Monday, August 12, 2013
In the school library, I first found Alfred Bester's The Computer Connection. The book imagines that people who have mentally and spiritually accepted that they were dead, but who then didn't die, would live forever. Somehow this would stop the normal aging and disease processes. But the mind-blowing part for a high school kid living in a southern Ohio town was that someone included Jesus, the religious figure, as a main character. And this version of Jesus was no paragon of virtue. I remember reading this at the time and thinking "How was Bester allowed to write this? How did anyone have the nerve to publish it?" (And bear in mind, I'm not an especially religious person. I just couldn't comprehend such a book being made.) It was a very mind-expanding experience.
A year or so later, I found Warren Norwood's series The Windhover Tapes. This series of books follows a "contract diplomat" named Gerard Manley as he travels the universe creating diplomatic relationships with alien races. He encounters ghosts, and learns how ghosts are created. He has dreams in which he is in love with an alien woman, and believes them to be memories, but can only recall tiny fragments of them. He begins over time to piece together what happened, and learns that his memories of those days were erased by his employers. A later book in the series tells the story of those years, and you feel sorry for the character and all that he lost with those memories. It was probably this series of books that really made me want to be a writer. I wanted to invent a universe like this, and write such a rich, complex story.
Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat series drew me in next. They're fun books to read, packed with puns, parodies, and action. The main character, a career criminal with an inflated ego, uses his criminal talents to take down more-dangerous criminals who pose a threat to lives and nations. It would probably lend itself well to graphic novels. I hope someday to write a book that's this much fun to read.
The BBC series Blake's 7 was another that resonated with me and inspired me. Here was a group of criminals out to overthrow a corrupt government. True, it had special effects that often cheesy, but the writing and acting made up for it. It could be dramatic, shocking, and hilarious at times. Sadly, it's never been released on DVD here. Paul Darrow's Kerr Avon, Michael Keating's Vila Restal, and Peter Tuddenham's Orac are iconic characters.
The next time a writer's work really captured my attention was J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski's Babylon 5 television series. At a time when I'd become disenchanted with Star Trek because its writers had decided that Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future wasn't realistic, Babylon 5 stepped up to show me that science-fiction could be good again. Not just good, but great. Here were characters who grew and changed over the length of the series. Individual episodes contributing to a larger story arc. The special effects were amazing, for the time, and hold up well today.
I was so impressed by Joe's work that I read his Complete Book of Scriptwriting. It was neat to see that he practiced in the show what he preached in the book. The book taught me a lot about characterization, and about Hollywood. It convinced me that I'd never be happy there, something I think surprised Joe when I told him at a convention some time later.
Joe credits Harlan Ellison as one of his influences. After reading some of Ellison's work, I understand why. He's published an amazing number of works during his career, and the ones I've read have always impressed me. His recent book Brain Movies sits on my shelf next to several volumes by Straczynski.
Only once did I ever attempt to write a novel, and I abandoned it pretty early on. It was only after I attended a writing seminar given by Michael A. Stackpole at a tabletop gaming convention that I really tried to do it. Stackpole spends many hours at these conventions each year, teaching would-be novelists the tricks of the trade. I've listened to his seminars on characterization, plotting, self-editing, creating series fiction, and various other topics. His material is always good, and I always walk away with something new. Mike's fiction is even better than his seminars. The worlds are always well-developed, the characters three-dimensional, and the twists and turns plentiful. His level of craft and skill is far above many more well known authors.
Novelist Aaron Allston has been another influence on me. Aaron's writing seminars are also very helpful. His novel Doc Sidhe was one of the few to really come alive visually in my mind. Even now, many months after reading the book, I can clearly picture many parts of the story. His short stories are excellent, too. Aaron even allowed me to be an advanced reader for his book Plotting: A Novelist's Workout Guide. I strongly recommend that book if you're thinking of writing a novel. It will walk you through the process from "vague idea" to finished outline in a way no other writing book I've read can do.
Someone who would probably be surprised to find herself on this list is Janine K. Spendlove. Janine is a fellow student of Aaron Allston and Michael A. Stackpole, who went on to publish her own series of books and contribute to short story collections alongside them. Her example has given me the confidence to believe that I can do this. I can write and publish a good novel.
My most recent inspiration has been J.A. (Joe) Konrath. As a fledgling author, I've found his blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing very interesting and inspiring. His Jack Daniels series of books are great reads, infused with a lot of humor and originality. I definitely recommend them. When I grow up (as a writer), I'd like to be even half as successful as Joe Konrath. What's great about him is that he isn't hesitant to share what he knows or tell you what has worked (or not) for him. Kudos to you, Joe.
My sincerest thanks to all those mentioned in this article. Your work has inspired me. You've all taught me a lot, and I do appreciate it. I count myself fortunate to have met many of you personally.
About the Author
Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor
In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.