Distilling your influences

19 01 2010

Weather: High: 30º and partly sunny. Yes the Yellow Hurty Thing is back in the sky. Growl.

Wow. I’ve been very lax in posting here! Although, looking through my archives, I seem to have started a number of posts and abandoned them. Truth be told, the facile pleasures of social networking have stolen time from what I should have been doing. Time to start limiting the Twitter/Facebook addiction I think.

I recently turned 43. It’s odd that this non-specific or “milestone” age brought some nostalgia rumbling to the surface.

So, I was watching “Dreams with Sharp Teeth” again last night, and was reminded that although I read particular things now, they are only the more recent superficial influences on my writing.  Harlan Ellison, who is the subject of that film, was heavily influential on me as a young girl. I started reading Harlan when I was in 7th grade. Weirdly enough, the first mention I’d ever noticed of him was an intro he’d written for the US releases of Doctor Who tie-in books. I believe the first book by him that I purchased was “Strange Wine” which was one of the most amazing, dark, visceral and visually inspirational books I’d ever read. The story “From A-Z, the Chocolate Alphabet” still resonates with it’s short alphabetical entries about fantastic creatures, disturbing concepts and at some points, painful thoughts. I can quote most of the entries to this day.  And “Croatoan” still gives me vague nightmares. After that first taste, I dove into more and more of his books: “Paingod & Other Stories”, “Shatterday“, his book of essays “An Edge in my Voice“, and on and on. Harlan’s books made me stretch what I thought I could handle, storywise. While most girls my age were reading Judy Blume, I was reading Harlan Ellison. It made for awkward discussions at lunch time. They wanted to discuss in hushed tones about the new things about love and sex they were reading, I was more interested in discussing things like what it would be like to live in a world where all free will had been removed & you were subject to the whims of an insane AI computer. (“I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream”) Yeah. I wasn’t really part of the usual cliques in school.

Additionally, I was also reading Anne McCaffery’s Pern novels, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover Series, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising booksFrank Herbert’s Dune series and a lot of novels variously by Nancy Springer, Piers Anthony, Stephen King (His short stories & “Danse Macabre” were my go-to) and re-reading Tolkein. It was a beautiful stew of fantasy, science fiction and , with Harlan’s books added in, dark speculative fiction. I loved books that were set in a huge universe, that had depth, history and layers to them. I also liked books that didn’t just give me one note emotions. I wanted books that allowed me to immerse myself completely.

Mind you, I had an early start reading. I was an only child for 6 years and my parents, gods love ’em, let me have free rein in my dad’s library. Thus why I’d read most of Shakespeare’s plays by the time I was 10, and had a conversational knowledge of art and mythology and archaeology at the same age.  My dad got a little worried that he kept finding me with my nose buried in his coffee table book of Bosch paintings.  I believe he thought some of the grotesque imagery might give me nightmares. Instead, it prepped me for Giger, who I fell in love with later.

Art, in it’s own way, has also influenced my writing, but that’s another post.

Later, in college and after, I moved on to Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman.  Both authors again shaping my writing brain as I immersed myself in their diverse universes. Clive Barker was instrumental in leading me to challenging myself on what I wrote. I often quote him, “I forbid my mind, hence my pen, nothing.”  It’s a mantra I try an live by when I’m in the middle of a scene and find myself hemming and hawing over how far I should take it.
Barker also introduced me to William Blake and the concept of transcendence, not just of the spirit but of the flesh. It’s a concept that Barker employs in a lot of his writing.

Because of Neil & Clive, I’ve found that words need to have more dimension than mere description. They need to convey emotions, even the uncomfortable ones. And, if you can manage it, they need to be able to mold your concept of reality, make it more fluid. Not just show the worlds they describe, but put you in the middle of them, make you feel them on your skin, in your head.

So after a lifetime of all this amazing literature, it’s no wonder that some aspects of all those influences would creep into my writing as well. Although I harbor no illusions of coming anywhere near the volume or quality of any of those writers, I’d like to think that while I was reading their words, I wasn’t just absorbing the stories.  I’d like to think I was learning from them. There are flavors of all of them, in how I describe a scene, in the dialogue and in the world building that this series is requiring.

The key is trying to meld these flavors into something new, not just a reheat of what’s gone before.
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