Influences and Inspirations

Writing is a constant work in progress, and inspiration can happen at any time,  anywhere, and can be influenced by the strangest and most random things. There are no set working hours when writing, no such thing as days off from writing – to quote the playwright Eugene Ionesco (or rather, to shamelessly copy from an image posted on Facebook): “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing”, which I find to be absolutely true. I often find myself thinking about my characters, their back stories and how they might (or might not) intersect with one another, and as I intend on writing a three-part, multiple book saga spanning a several centuries, keeping track of all my characters and their descendants (and antecedents) and the relationships (of whatever type) they may (or may not) have with one another ends up being rather like a full-time job. Of course,  as the genre in which I am writing is mystery with elements (thus far) of fantasy and some science fiction, the motives and motivations of my characters and their relationships (or lack thereof) are far more complex and a much greater challenge. As the creator, I would need to know everything yet write the narrative in such a way that it’s not as obvious to the reader.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer –  I’m not quite sure how this idea came about, though I do remember a school project where we had to create on a poster board  everything about yourself, and one of the items you had to state was what your ambition in life would be. I had indicated that I wanted to be a novelist – interestingly, for my secret ambition, I had indicated that I wanted to be a musician, and I had listed Les Miserables as my favorite book.  I believe I was nine years old at the time, and I still have that poster board… somewhere buried in my closet (and yes, I did read Les Miserables at that young age, albeit the abridged version. I remember it took me three months to finish the book, having to consult a dictionary to find out what some of the words I didn’t know at the time meant. This could explain why I consider the musical Les Miserables to by my all time favorite musical that I have seen live on stage.)

But I digress.

Anyway, as stated in the first blog, I was (and still am) an avid reader – in addition to the books that were assigned for school, I would read the classics and other genre fiction that was of interest to me that I could find at my local library. My first exposure to mystery stories was with Encyclopedia Brown, which eventually segued to the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot (created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie, respectively) as I grew older; in terms of literary exposure, this is not quite a startling leap given the fact that the “Mystery!” series (nowadays part of the Masterpiece umbrella of programs) on my local public television station played a huge role. I’ve always been a great fan of PBS and the programs they aired (when I was growing up, it was the one place where I could watch British comedies and dramatic miniseries, along with nature programs and symphony concerts they often air – this also could explain how I became such a Anglophile). I would watch the programs, then scour my local library (as well as used bookstores) for the books; when PBS would air episodes featuring other detectives, such as Inspector Morse, Albert Campion, and Roderick Alleyn, (created by Colin Dexter, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, respectively), once again, I would search for the books, reading them with great expediency (or as quickly as I possibly could).

So, when charged with the task of writing short stories for English class, it was inevitable and quite natural that the genre in which I would write would be mystery, and not necessarily detective fiction (that would develop later). Of the aforementioned mystery writers,  Agatha Christie had the greatest influence on me in terms of the kind of mysteries I wanted to write. This does not however, detract the influence other writers had on my taste in mystery stories – I think I discovered Christie’s novels before I was fully aware of the Conan Doyle canon, though most likely, I was watching episodes of  Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot – the definitive portrayal of the character, in my opinion –  before I started watching the Granada Sherlock Holmes series (with the brilliant Jeremy Brett as Holmes).

Another great passion of mine [and the subject of my first blog series] is theatre, though I tend to prefer musicals to plays (for the most part at least), so naturally this love would also be a great influence on my writing process. I have alluded to (or shamelessly “borrowed”, depending on how your point of view) plot points, names and character traits from some of my favorite musicals into my stories. Of course, I’ve used these elements as a starting point, and put my own (interesting) spin on them, so I don’t get into any trouble with those who have deeper pockets than I).

So, that (kinda) takes care of the “influences” portion of this blog topic. Onward to the inspirations!

As I had stated that (for reasons I don’t really remember) I had secretly had an ambition to be a musician when I grew up [I had piano lessons growing up], music is a source of inspiration, as well as a great influence on my writing. Again, I sometimes feel that my tastes in music is different from those of my peers – I had an affinity for classical, big band, standards and movie scores, in addition to my aforementioned love for musicals and songs sung by musical theatre actors. I prefer to listen to instrumental music or choral music when I write, as listening to songs with lyrics tends to be distracting for me. As I a lapsed pianist, piano pieces have a calming effect, and often brings forth introspection and exposition, while full orchestral pieces, especially those with prominent percussion, brass and/or string sections, energize me,  compelling me to add action, tension or drama to the scene of which I am writing. Among the contemporary composers I listen to while writing are John Williams and Howard Shore, as well as Barrington Pheloung (composer of the Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour series) and Christopher Gunning (composer of the Agatha Christie’s Poirot series).

Other avenues of inspiration spring up randomly, usually from way out in left field – when working on the narrative flow and/or character development, I often plot things out in outline form, whether it be via typing on the laptop or going old school and jotting ideas down on paper, though more times than not, I stare at the laptop screen or legal pad (depending on whichever method of musing I’m doing) and think things out in my head, all the while listening to a playlist of the aforementioned composers (and other instrumental music).

[Side note: Yes, I do realize that the block of text above is one long, yet not run-on sentence – I tend to use commas, dashes, semi-colons, parenthesis and other such punctuation liberally, and hopefully correctly; it’s a writing style I’ve adopted and use on a fairly regular basis – naturally, this side note is turning out to be as long as the aforementioned block of text.]

Anyway.

Whilst musing and/or writing (and more times than not doing something other than musing and/or writing) an idea pops into my head – a small observation or a slightly different vantage point from the one about which I was musing – and that idea usually either clarifies or complicates the conundrum that prompted the musing. There have even been times when I have literally stop in my tracks and ponder the idea that has just formed in my head (this is a far more dramatic  event if I’m actually walking somewhere – though thankfully this has not occurred during times when I’m crossing the street) – I always make a point to carry a pen and a notebook with me at all times, so I can jot down the idea as soon as it appears. Also, for whatever reason, I tend to write and muse better at night, with the more interesting ideas finding its way into my head as I’m drifting off to sleep (which is slightly annoying).  Nevertheless, I have been known to wake up in the middle of the night, scribble whatever it is I was thinking (I’ve also taken to leaving a legal pad and pen near my bed for times like these) then fall back to sleep; miraculously, I’m usually able to read what I had written.

Other times, a chance remark from a friend or something gleamed from a song or on television will spark an idea, though most of these ideas, while rife with potential at its inception, often lead nowhere or are unusable at the present time, at which point they are jotted down and stored in the archives [composers have their trunk songs, writers have their archives] for (possible) future use. As stated in the introductory blog, I’ve been (more or less) plugging away at writing this magnum opus for the past two decades – I’ve spent some time reading and re-reading what I had written over the past decade, and remarkably the ideas I once had and discarded are usable and have the potential to be reincorporated into the present saga/series.

With any luck, this saga will make some semblance of sense, with a (somewhat) straightforward narrative flow.

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How It All Began…

It all started two decades ago as a writing assignment for English class – the objective was to write a short story and incorporate vocabulary words from a list provided by the teacher. By then I was an avid mystery reader, having discovered the works of Agatha Christie at an early age, so there had been no doubt in my mind that the story I was going to write was going to be a mystery. Also at this time of my life I was quite obsessed with Phantom of the Opera and had decided to “borrow” some ideas from that story (though specifically, the ideas were inspired by Phantom, Susan Kay’s novel about the life story of Erik, The Phantom of the Opera). The short story that came forth from those inspirations was The Golden Dagger Inn Mystery, a story of betrayal, murder and revenge set in a luxurious Victorian hotel alleged to be haunted by an evil spirit. I had received a decent grade for that story, with my teacher commending me for writing such an interesting story. I put the (handwritten) short story  in a folder and filed it away with the rest of the stories I had written for that class.

Fast forward a few months, and I participated in a summer course on literary arts at a local college, and the final assignment was to write a one-act play that had to have one set location. After putting some thought into what I was going to write, I decided to adapt The Golden Dagger Inn Mystery for this assignment, which resulted in the one-act play The Tragedy at the Old Silent.  That same summer I had the idea to expand the short story into a full length novel, most of which I had typed out on my word processor (which kinda shows how long ago this all happened). That first novel retained the short story’s title, and while I had written about twenty-odd chapters, that novel is and remains unfinished, though meticulous I was (and still am), I had outlined the final few chapters, and plotted out the denouement. I recently re-read that first attempt at novel-writing and am amazed at how melodramatic the dialogue was (though I suppose the fact that around the same time I had started to watch the soap opera General Hospital explains that).

Several years of literary inactivity followed – high school and college kept me busy, though during my senior year at Boston University, I took a Detective Fiction course, which prompted me to start scribbling down musings on the margins of my class notes, and essentially reawakened my writing spirit. Of course, by then I was now writing via computer, though I still had still some files on the word processor.  While I had several (hand written) short stories from which to start, I felt compelled to stick with The Golden Dagger Inn Mystery and the effort I had put in that unfinished novel. My initial compulsion was to work on completing that novel, but I found my thoughts straying on the back story of its characters and the situations that lead to the events that occur in the initial story.

At the time (roughly a decade ago), it was to be a trilogy of novels, set in the Interwar England, a trio of mysteries in the Golden Age style. The original idea was to have these stories set in the same location, which I had situated in the West Country at a sprawling estate and its surrounding village, a fictional place called Ricepaige. In the decade since I restarted my writing endeavors, this series has grown to be a multiple book saga, as plotting out the back story for the situations and characters inspired and prompted me to explore the motivations and back story of the ancestors of the main series’ characters.

As it stands now, the saga is structured to be a series in three parts, with set in a different time period (specifically in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries) with its own detective, but essentially set in and around Ricepaige. Each book is planned to be a stand-alone tale, though there will be the inevitable intertwining of characters and storylines throughout the series and the saga as a whole. Well, at least that’s the plan. I have tentatively outlined the entire saga (meaning I’ve thought up of all the book titles), and at the moment, I am focusing on the first series of the Saga, entitled Tainted Blood, set in the mid-Victorian era, of which there will be fourteen novels within that first series.

Of course this is all a huge work in progress, and the details outlined in this entry are subject to change. To say this is an ambitious undertaking is a gross understatement, but one I plan on seeing through till publication.

And it all started with one simple short story…