Writers are influenced and shaped by the literature of other writers. And while the books of one’s youth and young adulthood are most prominent in this formation process, writers continue to grow and evolve across a lifetime as they discover additional literature. These are the authors who have especially shaped me and continue to do so:

  • Mario Puzo. I first read Puzo’s epic crime drama The Godfather when I was 15, and it’s impossible to overstate his impact on my own writing. 
  • J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye helped me make sense of my own rebellious spirit and suffering of fools. 
  • Stephen King. The Stand is a worth an MFA semester or two, with its rich character development. 
  • John Steinbeck. East of Eden is a tragic exploration of the best and worst of human nature. 
  • J.K. Rowling. I’ve yet to read a book series comparable to Harry Potter, with its extraordinary back story that evolves with the subtlety of a fine aging wine. 
  • Ernest Hemingway. The Old Man and the Sea is a master course on the clear, simple prose that made Hemingway unique and earned him the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. 
  • David Wroblewski. Every sentence of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a lyrical offering, transporting the reader into Edgar’s trek across the northern Wisconsin wilderness.
  • Gillian Flynn. Flynn’s genius at plot twists in books such as Gone Girl makes her one of the 21st Century best writers. 
  • Anthony Doerr. His Pulitzer-winning All the Light We Cannot See, structured with short chapters that juxtaposition its two main characters, is one of the rare present-tense books I’ve enjoyed reading. 
  • Toni Morrison. Morrison holds nothing back in powerful novels such as Beloved, the story of a former slave who kills her children to prevent them from being captured back into slavery. 

I have re-read several of these books and love when I notice specific details and foreshadowing for the first time. I encourage you to reflect on the writers who have influenced you the most and why and would enjoy hearing from you and learning about your literary role models.

John M. DeMarco is a writer, strategist, and executive coach based in Nashville, Tennessee.