Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Note on Literary Influences (Poe and Lovecraft via Others)

At the end of 2014 The Journal of Unlikely Entomology published a new horror story by me, called "Miranda's Wings". It seems to be doing well; I've seen some favorable responses to it, including a "Recommended" rating by Lois Tilton in her latest online review piece for Locus.

Then in January the same 'zine published an interview with me, and one of the questions I was asked was whether I was consciously influenced by either Poe or Lovecraft in my work, to which the short version of my answer is, "No, not really."

I did consciously think of John Fowles' The Collector (1963) when I planned my story, but Poe and Lovecraft?

Nope.

And yet--

The question has lingered in my mind ever since the interview, and now whenever I'm writing something, particularly if it's dark, a part of me wonders whether I'm somehow channeling Poe or Lovecraft. I keep telling myself that I can't be, because, against all the odds, I've hardly read these must-read authors.

But what about indirect influences? Say, what if there was story I really liked, which consciously influenced my work, and *that* story in some way channeled Poe or Lovecraft?

Well, I might argue that this still wasn't a case of "conscious" influence. But it would be influence nevertheless.

And the more I've been thinking about "Miranda's Wings", the more I think there may be a two-degrees-of-separation influence at work after all...

One of my favorite short stories from 2009 was Michael Bishop and Steven Utley's "The City Quiet as Death." I reviewed the story for Strange Horizons back in 2010. One of the things that stuck with me about the story was the remote setting. When I was deciding where to set "Miranda's Wings", I remembered it and tried to pay it tribute. The main action in that story unfolds in a house that "graced the high slope of a ridge behind Infante Sagrado, the jewel of Isla Arca" and overlooks the sea. In my story the protagonist's "house was indeed remote, perched as it was on El Sagrado Obispo’s highest mountain" and later we learn of the "home’s seaward balcony".

Both stories feature tortured, cultured, mostly solitary protagonists, so I thought that structurally the choice of setting would make sense. Bishop/Utley's Don Horacio can't bear "the endless din of the stars," while my own Leonard Clegg is prey to other demons I'll leave it up to you to discover. But it's Don Horacio's sensitivity to sounds, to the forces of the Universe oppressing him from every which way, that stayed in my mind.

Fast forward to 2013, when I watched Roger Corman's film adaptation of the famous Edgar Allan Poe story "The Fall of the House of Usher". In Corman's film Roderick (Vincent Price) reveals to a visitor that Roderick's family--the Usher family--has a cursed bloodline which has driven all his ancestors to madness. In his case the disease manifests as an extreme sensitivity to sound.

This made me think of Don Horacio at once. In the Bishop/Utley story Don Horacio is similarly over-sensitive, so that he can hear the clamor of the stars themselves. Both Roderick and Don Horacio live in remote places. There's also something Gothic and absurd about the tone. So one might make a case that "The City Quiet as Death" subtly channels Poe, something which I missed the first time around.

What it does contain more explicitly--it's referenced in the text itself--and which I mentioned in my original review, is a pretty horrific Lovecraftian transformation.

And in my story...

Well, what can I say. The editors of the Journal of Unlikely Entomology, well-versed in the classics of horror, and fine, sensitive readers, picked up on something in my work that I had missed.

By way of "The City Quiet as Death" there is Poe and Lovecraft in "Miranda's Wings" after all!
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