by David E. Sharp
I was not born with a laptop and a mug of black coffee in my hands. This is a fact for which my mother is still grateful. It took a lot of tragic, misguiding circumstances to set me on my course to become a writer. The story, as I tell it, goes like this:
I was browsing through a bookstore one day. I pulled a volume off the shelf to examine it. As I flipped through the pages, I felt a sharp pain in my hand. The book had given me a nasty paper cut. Thinking nothing of it, I proceeded through the day and eventually went to bed.
The following day, I found a shitty first draft in my handwriting. It got longer every night. I am now cursed to undergo a hideous transformation every night (I get scruffy whiskers and develop an unquenchable thirst for potent coffee). I fear it will continue until I receive a bad review written in silver ink, finally killing the beast!
The story, as I tell it, is a lie.
But it is also true.
I have been bitten by many books over the years, which have contributed to my curse. I spent my childhood in Middle Earth and Narnia. Later in life, I actually portrayed Mr. Tumnus on a stage. I was well prepared since Mr. Tumnus, and I had hung out lots of times.
Cover to cover, I have likely read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe more times than any other book in my life. Including multiple times through my childhood, revisited later in life on a few occasions, then read to each of my children.
Later on, I discovered Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Roger Zelazny. Sci-fi became a new kind of escape, and I especially loved The Martian Chronicles for its dark, ironic humor. I remember feeling impatient with my high school literature class when we were assigned Fahrenheit 451. I read it over a weekend, then the following Monday was asked to keep my discussion to the first three chapters.
Following that, I discovered a love for mystery novels. I loved idiosyncratic detectives like Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot, and Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed the hard-boiled wise-cracking gumshoes of Chandler and Hammett. There was nothing more satisfying than seeing all the pieces fall together.
By the time I was in college, I had realized I just had a thing for genre fiction.
The writer who drew me to the dark side. The writer who stood in a dark alley, smoking a cigarette and saying, “Psssst, you want to read some plots that will change your life?” That writer, the kingpin himself, was William Reginald Shakespeare. It is unknown whether Shakespeare had a middle name, but the cadence is more dramatic this way, and Reginald seems to fit him. Don’t you think?
I hate to talk about my love for Shakespeare because it sounds like I’m trying to come off as erudite and literary. But the truth is it is the very opposite. I enjoyed so much of Shakespeare’s work. Of all the literary fiction I read throughout my academic career, Shakespeare had actual plots with twists and violence and characters who made terrible decisions. I could get behind Shakespeare because the characters had a real conflict.
Typically everyone was trying to kill them, betray them both externally and within themselves. I loved seeing Hamlet feign madness. I relished Macbeth hallucinating the ghost of his dead friend Banquo. All of those kings and princes axing one another like they’re in a George R. R. Martin novel thrilled me. And that whole thing where the queen of the fairies fell in love with a donkey, don’t get me started. The works of Shakespeare made me love character and plot, and from that point, writing was in my blood.
I returned to C.S. Lewis, but this time visited his nonfiction works. I loved his cerebral approach to spiritual concepts and his logical style. His work A Grief Observed, in which he journals about the tragic loss of his wife to cancer, was heartbreaking but supremely insightful to me. Worth a mention, I began ignoring my professor’s advice on writing papers. I started emulating Lewis’s style to present my ideas. My grades improved.
My adult influences have only exploded.
I have loved everything from the picture books of Oliver Jeffers to The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. Give me the odd stories of Edgar Cantero and Peter Clines and the numerous small press and indie books, including How to Break an Evil Curse by Laura Morrison. Four Color Bleed by Ryan McSwain. Even several gems I have discovered from some NCW authors. (I’m not just saying it. It’s true!) Plus a fair amount of Neil Gaiman. I loved Sandman, Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, and American Gods.
My attempt to read Coraline as a bedtime story to my children lasted until chapter three. Apparently, they only want books that give them happy dreams or some such nonsense. Neil Gaiman was also heavily influenced by C. S. Lewis, so we have come full circle.
Throughout all of this, however, there was one last common theme.
I love a book that can make me laugh.
Throughout all my impressionable years, I have read the likes of Bone by Jeff Smith. Poured over the Calvin and Hobbes Treasuries from Bill Waterson. Chuckled through the skipped parts of The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Marveled at the answer in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Ad A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, The Mouse that Roared by Leonard Wibberley, John Dies at the End by David Woo, and the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett.
What the hell? I’ll even throw in The Monster at the End of this Book featuring Grover the monster. Comedic gold.