As I travel around to colleges and bookstores talking about my novel Incarnate, a question that I often get is, what writers have influenced me. The short, flippant answer is all of them, since I read quite a bit and I am sometimes struck by a style or subject that I don’t like and want to be certain I eschew as much as I am those I want to learn from.
The more involved answer is that of course there are authors that I admire and because I admire them, they have an impact on my own writing. One novelist that I read frequently is Anne Tyler. I like how she is able to take a slice of life and turn it into a great story. Also, I am drawn to character driven novels and Tyler’s characters are wonderfully human because they are quirky and flawed in ways we recognize in ourselves and those we know. That makes her novels very engaging to me and I want to incorporate that engagement into my own novels.
I also read a lot of Richard Russo. Two aspects of his writing that I find particularly intriguing are his use of setting to put texture into the story and the way his characters are motivated by dreams of what might be. He always has a vivid portrayal of everyday, even difficult lives. Whenever I read Russo, I find myself very involved with the characters, to the point where I can feel upset with something they do that is wrong-headed, and proud of them for overcoming their flaws. I hope readers of Incarnate have a similar involvement with my characters.
I love the natural flow and cadence of Clyde Edgerton’s dialogue as well as how the small town charm of his stories reveals the unassuming wisdom in the southern rural characters. I also appreciate that his stories are about the dynamics of everyday life.
I owe a debt too to William Faulkner for his use of varying points of view which I also employ, and his willingness to take on the grotesque and even macabre without passing judgment. The reader must decide on her own how to judge the events. And his comment that he merely invents characters then follows them around and writes down what they say and do resonates with me.
The writer I am most drawn to is Ernest Hemingway. His writing is, of course, one of the most recognizable and imitated in the last century. What I appreciate in his writing is his use of short, active sentences. Hemingway’s style is deceptively simple, with uncomplicated syntax and very manageable vocabulary. Reading a short story, such as “BigTwo-HeartedRiver,” it is easy to see how all of the meaning is in the nouns and verbs. He simply doesn’t rely on adjectives and adverbs. While it reads simply, it is a very engaged process, finding just the right noun, the exact verb, to communicate what is happening. But even more compelling to me is his use of what he referred to as his iceberg principle. He once wrote about his story “Death in the Afternoon”: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” The ability to have the reader understand what is NOT written is what makes Hemingway so powerful to me.
In some ways, this is best exhibited by Hemingway’s dialogues. The conversations his characters have are as much about what they don’t say or cannot say or even how they say what they do say. It is amazing to me how short dialogues in Hemingway reveal hidden conflict. An excellent example of this is in his very short story “Hills Like White Elephants.” The reader follows the conversation, wondering as much about what is not being said, and how things are being said, as the actual dialogue. This results in a powerful subtlety in the story.
When I write, I am informed by all of these influences, but I also do not try to write like anyone else. I want my style to be uniquely my own, but just as we can never really outgrow our parents’ influences, I think writers always hold a debt to those authors who most move them. These are some of those debts I have.
Lawrence Weill is an author and artist in western Kentucky. In addition to novels, he writes short fiction, nonfiction articles and books, and poetry. His work has appeared in a wide range of local, regional, and national journals. He and his wife live in the woods overlooking a beaver pond. Please visit his website: http://www.lawrenceweill.com