the books I have to readThis week, it being Thanksgiving and all, we’re feeling thankful.

We’re thankful to be writers, thankful to have readers.  We’re thankful to have listeners to our podcast (Thanks!).

And we are thankful for writers, especially the ones whose books made us want to write, authors who changed our lives and influenced the kind of stories we tell or the music our sentences make.

This week, it’s The Thankful Show, where we talk about reading these influential books and writers, finding inspiration for your writing, and using your writing influences to grow your voice as a writer.

We’d love to hear YOUR favorite writers and books, and how they’ve influenced you.  Let’s get a big list of favorites going here in the comments–share what writers and books you’re thankful for!

(And also, don’t forget that if you’d like a free audiobook copy of The Battle Hymn Blues, email Baker at baker (at) fictionschool (dot) com!  Got 25 to give away–first come, first served.  We’re happy to give ’em away to our listeners, because we’re thankful for you!)


  • We try to explain what Thanksgiving is to our non-United States listeners, and we wish we could all still sit at the kids’ table, and Tommy laments that they have no idea what Thanksgiving is in Italy.  (Poor guy.  He’s missing out on Thanksgiving…BECAUSE HE GETS TO LIVE IN ITALY THIS SEMESTER.)
  • “Who do you like to read?” is maybe a more interesting question to a writer than “What kind of stuff do you write?”
  • Tommy tells the story of how he got into writing, by goofing off in the library and mistaking a book by Hemingway for being a novel written about the Metallica song “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”  First time he fell in love with a book.
  • Jody has two lists of books: the naughty and nice list (books she thinks she should like–and does–and books that are more commercial, that she also loves).
  • Fave book that’s naughty AND nice: Lolita.  But commercial fiction is revolutionary for Jody’s career, realizing it doesn’t all have to be about war, disease, or weighty issues, and that great books can also be fun.  Like Bridget Jones’ Diary.
  • Tommy nominates The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay as mindblowing as to the possibilities of what a novel could do.
  • Baker taught Nazareth, North Dakota to his freshman class and several of them bought the next book in the series.  Became their favorite book, maybe?
  • Baker came to writing backwards, through TV and movies and oral storytelling, only later realizing that there was gold in that material, like in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.
  • Seeing Jody’s first book get published was a revelation for Tommy: “It could be done!”
  • John Green is another big influence for Baker, changing the way he thought about YA books and the scope of what they can be about.  Highly recommends The Fault in Our Stars.
  • Jody: “Lots of beginning writers think that the ultimate goal is to be free of influence, but I don’t think that’s true.  Language is something that doesn’t happen in a vacuum and we’re all influenced by each other.  And the more consciously we can look at writers we love and try to break apart what they’re doing and emulate that in our own way, I think it’s a really important part of the process.”
  • Steal Like an Artist is a good book about creativity and the writing process.  Everything’s a mashup, even Tommy’s work taking the gospels and making them his own.
  • TZ: Good writers are good thieves.  And good thieves don’t get caught.
  • Sometimes we don’t even know our own influences–it can be osmosis, or things you admire for the chances they take or the directions they go.
  • Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants influenced Tommy to put an elephant in his book.  We disucss the idea that writers can hide easter eggs in their work as homages to other writers and other people.
  • Yukon Jack will show up in all Jody’s works from now on!
  • Jody discusses learning from playwrights and their use of dialouge.  Mentions Beth Henley and Sam Shepherd.  She took True West and mapped out the major plot points of each scene, then changed characters and setting and did her own version of the play to learn story structure.
  • Speaking of liking chances writers take, Tommy likes The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, stealing some things like the form on the page.  Reading what others do gives you the freedom to try new things that you wouldn’t have tried first.
  • Such a part of learning to be a writer or artist is copying–playing along to your favorite songs on guitar, mimicking the moves of your favorite athletes, but in writing we’re not usually encouraged to do that kind of copying–but really, we can and maybe SHOULD do that kind of close-up copying.
  • Tommy likes doing residencies where artists and writers work together, seeing the artists’ work and letting it sink in to his work on the page.  Being around art and other artists influences you.  The creativity is this invisible wavelength that you’re feeding off of.
  • Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re learning, your subconscious is collecting things.
  • Baker mentions Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated as a favorite–with multiple storylines that are incredibly complicated but all intersect; but it’s so funny and so sad at the same time.  That emotional mixture has been a big inspiration.
  • Jody talks about Lori R. King, Touchstone and The Bones of Paris.  Doing neo-noir, set in 1920s–inspiring when a modern writer can take those flavors of the past and recreate them.
  • Old-school stuff has a lot to be learned that no one reads anymore.  Like Wuthering Heights, Tommy says.  Rich, weird, creepy.  Younger writers should really go back and look at these early books, can be just as useful as the newest thriller.
  • Dickens can also be a good old-school writer to study, because he’s so good at plotting and cliffhangers, really influential in teh development of serials and the groundbreaking TV coming out now.  Dan Brown does similar things with cliffhangers.
  • John Irving mentions Dickens as a big influence.
  • Baker throws out Lewis Nordan as a writer more people should read.  A Southern writer who toyed with a brand of magical realism in the Mississippi Delta.  He does this in Wolf Whistle, a historical fiction version of the murder of Emmet Till, complete with all different sides and racial biases and magical realism.
  • Tommy tells a tragicomic story of meeting one of his favorite writers–a hero of his, actually.  Listen to the show if only for this.
  • To be a good writer, you’ve got to be a good reader.  Every writer has read a lot and has a lot of influences.
  • Every book we mention, there’s five more to talk about.
  • Reading a lot is a great way to learn how to write.
  • Reading is passive writing.

The Fiction School cohort is thankful for all our listeners!

And if you love a book or have a book that was a big influence for you, PLEASE share it in the comments!  Lets get a long, cool list that we can share and keep on learning from each other!