Saturday, September 26, 2009
Son of Tarzan
Which author influenced me the most?
Without a doubt Edgar Rice Burroughs, because his were the books that I wished I could read, long before I had muddled my way through the alphabet or discovered Dr. Seuss. My parents had read his adventure stories when the paperbacks cost a nickel, and being ardent book lovers they kept them all. So I grew up surrounded by pulps, and though I couldn't read the pages within, their covers spoke volumes.
Artists like Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel, and J. Allen St. John brought Tarzan to life at a visceral level, so I was already convinced he was a real historical character (like Sherlock Holmes) even before I had read his first adventure. The same with John Carter of Mars and Carson of Venus. And who doesn't believe that Pellucidar, the world at the center of the earth, is just waiting to be rediscovered?
Once I was old enough to read them, the stories didn't disappoint. In fact they inspired me to seek out adventures with other authors like Lester Dent, author of innumerable Doc Savage tales. The Shadow. Conan. I couldn't get enough.
The pulps were a gateway to comics, which led to a decade-long addiction to science fiction. But somewhere along the line, on a trip to the attic or digging around dusty shelves in my parents' basement, I also discovered the lurid covers of crime fiction. And among those cracked spines I found Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, at which point I not only wanted to read, I wanted to write stories of my own. And like the books that inspired me to read in the first place, I was determined to write something that was unapologetically entertaining, a great adventure. An adventure in which you could lose yourself — and find yourself — at the same time.
Any time my will falters, writer's block looms, or I'm struggling with a plot or character, I'll re-read one of the stories that first made me fall in love with books, preferably in an edition with the original cover art. And somehow they're just as thrilling, though I know what's waiting around every turn of the page. Like a classic movie or favorite bedtime story, a great adventure never gets old.