Monday, September 7, 2015

Backstory, Inspiration, and a Shout Out.

Lost last post I talked about what my motivations for writing. Inparticular I talked about what I thought the genre had to offer as a whole. This time I thought I would let you know specifically who I am taking many of my cues and inspiration from. This post was originally published on Crossworlds Publishing, a writing venture that myself and two friends have started. It’s still in the very early stages, but feel free to poke around there. New stuff should be showing up in the not so distant future. With their consent I give you the altered version of that post, changed only to fit with the particular purpose of this blog. Now on to the history prelude, or why I got on this genre ship to begin with.

As long as I can remember, I have consumed books with a voracious appetite. I blame my mother and Nirvana. I’m not going to go into all the detail on that one besides to say that my mother always pushed academics and intelligence over sports, and that I grew up without cable due in no small part to a Nirvana music video. This meant that although I would indeed shoot hoops or go throw a baseball around I was directed more towards reading.

Over the years that interest in reading has turned into a raw appetite for new stories and a reading habit that my wife has often called ridiculous. When it comes to writing this post, though, my reading habits have actually made it more difficult. I have consumed so much over the years that nailing down my influences is proving to be surprisingly difficult. That said, if I don’t get it done I’m pretty sure my peers will string me up so here we go.

From the outset the groundwork was laid for me to be a genre fan. Before I could really read myself, my older sister would read greek mythology to me from a glorious yellow book that now sits on my daughter’s shelf. As I got older I would always pick out the fantastical and the science fiction related stories when given the opportunity, especially at school. It was because of this that my 5th grade teacher pulled me aside one day and made a book recommendation that would literally change the way I looked at fiction.

He gave me an old, beat-up copy of Stephen King’s “Eyes of the Dragon.” I was already vaguely familiar with King’s books. My mom had several of his anthologies sitting around on a shelf in her room. He was that horror guy. Cracking the book open and reading about the noble Peter, the weak Thomas, and the vile Flagg was an epiphany. It was a fantasy world, with all the parts that were already becoming very familiar to me, but presented in a new and captivating light. From there I quickly moved on to the beat up copy of “The Gunslinger” that had belonged to my father. King’s take on a mythic west combined with Arthurian Legend sprinkled with random pop culture references is something that to this day manages to spark new ideas.

It was after moving on to a public junior high school from the more relatively sheltered world of private catholic school that a friend of mine introduced the next big influence on my writing, Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion stories. For those not familiar these are a rather large series of fairly pulpy fantasy/sci-fi novels where the heroes are all incarnations of the titular Eternal Champion, trying to act as an agent of balance in the grand struggle between Chaos and Law. Notice the lack of Good and Evil in the description? So did I. When characters took to their quest it was always for personal reasons. Elric didn’t wield Stormbringer because he wanted to be the great hero. He swung the cursed sword because it was what he needed to do to try and save the woman he loved. Hawkmoon only started on his journey that leads to the Runestaff because he was being blackmailed by the Granbretan Empire.

Some of the trappings of the Eternal Champion books are too fantastic to describe, but the motivations of the main character always feel like a grounding anchor amid the fantastic. In many ways Moorecock’s books have become the anti-Tolkein to me. They do not have the binary moral state or the fantasy standards that have become so ingrained in the genre. If you see things in his writing that has become a fantasy mainstay, it is because he put them on the map to begin with or because he was tapping into the well of myth that has feed human storytelling for as long as we have been aware as a culture.

While King and Moorecock both showed me the benefits of taking the pre existing tropes of the genre I love and twisting them in interesting ways, China MiƩville showed me how fantastic things could get when you truly allowed them to go off the rails. Perdido Street Station, the first in the Bas Lag books, features a bizarre landscape of insect headed people, clockwork esque machinery, sentient cacti, and more. It is this collection of strange and wonderful things that manages to stay internally consistent.

After Perdido Street Station, it only gets better with books like The Scar about a pirate city made of lashed together ships and Kraken and its refreshing take on urban fantasy. I’m not going to claim that his books are always easy to read. The City and the City in particular had me doing some mental acrobatics to reconcile the idea of two cities overlaid on top of each other. In all, though, his books have shown me the importance of trying to put out new ideas can be. His ability to present such fresh ideas is something I am constantly striving to emulate.

If you are looking at this and wondering how all three of these will fit together in my writing, the best I can tell you is that you can expect me to be telling stories of personal motivations hopefully bereft of moral absolutes and light on the tired cliches. Will I be successful in this? I honestly have no clue. I will just leave that to you, (hopefully) faithful readers, to decide.  

Next time I post, I will share the first portion of my history with National Novel Writing Month, and how what basically amounted to a drunken off the cuff decision has lead to something more setting up shop in my imagination.  

P.S. If any of my more graphically inclined friends/readers would like to help me with a header image and logo it would be greatly appreciated. It would be really helpful in sprucing up the place.

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