Nothing is original. It’s all borrowed and altered.

It’s not what I took from you
It’s not what I stole
We are born like this
Like this
 — Three Days Grace

Except we’re not born like this. We steal to develop. We steal to create. Everything new is borrowed. So, it’s not what I took from you, it’s what I took from you and made my own. That’s what stealing from others is all about. I’ve mentioned Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist a few times, but it’s worth repeating for the sake of this post: Go buy that fucking book. It’s so good.

Anyway, I’ve come a long way in my writing (in my opinion after looking back at my old work), and I feel like I’m starting to find my own voice. But every writer starts with other people’s voices. It’s not possible to start slapping away at a keyboard for the first time and create fiction that is exclusively your own voice. If it is, I have not seen it. Everyone steals from everyone. It’s natural.

But it’s interesting to look back at some of my writing over the last few years through the “who did I steal this style from?” goggles. So, if you’re interested in that kind of thing, here’s what I’ve come up with.

Dennis Lehane

I don’t give a shit if he’s not literary enough for you. I don’t care if he’s not the type MFA classes sit around discussing. Dennis Lehane knows dialogue, he knows tension, and he know character development. And the truth is, he should be considered among literary discussions, but he’s written so many detective novels, my guess is people write him off.

A lot of my writing has come from reading Lehane. Interestingly, my all-time favorite book of his is his most literary effort: The Given Day. But, my crime stories draw far more influence from his detective fiction and from his wonderful novel Mystic River.

Nic Pizzolatto

When I watched the first episode of Season one of True Detective, I saw Nic Pizzolatto’s name pop up on the screen and wondered aloud, “Who the fuck is that guy?” Then I looked him up. I found his short story Between Here and the Yellow Sea available at The Atlantic, and I was blown away. So I picked up his collection of short stories of the same name, and I picked up Galveston.

It’s funny, Galveston is what sold me for all of eternity on Pizzolatto (even after True Detective Season Two), but it’s also the book I think led me the furthest astray of what my true voice was in writing. Pizzolatto writes beautifully. His descriptions are minimalistic but poetic. I tried for a long time to emulate that, but I eventually settled into something different, something more my own, something that works for me.

Philipp Meyer

Philipp Meyer was a lucky break for me. I stumbled across his book American Rust, loved the synopsis, read a preview, enjoyed his prose, and picked up the book. I loved it. Fucking loved it. Go get it, seriously. It was after reading that book that I found myself seriously experimenting with stream of consciousness in my stories. And that’s stuck with me.

I read The Son next and thoroughly enjoyed it, if not as much as American Rust. That book, though, helped me much later. As I began writing the manuscript I’m currently working on — the one Donald Trump helped launch — I knew I wanted my depiction of 1930s Arizona to be as accurate and vivid as Meyer’s depiction of Texas spanning from the late 1800s until present day.

Donald Ray Pollock

This was an interesting influence. Donald Ray Pollock writes gritty stories and novels, sure. I love that. But he writes, often, from the perspective of poor, beaten down folks. Folks who turn to crime or do other dumb shit. Folks who a lot of times don’t know any better. And he writes about people like that because he grew up with people like that. The Devil All the Time lets the poverty of small-town Ohio settle into your bones before it snaps those bones in fits of violence. He lets the poverty of the people in his books act as a character that’s always there.

Pollock made me realize that writing about the places I came from, even if they weren’t pretty, could be a wonderful thing. That’s not to say everyone I grew up with was dirt poor or a criminal. Of course not. But I did know plenty of criminals — some who were arrested and some who never were. I grew up with junkies and alcoholics. I lived in a trailer and cheap rental homes. And none of that made life bad. In fact, as I reflect upon it in my writing, it made life interesting.


This isn’t an all-inclusive list of authors who have influenced me. This is simply the list that I came up with in reading my own writing from the last couple years. These were the writers who most clearly showed through. The writers I most obviously stole from.

So, moral of this story? Stealing is fun, kids.

via Justin Hunter