But I can without doubt say that there is one author who has had more influence on me than any other, and one who is happily still alive, healthy, and writing. That would be Tamora Pierce.
When I was in middle school, I found the Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness Quartet. To briefly sum up the plot, an eleven year old girl disguises herself as a boy to train as a knight. Through the course of the series, becomes a hero and a legend and saves the kingdom in the bargain.
There's lots to like in the series. Alanna is a very strong female character who overcomes many trials and much despair. But she's not one-dimensional or a Mary Sue. There's this really great moment where, despite being one of the toughest knights of the realm, she faints when getting her ears pierced.
The story certainly has served as inspiration for my writing and my determination to write strong female characters. But there's one line that still sticks with me more than others.
In the first book, twelve-year-old Alanna (or "Alan") is frustrated by her small size and lack of fighting strength. But the real blow comes when she has her first sword sparring match, and loses dramatically. She fears that she might never live up to the other boys because of her lack of skill. But then, her guardian says,
"Ye're just not a natural with a sword, Master Alan. Some are born to it… And then there's some that learn the sword."
Alanna takes that advice to heart. She practices every day, despite a crushing schedule of other training, her duties as a page, and hours of other weapons classes. And by the end of the series, she's considered one of the top swordfighters in the kingdom, despite having started out with no natural talent.
(Important point: By talent, I mean an innate skill that can be enhanced by practice more quickly than by a person lacking such talent. Talented people still have to work, they just may get there more quickly).
You see, I've never considered myself a talented writer. I'm not Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, who had her first books published when she was only fourteen, and has published a book every year since. My first stories were really, really terrible. In all ways. In fact, at the age when I was reading the Alanna series as a middle schooler, I was quietly despairing that all my friends seemed to have some talent, something that set them apart, while I was just kind of okay at everything. And into my late teenage years, and beyond, I gained more confidence but still despaired at my lack of natural writing talent.
But then, every so often, I'd think of that quote. And it finally occurred to me, well, maybe I can learn writing. Maybe if I sit down and practice and practice through my college work and tough internship schedule and later grad school and so on, maybe I can get a little better. And you know, I can safely say that I have gotten better over the years. And as for my stereotypically fragile writer's ego, I've now got my skills in science along with those in-progress writing skills to keep me afloat.
And just recently, the one time someone commented that I was talented*, I bristled just a tiny bit. Because really, I've worked hard and come a long way to get to where I am, and it didn't come naturally**. And I still have a long way to go before I win the Hugo, win the Nebula, and save the kingdom from evil. Well, two out of three wouldn't be so bad.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go practice some more.
*My mom, admittedly.
**Cruel truth: that second grade 'best science fiction award' that I like to talk about was actually based off a game my sister invented about ghosts on an island***. More fan fiction, than anything, and not an original creation. Woe!
***Even as an eight year old, I was like, um excuse me adults, this story doesn't meet the definition of science fiction…. In other words, I was talented in geekiness, if nothing else!