This Shelfie represents a few of the influences both before and after I began to write for publication.
Moby Dick: It may seem unbelievable, but I just read Moby Dick cover to cover in January 2016. I’m so glad I finally did. As you can see from the picture, it is no longer just one of those books looking pretty on my shelf. It’s one I’ve actually read!
Inside the Aquarium: I actually drove from San Diego to Newport Beach, California (90 miles), in the days before Amazon.com. I began reading this book at a distant relative’s house and couldn’t put it down … but he wouldn’t let me borrow it. So, I had to hunt it down and drive a three-hour round trip to get it at a used bookstore because it was out of print. The title is deceiving; it was not about how to take care of fish at home, but about the super secret Soviet GRU or Russian Military Intelligence from a Russian defector. It was one of the books that gave me curiosity to begin learning all I could about military subjects.
The Hunt for Red October: This one was a popular choice for a lot of people in the 1980s, but I was only 14 years old when I read it for the first time, not really understanding what it all meant. But it felt like I was reading classified material and getting a glimpse into a world that not many got to see or understand. In a way, I was right, but it would be a long time before I would really understand the things in that book. At the time, all I really needed to know is that it was cool, and I knew I was hooked!
Flight of the Intruder: This book was the second novel the Naval Institute Press published after the success of their first foray into fiction with The Hunt for Red October. Of course, they both did well. I read Stephen Coonts’ book when I was in the eighth grade. I remember my history teacher having it on his desk. I told him I thought it was cool that he was reading it and he said, “Of course, it’s a bestseller. But I question you reading it.” I answered him with a shrug in his own words, “… It’s a bestseller,” I said. I realize now that I was, indeed, much too young to be reading it, but it reinforced a passion for the military and writing. I was so swept up in learning the nuances of naval aviation through this novel that it proved to me that these stories could not only entertain but teach and enlighten.
Contact: I am a huge Carl Sagan fan. I admire his brilliance as a scientist and his versatile intellect. He has inspired me to think deeply and write about those deep subjects we hold dear, and he certainly does that in this book.
The Dark Fields: This novel was adapted into the film Limitless with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro. When I first saw the film, I was blown away. It was such a cool concept that reinforced the will in me to write. Even now, when I sit down to write, I think of the clarity that the main character gets when he is on the wonder drug, and I act like that same thing is happening to me — that I have super clarity and focus to tap into the deepest depths of my mind and pull out as much good stuff as I can find in there. When I learned the film was adapted from a novel, I HAD to read it. The book is as good if not better than the movie, and the movie is fantastic! Hats off to Alan Glynn.
The Fourth Protocol: This book was also adapted into a film with Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan. A fantastic spy thriller. This book served a double purpose for me, in that, I wanted to read the book that became a great movie, but I also wanted to read the authors who influenced Tom Clancy’s work. Tom Clancy once shared in an interview that he admired Frederick Forsyth’s writing and wanted to be like him. I figured if Frederick Forsyth had a hand in shaping Tom Clancy, I should study his work, as well.
Dead or Alive: I had read many Tom Clancy novels (not all of them, but many), but I chose this one because a fantastic author named Grant Blackwood co-wrote it with Tom Clancy. It was every bit as good a book as if Mr. Clancy had written it alone, which made me think how difficult that undertaking must have been for Mr. Blackwood. Developing your own writing style is difficult enough without trying to emulate another fantastic writer. But Grant pulls it off, which is a testament to his mastery of the craft. I also love looking at this book because I remember reading it, and only two years after I read it, Mr. Blackwood agreed to blurb my debut novel, Looking into the Sun, about the Syrian conflict. A wonderful gesture from a fantastic writer to a new writer just starting out.
The Aviators: The same time I was reading Tom Clancy, I was reading W. E. B. Griffin’s The Corps series, as well as his Brotherhood of War series. His no-nonsense, cut-and-dry style appealed to me as a reader and is very difficult to accomplish as a writer. Just seeing his name on my shelf makes me relax and try to emulate his style so my readers will feel the same way about my books … not likely, but I at least have a frame of reference to shoot for as I write. And I’m a naval aviator, so I love everything about aviation. I learned a tremendous amount about Army aviation that I didn’t know before.
Here I Am: This is a biography of freelance photojournalist Tim Hetherington who was killed in Libya while reporting on the fighting there in 2011. Sebastian Junger and he produced Restrepo and Korengal, which documented the war in Afghanistan alongside U.S. Army soldiers at a remote Forward Operating Base (FOB). They risked their lives every day reporting on the brave soldiers serving their country and dying in a foreign war. Their dedication to journalism and to the soldiers themselves is epic and inspiring. I read this as part of my research on freelance journalists in war zones for my novel, Looking into the Sun.
War: This is Sebastian Junger’s book on his experiences while covering the war in Afghanistan with Tim Hetherington. Again, great research material for me that showed the heart of a dedicated war journalist. I have been in the military for 24 years and deployed to the Middle East but have not experienced the combat that Sebastian Junger or the soldiers he lived with had. I am humbled by them and extremely proud that we have people in our country with truckloads of courage to stand up for us all on the front lines when their country calls and humbled by journalists like Sebastian Junger who did not have to be there but chose to, so we could see their sacrifices and be awed by it, as well.
Looking into the Sun: This is my book. It’s a novel of the Syrian conflict. I just wanted to see how it looked among the books I admire.
Fingerprints of God: This book is a nonfiction book about the brain. The reason it is there is more to remind me that I should be writing. When I first began putting down words with the goal of finishing a novel, I was deployed on a U.S. Navy ship in the Arabian Gulf. I was far from any well-stocked library (Our library on the ship was very sparse.), but the ship did get shipments of books delivered when we pulled into port. One day, I needed a book on the brain and decided to see if there was anything close to that in the ship’s library. When I got there, they had just received a couple boxes of brand new books that day. I went through them and happened to find this book, the exact book I needed for my obscure research in a Middle Eastern port. This was a loud and clear signal to me that I needed to keep writing.
Fahrenheit 451: I read a writing book called Ray Bradbury on Zen in the Art of Writing that was excellent. It made me want to read more of his writing, and I had to start with a book that I’d been meaning to get around to for so many years. I finished it in a couple days — Needless to say, it was excellent.
2001: A Space Odyssey: I had seen the movie many years ago, but now that I am honing my writing, I felt the need to delve into genres I don’t write in, like science fiction. It was a great book to introduce Arthur C. Clarke. His short stories are also very good if you don’t want to break off a whole lot of science fiction all at once.
A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy: As a U.S. Naval Academy graduate with a History degree, this book was fun for me to read to brush up on my naval history. I wish I could write history [nonfiction], but there is so much research that has to be right; I find that fiction is much easier for me to write. I still do a lot of research for my fiction (which I enjoy) because you have to get things right, too, but in the end, I can tell the story I want rather than worrying about how things actually went down.
On Writing: Stephen King delivers, hands down, the best book on writing out there.
Fight Club: I love Chuck Palahniuk and have read several of his books, but Fight Club, for me, is the favorite. Absolutely read the whole book, but if you want to do something cool, only read chapter six. It is the core of a short story that he eventually expanded into the novel. Everything he wants to say is boiled down in chapter six … Really cool.
1984: I like conspiracy theories, and reading the original “Big Brother” story was very interesting and scary when seen in the context of our modern life.
Brave New World: This book was a bit more abstract in its theme about how messed up the world could get, but we are slowly creeping up on this as a new normal, as well. Excellent cautionary tale and thought-provoking as we sit down to communicate with our fellow human beings as writers.
The Old Man and the Sea: I actually read this copy of Ernest Hemingway’s short novel on a sailboat off the coast of Key West relatively close to where it took place in the story (off the coast of Cuba).
A Moveable Feast: I bought this copy at Shakespeare and Company in Paris along with Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I devoured it while I was in Paris and visited a few of his haunts while I was there. A very cool book to read in Paris.
Against All Enemies: I included this book for the same reason I included Dead or Alive above. I had no idea that, after reading this book, Peter Telep, another Tom Clancy co-author, would be nice enough to blurb my debut novel, as well. Both Grant Blackwood and he remembered how it was for them as new writers and wanted to support other new writers on projects that moved them. I am grateful for their generous support.
TODD TAVOLAZZI earned a B.S. in History from the U.S. Naval Academy and an M.A. in International Relations from Norwich University, where he studied Europe and the Middle East extensively. He flew the MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter while based in Italy and the MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter while based in Norfolk, Virginia, and has deployed throughout Europe and the Middle East. His short fiction has appeared in Potluck and The Subtopian online magazines. His debut novel, Looking into the Sun: A Novel of the Syrian Conflict, was released in February 2016. He is still an active duty Naval Officer and lives in Virginia with his wife and two children.
Originally published on 4/4/16.