Monday, January 3, 2011

My Ten Biggest Influences in Books, Movies, TV!

I think it's interesting to look back at the big influences of your life, in any form that you are passionate about.  In writing, I've narrowed it down to these ten books, movies, and TV shows.  They are in no order whatsoever, and have all given me different elements that have contributed to my writin'.   

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury 

This is the first book that I ever read that I noticed, and became concerned with, style.  And Ray Bradbury sure as hell knew how to weave beautiful sentences.  I would read each story in this book and then reread them, something I never did before.  I memorized whole paragraphs.  For a while, I imitated him.  I wanted to be Ray Bradbury.  Even his life story made me jealous.  He got his first stories published at what - nineteen?  WHAT.  Most importantly, Ray Bradbury made me believe that style IS substance.  

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 

I FREAKING LOVE GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM.  Tim Burton ripped off everything he knows from this 1920's silent movie.  I have never been more mesmerized by a film for it's beauty.  Any moment could be freeze framed and placed on your wall as a work of art.  Images are important.  And I'm in love with the macabre.  

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift 

Jonathan Swift is the most brilliant misanthrope who has ever lived.  I could list the 1,000 reasons why I love this book, but what's really stuck with me is this: you don't have to say what you think to present your views.  I hate soapboxing.  But there's always satire.  There's art to that.  Wit.  What was Jonathan Swift trying to say?  PEOPLE ARE TERRIBLE.  Gotta love this guy!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 

This was the perfect way to start my Saturday mornings as a kid, sitting back and engrossing myself in the brilliance of Mystery Science Theater 3000!  They used every form of humor in the book, and that makes them awesome.  But, as I grow older, I've realized that it wasn't just the hilarity of the writing as this cast riffed on the worst movies ever made.  It was the characters that made this show so endearing.  You take a simple but absurd idea, make quirky characters, and then you watch them grow.  Since it's cancellation, MST3K peeps have moved on doing different Riff Trax, and I'm sure they're great, but they will never match this show.  Because they don't have the spaceship.  The ridiculous robots.  The evil mad scientists.  They were important, I am telling you!    

No Country for Old Men

I watched this movie six times by myself when it was in theaters.  I'd watch people shake their heads as the credits rolled, debate endlessly of the film's merits.  I will say this: It is a perfectly executed film.  Everything here is done right, efficiently, like skilled craftsmen at the top of their game, the Coen Brothers show people how's it done.  It's stuck with me because of it's unabashed nihilism, it's fearlessness in form, it's beautiful cinematography and perfect cast, but most of all for it's embracing of the material world.  What do I mean?  This film doesn't rely on music to pinch at our heart strings.  Nor does it deal in abstractions.  This is real life and ROUGH.  By the end, when Tommy Lee Jones is sharing his dream and his fears, we're dying for a lifeline, for some hope.  The Coen Brothers do not pander, do not give us what we crave.  That's why it's so surprising.  That's why they are brilliant.

Candide by Voltaire 

This book is freaking crazy and hilarious and absurd and true.  It tears apart the idea of optimism and confront's life's atrocities, but in a way that will make you smile.  I want to write something as captivating, but will fail in this forever.

The Long Goodbye 

Robert Altman adapted this Phillip Marlowe book, except he does the brilliant move of setting it in (then) present day America (70's).  Having an honorable man trying to live by his outdated moral code while facing the evils and corruption of the American spirit, this overriding cynicism gives the movie an almost unbearable tension.  It's also weird, funny, and sometimes, terrifying.  I LOVE THIS MOVIE.  For it's conflict in narrative, for it's bravery in tone, for it's depiction of Marlowe.

Daddy's by Lindsay Hunter

I've been reading a lot of brilliant contemporary fiction writers, but none have influenced me more then Lindsay Hunter.  I think my style has freed up since reading her amazin' stories.  She's fearless.  But also, she's fun.  She's terrifying.  She's gross.  All of her stories move.  They flow effortlessly, and could and should be read aloud.  My favorite short story collection as of NOW.


This film surprised the hell out of me.  I had no idea where it was going or what the final showdown would bring.  Because I was thrown off of my filmic expectations.  This was the first film that I remember feeling like every character is a real life human being.  The violence in this western has consequences.  Everyone has good and bad elements.  Despite all of the posturing, no one wants to die.  But, because of the conflicts, the conflicting desires we all have, disaster is unavoidable.  All the workings of a perfect tragedy.

The Neverending Story

I didn't say everything was going to be good!  This movie based off of the book, The Neverending Story, released in the 80's, is not a good movie.  But it has stayed with me, almost entirely because of this one scene - the conversation between the Childlike Empress of the magical Fantasia and Atreyu, a hero of the film.  Their world, at this point, is dying, and they need the help of a human boy, who is reading this story, in saving it.  The book delves more deeply into the importance of stories and the reality of them, but here we have a scene deeper then a cheesy movie deserves.  They break the fourth wall.  The Childlike Empress tells the warrior that the human boy, Bastion, is reading their story, and someone else (us) is experiencing his, and someone is experiencing ours.  As a kid, I thought that idea was SO COOL.  I couldn't wrap my mind around it, and it made me imagine the reality of stories and the story of my life.  EVERYTHING is a story.


  1. I love this list. Especially MST3000 and The Neverending Story.

  2. Thanks, Heather! What would make YOUR list?!

  3. Tim- your description for why you listed Neverending Story is perfect. and I of course would have put Candide, too.I'm gonna start cultivating my garden RIGHT NOW.

  4. Come back to Chicago, Cecily!!!!