Saturday, April 7, 2012

Guest Post: Twice Upon A Time by Tim Waggoner

We at Fine Print are excited to offer you a series of local author blog posts throughout the year!  Our first offering is from Tim Waggoner, in which he discusses the books/authors that have influenced his own writing.  Click here for a list of books the library carries by Mr. Waggoner.

When I was asked to write a blog about books that influenced me as a writer, I really had to think about it. In a very real sense, every book I’ve ever read has had an impact on me, so how could I choose? Should I pick the first novel I remember reading on my own, a kids’ books called The Space Ship Under the Apple Tree by Louis Slobodkin? Should I mention the  anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum (where I first read Ray Bradbury’s wonderful story “Homecoming”)? Or should I talk about how after reading quite a bit as a child, I stopped reading almost entirely in my preteen years? It wasn’t a novel that got me back into reading, though: it was comic books. Reading them eventually led me to start reading full-length written-for-adults novels. If it hadn’t been for comics, I doubt I’d ever have started writing. But after a lot of thought I narrowed it down to two books that had the most influence on me as a writer, and once I did, the choices not only seemed right, but – in retrospect at least – obvious.

I read both books sometime during my junior high years, although I can’t remember in which order. My guess is that Piers Anthony’s A Spell for Chameleon came first, so I’ll start with it. This is a fantasy adventure novel that takes place in the magical land of Xanth, but Xanth is special even for a fantasy world. It has more in common with Alice’s Wonderland than Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Xanth is absolutely drenched in magic – every plant, animal, and person there is touched by magic somehow, in ways both small and large. I loved the story, the characters, and the humor in the book, but what really impressed me was the wild creativity on display throughout the novel. Anthony let his imagination run rampant when creating Xanth, and reading this book – plus many of the sequels that he would write in the years to come – showed me the power of pure, unfettered imagination in action.
 The second book is Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. King was a new novelist back then, and I remember a friend of mine trying to tell me about this vampire book he’d read that wasn’t just scary, it was really, really scary. I’d always liked spooky movies and stories growing up, and I especially liked ones about vampires. I’d read and loved Richard Matheson’s classic I am Legend (recently voted best vampire novel of the twentieth century at the 2012 World Horror Convention) and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. So I figured King’s novel was right up my alley.

Salem’s Lot blew me away. King’s characters, his use of setting, his sense of language, his imagery, the way he built suspense . . . I’d never experienced anything like it before. Books are just a long series of words on a page, but King was able to use them to affect my imagination in a way no other writer had been able to before. From this book – and from the many others by King that I read afterward – I learned that a writer is like a composer. He or she writes the equivalent of a musical score and gives it to the reader to play, and the instrument the reader uses is his or her own imagination.
       
So from Anthony I learned how to unleash the power of my own imagination when it came to building fictional worlds, and from King I learned how to use words and ideas to reach out from the page, get inside readers’ heads, and stimulate their imaginations. I can truthfully say that I wouldn’t be the writer I am today – probably wouldn’t be a writer at all – if it wasn’t for the work of these two authors.

Tim Waggoner’s novels include the Nekropolis series of urban fantasies and the Ghost Trackers series written in collaboration with Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of the Ghost Hunters television show. In total, he’s published over twenty-five novels and two short story collections, and his articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest and Writers’ Journal, among others. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair Community College and in Seton Hill University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program. Visit him on the web at www.timwaggoner.com.

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