When I was 7, my brother used to read Poe to me when my parents weren't around. Although such gothic classics as The Masque of the Red Death and The Telltale Heart frightened me endlessly, they also injected me with lifelong taste for the heightened moment, suspense and the music of beautiful language.
Poe in turn led me to my teenaged favorite, my great touchstone – Doestoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, which appealed both to my fascination with the extremes of the human condition and my concern with the way people form and act upon their values.
I was also drawn, inevitably, to the pantheon of Los Angeles dark classics such as Chandler's Farewell My Lovely, and Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust. Ultimately, my taste for heightened language and experience led me to Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Virginia Woolf's The Waves and James Joyce.
But the elegance of such prose was daunting to a would-be young artist. How could I hope to ever write a sentence in a world where Faulkner had already written?
The answer was – Henry Miller. His wonderful, all-seams-showing Tropic of Cancer gave me permission to write. I realized I didn't have to write perfectly to get something on paper. I could start with feeling, with perspective and a joy in description, and see where they led.
Anais Nin's famous Diaries, which delineated the wonderfully romantic life to which a woman author could aspire, also encouraged my decision to write.
Having made my choice for the literary life, I plunged back into Los Angeles fiction. I was successively captivated by Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, Kate Braverman's Lithium For Medea (she would later become my teacher), and John Fante's Ask the Dust. These authors whetted my desire to create a literary Los Angeles of my own.
In the last several years, the twin pillars of my reading, the writers to whom I return again and again in my search for a unique language and perspective are Lawrence Durrell and his expansive, sensually rich Alexandria Quartet and Malcolm Lowry's tormented, subterranean Under the Volcano.
Contemporary writers who cast their spell on me are Robert Stone (Dog Soldiers), Robert Olen Butler (They Whisper), Melanie Rae Thon (First, Body) and Ntozake Shange (For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf). I continue to search out wonderful Los Angeles writing such as Donald Rawley's Slow Dance on the Fault Line and Les Plesko's The Last Bongo Sunset.
Always, I look for fiction that provides a double experience -- the experience of the story and the experience of the language above and beyond the story. I don't want just to be entertained. I want to be thrilled, dumbfounded. I want my breath taken away.
My fiction is often laced with references to my own favorite books, and I hope some friends will follow up on a lead or two!