I’m preparing for the defense of my Master’s project and reviewing a little Raymond Carver (not a miniature version of an author, but a few pieces Carver wrote). I have no idea what questions will be asked of me, but I’m terrified of being required to explain my influences. Carver’s an indirect influence at best, but I’ve enjoyed some of his thoughts on the idea of influence — who influenced him.
In his essay “Fires,” Carver quickly dismisses the whole idea. He notes that people connect him with Hemingway, though Carver says he prefers the language of Lawrence Durrell. Rather, Carver writes, “So I don’t know about literary influences.”
I think I’m in the same place. There are people I read and enjoy and then there are people whose prose resembles mine (or I have prose that resembles theirs). In music, the question of influence seems easier to spot. Lenny Kravitz was obviously influenced by Hendrix; Tears for Fears bear the stamp of the Beatles. (Hell, who isn’t influenced by the Beatles?)
My literary heroes lack a consistent thread. I love Douglas Adams (though he’s hardly the kind of author that makes for an impressive literary reference). I enjoy the biographer Joseph Pearce, theologians like Luther and Bloesch, essayists like Chesterton and Lewis, poets like Donne and Plath, and novelists like Palahniuk and Hawthorne (given the choice, I almost always prefer non-fiction to fiction anyway). There’s no consistent or discernible connection between any of my favorites and my writing — except in ideas. Each of those authors explores issues and ideas that interest me.
Who knows where I get my prose? It keeps changing. I imagine it will continue to change (I never used to write such short sentences). But the things that I enjoy — humor, eccentricity, theology — those ideas influence me, or, at least, I’m in conversation with them. So when asked tomorrow, I should say what Carver says: “I don’t know.” Or maybe I’ll say, “Well, Carver says, ‘I don’t know,’ so maybe that’s my answer too.” That way I can avoid the question while still implying “Carver.” Win-Win.
Who/what are your influences?