What inspires your writing?

Famous writers are asked all the time who their influences and inspirations are.

Ray Bradbury said he structured The Martian Chronicles based on John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

While I don’t believe in muses or magical inspiration, I do do things (I said doo-doo) which help get me in the right—please forgive this wonky term—head space.

I relied heavily on Dan Browne and Stephen King when I wrote my practice novel about a priest who quits the church when he realizes there is no god—only to find himself in the middle of an ongoing ancient scheme involving an evil spirit that occasionally commits mass murder so it can recharge its life force with great gobs of human souls.

Music I listened to while writing the book was primarily Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell, Metallica’s And Justice For All album and a number of Black Sabbath tunes.

The only light that manuscript will ever see are the flames of the trash barrel as it’s unceremoniously slam-dunked into obscurity.

Nonetheless, it was good practice.

My second novel, about a young woman who travels from Michigan to a number of locales across the western and southern regions of the African continent in search of a long-lost sister after her famed abolitionist father dies and leaves journals filled with dark and dangerous secrets, was also heavily influenced by great works of literature.

In the run-up to the writing of what I dubbed my “Africa” novel, I spent several years researching the settings, flora, and fauna, reading slave chronicles (the most famous may be 12 Years A Slave but there are many hundreds and thousands more), letters from slaves to slaves, letters from slaves to their masters, newspaper reports of the day, studying the differences between slavery in Africa and America—which were stark, as well as reading a number of books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Treasure Island, the works of Joseph Conrad like Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness, and Capt. Bligh’s account of the Mutiny on the Bounty (which I find much more believable than Fletcher Christian’s) in order to better understand long sea voyages, and a stack of expensive reference books on slavery which now weigh down my bookshelves.

I don’t remember using music to set the mood very much, other than reading slave work songs and some rather racist pop tunes of the day, though I was inspired by Handel’s Water Music while writing some scenes involving a fancy party on the deck of an 1860s ocean liner.

In writing my third novel—the story of a mentally ill reporter who gets the chance to do some good by working for a homosexual Muslim presidential candidate taking on a Trumpish incumbent—I leaned on a number of classics, which are also some of my favorites, including Fahrenheit 451, It Can’t Happen Here, All The King’s Men, The Stand, Light In August, The Manchurian Candidate, Alas Babylon, as well as nonfiction work including essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Baldwin, and Gore Vidal.

I relied heavily on The Doors’ darker music, for this one. I especially enjoyed the albums Strange Days and Morrison Hotel while working.

My fourth novel is the story of a brother and sister who, while on the run from criminals, stumble into an apparent tug-of-war between unseen forces of dubious moral affiliation.

In this work, which I finished late in 2018, I relied on the essences of Accordion Crimes, Blood Meridian, Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, No Country for Old Men, and a number of Ray Bradbury short stories.

Music included a lot of dark The Doors stuff as well as Metallica songs like To Live Is To Die, Am I Evil, everything off Ride The Lightning and Kill Em All. As far as The Doors goes, I can’t tell you how many times I listened to The End, Love Street, and People Are Strange. Oh, and When The Music’s Over.

And, the photography of Bruce Davidson. His pictures of a circus performer named Jimmy Armstrong are actually the inspiration of my main character. I looked at those pictures every day before I wrote to help get me inside my protagonist’s mind.