Books, influences, writing

Influences: Diana Wynne Jones

Even though I only discovered her a few years ago, DWJ has ended up being an enormous influence on my writing, especially right now.

Every time I would pass her books in the store or library, I’d see the edition of one of the Chrestomanci books that has a cat on the cover, and I would think, “Ugh, feline fantasy. BORING.”

(Note to publishers – if a book is not, in fact, about cats doing magic, you might not want to imply that on the cover.)

Then, in recent years, more and more of my friends started recommending her books. I was getting desperate for good YA Fantasy, since Lloyd Alexander was gone and my list of favorite authors was growing smaller and smaller. Finally, I picked up the very volume with the cat on the cover, and gave it a try.
You can imagine my indignation when I discovered this wonderfully witty, clever, pithy writer, with a delightful story that had pretty much nothing to do with cats! I felt so cheated. I could have been reading her for years, and I’d missed out just because of a dumb cover. Her twisty way of turning plots around kept me tearing through the stories, and then going back and re-reading them so I could pick up the little nuances I missed the first time around.
Even better, for me, than the Chrestomanci books was Howl’s Moving Castle (I think it’s that way for a lot of people, yes, no?), with the delightful Sophie who only figures out who she truly is when she’s transformed into an old woman and no longer cares about society’s conventions and her family’s expectations.

I had already starting writing The Eldest Sister before I read DWJ, but I admit to being a little concerned about some of the superficial similarities between it and HMC. I didn’t let it worry me too much, though, since TES was such a different story and different tone.
Then I re-read HMC just a few weeks ago, and realized that I would much, much rather read that than TES. The similarities were just enough to show me how far off I had gotten with my own story. And that was what prompted me to ultimately pick it up and start from scratch again, changing a few of the basics so that it wouldn’t seem to be copying too much from DWJ, and determining to make it me, my voice, E Louise Bates as distinctly as all Diana Wynne Jones’ books are hers. 
I freely admit that I am nowhere near as witty or talented as she is, but that’s okay. I have my own voice, and thanks to DWJ, I am remembering how to use it.
Books, influences, reading list

Two Giants

I’ve been re-reading the Redwall series ever since Brian Jacques’ death. Thankfully, I own all of them but the most recent, so the biggest challenge in reading them has come from trying to remember the original published order instead of the chronological order I had them in on my shelves. Thank goodness for internet resources!

With the passing of Diana Wynne Jones, I’ve decided to intersperse the Redwall books (and the Flying Dutchman books, which I also own) with some of hers. I was going to start re-reading the Chrestomanci books, but I don’t own any of those, and somebody else at our library must have had the same idea, for the first two were checked out today when I looked. As was Howl’s Moving Castle, which was my second choice.

So I’m reading Enchanted Glass right now, and I have the collection of short stories Unexpected Magic to read as well. It’ll do until I can get my hands on the Chrestomanci books.

I came to Jones late – not until last year or the year before as a matter of fact. I’m not sure how I missed her as a kid – with my affection for Lloyd Alexander, E Nesbit, and others of like ilk, she would have been right up my alley.

Be that as it may, I have thoroughly enjoyed her books ever since I discovered them. Sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my head around what’s happening, and often the endings leave me feeling vaguely confused (or, in the case of Fire and Hemlock, completely and totally confused, and having to re-read the ending several times over to make any sense of it). But I like that. It’s not the same frustration I feel when I read Robin McKinley, and the first half is thrilling, I get bogged down in the second, and by the end I am so in the dark I barely remember the story I’m reading at all (though oddly enough I keep going back to McKinley, so there must be something compelling about that sort of writing, too).

I like having to think while I read. I like the sense of satisfaction when I’ve figured out the hidden twist (I was so very tickled when reading The Game because I got it before All Was Revealed); and I like, sometimes, knowing that the writer completely pulled the wool over my eyes.

The Redwall books are my comfort books. Not only have I read them a million times, they all follow the same pattern. I know exactly what is going to happen in each one, and reading them gives me a comforting sense that everything is right with the world, and whatever isn’t will work out eventually.

I’m so very, very sad that these two marvelous writers had to die at all, especially so close to each other, but I think that reading their books intertwined with each other is actually going to be very good, and very helpful for me as a writer, because it will be me a much clearer sense of their very different styles, and what each style accomplishes, and what I need to do in order to achieve a certain atmosphere for my books.

And hopefully in studying their styles I will start to break myself of my habit of over-using adjectives – something I didn’t even realize I did until I was working on the last few chapters of my LMM fanfic the other day, and discovered that I peppered it with adjectives all over the place. Not too bad for LMM fic, since she was also adjective-happy, but not a habit I want to indulge in for my own writings!

Are you familiar with Jacques and Wynne Jones? What do their books do for you? What are your “comfort” books, and what are your “mind-stretching” books? Which do you prefer in the Redwall series, hares or otters? And finally, what are some of your bad writing habits that you have a hard time shaking?