Roughly one a month I write up an article about an author who has influence my own work.
Most of these authors I encountered when I was young, either in elementary school or as a young teen. Each of them had a profound impact on the way I think about speculative fiction, myself as an author or storyteller, and books in general.
This won't necessarily be book recommendations, most certainly not reviews, and not even rereads. Instead I want to highlight my personal experience with books, books I loved and books that changed me. It will undoubtedly be pretty nostalgic and personal but I am interested in thinking and writing about the kind of literary traditions and histories that form the backbone of who I am as a writer.
Diana Wynne Jones (16 August 1934 – 26 March 2011):
was an English writer, principally of fantasy novels for children and adults, as well as a small amount of non-fiction. Some of her better-known works are the Chrestomanci series, the Dalemark series; the novels Howl's Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm; and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
I remember when my mother brought home The Lives of Christopher Chant on a wimp one day. My sister read it first and then told me that I definitely needed to read it, I would love it, she said. Then like now, trusted my sister's book recommendations so read it straight after she was done.
Mostly I remember being intrigued. Long, long before steampunk, Diana Wynne Jones set up a world that seemed to be very much like 19th century Britain but wasn't. In stead there was magic and sorcerers and a the ability to travel between alternative realities.
In a lot of ways Diana Wynne Jones was like other fantasy authors I'd read but she didn't seem to play by the rules of fantasy and that intrigued me.
Back at the library I picked up the rest if the Chrestomanci series and gobbled them down, then went back for more. Next I read Howl's Moving Castle, which remains one of my all time favorite books to this day (this is the ugly cover the copy I first read had.)
After that I tour through every book by Diana Wynne Jones I could fine. When I got done reading everything I could find in the library's children's section I moved on to the adult section. The Dark Lord of Derkholm I loved, and Deep Secret.
Reading Hexwood was really what stood out to me the most though. I picked up an old copy at a library sale for less than a dollar. Thrilled to have a new Diana Wynne Jones book I took it home and read it right away (this is the cover of the copy I bought).
Hexwood blew me away. Hexwood is not my favorite book by Diana Wynne Jones. In fact if I were to list her books by how much I liked them Hexwood would probably come after all the other books I've already mentioned. The thing about Hexwood was it changed my life. Hexwood is so unabashedly genre crossing, it combines elements of fantasy, science fiction and pure weirdness. It doesn't wait for the reader, carefully spoon feeding them every detail of the world or the plot but gallivants on assuming the reader will either keep up ... or they won't.
Before that genres had always been very bounded to me. Fantasy author's wrote fantasy in a very specific (high fantasy or modern fantasy) way. Science fiction author's wrote science fiction in a very specific way as did mystery author's. It might seem stupid now but up until that point it had never occurred to me that you could mix genres together. Not in a superficial kind of a way but in a no holds bared let's put shit in a blender kind of a way. More than that it worked. Even more than that Diana Wynne Jones brought incredible amounts of stuff to the table she straight up invented herself.
I love authors who reinvent things from mythology to genre tropes. But there's something truly awe inspiring about an author who says fuck it to the rules and ends up with something amazing that actually works.
What do I remember Diana Wynne Jones for? What did she teach me as a writer?
Be fearless. Write something that no one is going to mistake for anyone else but you.