Influences come in many forms. For some it might be the musical tones of Stan Getz or maybe Trent Reznor, while others can’t feel their inner child groove until they hear Depeche Mode. For me music was never a first gear, it was somewhere in the middle between first and second. I have many wonderful memories of laying in my bed as a troubled, angry, and angsty teenager while listening to Nirvana or Megadeth and thinking about how little my parents knew about the world. I wouldn’t come to realize their wisdom for more than a decade.
Movies and television played a big role for me when I think about influences. Both Wars and Trek, Bladerunner, Dune, Cheers, Fresh Prince, Full House, The Cosby Show, and a host of others. In my lifetime I shudder to think at how many hours of television I’ve watched. Certainly tens of thousands, perhaps more.
When it comes to books however, my list is quite long. Reading for me has always been an escape. From the worlds of Tolkien and Brooks to the creepy tales of Lovecraft. By the age of twelve I had a larger collection of books than my parents did. That collection has grown and changed over time, but at the core of it are books which spark the muse inside my mind. Anne McCaffery’s world of Pern fascinated me, Salvatore’s dark elves reminded me of my own childhood (minus the spiders), and tales of Greek Mythology kept me captivated. Literature can forge a foundation inside the young, letting imagination run along the banks of a once stagnant river. The well-worn pages of a book can take you away from a crappy home life or the local school bully, acting as a shield against the outside world. Books can help you relate to someone thousands of miles away.
I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t have a list of authors they consider influences. In fact, most are far too long for them to mention, so they widdle the list down to a handful. When a creator begins to build, they generally do so in a style mimicking another. The first few D&D games I ran as a teenager were directly inspired by books I’d read. Writing songs were no different when I played in bands, as several of them were heavily inspired from the rebellious nineties music I listened to. When I first took up writing, I imagined tales like Indiana Jones, and added my own spin on things. In a way it’s a form of flattery, but it’s also part of walking the first steps of the creative path. All being a copycat shows is a desire to produce. When we grow up though, we must build our own houses or be singled out as trying to work from someone else’s foundation.
In the present work this is a hard proposition. There numerous titles which could be considered “near future” sci-fi, probably tens of thousands. The setting will be similar to some, but where I must alter course is with the threads of the story, most notably the characters, because that’s what any story actually is. When you think of a good book, you generally think of the characters within that book, because they hold the threads of it together. I’ve paired down the original list of characters from eight to three. I loved the idea of a sprawling sci-fi tale from a hideous amount of POV’s, but the more I wrote it, I realized I wasn’t going to get enough “on screen” time with all of them to feel as if they mattered. Essentially I wrote 170K words to realize I only needed 120ish or so. Imagine if Tolstoy had done with with War and Peace? I consider it an important decision for the life of my novel. The once sprawling tale is now a series of tight muscles, which only serve to coil around the main theme of the book, and that should make for a story that flows better.
All this points back to my list of influences, as they often show us what we’d prefer not to do. If Tolkien had too strong a hold on me, I’d have written another five more characters, and their families on top of that, just to flesh out the world even more. Providence showed me a different path than it did them. Their road is not mine, nor is my road anyone else’s. If a writer needs to read great books to learn how to write, but never writes a great book themselves, they can comfort themselves by knowing they read many great books, which is a joy unto itself.
Addendum: My war of words against the senseless deaths in Florida has struck a nerve with a few people – including one who called me a bot for George Soros! This is no different than people calling everyone they don’t agree with Adolf Hitler. We’ve lost the will and patience to have honest and open debates in some respects, but we’re also not all operating from the same basis when it comes to facts. Until that changes, we’re going to continue chasing our tail.