Inspirations II

After people find out that it was Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy who inspired me to actually get down to the brass tacks and complete a novel, or two, or a dozen—they’re undeniably a little taken aback and confused.  Some are even angry—politely so—and I’ll get hammered with questions like: “What about Asimov?  What about Heinlein, didn’t you like Starship Troopers?  What about Dune? Haven't you read any of them?”
            My immediate answer is, “yes, yes and YES!”  All of those authors are tremendous talents and literary legends as far as I’m concerned, and I think that a lot of science fiction writers owe a lot to them.  For my part, I think that Dune is the greatest science fiction novel of all time.  It’s a literary giant and should be required reading in schools along with Moby Dick, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Catcher in the Rye—if I were teaching an Undergraduate literature class, those would be the books I’d have on the syllabus along with a few others.  Frank Herbert’s Dune is so good, so well thought out, so meticulous in its detail, that as a writer . . .
he’s intimidating.  Dune makes you feel like a fraud.  It makes you feel like you have no business being a writer, let alone a writer of science fiction.  Because, what can match or even compare to the literary magnitude of Dune?  Nothing . . .
            But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
            I also hold Asimov in high regard.  A lot of what he wrote has been the Foundation—pun intended—of good science fiction today.  In fact, I think many people take what Asimov wrote in the 50’s, for granted, today.
            Sharing a podium step with Herbert and Asimov is Robert Heinlein.  I’ve read Starship Troopers with the same maniacal obsession as I did with Star Wars as a kid.  Up until about five years ago a person could pick any section in that book, start a sentence, and I’d finish it for them.  Stranger in a Strange Land, Space Cadet, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; all good books, but above them all is Starship Troopers—too bad the movie was such a train wreck.
            When you mention those authors on the science fiction side, you’d be remiss not to mention some of the giants on the fantasy side.  And the giant of all giants is J.R.R. Tolkien.  The sheer amount of detail, the back-story, the histories, the appendices, the epic journey—amazing and simply staggering.  Like Dune, I strongly feel that The Lord of the Rings should be place near the top of the 20th Century Literary Cannon along with The Great Gatsby, Valley of the Dolls.
            The first fantasy novel that I ever read was The Hobbit.  At the time I didn’t think I’d get into fantasy novels, but I stuck with The Hobbit, even though every impulse told me to put the book down. Take a look at it—the first thirty pages or so—it’s like slogging through a mosquito infested bog.  I had to read this book for a class, so I forced myself through those early chapters and was quite pleased with the story when I did.  That opened the door to other fantasy novels—I’m not just saying that to be saying it—it really did allow me to consider fantasy as a viable literary art form that I could learn from.
            From there I read The Sword of Shannara.  Loved it.  A few of my friends didn’t care for it—for reasons I won’t get into here—but I thought it was thoroughly engrossing, and frankly, quite enjoyable to read.  Of course, you have to read David Eddings and Robert Jordan.  I started reading The Diamond Throne, part of the The Elenium series at the same time that I started reading the Wheel of Time—in fact I had started reading The Great Hunt, the second book in the series.  I was content with the fact that I was going to be reading two very good series simultaneously; I could find a lot of good stuff to pick through, a lot of theories and concepts to dissect.  And a friend of mine said—“You’re reading The Elenium?  You have to start with the The Belgariad series first, what’s wrong with you?”  I remember thinking; I have to finish The Wishsong of Shannara first, geez.
            As a writer, if you can’t find the answers you’re looking for within you’re chosen genre, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to look outside your genre for the answers you seek.  There is no reason why a mystery writer looking for inspiration can’t turn to historical fiction, if that’s what they’re looking for.  Or if they need a quirky character and feel that what they’ve written isn’t quirky enough, and needs a kick in the pants, why not take a look into Cold Comfort Farm?  Research.  That’s all it is.  Expanding your horizons—seeing what else is out there.  Not allowing yourself to fall into the trap of thinking . . . well, I can’t write about ‘that’ because it just isn’t possible.  Well surprise, surprise, someone has already did it and they did it . . . in a spy novel.
            The only downside to this is you’ll find yourself engaging in more reading than writing.  At one point I was reading about five novels every two weeks—fast for me—and not getting a lick of writing done, not a lick.  So you have to reel yourself back in focus on the work side of the art and not the more enjoyable, research/leisure side of it.




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