This is the next installment in the latest essay series from the Killer Moose. Every writer is influenced by other writers. Stories build upon one another and intertwine and there are seeds and traces and footprints of many other things when you put ink to paper or fingers to keys.
Last week Hanna talked about her influences. This week it’s my turn!
Perhaps you know Mr. Jacques. Perhaps you don’t. If it’s the latter I suggest you rectify this immediately.
I’m starting with him because, honestly, he’s probably the single most influential author in regards to what I write, how I write, the type of media I consume and the stories I gravitate towards.
Brian Jacques books lead me down the path to words and stories and heroes. They seeded a love of grand adventure, the power of the underdog and gorgeous descriptions of food and rooted it all deep deep down. I first picked up Mariel of Redwall when I was six or seven. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read that book. And I know Mariel, also known as Storm Gullwhacker, was the first in a long line of determined, skillful and heroic characters that became my standard favorite. And then I moved on to the Bellmaker and then went back for Redwall, Mossflower and Mattimeo. To this day, I know these books by heart.
I fell in love with reading because of the Redwall books.
And traces of Jacques and Redwall show up throughout my own writing. Food, and its description, is essential in my work. How people eat, what they eat and in what configuration and community they eat. Is someone eating alone? That’s important. Important conversations happen over meals in my work. It’s where people gather. It’s how people celebrate. It’s where poison can be easily hidden. And Jacques taught me all of that. Beyond food, I always have heroic figures and a fairly clear line between who is good and who is not (though I’m working on the in greyish in between). And the journey. There was never a Redwall book that did not have some kind of quest with characters striking out for the great unknown to save the day.
The way I craft my stories, the type of characters I love, they all trace back to Jacques.
A playwright, particularly one so long dead, might seem an odd inclusion on a list about a science fiction/fantasy writer’s list of influences. But while I’ve always loved to write, my training is in the theatre, particularly with classical theatre and then particularly with Shakespeare.
I think Shakespeare’s influence on my work is more dispersed across a wider plain, in less specific ways, as opposed to Brian Jacques.
It’s something in his wide range of styles from comedy to tragedy to history to those plays that are more amorphous combinations of those categories (I’m looking at you The Winter’s Tale) where comedy and tragedy coexist within the same story (sometimes the same scene) without one making the other redundant. Or maybe it’s in the way he maintains a constant, sometimes underlying, sometimes utterly in your face (or perhaps just disguised by an older form of language) litany in honor of sex. Or his use of sundered siblings and fallen kings and spirits of the elements. Shakespearean language, his fancies, find their way into my words and structure in various ways.
There is also the fact that working with Shakespeare on the stage is the first place where my desire for equality and diversity amongst a cast of characters manifested. When directing a Shakespearean play, so heavily weighted in favor of the male roles, I was always looked for a way to balance the scales. Can I regender this character? Can I make this character’s gender neutral? Can I combine this role with that role and this bit part to create a single significant and impactful character? When writing a book or a short story that translates into questions of character creation in terms of a character’s culture, appearance, race, sexuality, gender, identity and more.
Shakespeare is certainly a weird one, but as the many, many copies of this complete works and individual plays sitting on my bookshelves can attest, the man influences me every single damn day.
I talked about tragedy with Shakespeare but the darkest places I tend to go in my writing are not heavily influenced by the bard.
That influence goes to Garth Nix.
There is a vein of darkness and tragedy running through a lot of my writing. Sometimes it asserts itself and becomes the central focus of a story. Sometimes it just remains an undercurrent. Either way, there is a lot of Mr. Nix’s influence when my stories tread the darker path.
It’s in Sabriel, both the book and the character of the same name, where our eponymous heroine, a young girl, literally walks into death. That is her magic. To put down the dead. To walk into the realm of death itself and protect the living and the living world. The dark poetry of Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy was one of my very first fantasy discoveries beyond the works of Brian Jacques and it has stuck fast in my mind.
Some Honorable Mentions…
I can’t leave this article behind without mentioned Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula K Le Guin. They were later discoveries for me, and while their style of writing has not necessarily trickled down into my own, they did ignite the realization that stories are not limited to specific criteria. Diana Wynne Jones taught me that charm and an eye towards the child’s mind did not mean a story was simpler. And Le Guin is among the first author’s I read who made me realize that the stories I wrote and read did not have to be steeped in a white, medieval European context.
Guy Gavriel Kay who taught me just how beautifully lyrical words can be, even when not part of a song or a poem.
Nor can I go away without mentioning authors like N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Scott Lynch, Daniel Abraham and Robin Hobb who in recent years exploded my perception of science fiction and fantasy and opened my eyes to all the wonderful possibilities of the genre.
Those are my influences. Keep an eye out next week for more from Jae!