Thursday Reading FUNdamentals: Under the Influence
I decided against doing the first Crusader “challenge” this week. Writing a Match.com-type profile about my “personality” seemed like a waste of my time and yours. It’s not like we’re ever going to meet up at a bar or Starbucks or anything. Unless you want to stalk me, though I haven’t any idea why anyone would do that.
Instead, I’m going to talk about something relevant to reading this blog. Influences! When you claim to be a writer people probably assume your biggest influences are books. That’s more true for the last 10 years or so, but my first real influences were movies and Saturday morning cartoons, not books.
If you’re a boy who comes from that generation born after Vietnam but before Gulf War Part I then chances are your greatest influence is the Star Wars Trilogy. (The original one, aka the good one, not the stupid prequels!) I’m not the only one who thinks this. Chances are those were some of the first movies you saw along with Disney ones and some of the first action figures you played with. (My brother and I accumulated a whole bag full of decapitated figures and their heads. Around XMas we would also stage mock lightsaber fights with discarded wrapping paper tubes.)
I read a lot of books, but there was nothing that influenced me more than those three movies. The only thing coming close were the Star Trek movies–II to IV–which are also some of the first ones I remember seeing in the theater.
If you wonder why, it’s pretty easy. The grand spectacle of spaceships and lasers and lightsabers, not to mention an epic, albeit simple good-vs.-evil story could make quite the impression on young minds. To a young boy do you really think picture books about cuddly bears can compare with lasers and robots?
So it’s no surprise that some of the first stories my brother and I wrote shamelessly ripped off Star Wars and Star Trek, only acted out with our stuffed toys in our own imaginary universe. Those stories only exist in notebooks and homemade comics if at all. Much later I wrote a rebooted version.
If you take a look at my archive site, you can see other stories bearing these influences. I even have a Star Wars fanfic that really sucks, though I’d argue not as much as some of the published novels. If you take a look at my first sci-fi trilogy, it’s obviously a combination of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Robotech, all three of which I watched as a kid.
It wasn’t until I got into literary writing that books really began to influence me. If you read my novel Where You Belong (only $.99 for Kindle and $12.99 print right now!), I do my best to copy John Irving’s style in books such as The Cider House Rules and World According to Garp. It was really the former that made me want to do some “serious” writing. I had read some other literary novels before that, notably Michael Chabon’s Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Tom Wolfe’s Man in Full, but for some reason those didn’t have quite the same impact. Maybe there was something about the storytelling or the character of Homer Wells that really spoke to me. Whatever it was, I made a change for years after that to try and do some “serious” novels. With mixed results.
What’s interesting is that finding a book like that (or movies like that) it’s like falling in love that first time. You can have better experiences later on, read better books, but you’re never going to forget your first. In all honesty I have read better literary novels, but those by John Irving are still close to my heart because they got to me first.
This happened another time too. When I was in grade school I read the “Chronicles of Prydain” (or whatever it’s called collectively) by Lloyd Alexander, starting with The Book of Three and ending with The High King. Those might have resonated with me because they were a lot like Star Wars. Orphaned farm boy defeats evil empire with the help of a band of friends–one of whom was even hairy like Chewbacca! (Alexander’s novels were published back in the ’60s I think, so obviously they came first, but I didn’t read them before I saw Star Wars in large part because I saw Star Wars before I could read!) Anyway, later when I read the first Harry Potter book I thought it was fine, but it couldn’t replace Alexander’s books in my heart. I suspect that years from now Potter fans will feel the same way about whatever new series comes along.
For better or worse, we’re stuck with those first loves that help to mold and shape us.
There, that’s probably a lot more insightful than any lame blurb I could write about myself.
Come back Sunday for another Super Sunday Smackdown…