Lessons Read, Lessons Written Part 1
As I continue to explore the ways I can self-market my poetry collection, I've come across several different possibilities, good and bad. The most notable of these so far is Bookstagram, a gathering of book loving Insta influencers who have quite a bit of pull. We can file it under “I was X years old when I learned.” If you were already aware of them, good on you. I’d love to hear your take. While I started piecing together methodologies to try and bribe or barter into these Bookstagramers’ good graces, it occurred to me that it may be a good exercise to list out some of the books I've found to be influential as a writer. I see a duel purpose here in doing this. Self-reflection is never bad and from time to time, I am asked what my favorite books are. This isn’t exactly an exhaustive list and will be one in a series. Got to keep that good content flowing. May you find value in simple words. On Writing by Stephen King Excuse the obvious pun but this one is the king. On Writing also seems the most obvious for many other authors. I heard a novelist conversing on NPR just the other day about its influence on her. While the memoir side was both satisfying and well written, the actual guidance on writing still holds sway with my fiction. I even find myself reading a novel and thinking “On Writing would hate this” as if the pages themselves became sentient to judge others of its kind. That in itself is very King-like. Somewhere around 2006 a friend remarked my writing style often emulated King’s and this book would be a good reason why. Other Influential Works by King: The Dead Zone, Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler I only thought of it as average when I first read it but as time has gone by, that viewpoint has evolved. In the time since, I've spoken at length about both this book and Butler but it bears repeating. A single page directly influenced a one-act play and a short story that has since been published. The fingerprints of Sower can easily be found on other pieces in my catalog. Butler has a way of taking the smallest of ideas and fostering great things. Sadly, she’ll always be underappreciated compared to what she gave to the world. Other Influential Works by Butler: Kindred, Xenogenesis Trilogy, “Speech Sounds” The Beardless Warriors by Richard Matheson It was Matheson's I am Legend that introduced me to the author but in my exploration of his body of work, I quickly found how prolific Matheson was across numerous genres. That single idea gave me hope of being able to write whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Being pigeonholed for one genre seemed frustrating and inevitable up to that point. But Matheson wrote horror, sci-fi, westerns, fantasy, you name it. Yet, it was his World War II era novel The Beardless Warriors that has long been the perennial king on my list of favorite books of all time. I only found a copy of it by chance in a used bookstore and I wish I still had that copy. But wherever it is, I hope it’s influencing someone else. It has since been replaced by a first edition hardcover. It’s so 1960 and I love it. Other Influential Works by Matheson: I am Legend, A Stir of Echoes The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter I love a good western film and, in my estimation, most of those involve Clint Eastwood. I fell in love with The Outlaw Josey Wales and immediately sought out the book it was based on, Gone to Texas by Forrest Carter. I read Little Tree not long after and felt at home with Carter's true life recollection of being raised by his Cherokee grandparents. I felt that I could do more in my writing to honor my own family. Sadly, this memoir turned out to be a lie and I found myself dealing with a problematic author in all his terrible glory. At one point or the other, we find ourselves at that crossroads of artist versus art. Forrest, otherwise known as Asa Earl Carter, was a segregationalist speech writer for the even more infamous George Wallace. There’s a sickening laundry list of other things attached to his name that I won’t print here but do know that I’m not endorsing any of it. But I bring this up because Carter's widow said after his death (heart failure caused in part by a fistfight with his son apparently) the writing of Little Tree was an apology for his racism. I don’t think that makes it at all better, especially since Asa never said this himself publicly. Still, the scenario is at least interesting in terms of the power and potential for good that writing can hold. Not every lesson or path of influence is about the act of writing itself. Other Influential Works by Carter: Gone to Texas, The Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving If you've never heard of this book or seen the movie Simon Birch, that’s a shame. I couldn't tell you what about these works that appealed to me most (save the armadillo) but the total package simply sits with me. If I find something instantly forgettable, be it a movie or book, then I’ll take the entertainment value for what it is. But if it lingers with me like a constant emotional echo that brings my mind to questioning the meaning or observing a scene like a diorama, then I know I’ve encountered something great. That is Meany and Birch in a nutshell. Even thinking above it now, I feel compelled to do a reread. Given some of the political background covered in the book, it may take on new flavors in this modern era. Five books with some additional recommendations is not what you’d call a bad start. For the next time I do this I will most likely cover Ursula K. Le Guin, Clive Barker and an assortment of others. Drop me a line if you have your own recommendations you’d like to share with the world.