The People I Admire, and Who Shaped the Way I Think:
I would go so far as to say that no one becomes a writer without first loving words, then stories, then authors. Although I have read a great many words in my life, each one teaching me something, I will attempt to put forward a few authors who have been great touchstones for me.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Need anything be said? The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are literally woven into my very being. I was listening to these stories in the first ages of my life, when I would still fit on a person's knee. I couldn't make any rational argument against the Great Man being one of my prime influences.
Stephen King: Yes, I mean that one. Say what you will, Big Steve can write a character, a line of dialog, and an expository statement like few writers. A few of his books literally saved my ass when I desperately needed an escape. He showed me that you can be sickened, inspired, and driven to hysterical laughter in a single chapter, and that it was all right to tell the little truths about a character.
Robert E. Howard: The man from Cross Plains served as a stark counterpoint to the literary works I was prescribed in school. Brilliant and sometimes flawed, Howard wrote unapologetic stories of outsiders who refused to be ground down by the system. To a young person, this is a poignant topic. Though I have learned to over-analyze and ruin my own fun as time has gone by, Howard's tales are still a strong tonic to the impotent prose that is sometimes lauded as art.
H.P. Lovecraft: Though I found him later than these others, Lovecraft's ability to summon up the pure, existential horror of a huge and uncaring universe astounded me. Like his characteristic tentacled horrors, Lovecraft moved insidiously into the center of my brain, whispering unspeakable secrets to the inmost chambers of my soul. Deep, pure fear, far beyond the cheap thrills of a horror movie, can be found in his work, and anyone who is interested in the "speculative" genres of fiction owes it to themselves to give him a try. I challenge you to read "Rats in the Walls" without giving yourself the screaming heebie-jeebies.
Edgar Rice Burroughs: Tarzan of the Apes. John Carter of Mars. Jane. The Incomparable Deja Thoris. Burroughs was writing "Slipstream" or "Interstitial" before anyone thought up the terms. Though he may not have known what Africa looked like, he made up a fine Africa of his own and I love every acre of it. Though he made only the most cursory effort to explain how traveling to Mars was possible, I wanted to go there with every fiber of my being. Anyone who wants to know what a real adventure story is can pick up any one of his staggering number of novels, and you'll be treated to the finest kind. Beyond that, Burroughs throws a barrage of challenging words your way. Read one of these books to your twelve-year-old, and she'll hear words you forgot you even knew. Great stuff.
William Shakespeare: Hey, why not? Will the Shake! If you only want to quote one person, he's a pretty good choice. I think that his stories have acted as a structure for virtually everything that came after. His pen poured out everything from fantasy to history, from comedy to tragedy, and an an enormous amount of poetry that almost makes all our further words seem superfluous. Probably the most important author ever (unless you go with the theory that a whole bunch of people made up a Voltron Force of Shakespeare).
Homer: Yep, the oldest Epic Fantasy writer with books still selling. Sandy Pylos. Achilles running amok, sulking, running amok again...Clever, sharp-eyed Odysseus. Hector, brave despite being fated to fall. These character archetypes are still with us, still powerful, still valid. It's not an easy read, but this is where it all starts.
Beowulf, the Elder Edda, and so forth: The bedrock of all heroic fantasy is right here. Without Beowulf, without Sigfried and Brunhilde, without the Nibelung's ring and Fafnir the dragon, you have no Tolkien, no Burroughs, no Howard. All the Frodos and Conans and Tarzans to come were born out of these epic poems and sagas. Those characters, and the rallying cry for so many heroes through the ages: "It is better to seek vengeance than to lament over much..."
Michael Scott Rohan: No, you probably haven't heard of him, but he wrote a trilogy called The Winter of the World, and it's fabulous. If you can find these books, read them straight away, no passing go, no collecting $200. They're based upon Norse mythology, so that probably makes perfect sense, knowing my proclivities.
--There are many more, and I'll add a few to this list as time goes by, but this is a good start for now. If your favorites haven't been listed here, it's probably just my limited list of books or a simple oversight.