One of the best things about finishing a book, is there are things you haven’t been able to read that now you are.
When I’m writing a book – or even, when I know that one day I’m going to be writing a book – any fiction in possibly a similar area becomes taboo.
If my next book were to be a fictional life of Marco Polo, I’d not read any fiction to do with Marco Polo or Kublai Khan (and would probably have stopped reading it about five years ago): partly because I don’t want to see how someone else did that idea, and partly because if someone did do the same thing that I was going to do, I don’t want that route closed off because someone else has taken it already. It just keeps things simple.
It doesn’t mean you won’t be accused of plagiarism. I’ve still never read Christopher Fowler’s Roofworld, although I love Chris Fowler as a writer, and have had a copy of Roofworld on my shelves since before it came out (they sent me a proof). But I knew I wanted to do a magic city under London novel, and Roofworld looked too close to what I planned to do for comfort. I left it unread, as I left Mike Moorcock’s Mother London, and several other good books. Books I know I’d like I haven’t read (and still haven’t, since I want to go back to London Below one day).
One of the joys of finishing American Gods is that there are books I can read, and books I can reread. John James’s Votan, for example. A book I read almost twenty years ago, and that I’ve wanted to reread for ages but didn’t dare to, as I knew it had a scene I was going to have to do in American Gods. And when I finally read it, last week, I was pleased that the two scenes didn’t resemble each other in any real way, and more pleased that twelve years spent getting as deeply into Norse stuff as anyone who doesn’t do it for a living had left me with an enormous appreciation for the brilliance of James’s novel. (It’s about a wily second century Greek trader in Germany who becomes Odin – Votan – and to whom all the Norse myths happen, or at least, the stories that will become the Norse Myths. Hilarious, moving and, along with its sequel, Not For all the Gold in Ireland, the best mythic-historical fiction out there, apart from Gene Wolfe’s Soldier in the Mist sequence, and maybe some Robert Graves.)