Undercover influences

When I think of my influences as a writer, I generally think of the authors from whom I learned certain craft skills once I decided I actually wanted to write. That list is an easy one, and it’s always growing. It wouldn’t surprise me if most authors had a similar list.

But this is about another list: the list of stories that so inflamed my imagination that I wanted to be a writer in the first place.

Last night I was waiting for a bus after seeing the movie “Insidious,” (which I can heartily recommend if you like a well-crafted ghost story and are willing to forgive a little FX woo-wah). There was a very brief bit that involved a rocking horse moving in a child’s room with no one near it. Yeah, nothing new there. It’s a ghost story. Every ghost story with a kid involved will have that rocking horse. It’s law in Hollywood, like “heartwarming” in the description means the animal or youngest child dies by the end. But for some reason it triggered a memory in me.

Did any of you read the story “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence? Or maybe you saw an adaption of it? There was a movie version in 1950, a TV adaptation in 1977 directed by the brilliant Peter Medak that I’m pretty sure I saw, and several others. Until I looked it up this evening, I don’t think I ever realized that D.H. Lawrence had written it. But it was one of those early stories that inspired my imagination. Originally published in 1926 in Harper’s Bazaar, it walked this strange line between fantasy and horror. I don’t quite know how it would be classified now.

See, in 5th grade, I also discovered Edgar Alan Poe. Yeah, I dug his poetry, and “The Tell Tale Heart,” but the one that possessed me was “Hop-Frog.” Essentially a tale of revenge, it drew inspiration from a historical event in the 14th century, and is thought to be written as revenge against a personal enemy. Of course I didn’t know that when I was 10 and reading it. All I knew was that a crippled dwarf fool cruelly abused by a king tricks the king and 7 ministers into wearing highly-flammable masquerade costumes. They die horribly, while the title character escapes through a skylight with the object of his affection. Elements of the story were used in Roger Corman’s “Masque of the Red Death,” staring Vincent Price with beautiful cinematography by Nicholas Roeg.

The other pre-influence, in fact, probably the earliest, was a children’s book by author Jay Williams called “The King with Six Friends.” Beautifully painted by Imero Gobbato, it was the classic story of a king without a country, a princess with an unreasonable father, and a series of impossible tasks that are accomplished with the help of very special friends. More than merely an inspiration for me to start writing, I think this book inspired certain life decisions I’ve made. I’ve long been a collector of good friends with strange talents. There may be a connection there somewhere.

Everyone else, all the other authors who lit the way for me, came after. And the influences grew, each adding their own pigment to the mix. From there I added a heavy base of Bradbury, and a vast list of sci-fi and horror short fiction writers that were published in anthologies over the years. The list quickly gets too long to recount.

But every journey starts somewhere. I’ve shown you mine. Where was yours?

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