Films were the foundations, the origins, of my interest in speculative fiction.
I can still remember being four or five years old and watching the Saturday creature features and similar shows, with my mom. Godzilla. Dracula. Frankenstein. The Wolfman.
They were so much fun and I ate it all up.
One week, during my ill-fated attempt at playing football in first grade (I went the entire season without getting so much as a grass stain), they showed a Godzilla movie every day after school. I was so mad that I had to go to football practice and couldn’t watch these movies.
Somewhere in there, my uncle took me to the bookstore. I was maybe 4th grade. At the time, most of my reading had been history.
He purchased two books for me. One was titled Men at War (an earlier version, not the 1992 reprint), and it contained many stories about war. Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, and other greats contributed.
He also bought for me the Complete Sherlock Holmes. THAT book was a great discovery for me.
I read both, eventually rereading them some years later. When they were first purchased for me, they were a little beyond my capabilities. Still, I worked through them, and remember being pretty amazed at the stories.
Writing origins: A Wrinkle and a Short Dude
In fifth grade, our teacher, Mrs. Laurenzi, started reading aloud A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle.
To say I was mesmerized would be an understatement. I couldn’t believe such stories could actually be written. Aggravated that she wasn’t reading the book fast enough, I managed to get my hands on a copy and devoured it. Now, at 50, I can honestly say I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time, very likely, 15 or so times.
I often identify it as the book responsible for my origins as a writer.
Then came the book that made me despair as a writer. Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit excited me unlike any book ever. And if A Wrinkle In Time showed me what writer’s could do, The Hobbit showed me how so very far I had to go.
Somewhere around sixth or seventh grade, I picked up an author my mom was frequently reading: Stephen King.
The first book was ‘Salem’s Lot. To say it blew me away is an understatement. My experience with vampires was limited to the 1950s and 1960s Dracula movies.
Sauron from Lord of the Rings was a great bad guy as was IT in Wrinkle in Time. But let me tell you, Barlow was something else. For the first time, I was reading a story and was actually uncertain if the good guys were going to win. Certainly, several of the good guys had fallen, and it was quite different from the Departure of Boromir in Lord of the Rings.
I read “Salem’s Lot twice in a row then went on a King binge. The Stand, Carrie, Cujo, and more. Sometime around Needful Things I drifted away…
But in between I found others. Peter Straub, James Herbert, Dean Koontz, and one of my favorites, Robert McCammon.
I was also looking for the next Lord of the Rings, and so devoured the Shanara books, the Belgariad, and other series. Good stuff, though they never lived up.
Meanwhile the classics called my name and I delved into Lovecraft, Poe, Shelley, Stoker, and others. William Hope Hodgson anyone?
This also served as the origins for my interest in mystery. Ed McBain riveted me through dozens of 87th Precinct novels, John MacDonald, Truman Capote, Mickey Spillane, and others. My first published fiction works were mysteries.
I just couldn’t (and frankly still can’t) get enough of them.
I found myself looking for edgier and grittier reads. I discovered Robert E. Howard and Karl Edward Wagner. There were others and I delved into Grimdark, dark fiction, modern fantasy and more.
I love the lighter fare, but as I began to write seriously, darker topics are what made their way to the surface for me.
Themes included committing an act of evil but for a good cause, and other kind of gray areas that I think are fascinating to explore.
Today, as a reader, I look for unique and interesting. Something with a twist. Something hopeful but with a bit of the dark behind it.
As a writer, I simply try to write the kind of story I’d like to read.