The Sincerest Form of Flattery (Part I)
Most likely you've heard the saying. Basically, I'm referring to imitation. But you ask: What about imitation? Well, as a would-be famous author, my biggest obstacle to connecting with readers seems to be the most obvious one... nobody knows a darn thing about what I write. To fix this, I figure the best I can do is list a bunch of stories that inspire me, and that I at least try on some level to imitate in my writing. Of course, whether or not I actually manage to emulate anything discussed here is for you to decide for yourself. But anyway, hopefully by the time you've finished reading this, I'll at least have demonstrated that I have good taste...
So then, here - in wonderfully jumbled order - is my list of pop culture inspirations, which have most influenced my writing:
#3. Star Wars
It only seems right to start here, because even if it's not highest on my list of inspirations, it's still probably my favorite story. As with any absolutely enormous franchise, of course, it has its ups and downs... and I mean some really exceptional downs. Particularly, the last two "Episodes" were a doozy. But I'm writing a blog post here, not an encyclopedia, so there's no time to get into all the ways they messed those movies up. Let's focus on the positive...
What do I find excellent about Star Wars? It's a great mixture of things. I mean, that's one of the attributes I most love about it... just how many different things it can mix all together and still be one cohesive, functional story. If you get right to the core, Star Wars was really just a classic 'Hero's Journey' fantasy tale, wrapped up in a shiny sci-fi package. In place of horses and wizards and dragons, you have A/SF-01 B-wings, Jedi Knights with fancy laser swords, and everything from Acklays to Sarlaccs. I mean, you can run from a cave troll if you want to, but I'll take a pair of destroyer droids any day. It's basically the ultimate retro-future-chik art show that also happens to double as one of the greatest morality tales to ever come out of our culture (well, at least as the originals go). But it doesn't merely manage to reconcile superficial glitz with meaningful storytelling. It also seamlessly mixes absurdist humor with galactic-scale drama and peril. To my knowledge, it's arguably one of the earliest movie series to really mingle silliness with high-stakes action, and in my opinion it's still the best. I mean, what other series can hang the fate of the universe on the heroic little shoulders of a rolling, beeping trash can?
These are the sorts of things I try to imitate from Star Wars in my writing. I want a group of characters with real differences... differences I can have fun with... sometimes so much fun that it's just plain silly. I want to tell a story with true moral value and have an absolute blast doing it. And I try to combine absurdity with serious drama because I've seen how well these two seemingly polarized elements can intermix. I've seen how the lighter moments of a story can make the darker ones take on an even deeper caste, and how the heaviest times can make you cherish the moments of levity all the more. This is true in storytelling because it is equally true in life.
Credos aside, I also do what I can to stage massive battles with clever, flavorful vehicular warfare where possible. Surely, the importance of that is self-explanatory.
#5. Star Trek
Terrific as Star Wars was, Trek had at least one thing that its more fantasy-oriented cousin lacked: an interesting and dynamic political landscape. Like, okay, maybe the Star Wars prequels spent an undue amount of time in the Galactic Senate. That's not really what I'm talking about. In three trilogies, we basically saw a galaxy split between three factions over and over again... the good guy side, the bad guy side, and the Outer Rim that only crime lords care about. Star Trek, on the other hand, had a Klingon Empire, a Romulan Star Empire, a Cardassian Union, a Breen Confederacy, and dozens of other interstellar states... more than I could even name or recall. Even the Federation had its own internal politics between various member species. Alliances shifted over time. Old and bitter enemies went on to become inseparable allies. There was rich culture and intrigue. It was neat.
That, however, is basically the extent of my general inspiration from Star Trek. My stories are admittedly about as far removed from the outlook of a futuristic, scientific utopia as you can get. But as the first story I really enjoyed that played out on an engaging international stage, it certainly merited mentioning here.
Also #3. Perry Mason
Right now, you're probably asking yourself: What the heck is Perry Mason? Well, first, and most important, it is *NOT* an HBO series. I mean, I guess technically it is, but that's certainly not what I'm talking about at all. Unfortunately, I'm not really talking about the Earl Stanley Gardner novels, either, as I've yet to read any of them. No doubt it's a little compromising for an author that all the inspirations I've listed are things I've watched on the tube... but well, there's not a lot I can do about that now. I'm talking about the old T.V. series from the 50's and 60's, starring Raymond Burr. It's a court drama whose main character lends his name to the show. Perry Mason is a defense lawyer with a 100% success rate of defending wrongly-accused murderers, and a 0% success rate of having any sort of character background or personal life brought up at any point in the 270-episode run. Oh, he tried to go boating or on vacation a few times, and perhaps that nearly reveals something about him. It's also plainly obvious that he and his secretary liked to go out for dinner at the end of a long work day... basically in the wee hours of the night. But beyond that, we know exactly zip about him. He is just the best lawyer in history, managing somehow to mingle a tricksy panache for legal loopholes and courtroom hijinks with an unswerving commitment to the truth and justice.
Perry Mason is my most recently acquired interest, and a far cry from anything I would've expected to pick up, much less find inspiring. There is no overarching storyline at all. Even the highly episodic Star Trek seems like a straight-line plot by comparison. I have to ask myself: What about it even sparked my interest in writing similar material? Partly, I just find legal argumentation unaccountably fascinating. And partly, there's the paradoxical fact that because I know nothing about any of the characters, they're almost more interesting because my imagination is so free to do what it will with them.
I admit with a fair amount of embarrassment that all the main characters from Mason have analogues in my writing, and these have thus far been the only characters to appear in every one of my books. Horus Templar is in so many ways my Perry Mason. Except, I get to give him a plot. I get to give him a juicy backstory and a dramatic arc. I get to give him something else Perry Mason never really had: defeats. And I get to make him into an anthropomorphic, jet-black Jackal.
But, in truth, the thing that really began my fascination with Perry Mason - the thing that inspired me the most over the years - was his foil: District Attorney Hamilton Burger. I love that guy, because he loses every case, and yet manages to be classy. Plus, his name is Ham Burger.
That's all for now. There're plenty of other stories that inspire me that I intend to write about in a future blog post (or posts), but this seems like a good stopping point. No need to bother you too much all at once! Good luck reading, and many happy returns.