I get asked this sometimes, so here’s my answer. From now on I can copy paste, I guess.
What author’s style do you admire the most?
For me, it’s Mark Twain.
How many of us were forced to read Tom Sawyer in school? And why does a book tend to suck when you’re forced to read it in school? Anyway, if what somebody wrote during the Ulysses S. Grant administration can still make people laugh on their iPads, they’ve done it right, and that’s my take on Twain. Not freaking Tom Sawyer, which I first saw as a musical, for god’s sake, but the stuff he did after that, the hilarious essays and speeches. The man is still quotable and timely today even if you don’t attribute the quote to him. (He had a “voice” – read about finding your voice HERE)
I was working on a story and happened to need a bit of inspiration, and I remembered something funny I thought he’d said. I didn’t think to Google it, because why make life easy, so I went to Amazon to see if he had eBooks. I could buy the eBook, look up what I needed, and if the eBook was expensive, I’d just return it. Don’t look at me like that. You’ve kept the tag in a blouse for the same reason, and didn’t even get a story out of it.
Anyway, I was 100 pages into an eBook of his essays before I realized it. I didn’t find the quote, but I debated returning the book because, well, I’m a good Catholic boy and it’s wrong to do… just about everything. So I took a deep breath and happened to glance at a bookshelf about five feet from my writing desk (Doesn’t it sound nicer when I call it that instead of the coffee table? I think so, too.)
There, encased behind glass my five year old had yet to break, was a colorful display of classic books I’d bought right after college and had probably only recently paid off. Physical books that had more or less become the paper equivalent of wall art. I opened the case and sure enough, next to Edgar Allen Poe and the Brothers Grimm (a lot of their stuff is different from the Disney version. Who knew? The Rapunzel is actually kinda slutty.) was The Complete Works of Mark Twain. I opened it up and saw on glorious cellulose the very information I’d been looking for. And, having paid for the words once, I had no thoughts of burning in Hell for returning the eBook. (Sorry, Sister Mary Ann. God understands overpaying.)
In the “complete” works – which it wasn’t, and it even said so right after you opened the book, so I felt even less guilty about the eBook return – was an essay titled How To Tell A Story. Well, I thought, let’s see if the old guy’s still got it. Maybe I can learn about writing from one of the masters.
It was a rambling piece explaining about why humor is so hard to do, and since humor is what I usually attempt, it seemed especially fitting. The best part was when he explained that some southern gentlemen types will tell a rambling story, going on and on sometimes in great detail about a particularly small segment of the story, wandering off the main vein trying to recall a man’s name who plays a small bit in the overall piece, and to explain that while his role is small it was also not super important (I think that may be a direct quote – Twain actually said super important) and then after going waaaaaaaaaaay down that road, he gives up and ABANDONS IT, goes back to the main story, remembers the man’s name a few minutes later, and as the reader or audience takes a collective sigh for taking us down a blind alley dead end that he subsequently un-dead ended, he stops and admits Oh yeah, that guy wasn’t actually in this story, forget about that – and goes right on with his main piece.
I was rolling. I think audiences have been rolling in the aisles over that one for 150 years. I’d love to do something like that in a book or a speech, just to see the reaction. It was almost performance art, and it was brilliant – even 150 years later. So I’m a bit more respectful when people wax poetically about F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (another forced read) and his green light shining over the water of East Egg, or my cousin’s irrepressible thirst for all things Hogwarts or whatever, because when a particular itch has been scratched, it is a thing of relief, but when something beautiful and amazing happens, opening the eyes of your imagination in ways you never knew possible, it might be a defining moment in your life as a reader or author, and it only leaves you wanting more.
Harry Potter may get there but Twain already did, and although they paint in different colors, that’s still something insanely impressive.
When your turn comes to be interviewed, whether in person or by email or whatever, have some of these answers ready to go. There are plenty of sample interview questions around, and you can copy them off any author interview you see. Use them as a blog if you want; readers like getting to know you and your inspirations and stuff.
So tell me… whose style influences YOU?
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