Hamline University’s Master in Fine Arts in Writing for Children.

I adored Anne of Green Gables as a girl. Certainly I appreciated anyone who knew the right way to spell Anne, but I also empathized greatly with this girl who longed to find places with scope for the imagination, and people who were kindred spirits. I also loved the world of Avonlea–I think the pleasures of fantasy and historical or classic fiction can be very similar–we’re transported into a completely new world. I also loved The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and both books contained some hint of magic to them. There wasn’t a ton of fantasy when I was a kid–other than the classics, like Narnia, which I read again and again. But I loved A Wrinkle in Time, and Meg Murray with her awkward personality and bad glasses. And as I got older I gobbled up the books that I could find with a hint of fantasy–like Lois Duncan’s A Gift of Magic. I loved looking at the world I knew but having it be touched with magic, and reading about characters just like me who suddenly found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Those books helped me figure out how to live in the strange real world.

3 thoughts on “MIND MELD: What Authors Influenced Today’s YA Writers When They Were Young?”

  1. This is fantastic! I love seeing how many of my favorites affected other writers … How could I have left out The Borrowers from my list? And now I have lots of great writers to check out. Thank you for including me!

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