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Why I started to write

January 4, 2012

Oh the cruel, bitter irony of this post. Here I am, in the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts (my favorite spot, the upper floor, between FICTION DAL-ERD and FICTION ERD-GED), a text document open in the background, a short story, and I’m writing a blog post about why I started to write.

When I was a kid, I read a lot. I mean, a lot. There wasn’t a single Brian Jacques (of Redwall fame) or Anne McCaffery (of Dragons etc. fame) novel I did not read. I read most of Piers Anthony’s work. Before then, I read every Hardy Boys book, lots of old mythology, mystery.

All these things definitely formed my foundation, considering my love of both the fantastic and the detective. But there were two profound influences on my love of writing, one traditional and one nontraditional: the Wizard of Earthsea trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin and the video game Planescape: Torment.

Earthsea reached me at a very important point in my life. I’d just read C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series (not The Lion but every book, including the obvious best Horse and His Boy and the Christian analogy The Last Battle where everyone but Susan goes to heaven), and my mother gave me her early edition copies of Wizard of Earthsea, all three books. I still have them. She gave them to me, and I read them, and I was entranced. Here was an author who wrote with brief, brilliant intensity, with little wasted language and tons of high ideas. Even more vitally it was a book that told an isolated fantasy story and felt at odds with “tradition”, which I was growing tired of. Here was a story not about an external adventure but rather internal ones, about changes in character rather than epic, world-spanning jaunts. Even then I knew I wasn’t the type of person to experience massive, all-encompassing quests, but the individual aspects of Earthsea I could relate with, I could experience for myself.

Planescape: Torment on the other hand…

When I was in high school I worked for my local parish. Namely, I went there two afternoons a week and answered the phone for four hours. It was a good job: it paid me a fairly decent amount of money for a high schooler, it required absolutely no work (the most callers I ever had to deal with was eight. That included my parents twice), and I got to sit around and listen to Rush, do homework, and play video games. I loved the Infinity Engine games because they could run on my laptop and didn’t require a lot of sudden movement, so I could use a trackpad to play them without much effort.

Planescape I played about five times in those years. It’s not only a classic of video game storytelling that’s influenced every word I’ve written about video games (better stories, at this point, have been told through video games, I’m convinced, but it’s still pretty incredible) but it also got me thinking of things in a less linear manner: what was important to a story wasn’t tradition, wasn’t trope, but instead you could do interesting things with setting, with characters, and tell a story that was unique and powerful.

These two things have, in large part, influenced everything I’ve ever written, be it fantasy or a story set in a family’s living room. That sense of wonder has always been something I’ve tried to convey.

Of course, other authors have influenced me tremendously, some before and more after. But I’m willing to leave that until another time. I have a story to write, after all.

One Comment
  1. I shared a similar childhood experience with you on Wizard. Stumbled upon it when I was around ten, and the Earthsea series has with been me ever since. Haven’t played Torment, but I know it is widely considered one of the best videogame stories ever written. Good stuff.

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