Every writer loves to read, so here are ten of my favorite books in no particular order and, yes, there’s even a kids one in there, too.
There are others, but this is enough for now.
1) Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
2) Batman: Knightfall by Dennis O’Neil
3) Stone of Tears by Terry Goodkind
4) Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore
5) The Chamber by John Grisham
6) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
7) The Long Walk by Richard Bachman
8) George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl
9) The Death and Life of Superman by Roger Stern
10) Batman: No Man’s Land by Greg Rucka
Like all writers, I’ve read countless books over the years. Some were awesome, some so-so, and even the ones that weren’t that great I still appreciated for the story even if the writing needed some work. Out of all those books, some have impacted me in different ways both personally and professionally.
Here is a list of 5 books in no particular order that have influenced my writing. I’ve stuck to fiction for this list instead of any writing how-to book.
1. Stone of Tears by Terry Goodkind – an ultra long read, but worth every page. The dude knows how to paint pictures in your head with his words and, aside from Stone of Tears being a killer story, it was this word-painting that stuck with me and set the bar for how I paint pictures for the reader in my own work. Not saying I’m anywhere near Terry Goodkind’s caliber, but his great description definitely stuck with me over the years.
2. Batman: Knightfall by Dennis O’Neil – The first superhero fiction book I ever read and my favorite book of all time. (Yeah, I have a soft spot for superheroes, as you well know.) This book got me in Batman’s head in a way the comics didn’t, and humanized him in a way I could relate to on different levels. It also showed me superheroes didn’t have to be confined to four-color comics or to movies. Clearly, this influenced me later on when it came time to write The Axiom-man Saga.
3. The Summer I Died by Ryan C. Thomas – Easily the most brutal book I’ve ever read, and I don’t mean brutal as in bad. Not only is it an intense story–people kidnapped by a madman–but the violence level in this thing is through the roof. I loved reading it, and I hated reading it. Ryan made you live each terrifying and painful moment his characters went through. Like live-live. Crazy. But it showed me how to get nasty with violence when needed and how to draw the reader in when it came to someone getting hurt, and it reemphasized for me the importance of ensuring the reader is indeed in your characters’ shoes and not outside of them no matter what is happening.
4. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks – Such a bittersweet love story, and it was this book that demonstrated the difference between a romance book and a love story book. It was the love story between the characters that impacted me the most, not their romance, and nowadays when I write two characters in love, I play up the love story angle versus the romantic one. I did this in my book, April, written under the name Peter Fox. To me, love stories have so much more heart than romances.
5. Left Behind by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye – Aside from the entire series being an interesting story of the Earth’s last days before Christ’s return, the writing takeaway from this book–and the rest of the series–were the constant cliffhanger endings to each chapter. It was just non-stop, and since I’ve read them I’ve done my best to cliffhang each scene and each chapter in my own books. Even cliffhang the ending of book one of a series to get the reader pumped for book two. Cliffhangers keep those pages turning.
So there you have it. A quick list of 5 books that impacted me as a writer. There are more, but I’ll save those for another post.
What books have influenced you, whether personally or professionally? Sound off in the comments below.
Note: This post was originally published on Jeffrey Allen Davis’s blog
The Axiom-man Origin and Why I Write Superhero Fiction
The Axiom-man Saga is an old story. A couple decades, in fact, as it was around then that I started to daydream about a similar hero while walking my paper route each morning. I’d get so lost in this story about a hero caught in a cosmic war between Good and Evil that I’d be done my route before I knew it and would often run house-to-house to double check and make sure I delivered the paper to the right places.
In that fantasy, of course, I played the hero. As the story grew and I got older, I ended up transferring the honor of being that character to someone else, a fictitious someone else who would one day go by the name of Gabriel Garrison.
Axiom-man began to take shape in concept throughout all my years of delivering the paper—and went by a different name, which was featured in my novel, April, written as Peter Fox (for that secret name, you’ll just have to read the book to find out). In 1995, Axiom-man received his new costume, the one he wears today. At the time, Axiom-man—originally called Trinity—and this concept character of mine were two different people. Trinity was more of a supernatural hero ala Spawn and fought demons, whereas my other hero was more down-to-Earth in nature and had very Superman-like powers. Yes, I know: Superman isn’t very down-to-Earth, but he does deal with things on this plane of existence 9 times out of 10. Anyway, as time went on, Trinity became Axiom—who was yet another character at the time—and as even more time went on and after being inspired by the likes of Frank Dirscherl and his Wraith character—who back in 2005 had one novel, a comic and a movie in the works—I decided it was time to put my long-thought-about superhero to paper. I merged my paper route fantasy character with Axiom because I always had an affinity for him, and after doing a quick web search on the Axiom name and finding a company out there with the same name, I went and made it my own by adding “man” to the end of it, hyphenated, of course, because that’s who Axiom-man really is: a self-evident truth embodied in a single person, in his case the self-evident truth of being one to do good rather than evil. From there it was an issue of scaling his powers waaaay back and settling upon three of them: strength, flight and eye beams. And when I say I scaled his powers way back, I mean way, way back. When Axiom-man debuted, he could only lift around 1000 pounds, could fly at about 60 kilometers an hour, and his energy beams only carried so much force. I didn’t want to make him too powerful thus making him always the winner and, because of his great strength, have no choice but to always pit him against ultra powerful foes. My story was to take place in our world under the idea of, “If this happened in our reality tomorrow, how would it most likely play out?” Making him with that kind of power set helped keep him grounded in reality and gave me plenty of options for enemies he could fight to sometimes win and sometimes lose against.
His backstory and mythology were left unaltered and kept the same as the character I thought about growing up, still the product of a nameless messenger having visited him and granting him his abilities without explanation. As the story goes on, Axiom-man finds out why he received his powers and how he is caught in a cosmic war that has raged since time immemorial.
The reason Axiom-man made his debut in books rather than comics was because, at the time I brought him to market, I knew of superhero fiction but didn’t think to do it independently. Frank Dirscherl’s The Wraith and Knight Seeker by Eric Cooper showed me otherwise. Axiom-man was originally a comic book character and I even drew a 21- or 22-page comic with him when he was called Trinity back in high school. I still have it somewhere and might publish it one day as a kind of behind-the-scenes thing. Anyway . . .
By doing superheroes in prose, I was able to work alone, could tell the story exactly how I wanted it, and because I was already self-publishing other fiction at the time, had the system in place to get Axiom-man out there.
You know, even though Axiom-man was my first official superhero release, I look over my fiction and every book I’ve written is a superhero novel in some way. Take A Red Dark Night, for example. It’s about a summer camp under siege by blood creatures. One of the protagonists, Tarek, is superheroic in nature, wears an otherworldly outfit complete with a cape, and shoots blue fire from a gauntlet on his forearm.
My epic fantasy book, some quarter million words long, called The Way of the Fog, is about a group of people who get superpowers in a medieval/fantasy-style setting.
My zombie trilogy, Undead World, deals with the supernatural, time travel, and each character is superheroic in how they act, even archetypical in some cases, with comic book-like good vs evil action.
Zombie Fight Night—aside from an aged Axiom-man making an appearance in there, is full of comic book characters monster-wise, everything from werewolves to vampires; to robots to pirates; to ninjas to samurai; and beyond, all battling the undead.
The Metahumans vs anthology series is, obviously, about Metahumans aka superheroes fighting a themed foe throughout each book.
As mentioned, my love story, April, is about a comic book writer who’s fallen in love, and what does he write? Superhero comics.
I think it’s only fitting that superhero fiction in its truest form—an actual superhero storyline—became a part of my repertoire. It seemed inevitable considering my love for the genre. Ever since I knew what a superhero was—at three years old, I think—I’ve been hooked, and not a day in my life has gone by where I haven’t thought about them, theorized about them, fantasized about them, pretended to be them and more. I even wear Superman and Batman onesies to bed for crying out loud!
Calling me a geek is an understatement, but I don’t care. Geeks make the world go round and fanboys are the ones providing people with entertainment. Superhero fiction just happens to be my main venue for doing so.
And where is Axiom-man going from here? Well, thus far, 7 prose books have been released along with a few comics and short stories. The whole saga is planned to be 50 books long, so I’m coming up on being 20 percent finished. The good part is the story is pretty much all mentally written. I had 9 years or so of delivering papers to get the story right, after all.
What I’m enjoying about the superhero fiction format is I’m able to do things with my characters that comic books don’t allow, at least, current superhero comics don’t allow. I’ve long advocated—and still do—that the comic book is the greatest storytelling medium to ever come down the pike, with books being a close second. Why? Because it’s the one-two punch of pictures combined with narration, whereas prose is a text-only medium. I still believe that, but being that at this stage in my career I’m primarily a writer versus a writer/artist, I’m sticking to books and the book medium is capable of telling superhero stories in a way comics haven’t as yet, namely getting inside a character’s head. Very few comic writers have succeeded in that in the past. Superhero comics are far too picture-heavy these days, with flashy computer coloring jobs, flimsy stories and scant dialogue. I miss the old days where there were almost equal amounts of text and pictures. At least with The Axiom-man Saga as it stands now, I can bring the reader dense characters where every thought and feeling is brought to the fore and, hopefully, pull the reader into the characters’ shoes in a way that superhero comics don’t. That’s my main goal with this: bring the reader in so that they feel they are experiencing my fiction versus just reading it. I’ve yet to read a superhero comic where this has happened. I have, however, read superhero books where this has occurred, Batman: Knightfall by Dennis O’Neil being a major favorite of mine and my first foray into the superhero fiction world.
What also sets The Axiom-man Saga apart from any of the current superhero offerings is that it’s a cross-medium superhero story that encompasses books, comics and short stories, all part of the same continuity. This has never been done before, and putting new spins on old things is one of the things I’ve always striven for in my fiction, especially in this industry where things are pretty copycat and cookie-cutter (we all know of certain authors that seem to turn out the same book over and over again just under a different title, right?).
Whether Axiom-man becomes this wild success or remains under the radar, for me it’s about writing the superhero story I always wanted to read, the one I’ve always thought about, and the one that, when my time on Earth is done, is the one I’ll be remembered by. It’s meant to be a career piece, a giant story with a beginning, middle and end, the story of a superhero, his life, and what that means to the world around us.