Saturday, August 22, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Influence

For some reason I feel like examining my writing influences today. Perhaps because I've been seeing some other authors weigh in on the topic in the Nerds of a Feather 6 Books interviews, but it makes me want to think about my own influences when it comes to writing, and makes me want to unpack a little bit the thorny issue that is writer influences.

So I think that I've gone through stages when it comes to my writing. Probably every writer does. My writing changes in many ways because of what I read, and so on one hand it should be easy for me to point out some influences and say "Look there, that's what has influenced me." Except…influences are strange things, because I feel like I'm a very different writer than I was way back when. And perhaps because my influences have had, for most of my life, everything to do with the kinds of books I was praised for reading, so…

The first writer who made me was to write was R.L. Stine. I love the Goosebumps books and to some extent still do. I am almost tempted to start a reread of the entire series with reviews for each one, but I don't really know if that's worth my time or yours (I do have them all, though, or at least the first 62 and a good deal of the choose your own adventures). But to say that R.L. Stine still influences me is…well, maybe but in a very distant fashion. Likewise, most of the writers who I liked when growing (Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Harry Turtledove) are ones that I find myself slightly less drawn to now that I'm older. Certainly they did influence me, but as I was saying before, I think they influenced more my earlier writing, which was before I really got myself.

The question then becomes, what works have influenced my writing today. And that is a much tougher question to answer. I feel like every story and novel I read influences me in some way, teaches me something. I think that Guy Gavriel Kay's work continues to inspire me, continues to captivate me. I really liked Mary Stewart's Arthurian series (which sparked a rather obsessive interest in the King Arthur myth). Those are ones I read earlier and have stuck with me. But I think it's only recently that I've started to see what could really be done with genre and in genre. Only recently have I been escaping the gravity of straight white cis male orbits and venturing out. And it has been thrilling.

But I think, more and more, what's been learning is that while there are books I remember with some fondness, and there are definitely stories that I really like, the lines of influence are becoming…diffuse. And I can't think of that as a bad thing. I mean, it is an honor to read so many stories every week, an honor to examine them and think about them and try to figure out what they mean to me. And by doing that I think I just sort of absorb things. To the point that when thinking about my influences I'd probably just point around the room. And I'm sure that's the "wrong" answer. Because there's the smartass part of me that wants to answer "the next one" to the question of what novels or stories influence me.

Because, really, I'm not sure what my influences are. I've lost track (if I ever knew) and more and more I believe that this question has more to do with what tradition an author wants to belong to rather than how they actually are influenced to write. It becomes a way to flag what shared lines writers have. Well, if I was influenced by Lovecraft or Tolkien I rather firmly stake a claim in that camp. And I…I'm not comfortable with that. If people were to ask me what author made me want to write spec, it's R.L. Stine. But if people were to ask what author makes me want to continue to write spec, the answer is "the next one." I write and read to participate in a conversation that is ongoing. I hope to be able to appreciate a good story 20 years from now even better than I do today. But the only way to do that is to allow that I can get better, that other writers will always have something new to teach me. And I very much believe that to be true.

So I probably failed quite miserably to actually answer what my influences are. A great many things that are probably constantly changing. At least I hope that's the case, because without that I can't see how to get better. So thanks to all the writers out there whose stories influence me every day. And thanks to everyone for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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