Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Emily celebrated this on time with a fast and an interfaith service, but I was under a deadline, so I forced the kids to dilute their video games and Netflix watching with some reading and art, nailed myself to a couch, and revised.
Late as I am, I want to mark yesterday. I’m a writer, so I do it by tipping my hat and bowing deeply to six writers who have influenced me profoundly. I could write another post, and maybe someday will, about women who have been important in my professional careers (lawyer Sara Hanks, editor Michelle Frey, agent Deborah Warren, co-writer Emily H. Butler, and others) and of course about women influential in my personal life.
None of these thumbnails is long enough to do justice to the writer it identifies. I have organized them alphabetically. My apologies to the many other writers who should have been included.
Margaret Barker. Margaret Barker has changed my view of Christianity, the Bible, and what Biblical scholarship is for. If you have the fortitude for a serious odyssey, start with her book The Older Testament and read forward. If you don’t have the time for that, grab Temple Theology: An Introduction or The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God. It is my great good fortune to have met Margaret personally, and I regard her, with some chutzpah, as a friend.
Dorothy Dunnett. Ms. Dunnett’s books were recommended to me years ago by a good friend who is also a woman influential in my persona life (I’m looking at you, Dea). Her two large series, The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolo, cover late and early Renaissance Europe in a spectacular, adventure-filled way. Like, say, Neal Stephenson, Dorothy Dunnett wrote sharp-as-razors stories that were both intellectually challenging and also rollicking yarns.
Jane Ellen Harrison. Ms. Harrison was a classicist. There is no doubt, at remove of nearly a century now, that she placed too much weight on the ideas of James George Frazer. There is also no doubt that her books Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and especially Themis remain influential today because they are sharp, insightful works. They are also the books that pushed me (far) beyond high school notions of Greek and Roman religion, and if you happen to be a fantasy writer interested in models of how to world-build religions that get beyond Blorktar, God of Snow and Berserking, you should do much worse than immerse yourself in these.
Katherine Kurtz. Ms. Kurtz’s Deryni books introduced me to the possibility that non-preachy adventure fantasy tales could be told in a setting that was explicitly Christian, very different thing both from J.R.R. Tolkien’s deep Christianity and C.S. Lewis’s allegorizing. In re-reading them recently, I see that her earlier books bear the marks of a young writer, but they’re still thoroughly enjoyable, and one of the inspirations behind my own novel Witchy Eye.***
Patricia McKillip. About a decade ago, I re-read all my youthful loves. Many of them turned out to be, to me as a more mature reader, less impressive than they had been. One of the great exceptions is Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy. McKillip taught me as a young reader (and not yet a writer) that fantasy could be feminine, Celtic, and literary.
Mary Renault. Ms. Renault wrote such convincing fiction about archaic kingship that I had university professors point me to her Theseus novels, The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea, as illustrations. They remain compelling reading now.
*** Witchy Eye is an epic fantasy of forgotten gods, unquiet dead, shape-shifters, brutal dynastic politics, impossible journeys, and perfidious Frenchmen set in an alternate Jacksonian America. It’s The Games of Thrones meets Last of the Mohicans. Witchy Eye is looking for good home, so if you’re a publisher and are interested, shoot me or Deborah a message.