Literary Influences on the Road to becoming a Literary Agent

6a00d834516a5769e200e54f832a6d8834-800wiAs I was searching for blog-worthy topics to write about a few weeks ago, I put out an appeal on Twitter for suggestions. Of my 1,661 followers (who are all you people, anyway?!) I got only one response. From a client. (Hi Emily! I love you! You’re the best person in the whole wide world!) She said, “I’d love to read a post on your favorite books. Which novels/authors made you want to make publishing your life’s work?” Putting aside the fact that the other 1,660 followers didn’t utter a peep (WTF people?!) I’d like to say here and now that it wasn’t my life long dream to become a literary agent. Truth be told, I don’t think I even knew what a literary agent did until about 10 years ago. But I was always in love with books and reading and I’ve pretty much always considered myself a writer.

You’d have to hear my “Reconnecting With Your Dreams: That Time I Rewrote The Story of My Life” speech to truly understand why I’m a literary agent. Or ask the good people of Cleveland who were at the NOH-SCBWI conference a few weeks ago. They’ll tell you the story. Or, have your local writer’s conference or SCBWI invite me to speak and I’ll tell you myself! Be that as it may, I’d like to share with you a few of the books that I read in my  formative years and what I liked about them. Please note that I’ve read a lot of books, so this post is not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my influences. It’s more like a molecule in the iceberg.

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

Besides a great story, one of the things I loved about Dune from the first time I read it (and I re-read it a number of times) was the complete, unique world that was built. Herbert did such an amazing job of creating that world from the very first page. I’m not usually drawn to political intrigue (and Dune is full of politics) but some of the many things that I loved about this book were the way culture and technology were created. And I know the story is plot driven, but one of the things that’s great is that it’s not at the expense of character. Great character studies here, too.

From Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who

From Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who

Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss (1954)

I must be a sucker for excellent world-building, and Dr. Seuss is truly a master at creating a new world. Horton Hears a Who is one of my favorite Seuss books because it deals with many of the things that I love to read about: an outsider, who’s misunderstood; friendship; the power of the individual within a society; the importance of community; trusting one’s instincts; tiny worlds that we don’t know about…

Being the True History of Fanny Hackabout Jones by Erica Jong (1980)

Do I have to say much more than “lady pirates”?! How about strong female characters, unbridled female sexuality, passion and desire? An historical time period that’s fun, a romp, reworked with contemporary sensibilities?

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1983)

 I probably read this book about 10 times. I used to re-read it every summer for years. I loved that Bradley took the King Arthur legend and stood it on its head. Amazing world building. She looked at this story that I thought I knew through a feminist lens, which for me was revolutionary. The way she showed the subsuming of the pagan religions and cultures in Great Britain by the rise of Christianity was fascinating. Perhaps one of my favorite books of all time.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1869)

I also read Little Women many, many times. I loved Jo March so much, not only because I could relate to her as a writer, but also because her struggles with self control and being “good” were so akin to my own. I did try to re-read this book about 5 years ago and sorry to say I found the beginning so didactic and boring that I put it aside. But I read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys multiple times. I think knowing the March family when I was a young girl helped make me a better person.

Clearly I’m in a particular mood, thinking about strong women and good world building. Because I haven’t mentioned that I also read all of D.H. Lawrence and F. Scott Fitzgerald, loved A.S. Byatt and Robertson Davies, big fan of John Irving, and completely adore and have read all of Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins. And then there’s all the rest of the scifi and fantasy…  And Shakespeare! And Colette and Anais Nin! And Diana Gabaldon and Jean M. Auel! (Yes, I did.) And Anne Rice! And soooooo many others… Virginia Woolf. The Brontes. Austen. Astrid Lundgren’s Pippi and Donald Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown. And OH MY GOD Judy Blume! And Sendak! (I’ve got to stop now. You get the idea, right? I love books. They’ve ALL influenced me.)

What did YOU read when you were young that you ADORE and that helped make you who you are?

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Literary Influences on the Road to becoming a Literary Agent

  1. Island of the Blue Dolphins–I loved that too. And The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Wrinkle in Time, Pippi Longstocking (loved her Never Grow Up club), Huckleberry Finn, Carol Ryrie Brink’s stories, and Little Women, which I also tried to reread as an adult and was a little disappointed by.

    A. S. Byatt–her ‘Possession’ is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

  2. Science fiction definitely helped open my mind to possibilities in the world when I was in junior high, but the two books that had an actual influence on my life were Manchild in the Promised Land and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I should reread them to see what I think as an adult since whatever I thought was in them may not be there at all.

  3. Stephen King, Stephen King and Stephen King. H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Adams’ Horseclans series. Clive Barker and Anne Rice. Tolkien and Robert Jordan, Robert Howard, Dean Koontz, and Poe.

  4. Wow, it’s hard to pinpoint a few out of the thousands. You mentioned a few of my faves and so did a few of the earlier commenters. I’d have to say Jane Eyre was the book that really showed me what a book can be. I read it when I was eleven and was hooked.

  5. Miriam

    Yessss, Fanny! One of my faves! I’m reading Mists of Avalon right now. Sarah Waters’ FINGERSMITH and Tipping the Velvet are my most favorite. Favorite PB: Click Clack Moo:Cows that Type. I’ve got a thing for typewriters and farm animals and subversive behavior. Beauty by Robin mackinley and Tender Morsels by Margo lanagan are my fave fairy tale retellings. And everything Sharon Rawlette just mentioned above 🙂 So many good books!

    • It’s clear to me now when I re-read my post that I was mostly thinking of a very particular period of time in my life… what I read for pleasure in my late teens and early 20’s. Because of course (besides Horton & LW, which I mentioned) I had SO many favorites when I was a little girl and I’ve had SO many more favorites as an adult. YES! to Sara Waters. And I also have a thing for typewriters…

  6. Finally! It’s about time that someone recognized my “best person in the whole wide world” status. Take that Alice Munro and UN chemical weapons inspection team!

    I’d just like point out what a tease you are for not actually telling us your agent-origin story, Linda. Fascinating book list though. Dune, huh? Must give that a read.

    • I told my agent-origin story at the NOH-SCBWI conference in Cleveland a few weeks ago, replete with a Powerpoint presentation! I’m HAPPY to tell it again… live and in person at a conference near you! Just get me invited… 🙂

  7. Lesley C

    Great post, Linda! And many thanks to Emily for suggesting it. Our bookstores were quite limited where I grew up so I read a lot of Enid Blyton in my formative years. But as I ventured out into the world, I became fascinated by Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones. I suppose it then comes as no surprise that I write urban fantasy 😀

  8. Island of the Blue Dolphins. Mara Daughter of the Nile. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Many Waters.