I’m constantly amazed by the number of authors, some of them quite famous who deny reading anything. I can’t find the quote now (of course) but I saw Patricia Cornwell in an interview recently where she stated, quite bluntly, something along the lines that she doesn’t read because she wouldn’t want to inadvertently ‘borrow’ someone else’s ideas. The simple arrogance of this astounds me.
If you believe the old saw about there only being five, or seven, or ten, books out there, the idea that her work somehow is isolated from all the other fiction on the planet is somehow ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I have read and enjoyed lots of her work and have to admit it has influenced my books, too.
But in this day and age, when forensic pathologists are in every other slot in the bookshelf, she’s not unique.
I much prefer a quote from C. J. Cherryh which, although she’s talking about science fiction, I feel it describes a lot of other fiction, too:
Science fiction is a dialogue, a tennis match, in which the Idea is volleyed from one side of the net to the other. Ridiculous to say that someone ‘stole’ an idea: no, no, a thousand times no. The point is the volley, and how it’s carried, and what statement is made by the answering ‘statement.’ In other words—if Burroughs initiates a time-gate and says it works randomly, and then Norton has time gates confounded with the Perilous Seat, the Siege Perilous of the Round Table, and locates it in a bar on a rainy night—do you see both the humor and the volley in the tennis match?
The best advice I think I ever had was to read what I wanted to write — and here I am, writing the sort of thing that I spent a lot of years reading. I don’t think there’s any way to distance yourself from the world of books and still reach an audience, particularly today, where everyone’s got an attention span that lasts the length of time between commercials.