Over at AICN (don't laugh — ah, crap, too late) there's a reprint of a pretty good interview with screenwriter / novelist Rudy Wurlitzer. He jammed around with the likes of Hal Ashby and Sam Peckinpah, wrote scripts for everyone from Alex Cox to Carroll Ballard to Bernardo Bertolucci, and tossed us a couple of novels from back over the edge, too: Nog, Flats, The Drop Edge of Yonder. They tag people like this with the label "Dying Breed". Bloody shame, too, because we could use a few more of them.
One quote in the interview stood out more than just about everything else — yes, even the anecdote about a nearly-naked Peckinpah nearly pulling a gun on him while receiving a massage: "[Samuel] Beckett* has always been a major figure for me, so much so that I had to stop reading him for a number of years in order to survive." (Emphasis mine.)
There are days when I wish to whatever god(s) might be listening that I had never discovered three-fourths of the writers I admire to this day. If only because my formative experiences with them were all the same: I'd discover the author, read everything I could get my hands on with their name on the cover, spend six months to a year writing horribly inferior trash in "emulation" (read: blatant goddamn ripoff) of their work, then finally — finally — glean what was to be gleaned from them and move on.
Sometimes this process took a lot longer than six months.
The hardest thing for all too many writers is to find a formative influence and survive the experience. Some people never make it out from under the weight of that millstone. They see work that is so far above anything they believe they can ever produce (whether or not that's remotely true is another story), and they choke. They try to put together a half a sentence and instantly the tonnage of everything they just plowed through comes down hard enough to break their fingers. Some of them quit; some get stuck in this horrible Möbius-loop of try-and-fail, over-and-over. A very few just get shameless about the whole thing, admit to borrowing from someone, get over it and move on to something truly theirs. And when that stuff finally does come, it doesn't come from having read another book.
* If anyone reading this thinks I am talking about the Scott Bakula character from Quantum Leap, you are hereby ordered to throw yourself onto your sword. If you do not have a sword, one will be provided for you at no charge.
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Other Lives Of The Mind