by Katy Munger, 2016 Piedmont Laureate

All writers owe thanks to the writers who came before them and left their literary footprints to follow. There’s not an author on the planet who didn’t start at, at some point, as a reader. I think of every page I turned as a child as somehow leaving a trace of longing on my fingertips, a feeling that sank deeper into my heart and, eventually, grew into a belief that I, too, could have my name on the cover of my book. That I, too, could be an author.

I thought about that a lot this Thanksgiving, in part because I stumbled across the wonderful quote above from Kurt Vonnegut. Yes, I found, and still find, humanity and humor in books, along with so much more—including lessons my teachers did not intend when they steered me toward these writers:

  • Joseph Wambaughtaught me that every character, no matter how minor, was worthy of love and care and respect. They make your books come alive. I will always love him for that.
  • Flannery O’Connershowed me that the darkness within us is universal and indecipherable—and, oh, so interesting to examine.
  • G. Wodehouse and Eudora Weltysteered me toward the joys of gentle, dry humor—an approach that inspired my first mystery series.
  • Ernest Hemingwaymade me realize I wasn’t a man and did not particularly want to be one or write like one, a more valuable lesson than you’d think.
  • Shirley Jacksonscared the crap out of me and made me realize that the need to acknowledge our fears is a powerful and fundamental human drive that can anchor a book.
  • Scott Fitzgeraldconvinced me I never wanted to squander my gifts and be known as someone who could have done so much more.
  • Robert Craisshowed me that you can write contemporary crime fiction without sounding like a bad imitation of a 50’s noir movie.
  • Ray Bradburystretched my imagination and showed me that, actually, you don’t have to write about what you know.
  • Erma Bombeck,of all people, opened my eyes to the humor lurking in the most ordinary of actions and events-–an appreciation that found its way into all of my series, even the serious one.
  • Both James Lee Burke and Tony Hillermanproved to me that an evocative sense of place was critical to creating a book that feels real enough for a reader to live in.
  • John Irvingmade me appreciate huge, sweeping plots and the joy of an ending where all the threads come together. I still pray for Owen Meany.
  • Stephen Ambrosemade me realize that the world needs real heroes and that it’s easy to overlook the best among us.

All of these writers influenced me because of the literary legacy they left for me to discover. Indeed, if you took bits of them all and whirred them up in a blender and poured them out over blank pages… you’d probably end up with a Katy Munger book. It’s always good to know where you come from.

What authors have influenced you and how? I’d love to know your own literary equation.