25 Writers

The other day, my blog-friend Michael May listed 25 writers that had influenced him, apparently as part of a meme on this newfangled contraption the kids like to ride today called the Facebook. I promised I would participate and list my own, and well, it took a while, but here it is.

I think part of the problem for me was determining just what "influence" meant. After all, am I not influenced by everyone I meet, everything I see, hear and read, everything that happens to me? And just how am I influenced? As a writer? If you somehow made a complete works of Siskoid, you'd find (in addition to these bloggly articles): a few zines and mini-comics, some literary essays I'm proud of, terrible poetry, unpublished scripts for various comics projects, role-playing scenarios, newspaper pieces, lots of articles about improv and CCGs, press releases, inspirational speeches, maybe some correspondance... But I think the most writing I do is actually in my improv work. For more than 20 years, I've been in the improv world, committing acts of "instantaneous writing". Sure, it's not the same, it's ephemeral and performed at the same time it's written, but I think writerly influences definitely come into play there, and have helped me develop my "samurai code".

And of course, there are those influences that have simply changed your mind, tastes and life, and perhaps opened doors to yet more written words that would do the same. So enough with the preamble, except to say this: The writers below are not there because they are my favorites (though many of them are), they're there because I can say they significantly influenced me. Various mediums are referenced. And they are in no significant order, except one I found aesthetically pleasing.

1. William Shakespeare - Michael called it a cliché (and nonethless put him on his list), but anyone who knows me, knows just how important Shakespeare is to me. I actually see the world through the filter of analogy and metaphor, thinking like a Shakespearian character. Which I am, which we all are, in a sense. I totally agree with Harold Bloom who says Shakespeare invented the modern human thanks to characters who could influence THEMSELVES by hearing themselves speak. Which is totally what I think Shakespeare's given me.

2. Jorge Luis Borges - I was discussing something I'd written with a mentor of mine back in the day when he asked me if I'd read any Borges. I hadn't, but he thought it would inform my writing. He was right. I totally clicked with Borges' unique short story as faux-critical essay and the metaphors he used. Again, this helped me not only in my writing, but in forming my entire world view.

3. Grant Morrison - Speaking of Borges, here's a comics writer who has obviously been influenced by him. Morrison not only made me see comics in a new and enlightening way in the days of Animal Man and Doom Patrol, but also sent me to the library looking for dada, surrealism, Lovecraft and mystic texts. He's certainly one of the reasons I've got so many book shelves in my house today.

4. Harold Bloom - I wanted to put a critic on here, because one of my favorite modes of writing is literary criticism, and since I already mentioned Bloom, he's it. Every time I read one of his books, it makes me want to read or re-read a ton of books, which is always a good thing. Further, critics like him have helped clarify my intuitive ability to analyze everything aesthetically. I've always done it, but they've sharpened my tools.

5. Robert Gravel - Who, you ask? This late, great Quebec actor shaped my life more than anyone in this list. Probably more than anyone I've ever met (and I did manage to meet him just the once). He basically created the improv games we play here in French Canada and elsewhere, the ones that suspciously look like ice hockey. Watching him on public access, he was immediately the player I wanted to model myself after - literate and respectful, yet not pretentious - and I still find wisdom today in his book "L'impro" despite having myself become an "improv guru" and having taken improv in new and different directions over the years. Not only has improv been an important (sometimes too important) part of my life, it's also formed my character, fine-tuned my abilities, and given me a code of conduct. Merci Robert.

6. Julian Barnes - In the early-to-mid-90s, I seriously got into postmodernism, an aesthetic point of view that I carry with me to this day. Ushering me into that world, was francophile Brit author Julian Barnes. If nothing else, he taught me something about shifting (and untrustworthy) points of view.

7. Douglas Coupland - Also part of that cohort, Coupland manages to perfectly capture Gen-Xers. So did he influence me? Or did the rest of us influence him? He just seems to have put on paper what I was thinking before or while I was thinking it.

8. Chuck Palahniuk - For much the same reasons, though from a different angle. They say Fight Club has become scripture for a certain generation, and I guess that means me. That short book spoke volumes. I am totally the kind of person who hates to be reduced to his job or home town or whatever it is the old folks ask.

9. William Blake - Studying him in college was a transformative experience. On the one hand, you have his marriage of pictures and words. On the other, an invented cosmogony. And on the third hand (it's Blake, it's allowed), the whole philosophy of perception = creation. How could it not capture my imagination and point of view?

10. Dante - Though obviously, a young literate man will be interested in the map of Hell, it's really Dorothy Sayers' breautiful translation that made me appreciate Dante for what it was - a grand moral allegory. Another brick in the wall as far as my thought process goes.

11. The Bible writers - How can your Judeo-Christian heritage NOT mold you even if you've since perhaps fallen off the wagon? My faith borders on the atheistic (I know, dirty word these days), but I still find great beauty, meaning and guidance in the Bible. Whether that's the J Writer's Old Testatement mythic fables and histories or the New Testament's Gospels. Even Paul's Epistles, which I find a dangerous subversion of the Gospels' lessons, still teach me something about the persuasive power of words.

12. From Herodotus to Robert Graves... Greek myth - Though I think the Bible is more than mythology, I can't help but think I've always viewed it through the lense of Greek myth. Indeed, Greek myth is probably responsible for my general interest in both fantasy and history.

13. Bloggers like you - I'd be lying if I said I came up with the concept of a "comic book blog". Heck, the layout I use looks just like the dearly departed Dave's Long Box! But despite Dave Campbell being my "first", there have been many. If you're in my blog roll (and even if you're not and I've visited your space), you've probably influenced me. It's an organic community, I find, and one I'm happy to add to.

14. Gene Roddenberry - Star Trek has, I admit, played a vital role in my upbringing. I find I still espouse Roddenberry's crucial values of humanism and idealism, no matter what real life throws at me.

15. Franz Kafka - Kafka writes by subtraction, which is something I've noticed in my improv work of late. I don't like to give things away, but rather tease the audience with as few facts as possible. If the improv is long enough, they may puzzle out the mystery definitely. If not, it retains its openness to interpretation (which is something of a feat in that medium). Kafka's auto-editorial process taught me some interesting lessons.

16. Lord Alfred Tennyson - Can a writer be here because of a single work? I think so. While Tennyson has a lot of pieces I admire, it's his Ulysses that most influences me. In fact, it's one line: "I am become a name." Can someone be on this list for a single line? Yes, when that line has forced me to ask some profound questions about my own identity and perception thereof, questions that have led me to actually amend my "self".

17. Daniel Pennac - Another writer listed for a single work, and that work is Comme un roman (Like a Novel), a book-length essay that discusses, in part, how to teach a love for reading. Not an easy task. Most influential for its drafting of controversial "Readers' Rights", which I have striven to grant myself.

18. Oscar Wilde - Sure, I'm a fan of his work, but Wilde never had any qualms about making his life a work of art as well. He's influenced my public persona, my repartee techniques, and my sense of irony.

19. Hergé - Who do I credit with an enduring love of the comics medium? It has to be Hergé. At a very young age (like, three), I was handed a Tintin and the rest is history. I read all the major French-language bandes dessinées and emptied my local library of everything they had by the time I was 12. I learned to read and speak English in Archie and Richie Rich's classroom. And, well, you've seen the blog.

20. Philip K. Dick - I can't, for the life of me, credit a writer for a similar interest in science-fiction. TV and movies were probably responsible and not that old (translated) copy of I, Robot. But I WILL credit Philip K. Dick for blowing the doors of SF right off their hinges (for me, I mean). I think my first taste was Ubik, not a major novel by any means, but just what I needed to revitalize my faith in the genre at a time when I might just as well have abandoned it.

21. Douglas Adams - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a serious (haha, you know what I mean) step towards the realization of my sense of humor, both written and improvized (falling into my hands about a year before improv did).

22. The Rheostatics (Martin Tielli, Dave Bidini and Tim Vesely) - My favorite band, three members of which write songs. I think they taught me more about being Canadian than any number of civics classes did.

23. Dave Sim - An odd choice, especially given his inflammatory rhetoric starting ±midway into Cerebus, but I think a sound one. Sim's documents on how to self-publish were immensely helpful in projects I both succeeded and failed to bring to term. I also found a lot of truth in both the multiple roles a character/person might play over the course if their lives and in the whole Cirinist debate before it became about full-blown misogyny. As Sean Penn said at this year's Oscars, sometimes artists don't make it easy to like their work.

24. Rachel Pollack - Another odd choice, and it's really not for her work on Doom Patrol or any other comics. It's her Vertigo Tarot. See, I've been interested in the tarot since I was 12 and reading occult magazines, but I never really understood how it worked or how you could meaningfully conduct readings until I read her theory on the narrative structure of the tarot. I don't believe in the occult, but I do find the tarot an interesting psychological tool and am rather well-known for my readings (so much so I now usually hide my abilities).

25. Mad Magazine writers - There's a lot of Funny in my life. From improv to this very blog to every single human being who's gotten the sharp edge of my tongue (thanks for not ALL beating me up). Though not considered cool anymore, Mad is where I learned to construct a joke. Even the Lighter Side of... Hippies, though incredibly outdated by the 1980s still had something to teach about joke structure. So I finish off my list with a broad category of people that has included the likes of Sergio Aragones, Al Jaffee, Don Martin, Dave Berg, and many whose names I've since forgotten.


Michael May said…
Fantastic list. I love the thought you put into it and the focus on life influences (as opposed to the hastily contrstructed list of literary influences I came up with).

You've also convinced me that I keed to read some Kafka. Your description of his strength is something I've been actively thinking about improving in my own stuff (and life) for a few months now.
Siskoid said…
I was most convinced by the Pleides edition (it's in French) that includes every surviving draft and where he cut lines and why. Now that's "complete works"!
Sea-of-Green said…
GREAT list, Siskoid -- Very well though-out and explained, and refreshingly honest.

>>Tennyson - Can a writer be here because of a single work?<<

Why not? Most authors are scrutinized for single works, anyway (Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights; Bram Stoker: Dracula; etc.). Look at Wilde. The man published only one novel, but OH what a novel!
Anonymous said…
Aw, no What If?

Seems to be a good list though.
Siskoid said…
Murder Week (and its aftershocks, was working tonight and will again tomorrow, after which... 5 day weekend?? DO I DARE?!?) has unfortunately put my behind on both What If and Doctor Who (so the features with questions in them).

Both should see the light of day before the weekend though.
Alden said…
After reading your list of favorite writers, I feel disheartened now that I've realized I don't read nearly enough books. I need to get more cultured.

I still haven't finished Don Quixote!

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to actively pursue reading, because every time I start I find some distraction to keep from the books.
Michael May said…
I have to carve out time for reading. Schedule it like a date. Otherwise it gets crowded out with other stuff.

I only read a little at a time. Maybe 20 pages a day of whatever novel I'm working on. I'm not fast, but I can finish a typical novel in 2-4 weeks that way. If I try to read more than that in a day, I usually can't find the time, so I give up completely. I'd rather read slowly than not at all.
Siskoid said…
Believe it or not, I'm in the same boat. It's hard to find time, especially when you've given yourself the mission to consume so much media each week.

My special reading time is when walking to and from work. It's a 20minute walk I could do blindfolded, so it's really no problem, and during the summer, I can easily get in 80 minutes of reading per day (that's 40-80 pages a day depending on the book). I usually go through a book a week that way,

Winters are killer though. Not really possible, so my reading habitually dries up.
Austin Gorton said…
Indeed, Greek myth is probably responsible for my general interest in both fantasy and history.

Me too! As a kid I devoured my dad's beaten-up copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology again and again, and I have no doubt that my love of history, science fiction and especially super hero comics books springs from it.
Siskoid said…
As a wise man once said, all the pieces matter.
Alden said…
That wise old man also said:

"Hah mishy gishy gushy gushy mishy meshy mushy, motherf***er"

The English language at it's finest.