Or is it? I’ve been thinking lately about how what I consume for entertainment makes its way back out in my writing. How deeply am I influenced by the crazy and widely varied stuff I watch or read? I seek out all things spooky in every form and yet, I do not write horror or even supernatural characters or situations. Most writers I know are devoted readers of their favorite authors or genre and they often write in the same genre they enjoy reading. But me, I do not.
Granted, I’ve read many of the more ‘classic’ works in the BDSM cadre (Pauline Reage, Laura Reese, Anne Rice, Chris Owen/Jodi Payne), but I did so to learn the lay of the land more than a genuine titillation for the subject. I was not able to read E.L. James’s novels as the writing, quite frankly, put me off. And in case anyone is in any way interested, I do not practice BDSM. I’m fascinated by the psychology of the practice and the mindset of those involved, but I have never been interested in pursuing it for personal enjoyment. I’m afraid readers might think I’m a wild, dangerous leather lover like my characters, but I simply couldn’t be duller.
But we read fiction to escape, right? We wish to be immersed in a fantasy that’s so well told, it feels absolutely real and plausible. This is certainly my motivation when I choose my next read. But as a lover of our language, I also read to be moved by the music of it. Certain writers are far greater wordsmiths than yarn-spinners, and vice versa. Once in a while, though, the two converge so remarkably that the work is transcendent—as was the case (in my opinion) with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.
I tend to follow authors and actors more than genres of writing or filmed entertainment. That practice leads me to watching and reading things I wouldn’t have chosen otherwise—which can be good and bad. I hate romantic comedy films and I do not read traditional romance novels (well, save for those written by my friends), but I have watched every single ‘rom com’ that Hugh Grant ever made just because Hugh Grant was in it. Some of them weren’t too bad, thankfully. I like suspense and a little spine-tingling in stories. Five of the best dramatic movies I’ve ever seen are: The Godfather, The Others, Michael Clayton, The Usual Suspects and The Green Mile. I like horror and ghosts and monsters as much as I like espionage and smart capers. But again, I write in none of those genres, yet I feel the influence of these works very keenly in my writing.
As far as comedy goes, I’m a bit of a snob. I don’t respond to base physical comedy or prat falls, I don’t think bathroom humor is in any way funny. Five of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen are Four Weddings and a Funeral, Ocean’s Eleven (the Clooney remake), O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Lake Placid. Seriously, if you like smart humor and you’ve never seen Lake Placid, you’re missing something awesome. I quote that movie’s dialogue often.
As I age, I find I prefer television over the cinema, because I like to spend more time inside a story than can be explored successfully in a 2-3 hour movie. I like big stories with lots of characters and lots of stuff going on (like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The X-Files, M.A.S.H., Downton Abbey, Outlander, The Tudors, Sons of Anarchy, Lost, Justified, Banshee, Da Vinci’s Demons, to name a few). I like serialized movies, but tend to wait until they’re all made so I can binge them all at once. I think I’ve been waiting my entire life for services like Netflix and Prime Instant Video.
Our culture seems to be leaning toward bigger, broader stories like the ones mentioned above, as opposed to quick and easy bites of entertainment (like sit coms). I hope our culture is leaning this way because we are growing intellectually and now require more layers of stimulus to keep our interest. I want us to use our brains when we’re being entertained. I think it makes us all better members of society. As a personal consumer, my tastes tend more toward male-oriented entertainment, which I also find coming out in my writing. I recently binged an Amazon original series called Bosch starring the talented Titus Welliver, that’s based on the novel series by Michael Connelly. It’s a hard-boiled detective story and I loved it. I think Stephen King loved it, too, because I’m seeing many echoes of it in his new series about a detective named Bill Hodges. He was clearly influenced by either the novels or the filmed series (or both), and that made its way into his work.
I follow Anne Rice on her very lively Facebook page and she often comments about the things she’s watching. She seems to be a widely varied consumer, as well, and I wonder if she sees all those different influences enhancing her own work. Blessedly, I saw no hint of Fifty Shades of Grey in Mrs. Rice’s new Sleeping Beauty book. I was very glad for that.
I hope that the things I enjoy are strengthening my writing in some unseen way, regardless of any connection to the erotic romance genre. I just bought a novel by one of my all-time favorite authors, Jay McInerney, that I somehow missed and I’m looking forward to reading it when I finish Mr. King’s book Finders Keepers. I read Mr. McInerney because he’s such an amazing poet, although not always that strong a storyteller. I can only hope that a little of both Mr. King’s yarn-spinning and Mr. McInerney’s wordsmithing will enrich my progress on Book 2 of Arabesque.