One question that I invariably get asked is “Who are you your favorite writers/influences?”. In an effort to avoid some work this evening I thought I’d list my top five writers plus one. They are in no particular order, as all have equal amounts of influence on me, not only as a writer but as a person.

Harlan Ellison – One of the true icons of genre literature, for me, his fiction is only surpassed by his non fiction work. His collected columns for the various newspapers he’s done over the years collected in Harlan Ellison’s Hornbook, stand as some of the best essays written in the latter half of the twentieth century. From his ruminations on television in his “The Glass Teat” and “The Other Glass Teat” to his memories of “Veronica” and the most dysfunctional relationship you’ll read about, Harlan is as honest as he is brutal-both on himself and others. To read about his march in Alabama with Martin Luther King, Jr to his trip to San Quentin is to be witness to history. You will be moved, and you will shed tears.

And you will be glad Harlan was there to write about it all. Love him or hate him, his talent, wit and intelligence is undeniable.

Peter Straub – “Ghost Story” was the first book that scared me shitless. I mean, white knuckles, clutching the bed sheet in terror kind of scared.  For me it’s the ultimate and best ghost story written in the past forty years.  While he eschews the crudeness of say, Stephen King, his prose is far more unsavory and far more unsettling. The crudeness is in the characters, their behavior and thoughts. Even in his collaborations with the aforementioned King, it is to me, clear, which sections he wrote as they have an elegance to them that is unmistakable. More recently Straub has drifted over into mysteries, which are as equally compelling as his horror; I’m glad to say, his newest book,  “A Dark Matter” is a return to horror, and quite possibly the best book I’ll read all year. His attention for detail, poetic passages and mastery of the English language-all while being highly readable, is no mean feat.

Stephen King – It’s only fair I suppose, to put the Master next to Straub, as their work together is a melding of two talents that can’t be touched. Okay, that may be a bit of hyperbole  (or more than a bit), but there’s no denying King’s continued and lasting influence on genre work. The first novel of his I read was “Carrie”. My sister had a copy of the first paperback release, and I remember sneaking it out of her room and reading it all in once night.  I was about 10 or so, and had no idea what periods were, but I did know the feeling of being the odd one out. I related to her isolation and her loneliness-her desperate need to fit in. Thus began my long  lasting love  affair with his work, his view of Maine and his characters. When Sarah is at the grave of Johnny Smith in “The Dead Zone”, I still weep.  It’s one of the most perfect scenes of love and loss he;s ever written, and I’ll sometimes just read those last few pages to get the chills it inspires. Our affair came to a crashing halt with “The Tommyknockers” however, which I still consider, not only the worst novel he’s ever written, but one of the worst period. however, like the ex who just can’t let go, I returned to his cold embrace, and haven’t regretted it since.  If the passion I had isn’t as strong as it once was, it’s still a pleasure to slip myself between his pages, and visit with characters who I identify with. Who have a life of their own. King above all others has created art out of pulp, and not many people can say that.

T.M. Wright – I’ve written several times of Terry’s work, and in addition to being a long time admirer of his, I’m proud to call him a friend as well. “A Manhattan Ghost Story” was the first novel of his I read, and it made me want to become a writer. He makes the process look so damn easy-and boy was I wrong. His deceptively simple prose requires rereading, and sometimes a third and fourth. Yet each time you do reread a work of his, you take away something different. His poetic, at times experimental use of language and breaking the flow of a typical novel is a beautiful sight. He offers no easy endings, or cookie cutter solutions. Terry makes you think, and what’s more, his writing is well worth thinking about, days, weeks, months and years later. There is no more intelligent writer working today, and in the end that’s what every writer strives for, but very few achieve.

John Irving – Certainly not a genre writer (though he’s written a horrific scene or two-like the car scene in “The World According to Garp” where someone has their penis bitten mid blow job), Irving is a modern Dickens. His endless cast of characters, their exploits, troubles and triumphs rival anything that Nicholas Nickelby ever had to endure. And if they’re never quite believable as real people, you still love them and hate them. You root for them, and cry when one dies. and boy do they die. Never has a writer taken such delight in killing off major characters in such gruesome, often ridiculous ways. No one is safe, and everything has a consequence.  Irving is the conscience for his generation, and the world would be a sadder, less enjoyable place without his characters.

Clive Barker – My list would be woeful and incomplete with Mr. Barker. His imagination has taken me to the depths of Hell and the Highest Spires of Heaven. When I read his novel, “The Damnation Game” I had to put it in a suitcase and stick that luggage as far back in the attic as I could. It disturbed me more than anything else I’d read to the point. His short story, “In the Hills, In the Cities” about a gay couple verging on breaking up who get caught between two warring towns that literally create giants of themselves, is still the most original and creepiest thing I’ve ever read. Clive is about breaking boundaries-no it’s doing away with them, and reveling in the unknown. There is simply no one working with the imagination and raw sexuality that he puts down on paper.

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