Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Shelf Help

by Chris F. Holm

I think Reece nailed this week's question in his post on Monday. (I suggest you check out his post, and while you're at it congratulate him on his new book deal!) Pretty much the only stuff I won't read while I'm writing is anything that plays in the same sandbox. For my Collector series, which straddles the line between old-fashioned noir and the creepier side of fantasy, that means waiting until between books to read Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt series, Neil Gaiman's grown-up fiction, or anything by Stephen Blackmoore or Tim Powers, to name but a few. I also, for the record, had to quit watching Supernatural when they started getting all biblical on me. The last thing I wanted was to get called out for ripping off somebody who simply happened down a similar narrative path.

That said, there are a host of authors whose books I often pluck from the shelf when I need a literary shot in the arm to kick my writing into gear. Hammett, for his grit. Chandler, for his poetry. Block (particularly his Scudder novels), for his raw emotion. Westlake (writing as Stark), for his spare, pitch-black perfection. And of course Dante (with a little help in my edition from Messrs. Longfellow and Dore), for bringing hell to terrifying life in much the way I hope to for my poor, damned Sam.

Sometimes, I'll read 'em clean through while I write, but just as often, I'll simply grab one and read a passage or two at random before I sit down at the keyboard. I'd recommend you try it sometime with your great literary inspirations; you'll be surprised how much it serves to fuel your own creativity, and inform your day's writing. And heck, even if it doesn't, at least you got to read some pretty sentences.


Robin Spano said...

I like that. Good idea: reading a passage or two from a book you've loved for inspiration.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

So true! I often find reading something brilliant brings me out of my mire. Others times it reminds me of how far I have to go.

Reece said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Chris! Now that you mention it, I would have put the Westlake/Stark books on my list, too. Isn't it amazing that with the really great ones you can open up their books to just about any page and immediately see why they're great?

Chris said...

It truly is amazing. And you're right, Sue Ann, it does remind me how far I have to go, but oddly, it fuels rather than paralyzes me.

Steve Weddle said...

James Salter
Bonnie Jo Campbell
Richard Hugo
Raymond Carver
Anne Beattie

Chris said...

To inspire, Steve, or to avoid?

bwknister said...

What, no mention of John D. MacDonald? He seems worthy of the other classic company you keep.

Chris said...

I like John D. quite a bit! These inspirations were intended to be Collector-novel-specific, though, and his tone's not a great fit for what I'm going for. Ross Macdonald, on the other hand...

Steve Weddle said...

chris -
"to fuel your own creativity, and inform your day's writing"

there was a ST:TNG ep where data was playing violin and had combined 3 masters -- two who exist and one they made up because sci-fi -- and picard says something about how creative data was for picking those three. data had been saying how he wasn't creative because he was just copying others. picard said choosing those three out of the billions possible was creative

so finding a handful of writers who can give you shots in the arm helps

as for your opening points about avoiding authors, i just avoid extended exposure when i'm "In It," as that gal's mom in Garden State says