So, whenever that question pops up, I can't help but think of Jimmy Rabbit, trying vainly to hold auditions for the Hardest Working Soul Band in Dublin.
It's funny, because when I think about the books that influenced me, I'm kind of at a loss. I mean, nothing that I read in my youth really matches what I write. I cite Zilpha Keatly Snyder and David Eddings as influences, and it's true. They both opened my idea of what fantasy could be, and more specifically what it didn't have to be.
That was important, because on some level I was always dissatisfied with the trappings of 'traditional' fantasy. Even though Eddings fits in that category, it did it in a way that defied my earlier expectations. Both Green-Sky and The Belgariad showed me that Fantasy didn't have to fit neatly into the genre boxes.
And of course, there's Watership Down, which is more myfantasy epic than any others. That book showed me a thousand different ways to make a different culture, different world, feel both comfortable and familiar while being alien and strange. It's just a gorgeous work.
Then there's the stuff outside of the genre boxes, which shaped how I looked at storytelling and world building. Something like, say, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel was a huge influence on the way I looked at how societies grow and advance, and thus how world building works.
I'm thrilled that nowadays there is such a wealth of fantasy nowadays that doesn't fit neatly into the boxes. The stuff that's proliferating today is exactly the sort of thing I craved back in the day. And I'm glad to be a part of that. Because the stuff I'm writing is, to a large degree, the sort of thing I wanted to read back then.
Hopefully that will influence some writer of tomorrow.