When you become a Goodreads author, a few “Ask the Author” questions are automatically placed in your queue. Two of them are “How do you get inspired to write?” and “Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?” I think this is because people are fascinated with writers’ imaginations. Everyone wants to know if that character is based on a real person, or what prompted the author to make the story take place in the 1700s, or OMG how in the world could you have let that happen to my hero?!
You can read my answers to the questions above on Goodreads.com, but I’d like to go more in-depth on this topic because I love talking about it… and because a friend and writing group colleague of mine, KM Alexander, has started #My5 — a familiar format for authors to share their inspirations.
So without further ado, here are five influences on my first novel, book 1 of The Verdant Revival, Yesterday’s Demons.
Before Phantasy Star, I liked fantasy, and I liked science fiction, but there was a line between the two. To my 13 or 14-year-old self, fantasy was about swords and sorcery and medieval times, while science fiction was about laser guns and spaceships and the future.
Phantasy Star destroyed that line. It featured heroes who wielded both swords and laser guns. In it, I traveled to castles in the sky and to distant planets. Some obstacles were overcome with magic keys; others with high-powered, high-tech ice diggers.
It might not have been the first story to blend these worlds. It might not have even been the first console RPG to do it. But Phantasy Star was the first time I experienced this kind of mash-up. That innovative mix didn’t just hook me from the start, it became my favorite kind of world to escape into. It is no mistake at all that Yesterday’s Demons takes place in a world with a similar mix of genres.
Final Fantasy VII is rightfully remembered as the most popular RPG of the late 1990s, and I liked it a lot. It probably would have been the sixth item on this list if this were My6 instead of My5. But it wasn’t my favorite RPG of that era. That honor goes to Wild Arms.
Ahh, Wild Arms… how I love thee!
In the late 1990s, my beloved Phantasy Star series had come to an apparent close and I was in search of new games to fill the void. From the first day I saw it on the Vidpro wall at Toys “R” Us, Wild Arms filled that void, built a home, and tunneled its way into a very special place in my world. It has all the heart and soul, and fantasy and science fiction, that I loved about Phantasy Star. But it also added a new element: an Old West-style world, complete with gunslingers and ten-gallon hats. I can directly attribute the Western-like setting of Yesterday’s Demons to my love of Wild Arms and its planet, Filgaia.
Yeah, yeah, a fantasy novel was inspired by Tolkien — how shocking. But it’s actually not what you might think. Tolkien’s influence on Yesterday’s Demons does come from his status as the godfather of fantasy, of course. But Yesterday’s Demons was also influenced by the one-two punch of Tolkien’s dislike of allegory and his Catholic worldview.
It is well known that Tolkien wasn’t a big fan of the Narnia books by his friend, CS Lewis. Among other objections, Tolkien didn’t care for allegory. He felt Aslan was a too-on-the-nose stand-in for Christ. I suspect he’d be amused that in modern times I’ve heard Aslan described on the Internet as “the Jesus lion.”
But while no one would call Frodo Baggins “the Jesus Hobbit,” Frodo’s role as the Ring-bearer parallels Christ’s role as the sin-bearer. There are shades of Simon of Cyrene in Samwise Gamgee, especially when Samwise helps a beaten and exhausted Frodo bear his burden for a short time. And the OneRing was destroyed, and evil thoroughly conquered in Middle-Earth, on March 25, the day on which Christians celebrate the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary — the day on which Christ was conceived in His mother’s womb.
Tolkien’s Catholic faith was deeply important to him, and it was impossible for him to separate it from his work. He didn’t use allegory, yet his stories were inevitably and undeniably infused with Catholic morals and a Catholic worldview. And that’s pretty much exactly what I hope people will say about my own work.
Unsolved Mysteries and other true crime TV shows
How in the world do old “true crime” TV shows from the 1980s like Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911 influence a fantasy, SF, Western novel?
Some of my grandmother’s favorite shows were what we’d now call “true crime TV.” I watched many of them with her, even though they often scared the pants off of me. I was afraid to visit the restroom during an Unsolved Mysteries commercial break for fear that a criminal or alien would be standing at the window watching me. Rescue 911 gave me recurring nightmares that someone had broken into my garage. And when the annual Unsolved Mysteries Halloween episode aired featuring ghost stories? Whoa no! I didn’t sleep for days.
Fast forward to my earliest thoughts about the story that would become Yesterday’s Demons. I knew I wanted to write a fantasy, SF, Western novel. But I also knew I wanted it to be about fear — how fear controls us in ways both good and bad, how it can be both healthy and maddening. And you know what they say: write what you know! Thanks to all those paranoid fears and nightmares brought on by my grandmother’s true crime TV shows, I knew old friend fear far too well.
Every Texan I know
I moved to Texas in 2007 and I’ve never looked back and I never will. I love it in God’s country. Since Yesterday’s Demons was published, friends have told me they saw some of our mutual friends in the book’s protagonist, Siv McCaig. And they’re right… all of them, no matter which mutual friend they mentioned by name. In many ways, Siv is an amalgamation of every Texan I’ve met since living in the Lone Star State.
I have a good friend who laughs the loudest at his own jokes. I have a pair of mentors who are brothers who always refer to their father as “our father”… except when they’re talking to each other, in which case he’s always “Daddy” — and these are big, tough, barbecuing Texans. Siv wears boots and jeans and when he’s planning to do something, he says he’s “fixing” to do it… just like every native Texan I know.
So that’s it… or rather, that’s the big five that came to mind the fastest. If you like any of the items listed above and you haven’t yet given Yesterday’s Demons a try, I think you’re missing out.
And if you liked this, check out #My5 from other authors: