Yes, we've come to that post. Which writers have helped mold me into the writer that I am today? I'll try and keep this as short and sweet as possible. No point in turning this into some Academy Awards speech that becomes gratuitous and overwrought. I'll keep it limited to the author and the work that continues to inspire me.
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This is the book that got me going, in a sense. Many of the authors I would discover and come to admire came from this book. I got the book as a present from my 8th grade English teacher. She knew I wanted to be a writer. The book has been a tremendous asset. While I admire several of the books King has written before and since this book, On Writing has a special place in my heart. I learned the basics of writing, the importance of craft, found other great writers through this book, and continue to learn new things through the book.
Elmore Leonard, Rum Punch. The master of dialogue, bar none. Leonard's masterful, minimalist style that puts an emphasis on dialogue continues to drive me through my own work. Rum Punch (which became the Tarantino movie Jackie Brown) is not his best novel (that's Freaky Deaky with LaBrava and Swag close behind). In terms of how easy and effortless he make his prose seem and feel and how well the elements work together, there is none better and I learned the most about writing through this book. And oh yeah, the story's pretty good, too.
George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Leonard's inspiration and the modern template for the crime novel, which is almost all dialogue, is a delight to read just because of how well the characters interact with each other. The book would have been perfect if there was almost no description because that is Higgins's weak point. For character interaction and how well different voices interact, it doesn't get much better than this.
The Wire, David Simon and Ed Burns. Yeah, okay, it's not a book, but it sure is structured like one. Hell, they got three modern crime novelists (Richard Price, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane) to write for the show. The Wire is about as realistic and gritty as you can get. The dialogue, through its realism, is unmatched, and the eye for detail in Baltimore and the characters that inhabit the world that Simon and Burns created is nothing short of remarkable. A must-watch for any aspiring writer, regardless of genre.
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian. A bit of a departure here. Blood Meridian might be the greatest book I ever read. It ain't easy to get through, though, because of the unflinching brutality McCarthy shows. His eye and ear for dialogue and description and his ability to show the world as it is with an unflinching eye is remarkable. The prose is close to shattering, which is probably why I've only read it all the way through twice. I've tried on a number of other occasions, but the powerful language has that knack to throw me back on my heels. If I could write something even half that amazing, I could die happy. Meridian is the bench-mark I have set for myself. I suppose all writers have one.
Well, that's enough for now. There are undoubtedly others, but these five are what I take with me in my mind when I sit down to do my daily work. Speaking of which, I should be doing more of that right now.