Monday, May 13, 2013

So What Has Shaped You?

We are all the result of our past. Our experiences mold the person we are today. I was talking with another writer, and we were discussing all the things that have inspired us in one way or another. Then we focused on our writing. What has shaped us as writers?

Here's what's shaped me:

Childhood Book: I discussed the children's book, Ma Liang and the Magic Paintbrush, on here before. It's a wonderful Chinese mythology picture book. I still have it. I must have read it (at least looked at the pictures) hundreds of times. This book fostered my love for reading, especially world mythology.

Childhood Movie: This one's easy. Star Wars. I was 5 years old. I saw it in the Philippines, actually. King Arthur, Beowulf, old Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers, and the Japanese samurai film, The Hidden Fortress. These are all the things I still love today.
And then when I came back to the States, we saw it again in a drive-in theater. This movie has everything a kid could want: cool battle scenes, spaceships, and an awesome villain. Star Wars draws from

Hobbies: Martial arts. Maybe it's because it's in my family, but I loved learning how to fight. I studied Escrima/Kali, Chinese Kenpo, and Kom Da Kwon. I got in a few scraps as a kid (and young adult), but I stopped training when my first child came along. Martial arts has helped me with writing my fight scenes. Not many writers know what it's like to get roundhouse kicked to the head, or to smash your knee into some one's solar plexus. I draw from experience when writing fight scenes, because using movies are your guide is so inaccurate.

Bruce Lee WITH Escrima sticks!
Bruce Lee: Apart from the cool martial arts and the good vs evil storylines, Bruce Lee made a huge impact in my life. Asian men aren't often depicted as the hero in films. We're either weak nerdy losers or deadly villains. And the Hollywood white-washing makes me sick (i.e. The Last Airbender). Bruce Lee showed me that Asians can be the good guys. We can be the heroes. And nothing illustrates this better than Bruce Lee giving Chuck Norris a beat-down in Return of the Dragon.

Great Teachers: I was lucky to have a bunch of them. In college, Dr. Hirschfield was "My Captain." He was controversial as hell, and got in big time trouble with the University. He was a published poet who wrote about escaping Nazi Germany with his mom and little brother. In creative writing class, I showed him a big binder of my work, and he encouraged me to read them out loud in class. He told me that I was a novelist (and a horrible poet, which I knew), and that I needed to pursue it. Or else he'd kick my ass. I believe he eventually was fired.

The Classics: With my degree in English, I read a lot of the classics. Beowulf, Moby Dick, The Odyssey, The Count of Monte Cristo, and everything by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne of course. But I am heavily influenced by all of Shakespeare's works. I remember reading and studying all of his plays: Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet. I love the drama and the witty dialogue. Shakespeare was the king of dramatic irony. When the reader knows more than the characters, it really increases the tension.

Robert Cormier
Robert Cormier: I didn't read a whole lot of YA Lit in middle school and high school. I liked the grown up stuff. So when I took a YA class in college in pursuit of my English teaching degree, I felt like I had missed an entire universe of books. Robert Cormier's works spoke to me the most. The Chocolate War, After the First Death, I am the Cheese...all of his books were so damn edgy. That's why his books are always banned by schools. Cormier was the first YA author to give readers unhappy endings. The world isn't always fair, and bad things happen to good people. But in his books, the main characters are ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances.

In his book, I am the Cheese, there's a phone number on one of the pages. It was Cormier's actual home phone number! I was a high school English teacher, and we were reading After the First Death, so I decided to call him and ask him about the ambiguous ending. His wife answered, and she handed the phone to him. He was so gracious, and we spent a good 15 minutes talking about his book. Then we got to talking about writing. He told me to keep plugging away, no matter what. He even told me to call him next year, but he passed away a year later.

I continue to plug away. Every day.

What has inspired YOU?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

His actual phone number was in the book? Whoa! That is cool you got to speak with Cormier.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Great post, Jay. I read Cormier when I was a kid, and learning now about how you talked to him, etc, makes me like his work even more. I read everything from Judy Blume to Stephen King as a kid, and I remember wanting so much to be able to make other people feel the way reading made me feel. :)

Jay Noel said...

Alex: It was pretty cool. He would talk to anybody that called, if he was available.

Madeline: I didn't do Judy Blume, but ALL the girls loved her books. She was very edgy too! These days, we're happy just to see a kid with a book.

Laura Eno said...

Wow! That's amazing, your story about Cormier. I don't know any of his writing.
Yeah, I was stuck describing a couple of Taekwondo moves from videos. :/ Don't hurt me. :)

Miranda Hardy said...

Great influences! I see why we write well together. We have a lot of the same influences.

Pk Hrezo said...

Wow Jay that is awesome. Good for you for calling him. Love that you did that.
It's so interesting to think of what shapes us. I was shaped by a lot of the same 80s movies and of course classics. Always been a classics fan. I think a lot of 80s TV sitcoms shaped me as well, since that's what we did--in all our couch potato glory. But as a nearly 40 year old, I have to say much of who I am today was shaped by the music of the 90s.

Jay Noel said...

Laura: You should take a self-defense course - for obvious reasons, but it's a good way to get an idea what it's like. I took a couple kendo lessons before I did my sword fighting scenes.

Miranda: YUP! That's probably why our partnership works.

Pk: Music of the college days! Love 80s sitcoms. My first blog was on 80s sitcomes, but I think it lasted 5 posts.

Michael Offutt, "Johnny on the Spot" said...

Art done by Michael Whelan, the writings of countless sci-fi and fantasy books, and I would be remiss not to mention DUNGEONS & DRAGONS!

PT Dilloway, Grumpy Bulldog said...

That's cool you were able to get him on the phone. I don't think I'd ever use a current home phone number in a book. I don't think I use actual phone numbers at all because then you get into a situation like with that 867-5309 song where everyone called that number and hassled a bunch of people who had nothing to do with the song.

DEZMOND said...

I adored FLASH GORDON too along with DUNE films! Loved me and still love me soap operas :)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Thanks for sharing the different things that helped shape you Jay.

Dana said...

Great post! I love that you were able to speak with Cormier. How wonderful that must have been! To receive writing encouragement from someone like him must have been absolutely amazing.

David List said...

That's crazy that you called and got to speak with him. I love Bruce Lee. I especially love his quotes.
I like the stories behind some of the classics but find that I don't always have the patience to endure that style of writing for the long haul

Jay Noel said...

Michael: Michael Whelan...that's good stuff.

PT: I'm pretty sure people all over with that number got pissed off!

Dez: Flash Gordon is the Godfather of sci-fi movies.

Sheena: Thanks!

Dana: It was pretty surreal. I was so nervous.

David: I wouldn't have the patience either, but I was paying for college out of my own pocket, so I paid attention.

Rusty Webb said...

Great list, what inspired me? I dunno, Marvel Comics, all those great cheesy sf & fantasy movies of the early and mid eighties. A few encouraging adults along the way.

Anonymous said...

I love this!

I may have to think upon this.

Morgan said...

Wonderful influences, Jay! Such a fun post!

Julia Hones said...

Life experiences have shaped me. Books I loved reading, writers and artists that I admire, nature, people's stories...

Anonymous said...

We share several of the same "life shaping" experiences. For me childhood books for sure. I lived out in the middle of no where and books were a way for me to travel to distant lands and hang with really interesting people. Thank you Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Alexandre Dumas. But thanks most to Robert Frost. Another huge influence has been family, from the aunt who insisted I read the classics, to the grandmother who could tell a tall tale better than most.

Brinda said...

I loved the Star Wars movies and can credit them with my first interest in science fiction. I also loved martial arts.

I was also an English major, but I don't remember reading Robert Cormier's books. He talked with you on the phone? Cool.

jaybird said...

Bruce Lee is one of my inspirations as well! And when Star Wars came out, man, I wanted to be Princess Leia so bad. Her sarcasm, strength and sense of humor stuck with me. I thought she was cool as shit and still do. "Aren't you a little short to be a Storm Trooper?" Wish I had a dollar for how many times I dropped that line on my little brother! LOL

Phats said...

Here here to great teachers and the classics! Definitely both inspired and pushed me for sure. The martial arts thing is cool, you going to let your kid do martial arts?

Jay Noel said...

Rusty: There were plenty of cheesy 80s sci fi!

Riann: I'm curious as to what shaped your writing.

Morgan: Thanks!

Julia: Nature. That's a good one.

Tony: I need to read more Agatha Christie. It's been years.

Brinda: Funny how I never read Cormier as a youngster.

jaybird: Or how she calls Chewbacca a walking carpet.

Phats: Yeah, I'd let them, but none of them seem to have an interest! Just dancing, golf, gymnastics, and soccer.

farawayeyes said...

As usual a few days late and at leat a dollar short, but I just have to say this is a wonderful post. I'll have to think about what has inspired me, but mostly it's been people. People not too different from you.

nutschell said...

lovely to get to know more about you Jay. I think I knew you studied Escrima. Hurray for martial arts--and Escrima especially!

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