Influences and Inspirations

None of us create in a vacuum. This principle holds true for musicians, filmmakers, writers--- really, anyone who sets out in any creative enterprise. At the conscious and subconscious levels, our thought processes are imitating, translating, and adapting the works of our predecessors into something both alike and altogether new.


I won't make any claims as to how helpful or productive it is to take a moment and reflect on our various influences, but I would claim that it is enjoyable and has a certain, wholesome vibe. Not to be misunderstood, this exercise does not mean trying to fit things into certain boxes or to strictly contain creations with labels. Instead, I find that most creators, when they have surveyed at least the inspirations that they can point to, find that they have drawn from a singularly unique pool. Then, one can remind themselves that all of their influencers were at one point, finding their own inspirations.


For this post, I'm looking a little more in depth at what I can identify as the inspirations for my first two books, and subsequent books in my Lovecraftian series. For the record, I will only mention in passing H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, as I have already paid tribute to them in the preface of Spring City Terror. As they represent such colossal figures within the genre that my works could not possibly exist as they are without them, their influence cannot be overstated.


I have not before spelled out some of the other authors and works who have influenced me, so here goes! I hope this may lead some of you to unexpected and enjoyable reads.


Of course, a pillar of my writing will always be history. Not that Cthulhu and Thalmak et. al have revealed themselves in our own histories as of yet, but rather, that the details of the setting are authentic: the cities, technology, culture, and characters. My objective is first for the surrounding setting to be immediately believable and immersive, that the society's façade and beliefs resonate with what can be known of the era. Another component is for the soul of the myths--- both historical and invented, to be deep and rooted with the long-associated traditions and history of the cultures involved. Strong myth-building is always key, as the lore serves both as the backdrop for the investigation and as the horrific revelation of old realities attempting to reimpose themselves in the present.


For Spring City Terror, most of my knowledge of the surface legends and local history was contextual, built up by working in and living close to the Waukesha area over years. Ocean's Grave, on the other hand, drew from Medieval East Asia, specifically artifacts and figures from the Tang Dynasty. To this I owe my initial enchantment and interest in this period of history to Charles Benn's delightful survey, China's Golden Age, which I was fortunate enough to digest under the instruction of Dr. Daniel Meissner of Marquette University. I have yet more to unpackage from some of the literature and philosophy encountered in this class, a favorite source text of mine to return to is the Buddhist monk Kenko's Essays in Idleness from Japan's Kamakura period. How or when that tie-in will ever surface, I cannot say!


To return to the Lovecraftian fold, I must acknowledge that my interpretation of the mythos is less faithful to Lovecraft's style and more in-tune with the styles of the tabletop RPG campaign books of Chaosium. For those not familiar, campaign books present grand, fully-envisioned scenarios, with all of the secret machinations and summoning plans of the leading cultists and insane known only to the "Keeper" (D&D Equivalent- Dungeon Master/DM). In turn, the Keeper is responsible for presenting the surface events and dangers to a group of player "Investigators," presenting as fair a challenge as possible within the deadly and maddening world to keep things moving forward, whatever the cost to the health or sanity of the player characters.



These types of adventure books have added emphasis of action, direct confrontations with the eldritch, and constant interaction between dozens of characters that are more fundamentally similar to how I construct and perceive my own books, rather than the consistently lofty and opaque style of Lovecraft. One could even say that I intend for my books to play out largely as campaign-book adventures, and I see the scale of the plots growing accordingly. Of these, some of the books that I have had the pleasure to encounter and wholeheartedly recommend, whether for playing according to the "Call of Cthulhu" rules, or simply to read, include (but are not limited to) the following: Larry DiTillio and Lynn Willis's Masks of Nyarlathotep, Kevin Ross's Escape from Innsmouth, and Tim Wiseman's Tatters of the King. For those of you anticipating my third book, let me say now that Wiseman's work was especially thought-provoking.


I am of course, devouring whatever Lovecraftian fiction and video and board games that I can manage to find the time for these days, and I am delighted that the tendrils of the mythos continue to penetrate the tremendous imaginations of contemporary authors. I think Neil Gaiman deserves a lot of credit for his seminal Study in Emerald, but of course, the author I am most impressed by is James Lovegrove, for not only matching Gaiman's seamless integration of Cthulhu into Baker Street, but also in constructing a broad-spanning and epic narrative, linking numerous, distinctive cases.


Now, as therapeutic and head-clearing as it is to trace these inspirations and influences, I have my own march to carry out, and the drum beat is picking up. Can you hear it too?


Thanks for reading.

-SMM-


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