I hope that the title doesn’t need too much explanation. This list of authors are my short list for those who inspired me the most throughout my life and writing career. What’s so special about them? I would wager that everyone will have read at least one work by them each in their lifetime. Perhaps not Greene, as he’s slipped into a temporary obscurity here in the States. This group are, of course, canonized, but beyond the laurels, their work has helped to shape my own work. Without studying them, the outcome would be quite different.
My love of these authors isn’t something that developed out of some pretentiousness or new found fandom.
J.R.R. Tolkien came to me before I was even born. While in utero, my mother read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. My nursery had the poster for the Rankin & Bass Hobbit feature. I still love the artwork of that production. It’s when I fell in love with Smaug and began to imagine, if there was a God, he looked like and acted like Gandalf.
Tolkien’s influence on me has been lifelong. I am not an obsessive fan, like those who learn the elvish language he created from a dying dialect of Finnish. The entire world of his books are a fabrication of his own imagination, heavily influenced by English and Celtic Folklore, as well as various other historical factions of Europe. Tolkien was a talented linguist, and therefore historian. My kinship with him deepens in this aspect. That doesn’t even mention the influence of war and war history. Most of his influence will be seen in The Trailokya Trilogy.
Next in line, one of my newest favorites, Graham Greene busted onto my scene several years ago when I was looking around for material to research for writing OP-DEC: Operation Deceit. I was looking for a specific film with which to hinge an important connection in the book on. In particular, I was hoping for a noir, as that would reflect the tone of the piece, and allow me to fully pay homage to the genre. The film that filled the bill, with timing, genre and everything else, ended up being This Gun For Hire (1942), starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Of course, this was adapted from Greene’s book, A Gun For Sale. The purpose of reading and studying the film was to get myself into the time period. I’m a big fan of the 1930s and 1940s films, and the noir genre that was born from that period. (You can read my paper on it here.)
A Gun For Sale made me a Greene fan. Finding out that he was a spy during World War II, and a great many other details about his life fascinated me. Like Tolkien he was a conservative Brit. However, Greene was devoutly Catholic, according to his biographers (and Chris Hedges says he called himself a Christian Agnostic), and Tolkien was definitely religious (from his biographies). Regardless, none of what makes one conservative versus liberal showed through the narrative of either author. In fact, Greene wrote things that would be considered quite sinful for his religion and level of faith. But, I see him exposing the very seedy underbelly of human existence—making an awareness of the grimy things that go on. For instance, the way women are treated in A Gun For Sale—molls and sexual objects. He discusses disloyalty and truth, and what that means from individual to individual. Infidelity, for instance, is a topic that comes up in The End of The Affair.
Another, very important aspect of Greene is that he wrote screenplays as well as books for a time. He was very keen on selling his work for film adaptations and saw no threat to his legacy in doing so. Those words helped me a great deal as I embarked on a journey to gain credentials in screenwriting.
Next on the list, is the only American. Poe’s ability to manifest the surreal and bring you along to play in the darkness has fascinated me for nearly as long as Tolkien’s epic journeys. The surreal, paranormal and the dark are all topics I explore in healthy doses in my books. I will never forget the moment when the cat’s eye is gauged out in The Black Cat. My guts seized in horror. Poe had made me recoil only as movies had done to this point—movies like The Exorcist (1973). His ability to withhold just enough and to build tension have always been admirable in my eyes.
Poe never seemed to shy from the darkest of topics—inequality and rebutting the 1% before it was cool (Mask of the Red Death) and delving into incest (The Fall of the House of Usher). Although much of his social commentary was in allegorical form, it is exactly that which suggested to me that this is a much more effective way to disseminate such ideas. Much of the information we read tends to passively enter the brain, and then pops up when something similar tweaks the memory. Intertext as a device, thus became a heavy part of what I do in my work.
So how does Miss Jane Austen fit into this testosterone laden mix? Whit. Sarcasm. Cheek. Turn of phrase.
Austen’s way with words, much like I am finding of Truman Capote, is inspiring. I’ve read several of her works during my education, and watched the adaptations. Austen, like Poe, used carefully chosen phrases in which to make her feminist commentary. In her time, she wasn’t writing historical classics, but current gender politics. It’s absolutely sure that the men in her cohort, and those without, condemned such talk, just as feminists are condemned today for the radical idea that women are people.
These four authors feed into my writing in different ways, and sometimes similar ways. From their expertise with language and social issues to the use of the macabre and fantastical, I don’t believe I would be able to bring to life my works the way that I do without having read them.