I was at a convention a few months back and an audience member asked the authors on stage what books were seminal works for them in their life or work. It got me thinking about how I would answer that question. And, considering I can not pick a favorite book to save my life, it was relatively easy to choose three books.
I have to put this book first because it was the first fantasy book I read as an adult. Growing up, my brother had a collection of fantasy books with scantily clad, large breasted women and gargantuan men on the covers. I assumed that this was what fantasy was, and wanted no part of it. My then boyfriend (now husband) informed me that wasn’t the case at all. He then put a large, beautiful book in my hands: Sailing to Sarantium, by Guy Kay.
To this day, it’s one of the most beautiful, intricate, dark and compelling books I’ve ever read. It’s written like a mosaic. The main character’s story is broken up by smaller stories of people that we only see for a chapter or two, but whose experiences are vital and as complex as the protagonists. If I hadn’t read this book, I have no idea what I’d be writing but it wouldn’t be fantasy.
This series has become rather famous for its depiction of BDSM. At the time I picked it up I had no idea what I was getting into. Not only is the culture in the book extraordinarily sex-positive, the writing is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. I usually don’t like first person narrative, but Phedre’s voice is breathtaking. The way Jacqueline Carey writes this story you don’t feel like you’re missing a thing. In fact, you get the full scope of this epic story. There is some debate as to if the series is three or six books since the protagonist shifts at book four, but I like to think of them as all one story. I don’t re-read books as a rule. However, I have re-read this series several times, each time finding something I hadn’t noticed before. Or sometimes just reveling in being in the world of Terre d’Ange again.
This book and its sequels made me want to write again, though it took a while to find my own story and voice. The beauty and pain that is so intertwined in the narrative of these books inspired me to embrace my own penchant for darker narratives and explore that. The complex characters challenge me to populate my stories with flawed, extraordinary heroes.
When I read this, I was in awe! I didn’t know that Superhero stories could be told in novel form until I read Carrie Vaughns book. It took several years after reading this find my own story and learn how to tell it, but I never forgot this book. I loved how it was told through the eyes of a non-powered person, and the themes it explored. There was even a little romance, which I’m always a sucker for.
This book nudged me in the direction that I would eventually go toward, which is writing simpler stories. You can imagine that after reading the above two books, that I would want to write epic fantasy. And I tried, boy, did I! Those stories will never see the light of day, but they weren’t a waste. They taught me my limitations and helped me see that I wasn’t Guy Kay or Jacqueline Carey, I was Trish Heinrich. After the Golden Age inspired me to think much more simply, to see the beauty in a smaller story. I would like to one day try my hand at larger, more epic stories. But for right now, I’m pretty happy writing about heroes, super and otherwise.
What are some books that shaped you? Do you have any recommendations for me?