"You are what you eat." We've all heard someone tell us that. But it might be that we are what we consume, whether that be food, literature, or souls. Richard Thomas had us look at what we've consumed, and we did:
- Favorite Authors: Madeleine L'Engle, Christopher Pike, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jonathan Swift, Chuck Palahniuk, and Neil Gaiman.
- Favorite Books: The Starlight Crystal by Christopher Pike, A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
- Favorite Movies: The Matrix, Captain America: Civil War, Cabin in the Woods, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- Favorite Television Shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Stargate: SG-1, and Breaking Bad.
When we looked at our influences, it was easy to see that I was attracted to fantastical stories with philosophical or psychological themes. Much of the fiction I love sprinkles its story with humor. Dialogue is sharp-witted and informal. And there's a deep sense of nostalgia or romanticism towards the past. Madeleine L'Engle's stories were timeless in scope—the magical past and the rational present collided and worked in tandem to push back an evil primordial. Christopher Pike and Friedrich Nietzsche both explore eternal recurrence in their stories—where time is a circle, and everything that has occurred will re-occur ad infinitum. In Pike's horror novels, there is always a sense that love is a crucial spoke in the rolling wheel of time. Nietzsche is a poet. He's like Plato, but funnier and more transgressive—which it turns out I love. Jonathan Swift and Chuck Palahniuk—I'm convinced—are literary twins born in different times. Both transgressive in their own times, they manage to peel the aesthetic l from the rotting carcass of the grotesque. Neil Gaiman is able to weave ancient lore into contemporary stories that are beautiful and gritty and a delight to read. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a philosophical and psychological exploration into the mind of a man cleaved in two by an idea—the nature of Quality.
I assume most people have at least heard of my other influences. The Matrix is a stylized rendition of an old argument between Plato and Aristotle—whether the best things are or whether they become. Captain America: Civil War is a fantastic movie that explores the relationship between security and freedom, and between revenge and justice. Cabin in the Woods is a speculative horror piece asking the question "What if all horror movies were true? And what if there was a reason for all the clichés we rail against?" Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic adventure story, with a helping of romance and a thrilling story about an archaeologist competing with the Third Reich in his search for the Ark of the Covenant. The humor in this movie lies in both the action and in the dialogue—from Indiana Jones's abruptly short showdown with the black-garbed swordsman to Sallah's comically self-evident revelation that Indiana had been given "bad dates."
Buffy the Vampire Slayer's witty dialogue and innovative take on old horror tropes are great. But Adrean and I think that Joss Whedon affected us as writers more deeply because the main characters of the show were our age. While I was a grade behind Buffy, she started high school in Sunnydale on the same year that I entered North Miami Senior High as a freshman. The timbre of their dialogue became the timbre of my generation's. It became mine, as much as I became its. Stargate: SG-1 also had fast-paced, sharp dialogue. Its main plot revolved around two warriors, a scientist, and an archaeologist exploring the galaxy, blending science and magic, the new and the ancient, into their stories. As in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where the ancient and powerful gods of Bajor, the Prophets, play a major role in shaping the sociopolitical future of the nations of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, Stargate: SG-1 displays a romantic nostalgia for the past while valuing the future for its own merits. Breaking Bad is transgressive, tragic television at its finest. One man's hubris brings the lives of everyone around him crashing down. Sometimes literally.
I'm not telling you what these titles are about; I'm telling you what I took from them. I learned that I'm an author of transgressive speculative fiction, occasionally skirting the edge of literary fiction. Now I know where to look for my literary brothers and sisters, and how to improve my skills by learning from what they do right—and also from what they don't.