creative influences: part 2

Welcome back to my Genealogy of Influences, everybody!  That First Generation turned out to be quite a doozy.  But there’s a lot of framework in the monument of creativity that is me.

And modesty.  Lots of modesty.

As a recap, let’s check out that sweet, sweet graphic again…with a few more reveals, of course:

Aw, yeah.  There it is.  So yesterday we covered the back 8 (a.k.a. the First Gen).  But, Mikel, you all ask, where are the Transformers?  Good, you were paying attention.  Transformers is a huge part of my life, true.  And I did watch a lot of it when I was a kid.  But I would say it’s more of a passion/hobby than it is an influence.  Granted there are quite a few robots in my work, but I like to keep the Big TF separate.  I appreciate it for what it is.  Transformers is my escape.

But we’ll get into that more later.  So, without further ado…

Second Generation

What I call the Second Gen of creative influences are pretty important to a writer.  The First Gen is all nostalgia and cool and flashy, but the Second Gen you choose for yourself.  It’s where your likes and dislikes really appear–not just the Saturday Morning Lineup that’s shoved down your throat between spoonfuls of Lucky Charms.

The average person, not just writer, can usually think back to that book or movie that really defined their present standards in entertainment.  For me, there were 4 distinct ones that I remember really kicked me in the teeth and said, “Listen, man, this is the revolution.”  One of those was Dean Koontz’s Fear Nothing.  Now granted I was coming off a huge kick of reading nothing but Star Wars books for years (I’m serious), but this novel was a real gamechanger.  First of all, it was written first-person.  And as most of my readers know, that’s my real niche.  This book was haunting and fast-paced and exciting and epic and somehow still written in the first-person perspective.  Up until this book, I wasn’t sure it could be done.  But Koontz pulled it off, teaching me a valuable lesson in the process.  He also taught me that you could be quirky and original.  This book and its sequel, Seize the Night, are really out there.  I mean, pretty far out.  But guess what?  People still love them.  The general public can handle absurd ideas.  And, as far as writing goes, that made me, ahem, fear nothing.

Dean Koontz is definitely one of my favorite authors, but I could never love his writing as much as Orson Scott Card.  Card is famous for Ender’s Game, which is a great book.  But it doesn’t hold a candle to its sequel, Speaker for the Dead.  Speaker is the book that Card really wanted to write, and Ender gave him the foot in the door.  This was the first and last book that made me cry.  Its operatic that way.  Suddenly a chord gets struck and you’re weeping.  Card’s style is very unique and analyzing this is what helped me discover my voice while writing.  It’s almost like Card knows exactly what you’re thinking and when you’re thinking it and feeds into it.  Plays off it.  He asks the questions right on the page that you’re thinking in your heart.  And answers them.  It’s almost akin to Bastian reading The Neverending Story.  Once you let a book like Speaker in, you can’t get it out.  That’s something I always strive for in my work.

In the same vein as Koontz’s work, I would place the movie Fallen, starring Denzel Washington and a phenomenal John Goodman.  It’s a cop drama like Se7en but with a supernatural twist.  And I do mean twist, especially when it comes to the end.  I won’t tell you much about the plot, but I will tell you that the pacing and story of this movie changed my expectations for film entirely.  To this day, I crave a movie-watching experience like Fallen.  Lessons:  experiment with genre-bending and always, always, always look for that opportunity for a twist.  And don’t be afraid to twist.  Hard.

Aw hell nah!  He did not throw The Matrix into this beast!  I’m afraid he did…er, I did.  First, let’s get one thing straight: I am one of those rare people that honest-to-blog loves each and every one of The Matrix films with my whole heart.  I watch them again and again and have nothing but good things to say about them.  They are loaded with symbolism, metaphor, and groundbreaking martial arts action.  So, let’s move past it.  Having said that, we all know the first one is the best one.  Now do I personally write cyberpunk?  Heck no.  I wish I could, but I’ll leave that to the pros.  Do I pack a lot of symbolism and metaphor into my stories?  Debatable.  Not nearly as much as this film.  Martial arts action?  Not especially.  Well then what did I learn from The Matrix?  A lot actually.  Radical film technique aside, I learned you can never have enough intrigue and mystery.  Remember the first time you watched The Matrix?  You had no f**king clue what was going on, did you?  But you kept watching.  And it definitely paid off.  The Matrix tortured it’s audience for almost an hour with why? and how? and then drilled you in the stomach with the answer.  From its trailer to its website (, The Matrix kept people guessing.  And talking.  And wondering.  A little torment is good for you.

And speaking of torment, thus concludes my Second Generation.  Not nearly as hefty as the First Gen and a little more insight.  But the Third Generation is the most intriguing, isn’t it?  What is my most influential book?  My most defining film?  What’s the deal with the “Crazy Uncle” thing?  All will be revealed in the shocking conclusion, Creative Influences: Part 3!


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