Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Discussion Week Day 2: Favorites

Thank you all for posting! I love to know who's out there. (If you didn't post an intro yet and would like to, please join in. All the posts this week are open to be added to.)

Today is another easy one. I'm thinking we'll get harder as we go along--first one toe in the pool, then two...

So your assigned question for today (hard part: ONLY ONE ANSWER):

--Who is your favorite author of all time? Who do you come back to when you want to see just how well it's done? Who draws you into their world so completely, in just one page, that you get lost in it and forget where you are? Who do you want to emulate?


I'm like most of you, I imagine; many authors pop immediately to mind. I have my standby authors that I keep handy copies of, and more than one fits this description. But when I think hard, when I really evaluate the one I've received the most reading pleasure from, the one I want to be most like, the answer will probably surprise you.

Mary Stewart.

How many of you have read Mary's books? {squinting for hands out there} She was a huge bestseller in the 50s and 60s, and I first encountered her in a long-forgotten box of my mother's things: a tattered copy of Wildfire at Midnight, with a lurid cover of a 50s girl silhouetted by a bonfire, a mountain in the background. I devoured it. I hunted for more. I remember the day in Berkeley that I found, with glee, two anthologies of Mary's books, with 4 or 5 complete novels in each volume. I think I wept. It didn't matter that they were 50 lbs each, or that I had no car that day--I lugged them around happily, clutched to my chest. I still have them, and dive into them, any story, whenever I feel the need. Later I discovered the Merlin series, and loved her even more. I have read The Crystal Cave how many times? 50? I'm not exactly sure, but some incredible number.

What do I love so about Mary's writing?

--It's first class, for one thing. Well crafted, well balanced, well paced. She knew her stuff. There is humor and pathos, and universal themes and feelings. Her books read just as well today as in the 50s.

--Her stories resonate with me. They're not straight romances--they're suspense, romance, coming-of-age, mystery, thriller...all of that. They're adventures, and I love to experience them. Sometimes they involve magic or the supernatural, sometimes not. The Merlin books aren't straight historicals either. She wrote her own STORIES, and not to convention.

--Her heroines (and heroes, in the case of the Merlin books) are real and human, with faults they must overcome, with their own individual points of view, but always with humor, and always smart. I wanted to BE them.

--She balances detail well; just enough description to paint a place for you without bogging down or slowing the pace. I still want to visit Crete just because of Mary's description of it.

That enough? {g} I could probably go on and on. But I think you've got the point, and I've had enough of the floor. Now it's your turn.


Cindy said...

But I can't!!! I can't pick just one!!!

Lorraine said...

Okay, I've been thinking about this all morning since I first read your blog, and the problem I have is that I can't think of ONE author for all time. My reading taste is too ecclectic and evolves too quickly for that. However, I do agree that Mary Stewart's CRYSTAL CAVE, as well as her HOLLOW HILLS and the third one (whose name escapes me at the moment) were HUGE influences on me. At one time, she was my go to comfort read, but not any more. Now I'd have to say I'm enamoured with Jacqueline Carey's KUSHIEL'S DART books, which I've read numerous times over the last couple of years.
Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, they draw me in for the same reasons Stewart's books originally did.

Both of these authors have taken a somewhat recognizable period in history, and blown their own life into it, making their mythical version feel more 'true' to me than a more realistic version. The mythic resonance they built into their books, coupled with their compelling characters and unique take on the history they've created just resonates for me. Also, both author's books (and I'm only refering to MS's Merlin books here, for while I liked her other books, they didn't resonate nearly as strongly as these did) deal with the heroes coming into their powers and recognizing the full depth and breadth of those powers, and that's a core story issue I'm totally in love with and use in my own writing.

Sara Walker Howe said...

Diana Gabaldon.

Susan Adrian said...


Okay, we know there are more. Pick just one to TALK about then! {g}

Susan Adrian said...


Why? :)

Susan Adrian said...


The hardest thing for me was the one requirement too--but it did make me think about it (and you too, apparently! that's cool!)

I can't believe you're a Mary Stewart fan also! The Crystal Cave series is my very favorite--well, except for The Wicked Day--but I love the romantic suspense ones too. I'm a sucker for all of hers. (open secret: I'm pitching Murderess as a medieval Mary Stewart, since--not on purpose--I have a similar type of story)

I haven't tried the Kushiel's Dart books, but I think I'll have to!

Cindy said...

All right.

My #1 is Diana Gabaldon, for reasons we all know and understand. Honorable mentions out to Sara Donati, Tracey Chevelier, Barbara Erskine, Marge Piercey and Ellis Peters.

I like Pauline Gedge, too. She writes about Egyptians, if you aren't familiar. She makes that world real for me, and I admire the way she takes the research (done by her husband, actually) and dresses it in reality.

Julie said...

I'm going to be a nerd and say J.K. Rowling.

Yes, I know she's a children's author, but in my mind, she's a wonderful writer, and has done so much with her books. I remember somethign she said in a recent interview: something like "It's a bit presumptious to write the last chapter of a seven book series when you havn't even found a publisher for the first!"

Maybe I'm just facinated by her rags-to-riches story. Entirely possible. But she spins her tales and really makes readers think- and occasionally slap their foreheads saying "Of course! It all makes sense now!" She has started such a trend of literature discussion that I would never have participated in otherwise. She got me started writing a bit of FanFic, which led me to wanting to write my own stuff. I can only hope my works have one-hundreth of the impact hers has.

Susan Adrian said...


Of course I'm not surprised at the Gabaldon choice. :) She's in my go-to list as well. Of your others I've only read Sara Donati and Ellis Peters. I love knowing that I have so many more excellent authors out there to try!

Susan Adrian said...


Hey, nothing wrong with J.K. Rowling for adults, at all! If there was she wouldn't have broken through in the way she has. I love to read the Harry Potter books too--she's very good at drawing me into her world and making it real.

And her own story IS very impressive. It's not many that can be that successful!

Tess said...

I would have to say Elizabeth Chadwick. To me, she's the perfect example of an author who sold at the right time, early in her writing career, whose progress is obvious with each and every book. By about The Love Knot she'd jumped to the next level and I was wondering how she'd keep on improving, but somehow she does.

For me it's her ability to bring history literally to life, weaving detail into the narrative and making you feel as though you know all the characters personally. And it's her ability to choose just the right historical bits and pieces to add to a scene to give you that verisimilitude.

Renée said...

Hi Susan-

This was a hard one for me too--and sorry, I can't pick just one. The Lord of the Rings has been my favorite since I was 9, but I don't want to write like Tokien--and there are things about his writing and storytelling that I definitely _don't_ want to emulate. (Where are the female characters, for example?)

I also like Stephen R. Donaldson and have read certain books of his many times--but again I don't want to write like him. He's too wordy and pretentious with his vocabulary. And some of his books leave me cold. (My favorites are the two Mordent books and the Gap series.) But what he does with his characters thrills me--talk about multidimensional!

As for writing style..I _love_ Amy Tan. If I had to pick someone I wanted to emulate, it'd probably be her. I'm in awe of how clearly she writes--it makes for effortless reading and allows her stories to shine through her words.

There are so many authors I enjoy: Laurie R. King, Audrey Niffenberger, Carlos Ruiz Zafron, Tracey Chevalier, Diana Gabaldon, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Sara Waters...just to name a few. I have pretty eclectic taste and can't think of one who I admire above all the others.

Susan Adrian said...


Nice to see you here!

Ahhh, progress. It's so wonderful to see your favorite authors grow instead of decline! I think Elizabeth Chadwick is on my TBR list.

Susan Adrian said...


LOL! When you go over, you go way over. :)

Thanks for your comments! I love hearing WHY people like their favorite authors. And I also have writers that I enjoy, but would never want to emulate.

(of course in the end I don't really want to emulate anybody, right? I want to write like myself...)

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan!

I knew you'd say Mary Stewart! I've only read her Arthur books, so I'll have to add the others to my tbr shelf.


Susan Adrian said...


I am so predictable. ;)

Precie said...

Of all time? Without a doubt, George Eliot (Marian Evans).

But then, I'm kind of a freak. ;)

And I'm a big fan of Diana Gabaldon's work too.

Susan Adrian said...

George Eliot is not freaky, just classic! Jane Austen is another of my regular list.

Anonymous said...


Geez, just ONE???? Dang. (Rolling dice and flipping coins to see who comes out the winner. . .) You know? I'll have to say Elizabeth Goudge.

Why? The first book I read from her was The Child From the Sea. It's her version of the life of Lucy Walter--mistress OR first wife of Charles II, depending on who you ask. The story that she came up with starts with an impish, fairy-like, bright child in Wales and ends with death of that same child--all grown up but still fairy-like, in Paris. She made me care so much for the characters that Lucy's death caused me to cry for days. (I actually tried to find Lucy's grave when I was in Paris two years ago)

I've read a couple of her books since then and the thing that stands out in all of them is her writing just flows. She makes it look easy. Her decriptions make you cry with their beauty, and her characters are REAL. She's one of the big reasons I wanted to be a writer.

And how dare you let me only pick one. :)


Susan Adrian said...


But you did so well with only one! {eg} Excellent post.

Sara Walker Howe said...


For the layers and timelessness. (For everything but the plotting.) I love that I can pick up her book some fifteen years since I first picked up her book, and still love every word, and even find new themes, new topics that are relevant to me.

(For everything and the plotting, I love Laura Kinsale.)

Mrs. Mitty said...

Oh, Susan...Just ONE??? Yikes, how can I do that? I haven't read them all yet. ;D

I guess if I must pick one favorite of all time, I would say Shakespeare (for the comedies). I love the cleverness, the sub-texts, the rampant double entendres and humor, and for the timeless appeal of the stories. His works are not something I re-read often, but if that was all I *could* read for inspiration, it would be sufficient. :)


Susan Adrian said...


Shakespeare. Ah. I LOVE Shakespeare. :)

Beth said...


Interesting that you picked Mary Stewart, because I'd have to put her at the top of my list as well. She was certainly the inspiration that got me started as writer, and I wanted to write just like her.

It's also interesting because her novels are so descriptive of landscape and setting--sometimes there are long chunks of it--all beautifully written, but exactly the sort of thing you said you don't like to read. Me, I would wallow in them and then in my earlier work try to emulate them, which got me in trouble with readers like you. [g]

But yes, Mary Stewart is brilliant--she does just about everything right. She shares space at the top with Diana Gabaldon.

Susan Adrian said...


The descriptions in Mary Stewart's books never bothered me...but then rules always can be broken. Some people can get away with it, and it slides right under my radar. {s}

I think it's almost time to pull out the MS again for a little dip!

ChrisMac said...

Oh Precie- I LOVE George Eliot!

I like Charlotte Bronte as well and Jane Austen.

Diana Gabaldon is definitely someone I admire.

Did MS write "Touch Not the Cat"? I remember reading that one and really liking it. And the one about the dancing horses- what was the name of that one?

Beth said...


Airs Above the Ground. One of my favorites.

ChrisMac said...

Thanks Beth- it was on the tip of my brain.

Susan Adrian said...


I see Beth got it answered already (I disappear over the weekends). And yes, MS wrote "Touch Not the Cat"--another of my favorites. I even remember the opening lines: "Bryony. Bryony. Bryony Ashley." {g}