The moment you’ve all been waiting for.
All 3 of you.
The final reveal. The Third Generation of my Genealogy of Influences. Let’s get all those black boxes out of there and bring back that cosmically cool graphic. One. Last. Time.
Are you shocked and amazed yet? Or nodding, saying “That makes sense” at your screen? Or have you already left to make some coffee?
Well, tough! I’m still going on with this post!
As with all my lists, the #1 Draft Pick choices are always the hardest for me to come up with. I beat myself up over them for days; as if by picking one, I’m throwing the other options into a black hole for eternity. But at the end of the day, I went with the book knocked the wind out of me, both as a reader and a writer. Even though I only read it a little over a year ago. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is something entirely original. Rotfhfuss didn’t just create a system of magic usage, he created a science. And a religion. And if all that weren’t enough, this book utilizes all the best tricks: first-person and third-person perspective changes, flashbacks, a sense of mystery. Even the scenes where main character Kvothe is playing his lute read like a song. Or a hi-octane racing movie. Never have I been so engrossed in a world on paper. When I finished Wind, I remember thinking I don’t ever have to read another book again. I did of course. But this is as close as I’ve ever come to reading a ‘perfect’ novel.
I won’t even say that I am nearly close to the genius that is Patrick Rothfuss. And believe me, jealousy drips from these words like venom: I will never be able to write a novel like this.
Still, the lesson was learned: epic fantasy can be totally original, focused on one person, and not necessarily have an evil villain. It’s all about the quality of storytelling.
With my most influential film, I had a similar dilemma: it was something I had seen barely more than a year ago. Was I comfortable saying that the most artistically inspirational film I had ever seen was only up for Best Picture at last year’s Oscars? But at the end of the day, Inception is the movie I keep thinking about. That I keep losing sleep over. That I keep striving for. I’m sure most of you seeing this have seen it. And clearly I’m not the only one that loves it. But you have to admit this is a real work of genius. It goes way beyond ‘creative.’ The beauty of Inception is that Christopher Nolan didn’t bog you down with unnecessary detail.
Yes, this was some kind of alternate future Earth where dream technology exists.
But there was no cheesy flashback saying how this technology came about, or some wacky doctor character explaining the backstory. Nolan just says, “This is the world. Deal with it.” And you never once need clarification. You see a briefcase with some wires? That’s the device. Someone says “We need a kick,” you’re good to go.
Inception is like a piece of toast that you find surprisingly filling.
So why pick these? Are they my favorites? Not necessarily. I talk about them endlessly, but if someone were to ask my favorite book and movie, I’d answer with these gems:
Don’t get me wrong, RotS and Vanilla Sky have their inspirational place in my heart, but for different reasons. So why Inception and Wind? What makes these relative newcomers so special? And what could a fantasy book and a sci-fi/action film have in common?
Worldbuilding and subtlety. And there you have the two keys to me. The things I always look for in art. The elements I always strive for in my writing.
If they make a documentary about my life, I hope it’s called “Worldbuilding and Subtlety: The Mikel Andrews Story.”
But seriously, both of these pieces have created a monstrously creative and innovative setting–whole new worlds, completely entrenched. Sure one is fantasy and one is sci-fi, but they do the same trick. Nolan and Rothfuss are both masters of their craft when it comes to worldbuilding. And the trick to their execution? They don’t beat you over the head with How is this possible? The magic and technology of their respective realms are subtle. It just feels right. It just makes sense. I firmly believe you cannot teach this craft; it’s a gift.
I only hope I can create this phenomenon in my own writing.
Okay, seriously, what is with those ‘Crazy Uncle’ boxes?
Truth be told, they are sort of a cop-out. A clever way to sneak in an extra set of inspirational books and movies that I didn’t have room for on my Family Tree.
Crazy Uncle #1 is Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, Shutter Island, and a slew of other amazing books. I remember a very sweet customer at my first job–a video store–walked in one day with a pair of books. One of them was Mystic River. She said I could have them as long as I promised to actually read them. I wasn’t interested in books that weren’t fantasy, sci-fi, or supernatural, but a promise is a promise.
Mystic River was mind-blowing. I was completely hooked. And I soon tracked down Shutter Island. The movie version of Shutter Island was okay, and the Mystic River film flat-out sucked. No matter how many Oscars Mystic River was up for, I’ve never met a person that liked the movie after reading the book.
The book was meant to be a book. Period.
It got into the heads of the characters, revealing inner monologue. The whole fun of the book was that you knew what the other characters didn’t! Fortunately for literature, this is something it will always have up on film.
Lehane always writes in the realm of moral ambiguity. Ethical gray areas. Reading his books tore down that wall between good and evil in my writing–something I had struggled with for years. It’s a scary wall to tear down, but I’m better for the renovation.
Crazy Uncle #2 is M. Night Shyamalan. Okay, so his last few films haven’t been big hits. But for me, his movies flow in the same stream as Lehane’s books. And he has two amazing gems: The Sixth Sense and Signs.
Make your jokes about twist endings and laugh at your parodies of “I see dead people,” but deep down you know you didn’t see that one comin’ at the end of The Sixth Sense. Both of Night’s gems redefined horror–or rather, reset it. In a world where slasher flicks had become hailed as ‘great horror,’ The Sixth Sense gave audiences back the haunting melodies of Hitchcock. And both of the films brought back a sense of human interest that scary movies were lacking.
And that twist ending is a lot of fun. Night knows it’s his hook, and he plays to it every time.
A catchy gimmick and injected human drama in a sci-fi/horror setting? Check. Lesson learned. Diploma earned. Graduated to the work force.
So there you have it. My creative influences all laid out on the table.
You’ve cut to the core of me. Congratulations.