Artistic Influences: the Brother, the Book, the Best Friend

No one lives in a vacuum. We’re all influenced by outside forces, by interactions with our environment and with each other. This is especially true for creative types. Experiencing the world and the people in it is artistic fuel. Sources of inspiration or influence can have obvious impacts on artistic styles or subjects, but sometimes the effects can be more subtly profound. If asked what has influenced my writing, I could talk about Star Wars and Star Trek as the original sparks of my love of science fiction. I could discuss the quality story-telling skills of several science fiction authors, like Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, and Michael A. Stackpole, to name a few. I might talk your ears off describing the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons, though you’re better off just reading it for yourselves (do it; the whole series is fantastic). But I think a unique and insightful approach would be to reveal more fundamental influences throughout the development of my creative process.

The Brother

To paraphrase a well-known adage, imitation is the strongest display of admiration. Looking back on the development of my writing habit, I’d have to say my older brother was a huge fundamental influence on me. Erik always has a pen and notebook (or some variation) in hand. As children growing up together, he let me collaborate with him on some of his earliest work – annual illustrated audiobooks (on cassette) about our family’s Christmas and summer vacation misadventures. In high school, he wrote a short novel about a group of teens whose prom limo is hijacked by mobsters. His play about a stalker’s wish fulfillment fantasy was produced off-Broadway in New York City. He’s self-published a three-part memoir  about his self-awakening experiences while traveling in Chile (check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 on Amazon!), and he’s currently polishing a Sopranos-style crime drama novel for publication. He’s been writing throughout every stage of his life, no matter what else is thrown at him. In short, my brother’s drive to create with words contributed to my own writing itch, and his creativity and tenacity serve as inspirations for my own pursuits. (Incidentally, he was also responsible for my introduction two years ago to National Novel Writing Month, which prompted me to start writing the novel that I’m querying to agents for representation right now.)

The Book

The beginning of my high school years saw the advent of my first serious, long-term writing endeavor – the X-Men fan-fiction series I mentioned in a previous post. It started out as a sci-fi adventure with a cast of characters – mostly based on my friends and me – learning to use their newfound superpowers. Then, for a school summer reading assignment, I read Say Goodnight, Gracie by Julie Reece Deaver, a story of high-school best friends who suffer a devastating tragedy, one having to carry on without the other. Reading that book, that little young-adult story of personal loss having nothing to do with science fiction, profoundly transformed my own creations. Suddenly I wasn’t writing about overpowered genetic anomalies shooting energy blasts from their hands and reading each other’s minds. I was writing about people, about interpersonal relationships, about love and inner turmoil and broken friendships and betrayal, about loss and grief and joy and healing. Sure, the superhero stuff was still there; I’ll always be a sci-fi fan. But reading Say Goodnight Gracie injected my characters and my stories with humanity. That trend has stuck through the last two decades’ worth of my writing, and I’m grateful to Ms. Deaver for having that lasting effect on my own storytelling efforts.

The Best Friend

My fiction productivity in the last few years has increased dramatically, thanks in no small part to the encouragement of my SO. Ever since she learned of my passion for writing and I gave her some samples to read, she’s been incredibly supportive of my little hobby. In fact, after two decades of dabbling and writing mostly for myself, her enthusiasm for my work has inspired my recent efforts to land a literary agent and get published. And I’m not talking about the generic you-can-do-it, follow-your-dreams, I-believe-in-you mushiness. I mean she gets her hands dirty in the muck and mire of my rough drafts, advising me on what works and what doesn’t. She was a literature minor in college, and takes a no-fools-suffered approach to just about everything in life, so believe me when I say she doesn’t pull any punches, even for me. I get criticism about unrealistic dialogue and story-stalling unnecessary fluff right alongside praise for characterizations and plot twists. I’ve rewritten entire chapters based on her advice. She’s been through three rounds of revisions with me on the manuscript I’m now querying to literary agents, and the story – not to mention my ability to take constructive criticism – has greatly improved from her involvement. I’m thankful for her willingness to get involved in my writing, and I look forward to her thoughts on my next story.

I hope you enjoyed these little insights into my creative process. Feel free to poke around my site and check out some products of these and other influences on my word-slinging!

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