With RealLies coming out in less than a week, I feel it’s important to give credit to those works and individuals who have most influenced me. Many writers act like what they create is entirely original, as if they write in a vacuum, but I think most fans know better. Most agents and publishers do too–this is why one popular pitch method involves comparing your work to a combination of previously published works.
So let’s set the record straight. How did I come up with what my publisher refers to as “wild fantasies that eclipse life itself”? For a guy who currently makes a living deconstructing Chaucer and the Pearl Poet, it’s not really all that glamorous.
One of my creative writing professors in college claimed that this movie was a failure because the viewer never truly understands the protagonist’s motivations for going into space. I’ve spent the last eight years trying to figure out how a man of such talent and intellect could miss the point so badly. In Gattaca, genetically inferior “invalid” Vincent must circumvent a genetic caste system that puts him at odds with his dream. He struggles against his family and later society to prove that one’s will, not one’s genetics, is at the core of what makes us human.
Gattaca is probably the most underrated film of all time, in my not-so-humble opinion. My concept of a genetic caste system that limits the opportunities of some individuals in a Sci-Fi universe definitely came from this movie. The how, the why, the how many, and the scope–that’s where I came in. While the situation in my story, “The Wolf of Descarta”, is much more complex, I never would have gotten there without Gattaca. It also gave this dreamer the motivation to fight the world to achieve his dream.
And as for why Vincent wanted to go into space? The final frontier? Is there a starker symbol for the greatness of humanity? I mean, come on…
2) The Matrix
Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I missed the great William Gibson and went straight on to the Wachowski brothers. I enjoyed all three of these movies for very different reasons, but the first film will always have a place in my top ten because it was my introduction to the cyberpunk genre.
Descarta’s Virtuon Gaming System (or the Dream Box in the novel) is based upon a set of questions I had about the Matrix. First, what if the Matrix could be anything? An RPG that never ended? A Jazz club from the 1930’s? A futuristic war zone with gunships wired into the bodies of their pilots? Second, what if people consciously made the choice to live virtually as opposed to dealing with their issues in reality?
Cyberpunk is about as underrated as a genre as Gattaca is as a film. I mean, what genre could possibly be more relevant right now? (My iPhone, which has a mind of her own, agrees.)
3) Final Fantasy VII
I can’t honestly write anything about influences or inspiration without including Final Fantasy VII. My first stories were fanfics written in my Algebra class or over the phone with one of my (still) best friends during my junior year of high school. I could discuss the depth of characterization and how a poor translation made some gamers gloss over what a breakthrough this title really was. I could rant for hours about how the game includes references and allegories to world mythology (especially Norse), the Bible, Kabbalah, etc., but such arguments are better saved for the masters thesis on how video games can be literature that I will eventually write to piss off all of academia.
What “The Wolf of Descarta” takes from Final Fantasy VII is somewhat less apparent than these other titles. I learned from Tetsuya Nomura (designer) that a motley cast of characters works better than a bunch of doppelgangers, for one. I also learned the device of the love triangle from this game–a device which works well in stories but stinks to high heaven in real life. With Aerith’s death came the realization that sometimes a great story doesn’t have a happy ending.
I suppose I could have learned all these lessons from reading Shakespeare’s tragedies and Mallory (Le Mort d’Arthur), but for some reason this game made them stick.
4) My Professors at ASU
I was fortunate that my college career included courses with two professors with actual industry experience. These two saw something in me and took me under their proverbial wings. Without their continued guidance and support (eight years later!), I would have probably given up a long time ago. Their example is one of the reasons I’ve spent so much time in education, as well. The idea of being that milestone that helps one along to his or her goal is certainly compelling.
I actually wrote Descarta to surprise one of these two, a Sci-Fi writer who claims to dislike Fantasy, which was my first love. Creating a scenario in which the two genres must coexist became my goal and my challenge.
Whenever a writer produces anything worth reading, it must in some ways be personal. My mind conjures that old proverb, Write what you know. Descarta is, before it is anything else, a story about a man lost in himself that finally makes a connection with someone. When that connection is severed, he fights against the universe to reestablish it–because he knows it is these connections that ultimately give meaning to our lives.
This is our story, babe. I couldn’t have done it without you.