To be clear, these are my personal favorites, not my opinion on the best writers of all time, or anything like that.
7. T. Coraghessan Boyle
Equally excellent at challenging satirical novels as he is at short-stories, T.C. Boyle’s characters are studies in tormented complexity. My favorite tip from Mr. Boyle is “My standard advice for aspiring writers is to come from a wealthy family.” My personal favorite Boyle novel; The Inner Circle.
6. Robin Hobb (Margaret Astrid Lindholm)
Robin Hobb was one of those authors I never seemed to get around to reading. However, once I picked up Assassin’s Apprentice, I couldn't manage to read anyone else. My favorite piece of writing advice from Ms. Hobb is “Don't listen to people who tell you that very few people get published and you won't be one of them. Don't listen to your friend who says you are better that Tolkien and don't have to try any more.” My personal favorite Hobb novel; Assassin's Apprentice.
5. J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien invented a genre and set a standard for world-building that may never be met. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Tolkien was “To a story-teller a journey is a marvelous device. It provides a strong thread on which a multitude of things that he has in mind may be strung . . .” My personal favorite Tolkien novel; The Return of the King.
4. George R. R. Martin
The first time I encountered Mr. Martin’s writing was with a short story called The Hedge Knight from the Legends anthology, and I was hooked. Little did I know that story would suck me into a world I’m still engrossed in 16 years later. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Martin is “In order to get inside their (his character’s) skin, I have to identify with them. That includes even the ones who are complete bastards, nasty, twisted, deeply flawed human beings with serious psychological problems. Even them.” My personal favorite novel; A Game of Thrones (I also seem to recall hearing about a TV show of this name).
3. Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut wrote stories with an imagination so wild and a style so unique, that I couldn't help but be mesmerized. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Vonnegut was “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” My personal favorite Vonnegut novel; The Sirens of Titan.
2. Ray Bradbury
My youth was spent reading every Ray Bradbury book I could find. The undisputed King of the Short Story, his rich, imaginative plots filled my mind with wonder. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Bradbury was “Write. Don't think. Relax.” My personal favorite Bradbury story (a very difficult decision); All in a Summer Day.
1. Elmore Leonard
Although I write fantasy, I love a good crime story as much as the next guy, and to me, the Dickens of Detroit was the best. His gritty characters and realistic dialogue jump of the page and pull you into the story. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Leonard was to "try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip." My personal favorite Leonard novel (also a great movie); Out of Sight.
Author Update: I'm patiently awaiting my editor's final pass on Mirrors & Mist, due the 2nd week of October. Once I receive it, I'll start the mad scramble of preparing the final manuscript for my beta readers. My self-imposed late 2014 publishing deadline is looking tenuous.