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Learning from the Best

It's an age-old questions for Creatives: what artists who have come before have influenced your style and the art that you create? And every person who creates art on a regular basis probably has a ready answer to that question, too. The writers who have influenced me are always with me when I write, whispering their advice in my ear and subtly making their presence felt through the words that flow out of my brain. I'd love to share a handful of them with you.

"Begin at the beginning," said the King in Alice in Wonderland, and I shall take his sage advice. The beginning for me, I think, would have to go back to the first paranormal novel I ever read, Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp. Jane-Emily is a period piece, set right around the turn of the 20th century, and a marvelous ghost story. It probably would read as a little stylistically dated to modern readers, but I love to re-read it every few years and enjoy the story anew.

It's a story that's written for middle-grade readers, but there are scenes in it that both delighted and terrified me at the same time. They weren't gory or violent; they were masterfully-built scenes of suspense and psychological horror, and the delicious joy of being scared and yet safe was something I loved. I couldn't wait to see how the frightening elements of the story would resolve themselves, because I just KNEW they would.

From this novel, I learned the art of suspense, and of sprinkling little clues within the story, punctuated with surprising and scary scenes. I've tried to emulate that technique, and I think Arcana Book Two: Rush to Judgement takes a great deal of influence from Clapp's storytelling style.


I've always loved reading a good series, and I've plowed my way through many of them

over the years, but none has left the impression on me that Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series has. The gist of the extended tale is that there are seven immortal offices (Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, God, and Satan) which are held temporarily by

mortals (who are immortal as long as they serve in the office). Each changes office-holders in its own way, and there are a variety of sub-plots all occurring and unfolding simultaneously. They all seem to be essentially stand-alone at first blush, but Anthony weaves these multiple storylines together into a tapestry worthy of Fate Herself as the series progresses.

From this glorious set of books, I took multiple lessons. The first lesson is that, once you know you're going to be writing a series, it's essential to think macro as you plan. It's not enough to write the story for one book; some version of ALL the stories has to be present in your mind as you write. I can't lie, this part has been both the most exciting and challenging part of writing a series of books. It's hard to decide sometimes how much to reveal at a time. How do I decide which tidbits and clues to drop at a particular time? I've read and re-read the series, studying how the author accomplishes this so artfully. If I can do this successfully as the Arcana series unfolds, I owe it all to Piers Anthony. I sure wish I could let him know.

The other thing I learned from this series is that I prefer to, even if I am writing about metaphysical issues and the spirit world, not get overly religious as I'm writing. I have a deep and abiding respect for people of all faiths (and those who follow no religion), and I don't want to specifically lean my books in any one religious direction. The Arcana series does/will mention that some characters follow particular religions, but the stories themselves should be thought of more as folklore or mythology. I think it's more fun for everyone that way.


There is no question that there are other books and writers who have left their stamps on my writing style, and honestly, I could talk to you, my dear readers, about Elizabeth Peters and Roger Zelazny, and and Edgar Allan Poe, and even Rick Riordan for hours and hours, but I'd much rather hear what you have to say! What books or writers have excited YOUR imagination? Give me some good recommendations for my Goodreads list! Drop your suggestions below in the comments!

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