Three Authors Who Got Me Started

I am on the verge of finishing the manuscript of the third volume in my Thieftaker series (written as D. B. Jackson).  The book is tentatively called City of Shades, and it will not see light of day until the Summer of 2014 (book 2 in the series, Thieves’ Quarry, will be out on July 2 of this year), and in fact it’s not really done, since eventually I will have revisions to do, and then copyedits, and then proofs, and . . . well, you get the idea.  But soon, and for a while at least, it will be out of my hair.  And that’s a good thing.

The Thieftaker books are a bit of a departure for me (hence the pseudonym for the series).  They are urban historical fantasy, set in Colonial Boston, built around a series of stand alone mysteries.  They’re really nothing like the work I had done previously, which was high fantasy:  alternate worlds, castle intrigue, lots of magic and wars and stuff.  That was what I cut my teeth on as a fantasy reader many, many years ago, and that was what I wrote for the first dozen plus years of my career.  I have to admit that I miss that stuff, and I’m thinking that my next book (before I go back to write the fourth Thieftaker novel) will be another high fantasy.

As I consider this, I have been thinking back on the books that first set me on this career path, and that first convinced me that I wanted to steep myself in this genre. And I have been thinking about three authors in particular.

1. J.R.R. Tolkien.  Yeah, I know — no big surprise here.  I first encountered Tolkien when I was eleven and at sleepaway camp.  The theater counselor was putting on a production of The Hobbit, and he cast me as Bilbo Baggins.  I had no idea what the play was about, but I instantly fell in love with the story and the characters.  I went home and read the book; loved that, too.  A few years later, I read Lord of the Rings, and I realized that I wanted to read nothing but fantasy for the rest of my life.  Now, fortunately, I didn’t limit myself to fantasy for long, but I remained an avid reader in the genre.  Fantasy novels were not my only reading choices, but they were almost always the books I reached for first.

2. Stephen R. Donaldson.  I read the first Thomas Covenant trilogy in my late teens, and the second a short while later.  I read them through, and then read them a second time, soaking them up like a sponge. Let me say here that I know many people don’t like the Covenant books, and I understand why.  Covenant himself was in many ways a despicable character, and [Spoiler Alert] the rape he commits early in the first book of the first trilogy was/is incredibly disturbing for me to read, then as a nineteen year-old kid, and now as a middle-aged father of daughters.  That said, though, the Covenant books had an enormous influence on me.  Essentially, they made me want to write.  Covenant was such a challenging hero — he was unlike any character I had ever read.  And Donaldson’s world was both wondrous and weird — again, I’d never encountered anything quite like it.  The novelty of the books opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities of writing in our genre.  If Donaldson could do that, then I could do anything!  Without those books, I might not be a writer.

3. Guy Gavriel Kay.  The first books I read by Kay were the three volumes of the Fionavar Tapestry — The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road.  As it happens, I am just now rereading the trilogy — I’m nearly a third of the way through the final book.  The trilogy, which was the first thing Kay published on his own after writing The Silmarillion with Christopher Tolkien, holds up quite well nearly thirty years after its initial publication.  Yes, the books are flawed in some ways, but the series is brilliant nevertheless. The worldbuilding is rich and textured, the characters are drawn with exquisite care, the prose is lyrical and elegant — readers of Kay’s subsequent work will recognize these qualities as the hallmarks of all that he writes.  And that is the point.  Donaldson made me want to write; Kay showed me how I should write.  He was the writer whose work I tried to emulate with my earliest efforts.  I didn’t come close, of course.  But I learned craft in part by reading his work, and eventually I found a style of my own.

So, those are the three authors who most influenced my career, who helped me get to where I am today.  This is not to say that other authors, haven’t influenced my work and my career.  So many have — I haven’t room to mention them all by name here.  But these were the three who got me started.  And I am forever in their debt.

Who are your greatest influences?  Who got you reading speculative fiction?  Who made you want to write?

David B. Coe

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  1. 1. Paul Weimer (@princejvstin)

    Asimov, Zelazny and Tolkien got me to reading speculative fiction and possibly one day actually writing some. Still working on that last bit for the most part.

  2. 2. carmen webster buxton

    Andre Norton got me into reading science fiction at a young age because she wrote both YA historical adventure fiction (pirates, ancient Egypt, the Civil War) and science fiction and fantasy. I liked her characters, so I started reading all of her books and discovered I liked the speculative stuff even more.

  3. 3. Bethany

    Ditto on the choice of Tolkein and Donaldson and the disturbing-ness of the First Thomas Covenant Chronicles’ beginning (I read that at 13 I think… not the best parental move ever…). I think I’d have to add Anne McCaffrey and her Pern books to my list of influences!

  4. 4. Mike

    Damn! You nailed my three. The covenant series was a huge influence and I still reread The Fionavar Tapestry every few years.

  5. 5. David B. Coe

    Paul, good choices, obviously. Hope you get to the writing eventually, even if it’s just for fun.

    Carmen, I know SO many people who were brought in to the genre by Andre Norton, in large part because of what you say here — she wrote so much in so many different genres. Thanks for the comment.

    Bethany, I loved McCaffrey’s work, too. And LeGuin’s. As I say, if I had wanted to go on, this could have been a very, very long list . . .

    Mike, very cool! You are obviously a highly discerning reader with extraordinary literary taste. ;)

  6. 6. Tera Fulbright

    CS Lewis, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Anne McCaffrey.

    My first introduction to the SF world was through CS Lewis Narnia Series followed almost immediately by Pern and Dragonlance.

    The Dragonlance Chronicles & Tales are my go back and read series. DL books taught me that it was okay to make your readers feel for your characters both in the joys and sadness.

  7. 7. Rachel

    Tolkien, for much the same reason–The Hobbit was the first “big kid” fantasy I ever read (age 10 or 11 too!) and It was the book that hooked me on fantasy and I haven’t read much of any other genre since.

    Donaldson, also, but not because of the Covenant books, though those are a major influence, but because of his short stories. I love his style, his voice, his way of lingering over the mood and drawing out the emotional tension–he inspires me to put my pen to paper.

    And then, of course, Robert Jordan. Ambtious, complex, excellent characterization and storytelling; I can only hope to one day write something as well crafted has the Wheel of Time.

  8. 8. Mary

    Tolkien, Norton, and Dunsany for me, I suspect.

  9. 9. Jagi Wright

    Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Ursula LeGuin. Those were the big ones when I was young. Everyone had read them. Nowadays, LeGuin is not as well known, I think.

    If I had five, I’d add Lloyd Alexander and Roger Zelazny.

  10. 10. Jagi Wright

    I seen people mentioning Anne McCaffrey and I’m so glad. While I don’t remember her as well today, the first novel I started at the age of 12 was entirely inspired by her work.

  11. 11. Sam Graham

    Tolkien, CS Lewis, and probably Alan Garner were probably my formative three, I read Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, the Narnia books and Weirdstone of Brisingamen/The Moon of Gomrath two or three times each when I was six to seven, before I really remember reading much else.

    Before that I only remember Dr Seuss and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

    Once I turned eight we moved house and I ended up with access to several hundred old Amazings and other golden-era pulp magazines, and my horizons vastly broadened by any number of great authors. Was introduced to Le Guin’s Earthsea books around nine years old and she was hugely influential.

    So, if I had to pick 3? If it was ones that made their earliest big impressions I’d say Tolkien/Lewis/Grimms or Garner, and if it was what shaped my tastes in books, I’d have to say Tolkien/Le Guin/Azimov.

    Interestingly none make my “as an adult” fave three authors: Steven Erikson, Katherine Kerr and CJ Cherryh.

    Woah, infodump. :)

  12. 12. kimberlycreates

    My three most influential authors, specifically spec fic authors, were (1) Anne McCaffrey in my teens — I read almost all of her Pern books as a teen, (2) David and Leigh Eddings in my 20s (although at the time, Leigh was uncredited) — the Belgariad and Mallorean series rekindled my love of reading that had been killed by high school required reading, and (3) Lois McMaster Bujold in my 30s — her Vorkosigan books rekindled my love affair with space opera that began when my grandmother took me to see Star Wars when I was seven years old. And I realized I can’t just pick three. (4) Terri Windling and (5) Marion Zimmer Bradley ignited my love for the short story. I religiouslyread The Year’s Best Horror and Fantasy Windling published with Ellen Datlow, and later, her column on myth in Realms of Fantasy, as well as MZB’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies. For a time in my 30s, I wanted to *be* MZB when I grew up. If I absolutely had to drop two people off the list, it would be McCaffrey and Eddings, but I’d still add them as a footnote. I never was very good at playing by the rules.

  13. 13. Scott Seldon

    My first SF authors were Isaac Asimov, Brian Daley, and James Blish (the Trek novelizations). I can’t say which came first, but I suspect it was Brian Daley. Since then anything with tech and a good story, especially anything with a starship deck under the character’s feet, has me hooked. I just wish I had more time to read to enjoy all that is out there.


  1. Three Authors Who Influenced Me, Today at SFNovelists | D.B. Jackson

Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe ( is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (, he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (, and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.



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