Twilight of the Drifter, my southern gothic crime-and-blues odyssey, has been released. Lately I'm starting to wonder if subconsciously we're influenced by certain crime writers whose work is so unique and pervasive that it sometimes filters through our narratives. Again, not directly, but as an amophous strain.

Just a thought.


Shelly Frome 

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Absolutely. We're influenced in some way by just about everything we read, if we're paying attention. Even if it's just a reminder of things we don't like and don't want to see creep into our own work.

The influence doesn't have to be deliberate on your part. I'm proofreading a book I wrote a couple of years ago in preparation of its e-book release and have seen a few spots where I thought, "I hope that doesn't sound too much like __________," even though I know I wasn't thinking of that author when I wrote the passage in question.

I don't think there's any way to avoid it. James Lee Burke drives me crazy for that reason. I love his writing, but I have to remind myself my voice lies in a different direction or I start letting bits of him in and it reads like crap, mainly because I'm not James Lee Burke.

James Lee Burke is interesting because he's apparently the only one who gets away with description of scenery, is in fact praised for it.  He does set pieces, very well done, but he pops them in here and there in an otherwise fairly straightforward narrative.  I happen to like his descriptions better than the rest.

A lot depends on the scenery.  Burke writes about place as much as he writes about character or crime.  He's smart enough to know that, and to give us a good look around when we enter one of his books.  If you're writing a book set in Los Angeles, say, or some fairly generic urban or suburban setting, the only time you'd want to talk about landscape much would be when something unusual or important was happening in it. 

I'm influenced by so many people I can't keep track of who I'm ripping off anymore.  That's how it should be, I think.

I agree, Jon. We're all the product of everyone we read in some way. It gets run through the blender of our minds and is directed by our unique set of gifts, but no one writers in a vacuum.

But this has always been true.  We make our own choices.

Whenever a writer really wows me (like James Lee Burke and Ross MacDonald) I deconstruct those parts that impressed me, so that I completely understand just exactly what they did and how they did it, so that when writing later, I am less likely to subconsciously slip into this or that writer’s technique without knowing it. I prefer to be fully conscious of what I am stealing and how I am applying it.


*though, whether I am entirely successful at this is uncertain.  

LOL.  Yes.  I feel the same way.  However, keep in mind that whatever you may "take" from a writer you admire will be adjusted to your own plot and theme and filtered through your personal vision.  It will not, in the end, resemble the original at all.  For most of us, this is part of experimentation and growth.

Thanks for your reply. (By the way, what does LOL mean? Are you wishing one of your fellow writers lots of luck?)

At any rate, the only thing I think I subconsciously garnered from James Lee Burke was a deep southern sense of menace--an ambiance that permeates, a past that will never be past until, for the time being at any rate, some kind of new equilibrium is reached. But that ambiance always remains. 

LOL = Laugh Out Loud. 

Well, I like Shelly's answer, too.  :)


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