What splinters are stuck under your fingernails?

We’re pleased to once more welcome Max Gladstone, author of the excellent CRAFT series. Max is here to talk about the psychic origins of some of his influences and to ask about images and ideas that linger on in your mind. One commenter will win a copy of Max’s new book Two Serpents Rise which was one of the best books I read this year.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews

For every inspiration we admit, another lies buried. At book events (for my first book, Three Parts Dead, and for the most recent in the series, Two Serpents Rise, which just came out recently), when asked about my inspirations, I’ll go through a list of writers — Zelazny, McKinley, Dunnett, Herbert, Simmons, Pratchett — who had immense and persistent influence on my style and my sense of cool. I talk about these folks because I know them, I’ve read their work and made it a huge part of my life. But some of the landmarks on my imagination’s landscape I rarely mention, because I don’t know them anywhere near as well as the extent of their influence would suggest.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsWhen I was a kid, I slept over at a friend’s house and played this new video game called Final Fantasy VII. The first two hours or so of that game were one of the stand-out ‘what on earth is going on here I want more’ artistic moments of my childhood. I had no PlayStation, so I never played through the rest of the game, and I have no idea what story the team wanted to tell. I do remember a dark looming metropolis, trains and semiautomatic rifles and sorcery and robots and a guy with an immense sword, nuclear reactors siphoning magic out of the earth, terrorist cells and persistent surveillance and criminal syndicates and a ruined church lit by streams of sunlight and a girl who held the stars in her hand. Those images stuck. Maybe they stuck all the more because I didn’t play through the rest of the game — because I left my friend’s house the next morning with those snapshots in my head and a churning unsatisfied desire for a story to connect them.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSome other half-glimpsed sideways influences:

  • The half-broadcast of Vampire Hunter D I happened to see late night on TNT, not knowing what the hell was going on — no prior exposure to anime, but vampires and psychic powers and a talking hand what the hell.
  • Anyone else remember the cartoon show C.O.P.S.? Cyborg cops, fighting crime in a future time? Another show of which I saw half an episode at a friend’s house (no TV at home), but stuck with me. My memory’s transmuted this show into super-dark MorganGibson cybernoir; I chased down an episode a few years back and there was a lot more yellow than I remember.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas. I actually did see this movie all the way through, but the splinter worked its way so deep under my brainskin that I thought I’d made the movie up until I rediscovered it a decade later.

What about you? What psychic keyframes hover in the back of your mind, what missed artistic connections? What ideas have stayed with you far out of proportion to your engagement with the source text? What splinters are stuck under your fingernails?

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JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years. We still hear from him every once in a while.

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  1. Danielle W. /

    I love Gladstone’s series, too. Book 2 should be arriving in the mail soon!

    Many movies and games I play leave images in my brain that never seem to leave. I’m not a writer, but if I were I know they would influence my work. They are often evoked when I hear the theme music for the movies.

  2. Well, I’m not a writer but I think this kind of thing affects most everyone in some way. I love visual art. I dabble at crafts and making art and so I collect beautiful images – articles of clothing where I like the design or fabric, pictures of nature, hand crafted things that catch my fancy – and I have a notebook where I just place these images in random order. Flipping through that notebook makes me smile and always makes me think things like “I could make that!” or “That would be beautiful with a darker frame.” or “I can use this as a basis for this design of something completely different.” So I can understand having just certain bits and pieces be an inspiration.

  3. It was fun to think about this topic. I hadn’t noticed before, but all my images are from books, not movies, which is interesting because movies ARE images and the images from books come out of my own head. Also, most of those that have been really influential are from SFF novels I read when I was a kid — Heinlein and L’Engle especially.

  4. Joe Scanlon /

    I once watched about 20 minutes of The Time Machine a long time ago and saw the part where the monsters pop up from the ground and kidnap people. I continually think about a story where people can only travel between cities or parts of cities on raised highways because of this threat. I think it would be an awesome post-apocalyptic short story.

  5. Sandyg265 /

    I’m not a writer but I have to say the 1931 version of Dracula that I saw on TV as a kid. Also The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

  6. Mark Myers /

    I do a little writing, mostly for myself, and I have a lot of these psychic key frames in my mind because of a near photographic memory. I have to be careful not to let them influence me too much, though. Or meld several together so they’re something original.

  7. A lot of the images that stick with me and later find their way into my work come from nature or the everyday world; a couple arguing in the airport; a little boy sitting in a tree; a GI Joe doll on the sidewalk next to a glove. That kind of thing.

  8. And I should say that when they show up in my work, they often look nothing like the original inspiration.

  9. Barbara Elness /

    One thing I can think of is seeing Dawn of the Dead as a child, that movie really freaked me out and I’ve stayed away from horror ever since, for the most part. I decided to give the television show Walking Dead a shot, but the characters did such stupid stuff, I decided I was write to avoid horror. :D I also read A Wrinkle in Time as a child and although I can’t remember the whole story, I remember bits and pieces that have influenced me to look for more of those kinds of stories. I really need to read that book again.

  10. Still carry the vivid emotional punch of (get this) the evil Queen from Cinderella and the Seven Dwarfs (original Disney) walking past the outstretched skeletal arm of a dead prisoner, reaching for a wooden water bucket, laughing hideously, then kicking the empty bucket, spider and all over the bones. Shudder.

  11. Danielle W, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of Two Serpents Rise!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!

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