Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Literary Influences

Very recently, in the land of facebook I was tagged in a note which requested that I name 15 authors who have influenced me and will always stick with me. This was sent by the fabulous Paul Winarski, who is producing my play, Road to Nowhere. I planned on responding to that when I had some time but then I thought it would make a great blog post, particularly since I sometimes struggle with ideas for Ye Olde Spotty Blog. It also made sense since the topic brought on a whole whirlwind of thoughts on the subject of literary influences.

Answering the question of who influences my work is not as simple as listing fifteen writers, although I can certainly do that. The first fifteen that pop into my head are as follows,
Lewis Carroll, Tom Robbins, David Foster Wallace, James Morrow, Angela Carter, Francesca Lia Block, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Christopher Moore, Charles de Lint, Oscar Wilde, George Saunders,
Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), Allen Ginsberg, Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler.

It's a good thing that there is a limit to the number of authors required, because otherwise you would be subjected to a massive wall of text containing a huge number of names. But here's the thing about those names. Each one of them is storied, in its own way. How and where I discovered their works has much to do with people in my life who introduced the work to me. Tom Robbins was suggested to me by Paul Shapera (yes, THAT Paul Shapera, of Steampunk Opera fame). Charles de Lint is a favorite of my brother's. Christopher Moore's work was beloved of my friend and co-author Kathy Morrow-Swartz. I read James Morrow's work for a class and was later lucky enough to meet him and his family. I'm also blessed enough to be able to call the Morrows my friends, which leads my to my next point about influences. My work is influenced as much by community as it is by the work that I have read. Conversations with the Morrow family have probably held as much sway as the fiction I've read by Jim, or Kathy's amazing poetry.

My work has been influenced strongly by the critique group I was in with Rune Skelley. Rune Skelley's writing prompts in particular are kind of like a magical key that unlocks the wine-barrel of creative juices. (There is probably a dirty joke in that statement somewhere, but I will leave that for you guys to parse.) Recently Juliette Wade (Analog) and I have been each other's writing cheerleaders. Dario Ciriello is another big positive influence. (check him out at www.panversepublishing.com )There are days when you stare at that page and can't seem to make it work, and the influence of someone in the writing trenches with you can make all the difference between a story that works and a story that's meh.

The writing is influenced by ideas or events (both large and small) from daily life. That's not to suggest I write fiction based on people I know, I don't. But a conversation about generational differences that I've had with a parent or grandparent will provide a new perspective with which to tackle characters, world-building or language. That extremely odd-looking statue of a leprechaun I saw at the dollar store while shopping with a friend might be the visual cornerstone of a character's apartment. The way the light falls on the bird-feeder in the backyard could provide clarity for a descriptive passage. Images or emotional states evoked by different types of music can also generate ideas. That dropped bit of subtext from a film might be something I want to explore further. So I submit that the question of what influences the work of a writer is infinitely more complex than what they have read.

Life influences the work of a writer. I remember going to a reading and Q&A given by Samuel Delaney at PSU. Heart pounding, crazy nervous, I raised my hand and asked a question about a particularly delicate passage he'd read from Dark Reflections. To me, it seemed a gorgeous, fearless piece of prose about sex, or the possibility of sex, and I asked him something like, "How do you do that?" I recall an emphatic response that one must "Pay attention." Good advice for life as well as art. That, for me, was a profound moment, as an aspiring writer and as a human being.

So, yes, pay attention to everything that you can. You can learn from everything if your eyes are open. (By the way, I'm still working on this. I will probably always be working on this, like I will always be working on that stack of books piling up near the bed.)

So, how about you guys? What are your thoughts on influences?

1 comment:

  1. I can't really point to an influence. It's not that they're not there, of course. But neither my day job nor my main hobby at the moment involve creating art. I feel like I got away with something when I wrote that flash fiction bit last month, especially since Reggie said it didn't require editing.

    My job is computers, and people in my line of work who are actually *doing* the work tend to leave the navel-gazing to others. (I've never been a fan of Wired for this reason; they come off as ESPN to my offensive lineman/second baseman/weak-side defenseman.) I tried to complete a thirty-day blog challenge, but found that my co-bloggers were talking about how to use technology to do other things, while I use technology to make it easier for others to use it. We spoke different languages, and I didn't want to spend my blog posts translating just to make points. I churned out some mediocre stuff, but couldn't finish.

    I'm working on a masters in project management right now, and spend most of my time reading and writing stuff that makes me itch a little (law cases! White papers! Corporate weenie-speak!). This has pulled me away from my fun-reading (I have two biogs, the Churchill WWII set, and a programming language how-to on the pile at the moment) and fun-writing, because by the time 10pm rolls around, I'm lucky I can come up with something snarky for Categories.

    When I'm done and I'm writing again for fun and actually working on the novel again, I may have something more to say here.


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