Today’s post is part of a project begun by author K.M. Alexander, called My5. It’s hard to narrow it down to only five, but here, in no particular order are five major influences that helped shape my career as a writer.
Number One: I’m a gamer. I’ve always been a reader, so when I discovered the Super Nintendo and Final Fantasy style RPGs, I found an activity that had the ability to suck me in and keep me as enthralled as my favorite books could. I’m just going to come out and say it—I play both PC and console-based RPG video games, sometimes to excess. Me and my old beater PlayStations 2 and 3 are best friends.
My epic fantasy series, Tower of Bones, got its start in life back in 2009 as the storyline for an old-school style RPG computer game that was intended to be built using RPG Maker XP, but for various reasons, it never got built. But, I had the story and the maps I had drawn, so three years later, I managed to pull a novel, Mountains of the Moon, out of my hat. This prequel to Tower of Bones was sprung from the original idea I’d had of what would make a great storyline for an epic RPG, if only I could entice Square-Enix to build it.
Number Two: I’m a huge Fritz Lieber fan. My first completed novel, written long ago in a galaxy far, far away, began with the idea of writing a book Fritz might write if he were still alive (and if he had consumed several hallucinogenic mushrooms). I had just finished re-reading my collection of Fritz Lieber tales, and had Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser on the brain. These two characters are scoundrels, living in a decadent world where a lack of scruples a requirement for survival.
What I actually produced had no resemblance to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and was nothing like anything Fritz would have written, but within the uneven plot and frequently overblown dialogue, it had the bones of a good story. Eventually, the shreds of that manuscript spawned the novel featuring one of my favorite characters, Huw the Bard, and I have good old Fritz to thank for him. That proto novel also spawned Billy Ninefingers, which has entered the editing process and will be published in August 2017. Huw makes an appearance toward the end of Billy’s tale.
Number Three: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny was a watershed book for me as a reader. In what can only be described as a genius move, Zelazny introduces the concept of the Trickster as the hero-antihero. Originally conceived as a serial for F&SF in 1971, it was published in book form that same year by Walker and Company. Lester del Rey was unimpressed with this tale, but I read this book to shreds. What I loved about this book was the typical Zelazny mystique—many questions abound regarding Shadowjack, and answers come at a slow pace, just information enough to keep you interested, and be warned: not all your questions will be answered. Even the ending is a question.
Jack is an awesome character. He is good, and he is bad. He has deep compassion and can be moved to do great deeds that benefit all of humanity at the cost of his own life. Conversely, he can be the smallest, meanest man over a tiny little slight to his ego, capable of inflicting great cruelty. He abuses his powers, and also uses them for good.
In this book, Zelazny fully realized the concept of “shadow.” It is neither light nor dark, and it is not here or there. It is all of those and none of them. Thus the unanswered questions. What Zelazny did in this less well-known of his books is create a story in which the reader decides what is true.
Number Four: I gravitate to tales written with guts and substance. Give me the Flawed Hero over the Bland Prince any day. Tad Williams is an author who absolutely understands the craft of writing brilliant, deep prose and creates compelling characters who aren’t exactly squeaky clean. He knows what makes epic fantasy EPIC. There is just the slightest hint of the rebellious indie in his work, which makes his work a little wild.
I became a confirmed fan of epic fantasy in 1988 when I first entered this world of Osten Ard and the books of Tad Williams. The Dragon Bone Chair blew me away. Each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The arrogance some members of each race have with regard to their innate superiority struck me as illustrating a fundamental truth about the real world.
Number Five: George Saunders is famous for his short stories. He has the ability to get inside each of his characters’ heads, showing them sharply as unique individuals. They aren’t always nice, and certainly not always moral as I see morality, but Saunders portrays them with such vivid strokes that you feel as if you understand their reasoning.
For me, the most powerful short story I have ever read was in Saunders’ collection of short stories, The Tenth of December, “Escape from Spiderhead.” This sci-fi tale has an almost Vonnegut-like flavor. It is a stark journey into the depths to which we humans are capable of sinking in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Where does punishment end and inhumanity begin? This story lays bare concepts regarding our view of crime and punishment that are difficult, but which are important to consider. The scenario is exaggerated, as it is set in a future world, but it exposes the callous view society has regarding criminals and what punishment they might deserve.
So those are #My5, the “tip of the iceberg” of the authors and ideas that influenced the creation of the Tower of Bones series, and also Huw The Bard. This strange collection of books, and video games has profoundly influenced my concept of story and shaped what I write, at least in my fevered mind if not in the execution.
I’m not alone in detailing #My5! I have joined many other authors who have written their #My5. If you choose to participate, go to K. M. Alexander’s post and follow the instructions at the bottom of the page. You can find some awesome articles by following the links below. Each article is really intriguing – it never ceases to amaze me how diverse and unique we authors are, and yet how similar.