Q: Who are your favorite contemporary authors?
A: I love several authors across several genres, but I can give you a few off the top of my head–until I read someone else. Since historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, Sharon Kay Penman, Bernard Cornwell, and Patrick O’Brian, who passed away in 2000, have to be at the top of my list. Mark Helprin’s novels sing, especially Winter’s Tale and Freddy and Fredericka, although I admire all of his work and would never place his work in one genre. I’m currently reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and I immediately bought two more of his books, so I’m a fan. I admire Neil Gaiman’s work; I think my two favorites of his are Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book. I tend to like authors who surprise me.
Q: Whose writing most influenced you?
A: That’s a difficult question, because everyone I read influences me in some way. But if you’re talking about when I was growing up, I’d have to say L. Frank Baum–the OZ books taught me how to read and imagine; Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre; Louisa May Alcott–I think I like Little Men more than Little Women, though. When I was eight, I discovered The Princess and the Goblins by George MacDonald, and I knew there was something I wasn’t quite getting just underneath the surface, hence my love for close reading. Reading to an age level was not a desirable option, nor do I quite understand the concept.
Q: Are there others who particularly resonated with you?
A: Charles Dickens, who taught me more about characterization and voice than all my teachers put together; C. S. Lewis, though more for his apologetics than his Narnia series; A. W. Tozer, for his intelligent and piercing thoughts on God and our relationship to him; J.R.R. Tolkein, for astounding me with his detailed knowledge of his characters and their lives and histories, songs and languages. And John Milton, Homer, Greek and Roman mythology, and, of course, the Bible . . . amazing. That’s enough for now.
Q: Do you think there’s a lot of difference in writing now from writing in previous centuries?
A: I do, although there are exceptions, notably among my favorite authors. I find in my own writing that I am not as careful with language as the men and women I most admire. (I’m working on that.) Even as late as the mid-twentieth century, writers’ vocabularies, grammar, and range of knowledge seem to be far ahead of our own. Ours is the age of the acronym and the emoticon.
There is also a growing trend to write to a specific genre instead of telling a good story. The growth of the horror genre is foreign to me, as is the blatant sexuality. The writers of earlier generations certainly knew as much about sex as we do, but they didn’t feel the need to write how-to manuals when discussing the subject. A little imagination can go a long way in that department, as well as in the horror genre.