Tag Archives: inspiration

Of Inspiration and Influence

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.

1) Gattaca

Gattaca

Dammit! Even the stairs around here are DNA!

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

What if I told you that you must understand allegory to understand The Matrix: Revolutions?

What if I told you that you must first grasp allegory to understand The Matrix: Revolutions?

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

Come on, girl, do you have to be dead?

Come on, girl! Do you have to be dead?

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

So many stairs...

Ah, G. Homer Durham Hall… So many stairs! Why do the elevators not go to the top?

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.

5) Emily

Are you going to take the picture, or is this about the socks?

Dan, are you going to take the picture, or is this about the socks again?

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.

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Filed under Family, Fantasy, My Writing, Publishing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Writing

How to Become a Writer

writer

It all starts with a different perspective, an understanding that you are, in some way, the Other.

Maybe it starts when your mother, then the thrall of your two-year-old whims, reads the same five books to you every day for three months on end. Pre-school is a better option, the psychiatrist says. How soon can he get in?

Maybe it starts in kindergarten when you raise your hand and tell the teacher you’re disgusted with being forced to read baby books that contain just one word per page. Red, green, doggy, kitty, who gives a shit? When are we going to read real books? you demand to know.

To which your wonderful, inspiring teacher replies, You can’t read real books.

So you pull the biggest book you can find off the shelf and prove her wrong.

Maybe it starts in the library where your teachers now allow you to go for hours of class time because you keep testing one or two points under “gifted”, but they still don’t know what to do with you. Greek Mythology looks interesting. There are naked people, after all, and heroes with swords. So you read every scrap of paper in that place, transported, as Bradbury would say, to other worlds, to parallel universes.

By the third grade, you weep for Hera, for whom you’re carrying a bit of a torch because Zeus never treated her the way you imagine Arthur must have treated Guinevere.

By your third decade, you weep to think of the library replaced by a glowing square wherein all the words in the world are intact, but Bradbury’s portal to the stars has been severed forever.

Maybe it starts when reading all those Lloyd Alexander books inspires you to write your first real short story. And hopefully it doesn’t end when you enter it in the 6th grade academic faire, and the judges call your parents to accuse them of foul play. There’s just no way your son wrote this on his own, they say. But your parents back you, stand firm. So the contest judges give you an honorable mention and award the Language Arts prize to a trio of girls who wrote and illustrated a baby book. Red, green, doggy, kitty…

Maybe this is where you pick up your loathsome habit of constantly correcting incompetent teachers, professors, political figures… After all, the world would be Narnia with a side of Idun’s apples if someone would just listen to you, right?

Maybe, as you develop further, it all lays dormant within you. There are other outlets. The sports teams you join solely to impress your father. The video games that tug at your imagination in ways that stories once did. Your early musings on girls, who can’t possibly be comprised of flesh and blood (and make-up and accessories!), but must by literary definition be fair, otherwordly, magical.

Not romance, but Romanticism. Not glamor, Faerie Glamour.

Life happens. Still, perhaps the need to write is rekindled by the realization of your continued idolization of characters that could never be, and your steadfast beliefs in wondrous things that never were.

Somehow it is—it must be—rekindled.

Maybe it’s fanfiction that gets the gears grinding again. Maybe it’s bad breakup poetry that would make your English teacher weep for all the wrong reasons. Maybe it’s NaNoWriMo.

Maybe it’s a blog.

What it is doesn’t matter so much as what you do with it, for here the path splits. Either you write in isolation for a time, with no audience in mind, merely to hear the sound of your own voice, or you write to try and impress. Your choice. There’s no right path or wrong path now, no high road or low road. You’re going to be here awhile because Robert Frost sold you an odious lie—writers can’t just choose the road less traveled by.

Crossroads-in-the-woods2

Without a voice, no writer can be heard. Without an audience, no writer can be heard. The writer must therefore take both paths, see every milestone through, and hopefully learn something of metaphor along the way.

For some, there will come a time of purple prose, spurred on by examining too closely the writing styles of your chosen pantheon of pen-wielding paragons. (You want to be a writer, so I assume you’re reading something worthy of examination.) For others, there will come a time of unmetered verse, spurred on by focusing too deeply on the expression of your proven pantheon of poets.

You will doubt yourself a writer when you examine your works of three months past and feel only shame.

Maybe this is where you go to college and study English while dealing with the general perception that you’re studying a language that you speak because you have failed famously at every other endeavor in your life.

Or maybe this is where you try to quit. It’s easier to make a living at almost anything else, you realize. And such beastly competition about it. Maybe you’re not a writer at all, but a man of action.

Maybe this is where reality rattles you.

But you won’t quit. Writing is something you do. It isn’t your choice. You’re an Other, remember? You have perspective. And besides, your opinionated nature is driving your spouse crazy and turning your children into perfect cynics. Here, a notebook! they say. Now go away!

This might be the part where your mind, which has to analyze anything, everything, nothing, will ponder how a relationship can be strengthened by space. You’re not going to figure it out, though. No one ever has. This frustrates you, so you begin doing the only thing in your power—writing. Writing!

You are the master of your own illusionary world.

Somehow, out of this bowed, blank screen; out of these dull, black letters, a voice will emerge. It will resonate. You will know it for your own. You will sound your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Someone might even hear it.

And that issue you were writing about? You realize that when you apply it to an audience, when you stop writing in a vacuum, it becomes an idea.

How to become an author, you ask? That’s a different topic. Rostand wrote that love is a lottery. When it comes to loving one’s words, I agree with him entirely.

And when it comes to taking that next step, Rostand would doubtless agree with this, my new favorite image of all time:

pen-sword

 

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Filed under Education, Family, Fantasy, My Writing, Publishing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Writing

Very Inspiring Blog Award? NurZeug, you shouldn’t have…

Image

Apparently, NurZeug still finds me inspiring despite the fact that the last thing I posted (over a week ago!) was a rant about how evil my cat is.

(Hey, I am working on something about zombies and something else about how the written word preserves us. For now, though… courage.)

So, in order to accept this award, I must commit to the following:

1. Display the award logo on your blog. (Done!)
2. Link back to the person who nominated you. (Done!)
3. State 7 things about yourself. (Ugh… all I do on here is talk about myself…)
4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them. (Gladly!)
5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements. (…Ok.)

Challenge accepted!

Seven Things About Me:

1) At least 12 of my medieval weapons have names and backstories.

2) I met my wife and went to college because of Final Fantasy VII.

3) I am (at times) the reincarnation of Geoffrey Chaucer.

4) The greatest personal advancement I’ve made in my last five years of teaching was to “Sparta-kick” a laptop, an unchecked moment, to be sure, resulting in a suspension during which time I wrote the majority of Manifesto. Hmm…

5) I’m planning on being the only straight guy at a Supernatural convention some time in the near future. Love that show. Makes me want to kill some evil sons of bitches and raise a little hell.

6) Though some of my peers consider me a “literature snob”, I like Mo Willems. My kids are getting to be too big now, but I almost bought Goldielocks and the Three Dinosaurs for myself whilst Christmas shopping on Monday.

7) And… speaking of buying books (and awful transitions!), TZPP is featuring me in an anthology, RealLies, due to be released in February. Amazon is already taking preorders for the print version, and I’ll be sure to post more information as I receive it from the publisher.

Now, to nominate 15 others:

1) Crow Unlimited

2) Felix Pearce

3) TAE

4) StressingOutStudent

5) Silence and Honeysuckle

6) Michael Allan Leonard

7) MikeTalksFilm

8) HoldOnToYourPants

9) Reflections: Or a Mirror of Life

10) The Intrinsic Writer

11) petit4chocolatier

12) Knite Writes

13) In and Out of Weeks

14) Emma McCoy

15) Tara, Seguin: Writes!

And a special thanks to everyone on WordPress who has liked, followed, or just stopped by to give me a piece of your mind. This community has really taken me in these past two months. Now that my students have given their last performance of The Importance of Being Earnest and my directing duties are done for the semester (though Oscar Wilde still has me saying “peculiarly” and “particularly”), I’ve just taken the time to go through the profiles of everyone who has been here since I was Freshly Pressed. It’s nice to know that I’m not writing in a vacuum because some people in the world still read.

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Filed under Family, My Writing, Publishing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing