I have the great privilege of teaching creative writing professionally, which means I spend nearly as much time fielding questions about writing from my students as actually reading their work — or writing my own, for that matter.
Often, my students agonize over their work being “too much like” other things. If someone mentions during workshop that so-and-so’s short story reminds them of [Fill in the the Blank], there’s this automatic fear reaction from the author. They don’t want to be seen as derivative, un-creative, or (God forbid) a plagiarist. I’ve made the mistake of drawing parallels between x and y when talking about student writing, only to find the compliment I thought I’d carefully crafted sent the poor kid plunging into despair
I can get behind a mortal dread of and aversion toward plagiarism, certainly. But fearing the way your work has been shaped by other things you’ve read, or seen, or just plain loved? That’s one of the best parts about writing. It’s a change to talk about the worlds you’ve absorbed, to reimagine things in combination with your imagination.
There are many works I could cite as key influencers for The Nine and broader world. Some of them I had explicitly in mind as a wrote, and others simply insinuated themselves into my smallest writing gestures, the way you absorb the habits of an old friend as you talk over coffee, mirroring them without quite consciously realizing it.
Back-cover blurbs can only tell you so much about what to expect from a book, and with The Nine‘s release still far off on November 14, maybe you want to do a little homework and find out more about what’s in store. If you’ve liked or loved any of the following, then there might just be something in The Nine for you.
- Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series – Do you like vast political conspiracies with a theological twist? How about plucky orphans, shape-shifting soul mates, powerful witches, and giant sentient war bears? Treachery, love, Pyrrhic sacrifice, and battles waged across multiple layers of reality? If you don’t like these things, it’s safe to say I don’t understand you at all, because the collusion of theology and science that frames Pullman’s world was the inspiration for the Ecclesiastical Commission and the skullduggery that draws in the heroes of The Nine.
- Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings – Not a novel by any means, and not a collection of short stories, Borges’ Book is a fantastical collection of coy, tantalizing encyclopedia entries about fantastical beings from all over the globe. Look up the entry on the Lamed Wufniks to see the first breadcrumb that sent me down this trail.
- Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen – As a life-long comics reader (most especially the X-Men books from the late eighties to the early aughts), I have an indelible interest in super heroes and other characters living strange, secret lives in the margins of things. Moore and Gibbons’ story follows super heroes after they’ve put the life behind them (to varying degrees of success), exploring the damage they’ve done to themselves and the impossibility of outliving or running your past.
- Joss Whedon’s Firefly – A space western science fiction television series? As an inspiration for a dark clockpunk fantasy? Yup. And here’s why: Whedon’s talent for snappy, bantering dialogue that offers tiny peeks behind the curtain of backstory has long been a model for me, and I’m a sucker for his theme (consistent across nearly every large-scale project he’s touched) of “found families.” You learn as much about these characters’ relationships from what they DON’T say as what they do, which remains a guiding principle in my own writing, years after I watched the series for the first time.
- Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence novels – There’s so much to love in Max Gladstone’s writing, it’s hard to sum up its influence over me in a few short sentences. It has so much to recommend it. Rich, multi-textured and multi-cultural settings across a vast globe we’ve yet to see explored to its farthest horizons, certainly. A brilliant, gutsy fusion of technology, magic, and law as the motive apparatus of government and economy, absolutely. But often overlooked, especially in the shadow of other authors who use vast casts of characters, like George R.R. Martin, is his ability to use a variety of point of view characters in close third person, bobbing the reader between and among different perspectives of the plot, with each character’s emotions and perspectives as clear and compelling as the last. My critique partners have compared by use of multiple third person perspectives to GRRM, but it’s really Gladstone I had most in mind.
There are, of course, a dozen other influences on my writing, large and small, I could name – Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards Sequence, Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, and N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms all spring to mind. But the headliners of this post are truly where I’ve begged, borrowed, and been inspired most.