Influences – Part 1

“The human being is a self-propelled automaton entirely under the control of external influences. Willful and predetermined though they appear, his actions are governed not from within, but from without. He is like a float tossed about by the waves of a turbulent sea.”

-Nikola Tesla


It’s easy to think we are entirely autonomous. We live our lives inhabiting one body and only one mind. The great twist of existence is that the ‘ME’ we inhabit is fueled by a constant stream of influencers; some we are aware of, some we are not.

I’m happy to wear my influences on my sleeve.

On the literary side, the most prominent influences come from my favorite authors. I strive for a creative place where I can channel the best they have to offer without copying or parodying their style.The big names for me are Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and Ursula K. LeGuin

Terry Pratchett is a literary gift that too few know about. Not only was he amazingly funny but also painfully socially cognizant and succinct, able to discuss broader themes that wear the clothes of fantasy yet cover so much more ground. When I read Pratchett I feel like we are both sitting at a bar and he’s telling me the story.

If you are overwhelmed with his volume of work, shoot me an email. I’ve got all of his books and will happily lend you one.

Douglas Adams was the first humorous science fiction author I ever read. Back in the great dark past of 1991, I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and played the text game!) for a book report. I proceeded to read every other book that was released in that series up to that point, amazed that books could have wild ideas and be funny. Then I reread them, unaware the imprint they were leaving on my not-so-fragile teenage mind.

Ursula K. Le Guin was another author I discovered in middle school. Her writing is such beautiful, flowing prose that breathes between the words and the phrases, forcing me to pause and read a line over and over again. Many times as a writer I’ve found myself getting the words down to make a statement, but Ursula is the voice in my head asking if those words sing.

Of course, the problem when starting a list like this is that it’s terribly hard to stop adding authors.

How could I not mention the dark beauty of Stephen King? And once King is mentioned how could I even consider leaving H.P. Lovecraft off of the list. It’s an insult to these fantastic creators, on the back of which so much has been done.

I can’t manage to get a name typed onto the keyboard, and another pops into my mind, demanding it’s just regard. Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Bill Willingham: these writers have made me WEEP. How dare I not list them as an influence?

And what about the giants like Rowling, Tolkien, and Hemingway, or the undisputed comic geniuses of Watterson and Bryson? How do I even characterize (let alone not include) the comedic psychedelia of Tom Robbins?

At some point, I have to stop listing authors. It’s just too much. They are all there when I sit at the keyboard, looking over my shoulder and offering libraries full of guidance.

But what about other influences, outside the realms of authors? Sometimes they are even more important. I’ll get to that in Part 2. 

S.D. Sheldon

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