On Influences

In the introduction of his new short story collection, Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman writes that “We authors, who trade in fictions for a living, are a continuum of all that we have seen and heard, and most importantly, that we have read.”  This is undoubtedly true of everyone, not just authors, but is has a particular resonance for creative types.  For one thing, talking about influences is a good way to suggest to readers or listeners what your own stuff might be like.  Except it doesn’t always work that way.

Years ago, when I first started putting music online, I was filling out a profile on the website that included a place for “favorites” that had influenced me.  I dutifully laid out an array of my favorite musicians – Genesis, King Crimson, Mike Keneally, Frank Zappa – and then realized that the music I was making didn’t sound a damned thing like any of that.  Regardless, somewhere deep in my brain, the synapses triggered by “Firth of Fifth” or “Watermelon In Easter Hay” were leading to the electronic bloops and blips I was pooting forth.

And so it is with writing.  On the front page here I’ve got a list of links to favorite writers.  It includes old favorites, like Asimov and Adams, and more recent discoveries, like Atwood, Martin, and Banks.  I like to think that some of those folks, at least, have had a profound influence on me.  But does that mean what I write sounds like them?  I hope not.

Part of that is because I’m not sitting down trying to write like anybody else.  I suppose if I just wanted to make some quick cash I could try to whip out an imitation Scalzi or Le Guin. But, aside from whether or not I could actually do such a thing, I write because I want to tell my own stories with my own voice.  I don’t want to sound like anyone else. Yet, I freely admit that what I do is backed by the work of so many others.

More so, by this point in my 41-year old life, I realize that my brain is such a mush of influences that it would be hard to pinpoint any one of them when it came to a particular story. Everything I’ve read, heard, or seen goes into my stories. Don’t believe me? Check some of the titles in The Last Ereph and Other Stories. If you’re a progressive rock fan, a couple might ring a bell. It’s fruitless to try and figure out what the accurate mix of things is.

Which is only to say that if you look down the links of favorite writers and think, “I like those writers, too” and “I hope he sounds like them,” you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment. Without those expectations, however, I hope you’ll find an enjoyable reading experience, anyway.

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One thought on “On Influences

  1. Pingback: Author Interview with JD Byrne | The Writing Life

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