ESSAY: The Ecstasy of Influence by Paul Jessup

The Ecstasy of Influence
by Paul Jessup

One of the things I love about genre is how we embrace our influences. We don’t feel that anxiety of influence Harold Bloom talks about when discussing literary fiction and literary writers. We take our influences and mix them up, throw them together, create new things out of the hodgepodge of what came before.

The best kind of genre fiction, I feel, is in constant conversation with its antecedents. Genre itself is based around taking what came before and enjoying it so much that you’re inspired to remix the whole thing. It’s part of the joys of working in genre fiction, and some the most interesting ones are writers who pull in influences from outside of genre, and then treat them with that same kind of exhilarating joy that they have for their speculative influences.

I know I feel a bright joy when I’m writing, and I’m reading a million different works at the same time, and I can feel them worming their way through my consciousness, infecting my writing. There is an ecstatic excitement to it, by creating something new out of all the detritus that clogs up my head.

I don’t worry about it, like Bloom thinks all writers do. I don’t have anxiety thinking I will never live up to these people. Why should anyone care about that? Why would we want to live up to the past when we can blaze a new way into the future, built on the bones of what went before? And it’s a great Easter egg for other reads and writers and fans of the fiction we pull from, isn’t it? Who doesn’t get that warm clever feeling when they spot a reference or a call back or a crib from something else?

I know, my writing is full of this stuff. Take Close Your Eyes, for example. The influences on that are wide and varied. I was forcing my mind to soak up so many things, to get to that feeling I wanted while I was writing it.

I reread Delany’s Nova and Empire Star a few times, as well as M John Harrison’s Light and Nova Swing. I watched Alien, mostly because I wanted the ships in Close Your Eyes to feel like the ships in Alien, especially that weird giant vessel at the start of it. I watched the Dune documentary untold number of times, and read the Incal, knowing that Jodorowsky was going down the same weird space opera path I wanted to get in the book. I also watched Holy Mountain and Sante Sangre again and again for that same reason.

I also watched a few Felleni films, to get the emotional tone I wanted. One big influence was La Strada, which had a folklore feeling to it. I copied the character archetypes he used for the main characters aboard my ship in the story. I also watched his Satyricon for the same surreal inspiration I was getting from Holy Mountain and Sante Sangre.

And of course, I also watched a ton of Star Wars films. I wanted to dig back into my first love for space opera, back in the day. From there I went on and read all of Leigh Brackett I could buy from the local used bookstore. I read a ton of Cordwainer Smith as well, buying several short story collections and a copy of Norstrailia from that same used bookstore. His use of language and non-traditional story structures were a huge influence on Close Your Eyes.

The second half of the book was influenced almost entirely by Heart of Darkness. I had this idea I’d been working on for a long time, a moon-sized labyrinth that was also a sanitarium, people inside being experimented on by creepy dolls. And the plot structure would be Heart of Darkness, right down to a character turning into mad Colonel Kurtz. It also pulled from the movie, Apocalypse Now, though not quite as much.

The parasitic alien language was inspired by reading tons of Burroughs. Both his books, and listening to his lectures and audio recording. I also read a ton of Philip K. Dick while writing this, the biggest influences being Ubik and a Scanner Darkly. I also pulled the poetic language and the sentence structure from the Beat poets, most specifically Kerouac. But I also pulled some of it from Dave Eggers and his You Shall Know Our Velocity.

And what joy I got from ingesting all these works, the excitement of reading them while I was working on Close Your Eyes infected it deep down on the bone level.

You should snag a copy, they’re at B&N and Amazon, but what the hell. Be a good reader and get it straight from the source at Apex.

You can save 25% when you order Close Your Eyes and anything else in the Apex store by using discount code SEPTEMBER at checkout!