Under The Influence

Hello, dear friends and readers, and welcome to 2011! There's a lot we could talk about today what with the news being a steady stream of suck. My personal life is enjoyable enough, but I think writing about that would be either bragging or complaining, take your pick. So, let's talk about something near and dear to our hearts: influence. Nope, don't want to talk about media influence. Let the media scream themselves out on that one and go take a nap. Meanwhile, I'm going to talk about artistic influence. A few days ago, my awesome agent Liz Jote tweeted that female writers have been heavily influenced by Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman's styles. Thinking about it, I realized that this is true for me, even though I was not consciously aware of it. So, I thought it might be fun to talk about our positive influences. What has gone into the soil around us that has changed the flavor of the fruit we bear, so to speak?

I am a pop culture nut. I heart movies. I've always enjoyed writing, but I didn't become the avid bookavore that I am today until the 21st century, so a lot of my influence comes from the screen. Here, in no particular order, are just some examples of what I can pinpoint.

1) Star Trek (2009): It is no secret that I love this movie. I watch it whenever I am about to start a new project or when I am blocked. It is, to me, the whole package. It tells a compelling story without being jumping the shark. It has emotional swings, good science/brain content, and eye candy. The score is phenomenal--helping the story come together with the viewer's emotions. The writing is tight. The acting is stellar. It is everything I want to make some day.

2.Tim Burton: Like a fat kid and snacks, I just can't pick a single favorite of Burton's movies. It's his over-all style. Stripey, sinuous, dark and at the same time vibrant, Tim Burton never fails me. I must admit to being partial to the 80's-90's Tim Burton. Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice. He took these things that were dark, mysterious and (at times) frightening, and gave them wonder. Look at Edward Scissorhands. He's a freakish horror on the outside, a creation who hurts everything he touches, including himself. But, when he is introduced into a mainstream town--all perky and colorful--who brings the violence? Mr. Brat Pack dude who'd willingly give a testicle to see Edward electrocute himself. Yeah. That's a message! There is magic in his stories, real magic. Beetlejuice takes the macabre and makes it funny. Burton looks at life from the other side of the glass, and that is amazing.

3) Christopher Moore: Along the same lines, we have an author I've had the pleasure to meet. I've read everything he's put out and still LAMB is my favorite. Moore isn't strapped into any one genre. One book, he's tackling the Bible--taking the "greatest story ever told", adding humor and still managing to make me cry at the crucifixion. Next book, demons. Then vampires and horny grocery clerks. Zombies and angels. Shakespeare. He can do it all, and everything is laugh-your-ass-off-funny! Humor is very important to me, and it can be difficult to turn on the funny and keep it coming. I go to Moore when I need to recharge or be reminded that even when talking about something as morbid as zombies, prehensile whale dicks will always be funny.

4) Jim Butcher: For similar reasons I named Moore, I find Jim Butcher to be one of my favorite authors and biggest influences. Where I really admire Jim, however, is in his prolific series featuring Harry Dresden. The story is entering its 13th book (plus there are several shorts in this world) and it just keeps getting better. Watching Harry Dresden, wizard for hire, save the world and his friends is entertaining. The action is spectacular, the powers/rules are intriguing and the dialogue is natural. (Also, funny. See the theme?)  But, where do I find my deepest enjoyment? Watching BUTCHER grow. STORM FRONT, his first published work, feels like a debut novel. By book three, he's hitting his stride. By book six... holy shit. And he just keeps improving... honing his craft, settling into this character's world and voice. It just gets richer with time.

5.) Dr. Seuss: I have no idea where to start with him. Let's forget for just a moment that he wrote awesome stories in rhyme without sounding like an idiot (have you tried that? I have. It's HARD!). For me, the beauty of Geisel's art is the story beneath the story. Allegory, parable, call it what you want to... but he always had a message beneath his stories. No brow-beating or preaching. The hidden message was there for any one who sought to find it. There's wisdom and magic in that approach.

Others who jump to mind: George Carlin Kevin Smith Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy... his philosophy on the interconnectedness of drama and humor) Marion Zimmer Bradley (Mists of Avalon) Daniel Quinn (The Story of B) J. Michael Stracinzky (Babylon 5) Neil Gaiman Many of my friend and family, past and present.

I couldn't possibly list ALL of my influences. But these are the ones that I can think of just off the top of my head.

What about you? Who gets your blood pumping? Who do you look up to? Who has changed the way you tell your stories? (And let's keep it positive. While it's valid for me to say Tron Legacy showed me how to clean up my own writing, let's not say "Stephanie Meyer is my influence because I never want to write that kind of crap." Okay?)