I’m proud to tell anyone who asks me about it that I write fantasy novels. The publication of SEVEN PRINCES represents many years of hard work, commitment and stubborn dedication to one man’s mad vision. Writers are obsessed with their ideas. They have to be.
I also write in the horror and sci-fi genres. Yet fantasy has always been my first love — specifically high fantasy, or epic fantasy, as some folks like to call it. Although the term dark fantasy is also one of which I’m rather fond. A lot of my favorite fantasies are indeed “dark,” and you will find some darkness in every fantasy — if only to provide contrast to the sweetness and light. The murkier the darkness, the brighter the light.
One of the most common questions writers and various “creative types” get asked is: Where do you get your ideas? But what’s really being asked in this old chestnut of a query is: What inspires you? For fantasy authors, one might assume all inspiration comes from existing fantasy fiction. Yet that’s certainly not the case. If it was, the genre would soon atrophy and die from incessant repetition and lack of innovation. Yet the fantasy genre is alive and well . . . and it’s not about to disappear any time soon. It has been said that there are no new stories, only new ways to tell them.
Writers look for inspirado wherever they can . . . and it often finds them when they least expect it.
So what inspires me?
Music. I’m partial to heavy rock and six-string blues, but I like a bit of everything. Early BLACK SABBATH is the bedrock foundation upon which most of my favorite bands have built their music. I adore the music of THE BLACK KEYS, ROB ZOMBIE and QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE . . . and I have literally too many favorite bands to list them all here (or anywhere else). I relish playing MONSTER MAGNET’s “Superjudge” album while I’m writing. I’ve also found THE SWORD’s first two albums conducive to crafting epic fantasy, as well as a host of instrumental soundtracks. (Jerry Goldsmith’s PLANET OF THE APES soundtrack has to be one of the all-time greats.) Music is magic of the utmost potency.
Laughter. Laughing renews and energizes the soul. And the soul is the font of all creativity. Me, I’m partial to TV comedies, from THE OFFICE to BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD (so glad to have them back!) to my brother-from-another-mother CONAN O’BRIEN. I like comedies with heart and soul . . . where the story doesn’t fall apart in favor of idiotic punchlines. I can watch episodes of THE SIMPSONS and SEINFELD a dozen times . . . and I have. With such a taste for comedy, you might think I’d write humorous fantasy . . . but I’ve never been a fan of that particular genre. I love a good comedy, but I’m serious about my fantasy . . .
Books. I’m a book addict. There are books that I keep tucked away like holy relics, usually the ones that have touched my soul in some deep and lasting way. And every now and then I discover a brand new book that does the same thing. Anybody who knows me will tell you I’m practically religious about Tanith Lee’s TALES OF THE FLAT EARTH. The same goes for Lord Dunsany’s story collections, Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION, William Gibson’s Sprawl and Bridge trilogies, all of Tom Ligotti’s collections, and Schweitzer’s MASK OF THE SORCERER. So many more. For a writer, every story and book you read is an influence — whether you want it to be or not. So I’m very careful about what I read.
Comics. Matt Fraction’s CASANOVA is the latest comic to completely blow my mind. Like Ed Brubaker’s CRIMINAL, it’s a pure manifestation of the creators’ passions. The very best comics defy the corporate stranglehold on characters and concepts. Like the best novels, they invent something new and tell stories that come from the heart, the gut and the spirit. Mignola’s HELLBOY comics are inspiring as hell (pun intended). James Stokoe’s ORC STAIN is another blast of auteur genius and radical style. Bryan Talbot’s enduring masterpiece THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT was a seminal influence, as was Peter Milligan’s groundbreaking SHADE THE CHANGING MAN. Comics have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember; raw inspiration crackles and burns between the panels of every page.
Art. Frank Frazetta is my personal Art God. Staring at any one of his paintings gives me at least twenty ideas for stories — he is the heart and soul of 20th Century fantasy art. Michael Whelan is another iconic artist whose work has imprinted upon my brain from a young age — from his amazing MARTIAN TALES covers to his 80s LOVECRAFT sequence, to everything he’s painted anywhere, Whelan is a one-of-a-kind experience. Stephen Fabian. Bob Eggleton. Darrell Sweet. Steranko. Richard Corben. Jack Kirby. John Buscema. Gil Kane. Jack Katz. Alex Raymond. So many more . . . a great work of art tells a story, even when it’s no more than a single image.
Drama. Shakespeare. Lynch. Tarantino. The Coens. Kaufman. Scorcese. Jackson. Aronofsky. Hitchcock. Serling. Miyazaki. Yimou. The movies are the myths of our times. The very best films usually don’t come from books; no, they’re conceived and built specifically to exploit the parameters and possibilities of cinema. But stories are stories, and greatness is greatness, no matter the medium. Every time I watch (or re-watch) a David Lynch film, it makes me want to create something new. It taps something deep and bottomless in my psyche. And don’t get me started on Shakespeare . . . massive, unending inspirado. At the heart of every drama are human beings . . . and every person you meet is a font of stories, experiences and contradictions.
History. It is the original source of all the great stories. Early humanity, trading tales around their campfires, knew the crucial importance of the Old Tales and the sacred role of the Storyteller. Without our history Mankind does not truly exist. The fact that we tell stories about things that happened is what makes us civilized. It’s what raised us above the beasts of the field. Telling stories is the oldest art form, and the whole of history is fodder for any writers’ imagination — especially a writer of fantasy. Most fascinating to me are the tales that might have been . . . the lost sagas and the heroes who never returned to tell their tales . . . the dusty pulp of burned libraries, and the obscure lore of fallen civilizations . . . the blurry edges surrounding the solid substance of historical knowledge. And the more you study known history, the more your imagination travels toward those misty regions of the unknown . . .
Nature. Nothing quite inspires like the beauty and grandeur of the natural world. Whether it’s a trip to the beach (I don’t swim), or a drive through the country, the Earth speaks to us whenever we make ourselves available to listen. There’s a symphony in every rainstorm, an epic in every cloud formation, a masterpiece writ in the veins of every floating leaf. I live in California, one of the most beautiful places in the world. Sometimes the sheer loveliness of the landscape here nearly overwhelms me. There’s gold in “them there hills,” but it ain’t yellow metal. I love rain . . . it makes me happy . . . always has. Sweet, blessed nectar of the stratosphere. Every drop is an ocean of possibility.
I think there may be more of a link between Nature and Fantasy than any other literary genre. Consider Tolkien’s gorgeous, verdant Middle Earth and how it contrasts with the ashy wastelands of Mordor. Or Dunsany’s faerie lands and dreamworld forests. Those imaginary worlds are simply parallel versions of our own little blue-green paradise. There’s a reason most fantasy novels include maps as entry points into these invented worlds that we love so well. Society changes, history rolls on, and humanity evolves, yet the Earth itself remains to whisper its eternal secrets, molding its wisdom into the enchanted shapes of trees and mountains. Fantasy is an extension of this ancient and primordial Earthsong. We listen, and we dream.
Fantasy also links us with our remote past . . . our primal days when the world was full of magic, mystery and adventure. Human lives are composed of stories as much as flesh and blood. Fantasy delivers the timeless stories that are woven into our DNA, our ancestral memory, the immortal spirit that unites us all, even when we refuse to recognize it.
Fantasy fiction nurtures something deep and pure and ancient within us all. And from that same wellspring, inspirado emerges to create everything that thrills, delights, and inspires us.
So where do I find inspiration?
Everywhere . . .