Honestly, I don’t even know where to start with the topic of what writers influenced me.Yes, yes, I know that’s why I get paid the big bucks. I’m sure I’ll come up with something.
In the interest of not spending the next six months writing a whole book about it the way Henry Miller and Colin Wilson did, or spending another 4 hours writing another 6,000 words about 10 or 12 writers — the way I just did, oops — I’m going to pick three writers I’ve enjoyed very much, who are connected in strange ways, and talk about them: Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard. They’re all dudes; sorry. I swear I’m not a sexist pig, but for the first twenty years of my life, my bookshelf was a bit of a sausage fest.
Incidentally, none of these writers is what would call the biggest writing influence on me in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, or horror. That dubious honor goes to Roger Zelazny. But given what I’ve been writing lately, Ballard, Howard and Moorcock give me a lot to sink my teeth into.
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When I was a kid, my first love was…World War II. I hate to burst your Space Bubble, but I did not waltz into the world all wide-eyed with optimistic love for the future, an adoration of science fiction, or faith in the bold new American century powered by Our Friend the Atom. Like many men in my generation, early — and I mean early — fascination with Saturday-afternoon war movies led later to backyard games in which the “Krauts” were hiding around every corner, trying to prevent us from blowing up the heavy water plant. Upon our capture, one of us would switch roles to play the sadistic SS commander and snarl “We have ways of making you talk!” in an accent equal parts Major Strasser, Pepe Le Pew and Charro. I didn’t discover fantasy until I discovered C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, round about fourth grade.
I loved these books, and I loved C.S. Lewis. I adore Lewis’s many eloquent accounts of his quest for a spiritual place in the world, which led to a very different place for him than it did for me but nonetheless comes from the same deep craving to not just experience but to accept the beauty in the world and in our fellow living things. Lewis was Surprised by Joy because he needed it so bad he could effin’ taste it. I’m very down with that, Clive.
Of course, I cannot count the number of my fellow atheists (and agnostics) who said they simply can’t enjoy the Narnia books because of their blatant Christian message. And when I say that I can, they roll their eyes as if questioning my ethics. You see, I grew up as a wild-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth, his-heart-is-lifted, his-face-is-joy 1970s crypto-hippie Irish American Catholic. I’ve had my fondness for the Narnia books ascribed, quite often, to that fact.
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When I first started submitting my work for publication about twenty-five years ago, I’d already read enough about the process of becoming a writer that I expected a very tough road. I was also thoroughly confident that I was a genius, and this would guarantee my success if I just worked my ass off. I therefore became a fiction factory. I sat down and wrote 3-5 short stories a week, and submitted each and every one of them for publication. I virtually never wrote anything I didn’t finish, and I never tried to write longer works. I stuck with weird fiction — fantasy and science fiction with macabre and New Wave overtones — because that was what I read.
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