Five Fantasy Authors Who Influenced My Early Writing

Roger Zelazny speaking at Westercon in 1980. (Photo by Susan Ruff)

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s when I was in high school and college, fantasy was still a fairly new genre. Authors such as Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs had been writing speculative fiction for years, but the genre really seemed to find itself in the second half of the 20th Century.

There were many excellent fantasy authors at the time, far too many for me to list here, but I thought it would be fun to spend a few minutes to discuss five who had a strong influence on my fantasy writing.

JRR Tolkien: Author of the Lord of the Rings

Tolkien started it all for me. I first read his books when I was about 13. I immediately fell in love with both the novels and the fantasy genre. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy so many times, that I remember my mother once commented, “You’re reading those books again?” The Lord of the Rings is still among my favorite works of literature of all time. One of the hardest things for me as a fantasy author is to make my books different from Tolkien. It’s far too easy to have Middle Earth themes creep into my stories.

Lately, I’ve spoken to people who have seen the Lord of the Rings movies, but have never read the books. If you are one of those folks, I strongly suggest you try the books. There is so much depth in them that the movies could not capture. They are definitely worth the read.

Patricia McKillip: Author of the Riddle-Master of Hed and the Book of Atrix Wolfe

It is difficult for me to know just how much influence Patricia McKillip had on my writing, but I suspect it is considerable. I absolutely adored her books (and still do). I can’t even remember how many times I read the first two books of the Riddle-Master trilogy while my friends and I were all waiting for Harpist in the Wind to be published. As I’ve grown older, I have learned to appreciate the gentle quality of her fantasy and the sense of wonder that she can evoke with her words.

Atanielle Noel: Author of Speaker to Heaven and The Duchess of Kneedeep

Of all the authors in today’s list, Atanielle Noel had the most direct influence on my writing, because she reviewed and commented on my early manuscripts. I learned how to express myself in school, but Atanielle taught me how to write. I will always be very grateful to her. And her books are lots of fun to read!

Katherine Kurtz: Author of the Deryni books

I had the privilege of meeting Katherine Kurtz at Starcon ’77. At that time, I was already a fan of her novels, and a couple of friends and I happened to run into her in the art show. She took a few minutes to tell us about her latest novel she was writing. What impressed me at the time was not just what she said, but the way she said it — she was clearly having fun writing and enjoyed talking about the characters. She joked that one of the characters ended up doing something in the story that even she, as the author, did not expect. Her enthusiasm for writing was infectious. I found myself wanting to write stories just as she did, with characters so vivid that they took on a life of their own.

Roger Zelazny: Author of the Amber books

I have always enjoyed the slightly sarcastic tone of Roger Zelazny’s novels. The worldbuilding in his books is exceptional and his characters are memorable. He had an amazing ability to tell a serious story, but still include humor in it. I suspect his novels had a great influence on the humorous short stories John and I have been writing for the recent Emerald Cove anthologies.

In addition to the five authors discussed above, there are probably dozens of others I could name. The hardest part of writing today’s blog was narrowing the list to only five!

-Susan 11/13/2020

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