This is the fourth part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
The next round of influential books didn’t come until I entered college. Granted, I found lots of books that I loved between the age of 12 and 18, but truly influential books are much rarer. In my freshman year, I discovered anime and manga. Last Exile was the first anime I ever watched (I’m not counting random Pokemon episodes I saw when I was little), and reading manga soon followed. A six-year obsession with all things Japanese had begun. During that time, I read and watched so much anime that I needed a list to keep track of them all. Three series stick out in my mind from that time that remain favorites and powerful influences.
The first of these was Pet Shop of Horrors by Matsuri Akino. This 10-volume series is a horror manga, not my usual genre of choice. It’s both beautiful and eerie, revolving around a pet shop in Chinatown run by the enigmatic, androgynous, and amoral proprietor known only as “Count D.” Each volume contains about four stories of various people who come into the pet shop and leave with a pet…under certain conditions. Like in Gremlins, disobeying D’s instructions as to the care and feeding of their pets often results in calamity. Sometimes the pets are helpful to their new owners, but most of the time it ends in tragedy. Weaving through these tales alongside D is Leon Orcot, a detective who is sure that D has something to do with the various mysterious deaths throughout the city, but is unable to come up with any proof.
This is the third part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
While writing these “Influential Books” posts, I’ve noticed that most of these books were read between the ages of 8 and 12. I’m pretty sure I was 11 when I picked up a copy of The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore.
It was after we’d moved, but we still came back to my hometown in Maryland occasionally. I think we stopped to get Chinese food or maybe we stopped by the hardware store. Either way, we had a little extra time, so Mom and Dad let us go into a nearby bookstore. I had $20 of birthday money in my pocket; a small fortune to me. I prowled through the shelves, not looking for anything in particular, although I always wanted to buy as many books as possible. Then I noticed the lurid cover of the February 2000 paperback Collector’s Edition of The Dark Elf Trilogy, which promised to contain the first three books of the Chronicles of Drizzt: Homeland, Exile, and Sojourn. That got my attention. I love omnibuses, origin stories, and complete sets, plus I’d never heard of a “dark elf” before, so I bought it.
This is the second part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here and Part 1 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
One of the earliest fairy tale books I remember checking out from the library was East of the Sun & West of the Moon written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer. It’s an old fairy tale and there have been different adaptations of it, most of which involve a polar bear. (One of my favorite alternate movie adaptations is the Norwegian film The Polar Bear King.) I cannot tell you how gorgeous the illustrations are, and they’ve stuck with me my whole life. Even when I forgot the title, I remembered those pictures. The girl sitting by a pond, a unicorn in the forest, the goat with the corkscrew horns, the giant green fish with scales like mirrors, the prince’s icy prison, and the evil troll queen with a wooden arrow in her heart. The beauty of these illustrations transported me into a rich, living fantasy world and have influenced my mental imagery of fantasy works ever since. It also, for a time, made me want to become an illustrator for children’s storybooks. (Each of the illustrations in Mercer Mayer’s books are done in watercolor. Watercolor! His rendition of Beauty and the Beast is equally breath-taking.) I’d searched on and off for this book for years, but my efforts were frustrated by not remembering anything except those illustrations. But recently, I stumbled across it by chance on the internet, found the title, and ordered a copy.
I just finished watching the first season of The Game of Thrones…and, to be honest, I was not especially impressed. I know I’ll probably catch hell for saying that, but it’s the truth.
Now you’re probably wondering, “But you’re a huge fantasy buff, Kat! How could you NOT like it?” So let me be clear: I do not think that The Game of Thrones was a bad or poorly done adaptation. I did enjoy watching it. HBO did a wonderful job on locations, costuming, sets, music, cinematography…all of the technical details. The level of visual detail is superb…even stunning. And it is extremely faithful to the book, which is a mark in its favor.
That being said…the characters did not really engage my sympathies. The thing that’s often overlooked when adapting fantasy is that fantasy is about people. Take away the people and all you have left is fancy window-dressing.
Those were the generalities; now, on to the specifics.
This post may contain SPOILERS! You have been warned. Proceed at your own risk!
Okay, time for another rant about movies. I know, this is a writing blog and I keep talking about films. But really, if you want to learn how to write tight, self-contained, highly visual stories, then study screen writing. Good screen writing, that is. And there seems to be less and less of that out there these days, at least in the realm of Hollywood.
CAUTION! THIS ENTRY MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
I recently had the dubious pleasure of viewing John Carter and Green Lantern. Aside from having a pulp fiction background and a male protagonist sent into space, these two movies might appear to have little in common. But actually, they have a lot in common. They suck. They don’t suck so bad that they are unwatchable, but with such rich source material it’s almost a crime how not-good they turned out. The visuals are excellent (as always, with the benefits of CGI) and the acting wasn’t horrible (although Carter and Dejah Thoris had no chemistry whatsoever, which made their romantic scenes laughable), but the screen plays were unfocused and muddled, like no one could decide exactly what movie they wanted to make. There were actually several similarities between John Carter and Green Lantern that probably contributed to their dramatic failure:
I’ll admit that I haven’t actually read the book this time. (But I do own a copy.) I did watch National Geographic’s video version that has the author, Jared Diamond, as its host covering the same material that was in the book…so I think that counts. The book, and movie, is entitled Guns, Germs, & Steel: The Fates of Human Societiesand takes an in-depth look at why there are haves and have-nots in the world. Why did European societies rise to such great technological heights while African societies, for the most part, remain under-privileged? It is not because one race is inherently superior to another…every derivation of human has its share of the talented and the talent-less, the smart and the stupid, the weak and the strong…so what caused some societies to develop rapidly while others did not? As a writer, this is a fascinating and complex question to be answered and does a lot to advance one’s world-building.
This past weekend I decided to watch BBC’s 2008 rendition of “Little Dorrit” (screenplay adaptation by Andrew Davies). I watched all 14 half-hour episodes in one night, and, the next day, went back and watched them all again. I have never read the book, but after watching this, I want to. In fact, I’m going on a Dickens kick right now thanks to “Little Dorrit.”
I’ll admit right now that I haven’t read a great deal of Dickens, although I can assure you that he wrote far more and far better works than A Christmas Carol. I’ve been various film and TV adaptations of his work, and frankly, I prefer watching a good adaptation than trying to read the books. Why? Because I’m a modern reader spoiled by modern writers and I rarely have the patience to try to wade through Victorian English prose. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of lovely pieces of dialogue and description in Dickens but it was written for another people in another era and was originally released in serial format to readers. Their form of television episodes, basically, so the style and language is very different from what I’m used to. Maybe when I’m older I will be able to appreciate Dickens’ craft better than I do now.
Either way, if you get a good writer like Andrew Davies to update the language just enough to make it accessible and to cut out the dense prose in between the action…then you’ve got one hell of a show.