People ask me what are my influences in my 30 years of writing The Little Book
. Phew! Because I was an English teacher by trade, I read, reread, and taught many influential novels. In a way, all of them entered my viscera and became part of my "style." The Great Gatsby
and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
stand out at the top of my list. I think one can see much of those two novels in mine. I would also add Willa Cather's My Antonia
and Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
to an appendage to that all-time list. I think you can find many Gatsbyesque elements and cadences in my story, and the narrative at times, it seems to me, reflects dear Huck, even though my narrator is a ninety year old woman.
On a personal level, I absolutely love J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories, "The Laughing Man" being my favorite. And, of course, The Catcher in the Rye is one of my all-time favorites. How could it not be? And Holden Caulfield is simply one of my favorite Americans, fictional or not. I consider Salinger one of the great craftsmen of our time, I must admit. For sheer narrative force and suspense, I absolutely loved John LeCarre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. As I was writing this novel, E. L. Doctorow, John Irving, Richard Ford, and Pat Conroy played big roles. I knew Ford from our times together as students at the first Squaw Valley conferences, so I read with pleasure his early and late writings. I consider him one of the great living American writers. And Conroy I discovered with delight later. I love all of Irving, but I guess Cider House Rules is my favorite. When I first read Doctorow's Ragtime I feared that people would suspect that I was borrowing, I found my novel and his so similar. Recently, I have read and loved Alice Sebold's Lovely Bones, Geraldine Brooks's March and The People of the Book.
As far as time travel goes, I'm really not very knowledgeable about the genre. From its very inception in 1974, I was writing a story about a character who wakes up one morning in 1897 Vienna, inspired by Kafka's
"The Metamorphosis," the story of how the main character Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning as a bug. There is no explanation given; he just wakes up as a bug. Mine is not really a science fiction story. It is just the story of someone who finds himself arrived in a strange land, with no means of identification or support, and has to make a go of it. However, on the science-fiction side, I also read and loved Time and Again by Frank Finney. What a great story that one is! When I was preparing my novel for publication, one of my best advisors called mine a cross between Finney's masterpiece and Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. It is.
There is a zaniness to Joseph Hiller, Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut that I absolutely love and hoped to capture in parts of my portrayal of Wheeler Burden. Catch 22 completely enthralled me. And I had not really known Vonnegut until Slaughterhouse Five, which I consider one of the greats of the past century, so I read all his previous novels. What joy! And I read many of Robbins's novels with great pleasure also, his first, Another Roadside Attraction being my favorite.
But in the final analysis, I must say that Conroy's The Prince of Tides is, in my mind, the pinnacle of the mountain I am trying to climb.