Writers You Admire

This blog post is an extract of a larger post that’s coming out in the Examiner on Sunday. If you haven’t read any of these posts, go check it out–they’re a lot of fun.

The last post was a writing exercise where three of us alternated paragraphs in a short “story,” A Man Walked Into a Bar.

I’ve only extracted my answers to the questions; you’ll have to go to the Examiner on Sunday to get the other author’s wit and wisdom.


STELLA: Who are some writers that you really admire? Why?

RUSTY: “Admire” is a tough word to pin down. In 2013 I read both The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises. Those books are stunningly brilliant.

But one can only admire Hemmingway from a distance. I could never aspire to write like him, because he is a genius and I’m simply not. Even on my best days (although on my best I days I can pretend that I am).

Over the years dozens of authors have made it to my ‘A List.’ That means I actively pursue and read every word they’ve written. Two of the writer’s on Will’s list of ‘Mainstays’ (Will Graham is one of the writers who participated in this article), John D. MacDonald and Ian Fleming, were both on my ‘A List.’ I liked John D. MacDonald so well that I named my firstborn Travis after Travis McGee, his best character.

But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to define ‘admire’ as ‘admire a writer as a personal role model.’ And for me, the three biggies are Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and Christopher Moore. They helped me define my writing voice.

STELLA: Have your favorites changed over the years? What brought that about?

RUSTY: In high school, I considered Steinbeck the greatest 20th century author. He was more accessible, and appealed to my teenage angst more than, say, Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby has gotten a whole lot better since I read it in the 60’s).

I was introduced to Vonnegut in 1969 when Cat’s Cradle was assigned in my college freshman English course. Thus began a life-long love of his novels. I read Timequake in 2005, which Vonnegut called in the Prologue “my last book.” Two years later he was dead. At least I had Timequake to say goodbye and those last couple of years to get used to the idea.

Robbins and Moore replaced other writers as role models as I recognized what I could do relatively well (offbeat humor) and what I couldn’t do at all (serious literary fiction) as a writer.

STELLA: If you could write like any one author, which one would that be?  If it’s not the same ones you listed above, why this one?

RUSTY: J. K. Rowling, maybe? She’s sold 400,000,000 books in 16 years and earned an estimated $800,000,000 in royalties. I don’t really write for the money, but it’d be kind of fun to get a 7 figure royalty check once in your life.

(OK, that answer is totally cheating. I knew it when I gave it. So I’m going to ask a related question a different way and not duck the answer this time).

IMAGINARY INTERVIEWER: Let me ask a different but related question. Suppose you could have been the author of just one book that has ever been written. Which one would you choose?

MILDLY CHASTENED RUSTY: That’s a really tough question. I could say Cat’s Cradle and be really happy with that answer. My “favorite” book ever in The Magus by John Fowles; I would certainly be satisfied if I had written that book. The book that I have read more than any other is Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising (except it might actually be Cat’s Cradle). I’d be happy with that, even.

But since I get to pick from any book that’s ever been written, I’m going to take To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Unquestionable greatness. I love the characters, particularly Scout. To have been read and admired by that many people, well that’d be hard to beat. So I’m going with that one.

admired book collage