"Read, read, read. Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window." --William Faulkner
Arguably one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, William Faulkner can also be called the archetypal Southern author. As a child of the 1970s, I was raised during a time when to be Southern was to be inferior. But the first time I read Go Down, Moses, I saw a new South, without apology or explanation. My whole perspective changed, and I had a new world of inspiration from which to draw.
Reading Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird was another watershed moment for me, and I began to search for any novels that portrayed Southern life with both candor and fondness. I saw myself in the works of Kate Chopin, Thomas Wolfe, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers. I discovered my voice reading Flannery O'Connor and Tennessee Williams. And that was only on the literary side.
I devoured Gone With the Wind in about five minutes and set out to read every word written by South Carolina resident Pat Conroy. I credit those two authors with giving me the impetus to write, with inspiring me so much with their words I could no longer silence my own.
But if we're going to talk about inspiration, and truly dissect Faulkner's quote, we have to spotlight genres other than literary and those who skirt the line between literary and popular fiction. Anyone who knows me well, understands that I Hoover my way through at least half a dozen books a week, though it's usually closer to a dozen (I sit in waiting rooms and carpool lines quite a bit more than the average bear), spanning all genres from fantasy and science fiction to young adult and romance. For different reasons, all of these word combinations move me to write more and to write better.
From romance writers such as Madeline Hunter, Meredith Duran, Loretta Chase, and the incomparable Nora Roberts/JD Robb, I channel emotions into more believable interactions between men and women. Through science fiction and fantasy authors Patricia Briggs and Charlaine Harris, I expand the boundaries of my imagination. Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, including everyone's two favorite series Harry Potter and Hunger Games, give my writing a clean, honest edge. Paranormal romances such as those written by JR Ward, Jessica Andersen and Gena Showalter, I read for pure pleasure and am awed by their complex world building as well as the incredible focus their characters show for their love interest. And finally, authors like Joshilyn Jackson, Sue Monk Kidd and my former college professor, Bret Lott, just plain inspire me with their gritty portrayal of Southern life.
My point is this: You can and should draw inspiration from as many different sources as you can. Limiting yourself to one genre makes your writing static and stale.
Good writing combines both engaging plot and the skillful stringing of beautiful words, and, let's face it, a lot of character-driven fiction, while putting together a lovely turn of phrase, can be a little light on plot. Good writing sings to a reader's soul with an almost musical phrasing when spoken aloud. Good writing also keeps the reader glued to the page with a compelling plot.
Of course as always, this is purely my opinion, but I believe the Faulkner quote above illustrates my point-of-view is shared by at least one great mind. In my quest to improve my writing skills and become the best writer I possibly can, I will continue to read my way through all genres of fiction. At least that's what I tell my husband when he gets the bill. . .
How about you? Are you drawing inspiration through genre-bending? What divergent works inspire you?