Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Monday, May 31, 2010

Those Who Scribbled into My Psyche and Left A mark


Just thinking about J. D. Salinger and considering that Nine Stories and Catcher in the Rye both played some roll in forming my own approach and ideas about writing when I was young, I though I would just list those writers who I believe were influences on me. And none of them would have written such a run-on sentence I'm sure.


Well, William Faulkner might.


I have read a good bit of Faulkner I don't think he had much influence on my style. Perhaps my fictional "Decket County"  and its town of "Wilmillar" were subconsciously inspired by his creating a fictional universe centered around the fictitious "Oxford" and "Yoknapatawpha County", Mississippi as stand-ins for Jefferson and Lafayette County.  


I have had people suggest I use real place names in my fiction and wonder why I choose not. It is very simple. If I used Chester County, Downingtown and Philadelphia (Formton) as my setting, I would be restricted to keeping the reality of those places. By basing purely fictional locations on these very real places, I am free to put sites that don't exist in them or move the boundaries, invent a history and alter the laws to suit my plots. Otherwise there would be the inevitable carping that you couldn't do it that way in Chester County or that building doesn't exist in Philadelphia. 



One would hardly recognize Faulkner without his mustache. he doesn't look bad with out it. I wonder why he grew one? Once he added the mustache he  took on a resemblance to Stalin.

Just for the record, I began reading Faulkner in my early twenties and the first of his works I read was The Unvanquished, which is certainly not one of his better known novels.  Nor was the next one I tackled, Mosquitoes, before moving to As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury.  I followed those with Spotted Horses, Old Man and The Bear before his once scandalous, Sanctuary. I also read his Collected Short Stories and Absalom, Absalom!.

I don't think you will find anything I wrote resembles any of these.

But that is the point. I have read a lot of different authors, some of them quite extensively, but not every writer, even among those one likes, influence one's own style. I have read a lot of Bellows, Fitzgerald, Arthur Hailey and Stephen King, for instance, and would not say any of them influenced my writing per se. Some might think Stephen King did since I had done so much in the Horror genre, but Stephen King came to prominence after I had long been writing such things.

That is another point to make. When some one enters the Arts, whether writing or painting or whatever, they tend to mimic artists that went before who they like. As one develops, other artists begin to be absorbed into one's style, but at some point the person breaks free of all these influences with a style of their own. Now that individual style may be an amalgamation of all those former influences, but it still comes out as something distinct. I stopped mimicking my most current favorite sometime in my mid-twenties, with one exception who I will get to later.

So who did influence me? Here is the list. I have broken it down into four time periods. Some authors overlapped through these periods, but I have grouped them by when they first began to make an impression upon me. I have also listed the particular works that drew my greatest interest, even though I read most of the authors work.

GRADE AND JR. HIGH SCHOOL


The first writer that really grabbed my attention was Edgar Allan Poe and the first work to do this was "The Gold Bug".  I think I was in Third Grade when I heard this story.  A couple years later we studied "The Tell-Tale Heart" in class. Wow, I thought that was great. I began pestering my mother and grandmother for books by Poe. My grandmother gave me a used ten-volume collection called The Works  of Edgar Allan Poe. The fifth volume was missing, but I was thrilled with the nine volumes she gave me. This had been published back in the 1800s. Volume One contained "A Memoir", "The Life of Poe" and "The Death of Poe" as well as three of his stories, including "The Gold Bug".

Volume Ten contained all of Poe's poetry and this was the start of my interest in writing verse. 

During these years one of my friends, I am not sure if it was Stuart or Ronald or someone else, introduced me to H. P. Lovecraft. The first collection of his stories I had was a paperback, Cry Horror!. I followed this up with Colour Out of Space and Dunwich Horror and Others. Some of my friends thought I was odd reading these books, not because of the subject matter, but because Lovecraft used "big" words and they found him hard to understand. I loved Lovecraft even though I could only read his stories in the daytime and even then I would get nervous and jump at shadows. 

My thesis in college, several years later, was a literary biography of Lovecraft, including an extensive bibliography of his work. This was another blown opportunity. The professor wanted to publish my thesis as a book, but I never followed up with him on getting it done. The title was Lurker on the Bookshelf: A Study of H. P. Lovecraft.



The other books I was gobbling up in those years were adventures. I read through Jack London's library in rapid succession: The Call of the Wild, White Fang, Collected Short Stories and The Sea Wolf.

I was a bit disappointed there was no four-legged wolf in The Sea Wolf, but I liked it anyway.




My other favorite was Robert Louis Stevenson. This went all the way back prior to any school. My grandmother used to read me his A Child's Garden of Verses when I was still a toddler. Perhaps poetry was ingrained in me at that time and Poe just pulled it out of me.

I was constantly taking Stevenson's books out of the library, Kidnapped, The Black Arrow, The Wrong Box. I even convinced the Librarian to allow me to borrow The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde despite this was in the adult section and my age was to keep me confined to the Children's Section. My favorite was Treasure Island, which I read four times.

In 1953 when I first declared I wanted to be a writer and wrote my first novel these influences came into play. IT! (which went through several titles over the years as well as shrinking from novel to short story to novella: "Quicksand Island", "Horror of It", "Island of Horror", "Dream of Horror" and finally just Dream.)

The original manuscript was a bricolage having elements of Poe, Treasure Island, Doc Savage and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Poe and Lovecraft continued to fascinate me throughout my Jr. High years. There was one new author I began to mimic in story plots at the end of those years. The first book I read was a collection of short stories called, The Jungle Kids. With that I was hooked on Evan Hunter and over the next several years read most of his early work, The Blackboard Jungle, Buddwing, A Matter of Conviction, Happy New Year, Herbie, A Horse's Head and The Paper Dragon. My personal favorite was Second Ending.

I read a number of his crime novels written as Ed McBain when I was in my twenties, but they didn't influence my own writing as his early novels and stories of juvenile crime had. Some of my stories showing Hunter's brand were "Crime", "Vandals" and "Moon Was Cloudy".

Hunter wrote under several other names, but I am not familiar with those works. When he died a couple years ago I was surprised to learn his real name had been Salvatore Albert Lombino.

SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL

A writer who had a great deal of influence on me in Sr. High School was Henry Gregor Felson.

I got my first Felsen novel through the Scholastic Book Club. We could order and buy paperback books through our school for a dime. The first was probably his most famous, Hot Rod. I just kept ordering Felsen books, Road Rocket, Street Rod, Crash Club, Rag Top. I wrote a poem based on Hot Rod. I even wrote a letter to Felsen, but he never answered it.

Two of my early novels reflect Felsen's influence upon me. These were Come Monday and Forty-Dollar Car.


Another author who captured my imagination at this time was Charles Beaumont. Beaumont was writing a number of the stories on the Twilight Zone TV show. Of all the fantasy, horror and sci-fi writers I was reading as a teenager, he somehow stood out about the rest for me. My favorites were The Hunger and other Stories, Yonder and Night Ride and other Journeys. I also had a nonfiction book by him, Remember? Remember?


Unfortunately, Charles Beaumont died at the age of only 38.




I was also a fan of O. Henry stories.  If you were to read a number of my stories you would easily see the kind of twisted endings that O. Henry was famous for as filtered through those of The Twilight Zone.














I was also writing a lot of humor as a teen. Much of this smacked of Stan Freeberg and those great radio comics, Bob and Ray. But there was one literary figure that I also admired, although I probably came to him more for his cartoons than anything else. Still, I thought James Thurber's My Life and Hard Times was a great book.

And somewhere in this period I read J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye several times. But it was his Nine Stories that send me off in a whole new direction in writing short stories.




LATE TEENS


I had been writing stories about rebellious teenagers, hot rods, crime and horror. But Nine Stories told me one could write about real life in a more subtle way. This was confirmed when one day I purchased a thin paperback of short stories called Pigeon Feathers. I could relate closely to the stories and early novels of John Updike. I knew his "Brewer" because I was familiar with the neighborhoods of Reading. He grew up in my backyard, only a few miles west in Shillington. I knew the environs of Rabbit, Run and The Poorhouse Fair. I quickly read The Same Door and Of the Farm. My favorite of his books is The Centaur. 


My own stories began to be about instances that had happened, based on people I knew, places I had lived. There was often more between the lines than in the text.

I have written before how I fell out of love with Updike with Couples.




I widened my reading. I explored people who wrote on more varied subjects in different styles and voices, especially short stories. I read the work of Carson McCullers, especially liking The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I read The Member of the Wedding, Clock Without Hands and Reflections in a Golden Eye. Ah, you could write about people who were different.







I went on binges; I read through George Orwell, 1984, Down and Out in Paris and London, Animal Farm and his Collected Essays.





















Truman Capote: A Tree of Night, Other Voices, Other Rooms, The Grass Harp, Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood.








Then I turned into Sinclair Lewis. One day I read Arrowsmith and then I couldn't get enough of Sinclair Lewis.  I went through Main Street, Elmer Gantry, Babbitt and The Man From Main Street. I read several biographies of the man. My writing was beginning to look like his, I was turning to social topics. I read every book Sinclair Lewis wrote with the exception of three of his earliest novels because I could never find a copy of Our Mr. Wrenn, The Job or Free Air. I was in danger of becoming a pale imitator of Lewis.


Then the 'sixties happened.


TWENTIES

I had come a long way in a short time. In my teens I just wanted to be published anywhere. I didn't mind the idea of being a hack. I was content to be a pulp writer of horror or crime stories, but by the time I reached my twenties I saw there was a broad spectrum to writing and I didn't care as much about fame as trying to write things that had some meaning. I had a wide stable of writers I was following and learning from.





James Baldwin, especially Another Country, Going to Meet the Man, and Go Tell it on the Mountain, Blues for Mister Charlie and all those essays, The Fire Next Time, Nobody Knows My Name.









Trying to wend my way through James Joyce, I really liked Dubliners, I even took some titles from his work, such as for my story "Pome Penyeach". I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and its prototype, Stephen Hero. Plowed into Ulysses, but bogged down in Finnigan's Wake.










There was the existentialism of Albert Camus in The Plague and The Stranger. I even read his Notebooks.









Andre Gide's The Immoralist. Katherine Ann Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Ship of Fools and Flowering Judas and other Stories.












Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse.










There were the wonderful novels and stories by Bernard Malamud. The first book I read by him was The Fixer. Well, that fixed me all right. I went on to The Assistant, The Natural, Idiots First, The Magic Barrel, The Tenants, Picture of Fidelman and Rembrandt's Hat.










Counterbalancing perhaps the gentler and more delicate style of Malamud was the more in your face hard edge idealism of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and Anthan.









And then the smell of the earth and the sweat of those who work it and struggle to make ends meet in the books of John Steinbeck. The first novel of his I read was To a God Unknown. My favorite was In Dubious Battle, but I've read most of his work from The Grapes of Wrath to Travels With Charlie, with stops on a Wayward Bus slumping through The Winter of Our Discontent with stopovers at Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat.




And then finally I came to the writer who taught me perhaps more about writing than all the others, Ernest Hemingway. I started with In Our Time. My favorite may be The Sun Also Rises, but I've read most of his work and enjoyed it. The Old Man and The Sea to the strange The Garden of Eden. Hemingway taught me brevity and discipline of words, and that often it was more important what you didn't say as what you did. I think the old bromine of "show don't tell" came clearest to me through the short stories of Hemingway.

Anyway, these were the writers who became my guides to the practice as a boy and young man. Along the way I sometimes morphed into one or the other of them until finally I found my own voice and muse and became independent from them, though indebted to them. Certainly I don't compare myself favorably to any of these great and gifted scribes, but I did become true to my own vision and write what I see as true and honest.

In my later years one more writer pushed into my psyche and altered some of what I wrote, allowing me to ingrain more ethnicity and dialect into my tales of life back when in an older Decket County. This was  Annie Proulx and especially her Wyoming stories in Open Range and Bad Dirt.  her influence can probably be seen in "Ground Dog Day" and "Along the Winding Way".

From the comic seen as the first picture on this page of my character Frantic Frank about to step on a stage to expound on Musick to some one who can write seriously, without ever eschewing humor and humanity. I hope that is me.

2 comments:

jasunni said...

We just completed a documentary about Charles Beaumont. Thought you might be interested. Our site is http://www.jasunni.com

Holly said...

I am Henry Gregor Felsen's daughter, Holly. I am getting ready to write an introduction to Hot Rod for a new edition for a 60 year anniversary. I started browsing the web to get my creative juices flowing, and came upon you blog. I'm pleased to see that he had such loyal followers, and that he is still remembered today. I only knew him as my dad, and was mostly embarrassed by him!
Thank you for your blog post!!