Sunday, March 27, 2011

Influences & Inspirations

David Eddings gave me a gift every writer needs.  He made me love to read.

I discovered his Belgariad series in middle school at the height of that awkward teen age that most of us go through.  The pimples, the hormones, the timorous anxiety that someone, somewhere knew I was the biggest geek on the planet and would soon share that news with the whole world.  It wasn't a fun time.

My older sister brought me to the town library and insisted I pick out a book to read.  (Author's note:  It's the same library that has refused to let me read my own, now published book there.  Pretty sad.)

Her direction felt like torture.  Up until that point, I hated reading.  It was synonymous with homework.  Throughout my childhood, it had cut into my precious playtime, and I couldn't figure out what was so great about it.  Hadn't television replaced that old, quaint hobby yet?

I thumbed through the books looking for something--anything--that might be appealing.  That's when I saw it, Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings.  The cover was only semi-appealing, but the book was about a boy under the protection of his aunt, Polgara, who was secretly the Queen of Sorcery.  Together, they lived on a quiet farm hiding from an evil god whose minions were, of course, about to find them.

I took the book home, and the characters bounced off the page.  I wasn't just reading anymore.  I was IN the story.  I was there as it happened.  I knew the characters personally and rooted for their safety.  I laughed out loud. I worried.  It was awesome.

I had written my own stories before, but Eddings helped me see what made a good tale even better.  I tore through the five-book Belgariad series and learned to appreciate good characters, quick pacing, and the scattered gems of human insight.  For the first time, I bought books for pleasure and read them in my spare time.  For the first time, they brought me joy.

That seed stayed with me as I continued working on my own writing and labored on my own now-shelved fantasy manuscript.

When I got a little older, I also started reading the local paper. I never thought much about news stories.  They were usually pretty bland, but one writer really stood out: Gerry Boyle.  He did a tri-weekly column about crime and justice, only he took those big topics and made them human.

For example, if someone had been caught drunk driving, he found out why, what had happened in that person's life up to that point and how they planned to overcome it.  He looked into what that person's family thought, and what the justice process was like.

He wrote about people at their most vulnerable and made the reader see how important the cogs in the law were.

He covered "daily justice" like why local cops became local cops, what it was like to be a judge.  He made the people involved characters, not just stereotypes.  The police blotter came alive, and he showed the real people involved from the prosecutors to the criminals.

Every column told a true story, but each was written with the same type of  details you'd find in fiction.

Years later, when I became  newspaper correspondent myself, I recalled Gerry Boyle's writing style and how much I enjoyed his work.  He showed me that short, true stories can be every bit as powerful as fiction, except they carry even more weight because they were actually happening in our local community.

Boyle is now a crime novelist with two mystery series under his belt, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him and thanking him for helping me to appreciate the newspaper.  His latest book, Damaged Goods, is out right now.

Many hands have encouraged my writing skill over the years, but these two men were writers who touched me through their words.  Although they were strangers, they offered me insight, encouragement and a little relief from the trials of life.

To this day, I want to do for others what these two men have done for me.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Influences. Like the flu... get it? Influenza??? Lame

Top that for ridiculously stupid titles.

There be a tailypo...

Positively or Negatively, many people throughout my life have played important roles in steering me toward the writing life. For that I'm grateful. Am I grateful for the pain and the rejection along the way? Maybe not, but without it, I wouldn't have any credits to my name. I'm just gonna ramble these off in no particular order.

Dumb bully neighbor Stuart - For wearing full football gear (pads, helmet, cleats) one afternoon to play a pickup game in the neighbor's yard. You were a few years older, much bigger. We had no access to such heavy equipment. And you bowled us over like a shot put exploding into plastic tenpins on an inflatable bowling alley. Thanks for the material you goof ball!

J K Rowling - The queen! The storytelling goddess. You had me at Hullo. My wife and I shared our first two years together reading out loud your words to each other complete with voices and sound affects. The upstairs neighbor, Lucia (I called her Lucious) hated my guts and would shout obscenities as she pounded on the floor with a boot and demanded I stopped reading so loudly at 2 in the morning. You changed my life and direction for writing. Middle Grade and Teen were the destination and I thank you for it.

Jennifer Judd (a.k.a. big sis) - The real writer in my family. She wrote this crazy little chapter book called Blip when I was but a wee lad and it mesmerized me. How could she fill up so many pieces of paper with a continuing idea? I think she even illustrated the piece (circular blips with stick legs)... Brilliant!

Senior year, Creative Writing Teacher that didn't let me join the class - Just hearing what the students were doing in your class, second hand, was enough to instill a drive within me to want more. I've never been so heartbroken from not making it into a high school class.

Joanna Galdone (Author of The Tailypo) - This story scared me so bad, I not only wet my bed, but I wet my parent's bedroom floor as well. Sorry for the imagery. Six months! Six months, I tell you! I didn't sleep soundly for half a year! When you're only six years old at the time, six months would be like 3 years for me today. That's insomnia in the worst form. Scary lil' book.

Stephen King - You may not like his stories, or his demented, twisted brain, but you have to respect his ability. Man, that dude can write and weave a yarn. And people know him too. I just saw a picture of Tom Clancy the other day at a bookstore. Not what I expected. Dan Brown? No, not really what I expected either. But Stephen King? Spot on. How many writers could you pick out of a line up? Stephen King with his cut-off sleeves, and mullety hairdo, and heartless eyes. I read my first King novel at 16 and shortly after the night terrors began.

Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi - I loved the Spiderwick Chronicles! The short little episodes. The imagination of it all! The illustrations. The pleasantly surprising creepy parts. I read the books and felt inspired to write more.

J.R.R. Tolkien - As you can read from my fellow mancavians, I'm not the only one with this influence. One day I want to write a novel of epic proportions similar to The Lord of the Rings. I want to be old, rich, possess ad English accent, and I want to hang out at a local pub with C.S. Lewis. Every river and bush has a name in his world. I don't even know the name of my next door neighbor.

I have dozens, nay, hundreds more influences in my writing life, but I'll save those for another time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Under the influence

Star Wars.

That was it.

I was seven years old when Star Wars (now known as Episode IV) came out. Please, oh please, don't do the math to figure out how old that makes me.

I was simply blown away by Star Wars. It opened my imagination to ways I didn't think were possible--in a chemical free way. Here was a world with interesting characters, action, adventure, good, evil and most of all, great pacing and storytelling.

The movie inspired what types of books I read, TV shows I watched, and even music I listened to. All these years later, I still find myself drawn to sci-fi, and to some point, fantasy. (Yes, they are two different genres)

I, too, read Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Bradbury. They were certainly influential.

However, I'd say the inspiration I draw from now, both good and bad, are from more recent books I've read.

Here are a list of authors I've enjoyed / learned from:

(I'm sure this will raise a few eyebrows--but everyone is entitled to their opinion)

Greg Keyes His book, The Briar King, is an all time favorite. He has an amazing talent for developing characters. Plus, his pacing is outstanding. I'd like to think my writing style is the most like his.

Michael A. Stackpole His four part series, The DragonCrown War, is brilliant. He's unpredictable--something I've "borrowed".

Gerald N. Lund The Work and the Glory series is a masterpiece of historical fiction. Excellent character development.

Dan Brown Say what you will about his subject matter, but the man knows how to keep you glued to a book.

L. Ron Hubbard I'm proud to say I really enjoyed his novel Battlefield Earth. It's epic. It's smart. It's riveting. It's a shame that the movie was soooooooooo bad, and not even close to the book, that it's given the title a bad name.

Robert Jordan If only the rest of The Wheel Of Time books were as good as the first one in the series. Rest his soul, Jordon was one of the few people in the world that could take 80 pages to describe someone walking across a room. While his books are amazing, the pacing is too slow for my taste.

J. K. Rowling Again, outstanding imagination--the ability to create a unique world using somewhat familiar, therefore relatable, elements. Sadly, I think the Harry Potter series peaked with the 4th book. Books 6 and especially 7 seemed to be long for the sake of being long with a lot of back story and filler.

(Send hate mail to Dan Harrington. He'll make sure I get it)

Here's the best part: now that I've gotten involved in the writing community, I get to draw from all sorts of great authors. Don't be surprised in a few years when you see the names Young, West, Harrington, Cole, Pinkston and Mueller (and maybe even Morgan) appear on lists like these.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Writing Role Models & Influences

I have written action stories since I was a kid. Back in grade school, most of the stuff was what could fairly be termed fan-fic (I wrote a lot of G.I. JOE adventures) I also began my own "secondary world" epic fantasy. I'd like to think that for someone supremely influenced by J.R.R.Tolkien, I had some pretty cool original ideas.

Twenty five years down the road and a lot more reading under my belt, seems like a lot of other writers have already developed some of those very same ideas. I was going to have a young man be the veritable saviour of an epic worldwide struggle, I came to find that was very similar to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I was going to have a militaristic city state of werewolves in the mix, similar now to James Enge's The Wolf Age. I had big plans for a cursed warlord/sorcerer to stalk the land waiting for the endtime so incredibly akin to Karl Edward Wagner's Kane (I even wrote a short prequel on how he became cursed for his hubris).


As much as I loved those ideas, I don't know if or when I will ever work on them...

But then again...

We all have our influences, the same as anyone else. I have read Scott Oden, Lion of Cairo, say that his three biggest influences are Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and Karl Edward Wagner.

Guess what = they are mine too.

But is there any real danger of us writing close to the same thing? No, there is isn't.
Because we all draw on our own experiences in life, our own worldview, our own strengths and weakness's. We are all different.
If any two of us set out to write the exact same story it would still turn out quite different and likewise appeal to different readers. I read a recent post of Dean Wesley Smith where he said, (and I'm somewhat paraphrasin') - "We are not in competition with other writers-but with ourselves to write better stories."

I like that a lot-it makes me not compare myself to my influences and the seeming impossibility of catching up, recreating the foundation they have already lain, but of just learning what I can from them and improving my own craft and writing the best stories I possibly can.

Lately, I am stressing/working on my sequel to Heroes of the Fallen - Blood of Our Fathers and working at making it the best book it can possibly be-that means writing the most awesome book that I would want to read again and again.
On other fronts I have a lot of speculative short stories getting published this year - 9 so far are forthcoming and I have another 4 submitted already, saturating the spec-fic market just like my writing role model, Robert E. Howard.
I'm kinda treating the present day anthology and e-markets like the depression era markets of the pulps. Gotta get my own weird brand out there and be read.

Stay hungry my friends.


Man Cave News

The Man Cave Authors have been busy lately.  All this writing and promoting can really work up a sweat.

Here's what we've been up to:

Frank Cole's fourth published book, The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter, was just released, and he had a launch party at Barnes and Noble in Sandy, Utah.

If you missed the party, Frank will be busy promoting the book for many months to come.  He's an avid presenter and will be touring schools soon. You can check out his new author website for more information or check out his seminar "Ignite a Love of Reading Within the Youngest Readers"  at the LDS Storymakers Conference in May.

David J West's short story The Hand of Fate appears in the newly publish fantasy anthology Shadows & Light: Volume II.  You can order a copy from Pill Hill Press here.  David's been a short story machine in recent months, and you can expect to see his name pop up in several future anthologies.

Michael Young's short story, "Portrait of a Mother" is available right now through Amazon just in time for mother's day.  Check it out here.

Mike's second book tentatively titled The Last Archangel was recently picked up with Cedar Fort Inc and is due out later this year. (Go Mike! You da man!) I'm sure he'll keep us updated about this exciting development.

The second edition of J Lloyd Morgan's book, The Hidden Sun, will be published with Walnut Springs Press later this year.  Check out the fancy new cover design.  He's promised some fun extras for the second edition, and we plan to keep him to his word.

Dan Harrington has been doing promotion work for his book, Who's at the Door? A Memoir of Me and the Missionaries.

He scored a feature story in Provo Utah's Daily Herald, which you can read here.   The story features a quotes from fellow Man Cave Author Michael Young, LDS Author Tristi Pinkston, and even some of the "characters" from the book.

That's the news from us at the Man Cave.  Now back to you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tolkien Speaks in Defense of Fantasy

I thought this month I would highlight something from one of the greatest male authors of all time, J.R.R. Tolkien. I was introduced to this article by Michael R. Collings, a speculative fiction author with whom I shared a panel at Life, The Universe and Everything at BYU last month.  He talked about how Tolkien was sometimes for writing "just fantasy", hinting that his time might be better spent on loftier pursuits.  Here Tolkien defends what he does and explains why he feels like writing fantasy is a worthwhile pursuit.

So if you are ever faced with that comment, you'll know where to turn.   It is a long article, but I would recommend reading at least the heading titled:

Recovery, Escape, Consolation

-Michael Young


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Manly Movies

After sharing some of our favorite Valentine's Day movies last month, us Man Cavers want you to know what films we prefer.

Here are some manly movies, perfect for any occasion. 

Predator (David's choice)

It's man vs nature, man vs alien, and survival of the fittest.  This movie has rocked since the 80s.

Check out this brief scene that portrays the heart of the movie.  It's not graphic, but visceral.  Every man has felt this way at least once in his life.

The Dark Knight (Michael's choice)

Dark, intense and very well acted (except maybe for the crazy batman voice Christian Bale tries to pull off). Lots of gadgets and cool bat vehicles. This is the way batman was supposed to be, without a "BAM" bubble or "holy exploding shark, Batman" in sight.

Nacho Libre( Frank's choice)

No girl I know wants to sit and watch Jack Black in spandex slappin' corn out of people's hands. My wife put up with it just because she loves me. I actually haven't watched that movie in years, but I stand firm behind it being Anti Valentine.

Serenity (Jason's choice)

Excellent Sci-Fi Western based on the way-too-short TV series Firefly. It's one of those movies that I can watch over and over. Most certainly guaranteed to put that special someone in your life out of any sort of romantic mood.

Terminator 2(Dan's choice)

One of my all-time favorite movies. Watching it makes me feel like a kid again.  Check out this little-known deleted scene where the Terminator learns about the curious human habit known as smiling.