Who are my writing influences? What are my writing influences? And are we talking about subject matter, theme, style, or general world view?
My sugar and caffeine intake (or lack thereof)have an influence on my writing as well, but let's ignore that for now.
To answer these questions I first considered where one of the essential tools for a writer came from, namely, a love of reading. My mother read to me when I was very young, and my father always had change for me to buy comic books or Mad magazines when I was young. I'm not sure exactly when I became an independent reader, but I know I was pretty young. The first book I can recall reading on my own was given to me by my esteemed Uncle Ron and honored Aunt Beth, D'aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, which has stunning pastel pictures to accompany some of the most fantastic stories ever assembled. Every home should have one; it gets Danny's vote for Best Book for Children, ever.
From comic books and Greek myths, I had a tendency to drift towards series books--Dr. Doolittle, Thornton Burgess, Tarzan, the Three Investigators, the Hardy Boys. Birthday celebrations at my house were far different from the Laser Tag/Chuck E. Cheese/Mini Golf/Roller Skating extravaganzas of today--for my birthday when I was a kid, my cousin would get to sleep over, and my Dad (or my uncle, when it was my cousin's birthday) would take us out for a pizza and a movie, and we'd get to split five bucks at the arcade. But the highlight was a quick trip into Caldor's where Matt and I would each get to pick out a Hardy Boys book, which we'd trade back after we'd read it. From the Hardy Boys I went to reading all of Ian Fleming (I remember getting in trouble in 5th grade for reading From Russia With Love during indoor recess) including his travelogue Thrilling Cities which was my favorite. I read all of the Philip Marlowe stories, and I started branching out into science fiction, and I think by around the age of ten I'd read some Heinlein, Bradbury, and the Tolkien novels. I read Doc Savage novels by the dozens. I was a fiend for reading.
One week each summer we would go to my great uncle's cottage in Maine, which my father had been going to since he was a little kid, and where I now bring my own children. Back then, the cottage seemed like the last outpost of humanity in a thrilling wilderness; it sat on a pine shaded lake, only accessible by a winding narrow dirt road. Once on a drive back through the woods to town an owl flew inside of the open window of our station wagon, its wings flapping against my father's neck in a panic, sharp talons inches away from my father's neck. My grandfather, the most gentle man I'd ever known, was sitting beside him in the shotgun seat. He leaned over and, without hurry or malice, calmly flicked his wrist at the owl, and the bird tumbled back out the window and flew off. The incident, in addition to convincing my young brother and I of our father's bravery and grandfather's incipient heroism, lent yet another aura of adventure to the mystique of the cottage and surrounding woods.
The days on the lake were the brightest ever, the lake glittering silver and gold in the sunshine, and the nights were darker than in the development where we lived back home in Connecticut.When not warding off deadly birds of prey, we'd swim, go canoeing, hiking or swimming, and after a day full of physical activity, the best conclusion was to sink, muscle-tired skin still tingling from sunshine and lake water, into one of the soft-cushioned chairs on the screened porch and read. Some of my best memories of my weeks in Maine are of the literally hundreds of books I've read there over the years.
One year, maybe I was eleven or twelve, I brought along a new paperback that looked pretty interesting to me, a book of horror short stories. I'd also been reading everything in the library with Alfred Hitchcock's name on it) had a blue cover with die cut holes in it where various sized eyes peeked out. You'd open the cover to find that the eyes were on a gauze-wrapped human hand. One of the eyes was at the joint of a finger, and for some reason I'd fixate on it and wonder what would happen if the eye-hand guy made a fist. I thought that maybe I'd find a story inside about old Argus, my buddy from D'aulaires Book of Greek Myths.
The book was Night Shift, by Stephen King.
Stayed tuned for Under the Influence, part III, where I'll write a bit more about Mr. King, and also of the most horrific thing I've ever read. Also, don't forget to leave a post under the T-shirt contest blog. I'll pick a winner, randomly, next week.