Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Thursday Thirteen: 13 Writers Who've Influenced Me (Fiction Edition)


My bookshelves are a mess. They could certainly use a bit of organizing, but what I mean in this case is that I've got Clive Barker books sitting next to Robert E. Howard collections, an Indiana Jones novel squeezed between a science fiction novel and a collection of Lovecraft, and my zombie movie reference books on the same shelf as my Alan Dean Foster novelization of Krull.

I certainly have my preferences when it comes to genre, but the fact is that good writing is good writing, regardless of the trappings of whatever section the bookstore stocks their product. Of course, I have my favorites, and, admittedly, my experience with some genres is rather limited or even non-existent (romance and western, for example; although I am slowly getting more westerns under my belt these days).

While I've focused on horror writing the past few years, I still have some non-horror authors who've inspired me over the years. With that in mind, this installment of The Thursday Thirteen is devoted to the 13 (fiction) writers who've helped shape my writing style, sensibility, focus, drive, direction and tone (presented in nothing-but-alphabetical order although those who know me know who my "top" writers are!).

- Lloyd Alexander. I first read The High King in the fifth grade, and it changed everything for me in terms of what I was reading. Up until this point, I was reading things like The Hardy Boys and Choose Your Own Adventure books (although I preferred the Twistaplot books more!). I had some exposure to fantasy fiction and films before reading The High King (oddly, I saw The Black Cauldron during its theatrical run years before I read The High King for the first time!), but afterward, I was hooked. I read and reread The Chronicles of Prydain throughout the rest of my grade school years, and into junior high school. I have a collected edition of the books now, and have dipped into it every five-or-so years since then.

- Clive Barker. I came to Barker-the-writer after discovering Barker-the-filmmaker. As soon as I was able to rent R-rated movies from the local video store on my own, I devoured Blockbuster's horror section, and one Friday night, one of my high school best friends and I rented the first two Hellraiser films. They left a bloody impression on me, and when I learned that this Clive Barker guy was also a writer, I sought out his fiction and had my mind ripped apart as if by so many of Pinhead's chains. Contemporary horror with no holding back. Bright, epic storytelling with the darkest shadows I'd read up to that point. Modern mythology created in just a few chapters. I reread The Great and Secret Show numerous times (and remember even recommending it to one of my church youth group leaders!), and as much as I would love to see Barker come back to direct another horror film, I think I'd much rather see him come back and write another horror novel.

- Kurt Busiek. I'd read comic books through junior high school, fell off for a little while in high school, and then dove back in a few years afterward just before I started film school. I was a Marvel fan during my school years, but when I came back to comics, I found myself reading across the different companies, but there was always one guy that kept bringing me solidly back to Marvel, and that writer was Kurt Busiek. He reinforced my love for "The Avengers," showed me how to enjoy Spider-Man through his "Untold Tales..." title, and then took me out of Marvel and welcomed me to a little place called Astro City. I followed him to the "Power Company" at DC, and anytime I see his name on the "written by" line of a comic, I still give that comic a serious look. Whether it's working within established continuity or creating his own, Busiek has taught me much when it comes to writing superhero fiction.

- Douglas Clegg. I meant to start reading Clegg before I actually did. A few years ago when I took some time off from work to recover from a quick-medical-thing, Brenda picked up a few of his novels from Powell's City of Books for me, and I realized I had waited too long. Afterlife was my first Clegg novel, and while I really enjoy the Harrow House series of stories, You Come When I Call You is not just my favorite Clegg work, but it's one of my favorite horror stories PERIOD. His characters feel as real to me as some of the people I know, and I've learned a lot about the craft of storytelling from books like Neverland, The Attraction and The Hour Before Dark.

- David Conyers and John Sunseri. These two writers are behind The Spiraling Worm, a collection of related stories released by Chaosium a few years ago. Through seven stories - some written solo by Conyers, some solo by Sunseri and the final story co-written by the both of them - we learn that mankind is doing it's damndest to cope with the Lovecraftian threats everpresent in the world. The stories read like world-spanning spy thrillers . . . with another universe and Shoggoth and the Great Race of Yith all getting in humanity's way, and nearly winning.

- David (and Leigh) Eddings. I was reading fantasy fiction as fast as I could in junior high school, going to the library and borrowing books on a weekly basis. When I first read Pawn of Prophecy, my reading came to a screeching halt . . . because I read and reread and re-reread Eddings' The Belgariad series until The Mallorean series started hitting the shelves. Those books were constant companions of mine throughout high school. The Rivan Codex became a near-how-to writing book for me for a few years as well. I enjoyed his other works as well, but The Belgariad, along with The Chronicles of Prydain and one other author's work formed my personal definition of fantasy fiction for years.

- Mick Farren. The Armageddon Crazy. That title grabbed me in high school for some reason, and the novel itself? A just-slightly-futuristic story in which a big corporation projects skyscraper-sized holograms of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding their horses down the streets of New York. Up until that point, science fiction to me was "Star Wars." This was somehow "broken science fiction" and I loved it. I sought out more Farren, read books like The Feelies (a future story in which the virtual reality machines people were using were malfunctioning and killing them as evidenced by a clergyman having his Passion of the Christ moment interrupted by Groucho Marx as a Roman soldier) and Mars: The Red Planet (the Cold War continued into the future and when America and the Soviet Union settled on Mars, the tensions are high . . . and then the murders start), and eventually settled on The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys as my favorite Farren novel. When I first found ...DNA Cowboys, I didn't realize it was a return to characters Farren had already written about in the 70s; The Last Stand... was my first introduction to the The Minstrel Boy, Billy Oblivion and Reave Mekonta . . . and after introducing me to these three and their world, Farren managed to end it. The world that is. The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys is about the end of EVERYTHING and the DNA Cowboys trying to stop it. This was something that could be done in science fiction? I was hooked.

- Robert Freese. Even though I produce a zombie movie/media podcast, before launching Mail Order Zombie, I hadn't read a lot of zombie fiction. I'd read some, but not much. I just never felt a draw to it, for better or worse, but when I read Freese's Bijou of the Dead, my eyelids were peeled back and my eyes were completely opened to what zombie prose had to offer. Freese made zombie fiction approachable, enjoyable and accessible for me.

- Robert E. Howard. The rough-and-tumble adventure style of Howard's writing grabs me by the delicates and refuses to let me go until I've consumed the last lines of whatever Howard story I'm reading at the time. Almost as much as his actual writing, though, Howard-the-writer impresses me so much - he was a prolific man, wrote in several different genres (sometimes at the same time!), and in a time and place when the economy was brutal, he made his living as a writer (granted, he lived at home with his parents, one of which was the local doctor, but the fact that writing was what he chose to do with his life and that was that is inspiring to me).

- Stephen King. Like a lot of other horror fans, Stephen King was my first stop on my road to becoming a horror fiction reader. He was the "go-to guy," and I checked every black-dust-jacketed Viking Press hardcover King book out from the public library. As much as I enjoyed his fiction (It became a favorite of mine), it wasn't until I started reading "The Dark Tower" books and finally saw all the connections within his "universe" coming together that I finally realized that King was doing what I wanted to do in terms of writing multiple stories within the same "universe" but not being a traditional series without the benefit of a comic book page.

- H. P. Lovecraft. He's inspired most modern horror creators, countless film adaptations, a film festival or two, conventions, games . . . so much of horror can be traced back to a handful of short stories written by someone who lived in the town of Providence, Rhode Island, from 1890 to 1937. Evil books that shouldn't be read? Beings and creatures from beyond what we call reality waiting for just the right moment to return? Cultists, weird happenings, the ultimate insignificance of man in the cosmos? Without Lovecraft, I doubt we'd be where we're at now in terms of horror fiction. With Lovecraft, we're all the better for it.

- F. Paul Wilson. Two words: Repairman Jack. He's been called one of the greatest serialized characters in modern fiction by quite a few folks (including Desmond Reddick over at Dread Media who sings Wilson's praises on a regular basis, and rightly so!). The character has sustained several connected novels that also work as standalone works, and Wilson allows his readers to "live" through Jack without resorting to first-person perspective.

- Stephan Zielinski. His first (and to my knowledge, only) book, Bad Magic was published in 2004, and I'd love for there to be a follow-up. Bad Magic is another "there's-monsters-out-there-and-someone's-got-to-stop-them-and-those-lucky-someone's-aren't-always-the-shiny-hero-types" with enough dark humor and wit to make what might have been an awkward prose style enjoyable. Oh, and there's thin dogs, but they didn't scare me away from thinking that, yes, I can write fiction like this, too.

(There are some obvious omissions; it was hard to get this down to just 13 was TOUGH!)

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