I discovered LKH and the Anita series when I was fourteen (this was in the mid-nineties, so the series wasn't yet highly inappropriate for a fourteen year old to read--well, unless you object to violence and language, I guess) and before discovering LKH, I was strictly a high fantasy girl. Oh, I'd read gothic paranormal novels like Dracula and Frankenstein (which were pretty much UF for their day) and I'd read Ann Rice's Vampire Chronicles, but nothing inspired a hunger for more of the genre in me like LKH's books did.
Of course, there really wasn't much more of the genre out there at the time.
P N Elrod's Vampire Files and Tanya Huff's Blood Books were on shelves, but that was about the extent of the genre that would eventually be called Urban Fantasy (and is even now mutating to a new name). Buffy didn't start airing until a year or two after I started reading LKH (and I actually didn't see any of it until years later when my college roommate decided it was all but blasphemous that I hadn't seen Buffy and arranged several marathon viewings.) The show Forever Knight (which I was a huge fan of and is probably another influencing force behind me writing UF) had come and gone, but as far as I could find as a fourteen year old, that was the extent of the genre.
I was dabbling in writing by that point, but only high fantasy. In fact, prior to finding the Anita books (and I received the first three by mistake from the Sci-Fi Fantasy Bookclub--I wouldn't have picked them up on my own) I would have told you I wasn't interested in any book set in contemporary times. Give me castles and dragons--technology as advanced as a car or wrist watch was a deal breaker. Then I devoured the first few Anita Blake books and I was hooked. I wanted more, and it wasn't out there.
So I started writing my own.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I didn't stop writing high fantasy at that point. In fact, I still focused primarily on high fantasy until I finished college. (And like those high fantasy novels, I didn't finish any of my early UF stories.) I didn't begin focusing on UF until nearly a decade later when I wrote the novel which eventually became Once Bitten, and by that point, other UF giants such as Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, and Kim Harrison were already established.
But if I had to point to one single influential writer who hooked me on the genre, that writer would be Laurell K Hamilton.
I saw LKH at Dragon two years ago and attended almost every one of her panels (including one memorable panel where I thought she was about to throw down with one of the romance writers), but at that time I couldn't work up the nerve to talk to her. This year I saw her on several panels and even passed her in the halls a couple times, but I was too afraid I'd make a fool of myself to approach her. Then, on the very last day of Dragon, probably two hours before I left, I saw her in the hall and finally worked up the nerve to talk to her. (Or maybe it wasn't nerve. I'd literally just walked out from giving blood when I spotted her and was a little light headed so 'just go for it' sounded plausible.)
I asked if I could get a picture with her, and told her that her books had inspired me to write and that I have an UF book (Grave Witch) being released from Roc next month. Then I gave her a very nervous hug and ran away, even more light headed--either from blood loss or nerves. I hope I didn't scare her and come off as a crazy fan girl, but how do you act and what do you say to someone whose work influenced you (especially during those formidable teenage years)?