Authors, I think, are the sum of many parts. One component that makes up our narrative DNA is surely who we are, what we think, where we come from. It’s us. But another part of it isn’t us—just as our own real genetic makeup features DNA that has come from others far beyond and before us, so too does our narrative DNA comprise voices that are explicitly not our own.
What I’m trying to say is: Writers are made up of other writers.
We’re formed, Voltron-like, of other storytellers who we’ve loved and whose words and characters have inspired us, challenged us, stayed with us in some formative way. We read books. We love them. They stay with us. Each is a thread, woven into our fabric.
But here’s the trick with that: The voices that we subsume can be a strength, but they can also be a weakness. We read books and we see how things are done, or how they’ve been done, and unconsciously, even unwittingly, we let those voices form a fence. And we learn to stay inside that fence. Here, we think, are our borders. These voices make up a boundary for us to stay in—or they form a brand, if you will, a brand in the advertising way, but also in the way that you burn a sigil into a cow’s hide to tell everybody who the cow belongs to.
So, those voices, those authors, they can be good. But they can also trap us and limit us and make us think, This is how it is. This is how it must be.
Then there’s Neal Stephenson.