Friday, April 24, 2009

Literary Influences (A Non-Meme)

A little while ago, a meme bounced around blogland concerning literary influences. A couple people (not naming any names, Catvibe, Linda, and Sarah) encouraged me to do it. I found the task a bit daunting, however, because despite being a writer and a languages major/minor in college (Major: Latin; Minor: English), I always felt somewhat out of place in literature courses. Others could rattle off obscure writers and quote memorized passages they kept close to their hearts. My brain just doesn't work that way. So I'm going to approach this challenge a bit differently.

These books may have influenced my writing, but they also represent signposts in my growth, my development into the person I am today. You'll find that their influences on my writing are amorphous, because I believe copying others' styles produces flat, soulless writing. I've done a ton of work to develop my own writing voice. Over countless hours and more years than I have fingers. I'd like to think my style is largely sui generis (had to throw some Latin in, LOL). And why not? I'm the product of my unique experiences. A writing style flows from the same process.

So Let's Walk the Pages:

1. Edgar Allan Poe, Tell Tale Heart and Pit and the Pendulum. (9 years old.) My first foray into adult writing. I copied Mr. Poe for a long, long time afterward.

2. Jay Anson, Amityville Horror. (11 years old.) Began a long fascination with fear as an engine for stories. One night when we were visiting family in Florida, my cousin tried to terrify me with stories of Jodi the demon pig. Something about her passion for a good scare mesmerized me.

3. Stephen King, The Shining. (14-ish years old.) A tale of fear executed beautifully. I was mesmerized by the depth and skill and intricacy.

4. V.C. Andrew, Flowers in the Attic. (14 years old.) The first story I read that broke severely from human conventions. I thought something beautiful emerged from the horrendous circumstances the children were put in. It made me think about connections with people. Special people. Deeper and more meaningful connections than are commonly formed.

5. J.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings. (14 years old.) The first time I was swept away by a world so epic. This story, along with Forrest Gump, to this day represent a unique kind of pain. What if your life experiences pile up too early? If you experience hugely momentous things when young, what do you do with the rest of your years? How do you survive the let down?

6. Constance Westby, Night Stalks the Mansion. (16 years old.) A wonderful "true" ghost story set near where we live. It was the culmination of my feelings that ghost stories and hauntings represent an odd kind of romance. An enduring connection to the past.

7. Frank Herbert, Dune. (17-ish years old). Taught me that people can be read. That people have plans and thoughts hidden from you. It taught me that interactions can have many levels, and the stakes can be deadly.

8. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. (17-ish years old.) The beginning of the modern, Gothic novel. It taught me not to repeat the past. I saw how people like Stephen King had taken the concept farther. We need to take the next step, and the next, not go backwards to what was done before.

9. Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. (36 years old.) Suggested to me by a blogger, who likened my writing style to this book. I was blown away. I felt validated that tight, but poetic and dramatic language, could carry a story and make it shine.

10. Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves. (36 years old.) An avante garde, groundbreaking, post-modern Gothic novel. I was challenged to push the writing experience farther. To make reading itself an experience that mirrors the action. A story need not be told from a distance. It can be brought to life directly. (If you've read it, you know what I mean.)

11. Alice Sebold, Lovely Bones. (37 years old.) Taught me that tough, intricate emotion can carry a story and make it unique and compelling.

12. Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants. (38 years old.) Taught me to strive for uncommon stories and plots. Don't just rely on convention and stories that have been told hundreds of times before.

So there you have it. A bizarre, but hopefully insightful, list.


Little Girl Lost said...

There seem to be a LOT of books in your list that i have loved crazily and (hopefully)been influenced by. i love that you started out with poe, because the pit and the pendulum, the fall of the house of usher, the tell-tale heart, and the one about the man who was hypnotised beyond death were my first real foray into the world of artful horror.
i loved flowers in the attic and amityville horror for the same reasons you did. and i'm so happy you included stephen king. so many people laugh him off as bad horror, but my guess is, those people have not read graveyard shift, or IT.
and tolkiens, of course i've grown up with. its sometime difficult to believe middle earth doesnt really exist.
Ray bradbury, Yay! he's my favourite sci-fi-horror writer. and 'something evil' was in a class by itself. have you read The Foghorn, by bradbury?
Water for elephants was another book that took my breath away...

seeing that we have so many books in common, i'm going to put all the ones i've not read on my bucket list immediately.

jason, i'm sorry for this jumbo sized comment, but its your own fault. you got me started on books :) people who know me well never make that mistake.

Aniket said...

Ahaan.. You have thing for horror stories! :D

You portray strong emotions very efficiently. Probably that comes from these readings. I haven't read most of them but know they are extremely good books.

Could relate to the Lord of the Things comment. The pain that Bilbo Baggins suffered... the urge to go on an adventure... wear the ring one last time!

Its very human (or Hobbit) in nature and I have the same cravings at times. To relive the past days of glory just one more time. :-)

Nice non-meme Meme! :)

SzélsőFa said...

I liked this compilation a lot. In fact I liked your insights (the knowledge and directions) you gathered from each book the most. Thank you.

Jude said...

Interesting list Jason. It's always insightful to know how others are inspired

Vesper said...

A great list, Jason. Very interesting choices. Thanks for sharing them.

Catvibe said...

I love the way you cut the list in half! I share a lot of your book reading joy, though I was 19 when I read The Shining, on a visit to my brother in Chicago, while he was away at work, and every single noise in the building was like a bolt of lightening to my skin. Anything Ray Bradbury, I was addicted to SF when I was 10. Dune I read in two days (yes, even slow reader me read that tome in two days) again at my brother's when I was 16 and came to visit him one summer when he was living in London. And The Lovely Bones, which was downright brilliant, although I have never been able to bring myself to finish her second book The Almost Moon, just can't get into that one. The best scene in The Lovely Bones, was when she comes back by inhabiting the body of her friend in order to make love to her boyfriend. I thought that was pretty frickin' awesome.

So now that I know we like the same books, I'll have to check out these other ones which I haven't read yet. Thanks for taking up the challenge!

Kaycie said...

Poe, Bradbury and King were my early favorites as well. I was mesmerized by "The Lovely Bones" and still have it on my bookshelf. I can see some of the influences when reading your pieces, especially when you write about the ephemeral or the otherworldly. Wonderful list and excellent insights into your own influences.

Sarah Hina said...

I can see these influences in you, by way of your descriptions and my familiarity with a few of them, and also see your writing as something unique and apart. You have been shaped, but not defined, by them. :)

Flowers in the Attic was special in my youth, too. The circumstances were bizarre and pressure-intensive, but a shared humanity and feeling still pulled them through. They had to make their own world and rules.

And The Lovely Bones will always be a moving read for me. I've often thought of picking up Sara Gruen's book, too.

Great list, Jason! I'm glad you let us look inside this window. :)

Melissa said...

The wonderful Mister Poe charmed me at a young age as well. My parents thought I was very strange for reading The Red Death at nine but for som reason it spoke to me.

-melissa(Edgar Allen Poe lover)

Karen said...

Jason - Maybe the reason we all read one another is this shared affinity. We are certainly diverse in style, subject, and viewpoint, but we all love good writing. That's the bottom line. (or a good cliche! LOL)

I've read all of these except for Dune, which my sci-fi sister always told me I should read.

Like LGL and you, I am no literary snob. I don't think one has to have been anthologized to be a quality writer. Nor do I think we have to adopt a writer's style to be influenced by him or her.

I enjoyed seeing at what age you read these and how they have influenced you.

Merelyme said...

I must say...I love your list! You liked V.C. Andrews...that is so cool. I used to be heavily into horror books but then most of them became too gory...along with most horror movies so I gave up on them. I just wanted to hear a good story.

Thanks for sharing this list. I had looked at the Water for Elephants book recently and debated on getting it. Maybe I will now.

Anonymous said...

Little Girl Lost, that's so cool that you know "The Facts in the Case of M. Valemar," by Poe! That's a much more obscure story. I like how similar our book loves have been. :) (And write all the long comments you want.)

Aniket, yes, I was very much into those stories in my youth. Those stories are what first inspired me to write. Once in a while, I still take little walks into the dark side of things. For me, one of the most striking moments in Lord of the Rings is when Sam comes back at the end and sits down. Just to have a normal dinner. To some it might feel like a relief. But to me, it was like, now what?

Szelsofa, it was fun to share. Thanks. :)

Jude, I especially like to see how we diverge from our influences as writers.

Vesper, a little like a reunion. ;)

Catvibe, I love how you tore into those books! And the fact that you were visiting during some of those experiences. That time to fill, like on a vacation, can really weave some magical book experiences. Thanks for the nudge!!

Kaycie, I think one of the most intriguing things to me about Lovely Bones is how differently people were affected by the trauma and grief. Even the protagonist. But I was especially hit by the way the father and mother drifted apart because of their reactions.

Sarah, your insights are fine tuned. ;) Thank you for reaffirming that my style has its own life. :) And I'm not surprised at all by some of the similar impacts we've had from Flowers in the Attic and Lovely Bones.

Melissa, I was thought strange too! Especially when I read the Pit and Pendulum. I was so struck by the richness of the language, though, and the dark, dark themes.

Karen, that's a great point! I do think that our blog group is very similar to one another. That's a gift. It would be next to impossible to find such a group close enough to have met in person.

Merelyme, another Flowers in the Attic fan! Yay!! I was really swept away by those stories at that age. And the twisted romance part (of the later books too). And I do recommend Water for Elephants. It has some disturbing moments and themes, but it was such a fresh story.

Charles Gramlich said...

I enjoyed this. Many of your earlier influences were also mine. Haunting of hill house. Something wicked this way comes. Poe. And Dune, of course.

Anonymous said...

wow! I am so glad to see that you are still blogging. I haven't visited for at least a year and a half!!
I love Edgar Allan Poe's Tell Tale Heart.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

I like the added information of what age you read the book. I guess I would not be able to do that. I might get a close estimate.

I have read all but two of these great books, and agree with your assessments.

I loved Flowers in the Attic - it was disturbing, but I could not put it down.

I will pick up, Night Stalks the Mansion, and House of Leaves.

Great to see how all these great novels impacted you as a writer. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Charles, another overlap in libraries! Very cool to hear.

Anonymous, I'm still going strong. And I have lots in the tank yet. :) Thanks for stopping in and saying hi!

Kaye, thanks for sharing! I would love to hear your reaction to House of Leaves. As for Night Stalks the Mansion, it's probably hard to find.

Meghan said...

Everyone says it...and it's true: your list is unique and unconventional. I love it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Meghan. :)

Inkgirl said...

Something Wicked this way comes is a very good read. Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" is a good one too. Wuthering heights is slow paced, but a great read as well.

Inkgirl said...

Wuthering Heights and most Bradbury stories are good reads, although they're unrelated.