This is the year, or, the question I didn’t think I could answer

This is the year, my friends. Granted, there were times when I thought a few years ago was the year. (Last year? never thought it was the year. It was a depressing doldrum of a year.) That year didn’t pan out so well, but this year, why, it’s rife with chaos, stress, and an overburdening of life events. Experience tells me that when everything else is exploding in a million different, uncontrollable directions, that’s when opportunity strikes.

Evidence? You want evidence that I’m finally stepping out of my shell this year and sharing, gearing up to put my writing out there? Fine!

The first: I’ve joined a writing group. Well, more a secluded community of goat herders, but it’s a supportive bunch, and that’s a really good start.

The second: I’ve shared my work in progress with another writer. Oddly enough, not from the first group, but from somewhere else entirely. That’s right, I’m branching out! She sent me hers, I sent her mine, and now that I’ve said that I should find a better phrasing but there’s no time so let’s go with it.

Of course, she asked me a question last week, just to get in the right frame of mind for my writing, and I suddenly realized I couldn’t answer it.

“Who are some of the influences on your writing?”

Slack-jaw stare. Influences? I threw something together and sent it back, because quick responses are how you keep moving, but then I actually started thinking about it. Who are my influences? It turns out some of the half assed answers I wrote down were more right than I realized – but they included authors I hadn’t really thought of as influences in twenty years. (HOW AWESOME IS THAT?)

I don’t write science fiction, at least not successfully so far, but Asimov was the top of that list. Once I broke the mental barrier that let me get into Foundation, I think I devoured a few dozen Asimov titles in a month or two. Bradbury came to mind, though I would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of short stories. Of course, High School was couched with a lot of Heinlein, but isn’t that typical?

The not-surprise was Stephen King. The Stand in particular, just hit the reading g-spot perfectly. The bigger surprise was when I remembered how much Clive Barker I had consumed as a teenager. I never thought of myself as a horror fan, but when I listed out all of the Barker books I had read in my head, it was a sizeable number. His weird blend of horror and urban fantasy and even science fiction at times was probably one of the biggest (forgotten) influences on the kinds of stories I like to write.

There were of course other influences – Charles DeLint and James Blaylock, Gordon Dickson and Julian May. I never even gave consideration to some of my contemporary reads and influences – the Daniel Abrahams, Michael Sullivan’s, and Tobias Buckell’s.

I don’t believe it’s fair for the writer to compare their work to another author’s. The reader, sure, I do it all the time – this writer has flairs that remind me of Mercedes Lackey, or this writer has a strong C.J.Cherryh vibe, etc. But as a writer, we’re too closely bound to the words to be able to see our influences. It’s conceit to try and say otherwise.

And yet, for a few moments, the ego monster reigned, and conceit was my bed fellow. And I thought maybe I might be writing just a bit like Clive Barker. And that made me proud.

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