With the launch of 99 PERCENT KILL, I’ve been doing a fair amount of promotion. This has included a number of interviews. And I might say one of the most common questions has to do with my writing influences. I get the reason behind the query. So much of what we are is what we’ve consumed. From the quality to the crap. But answering that particular question is difficult. Nearly impossible, I might add. Not just because there’ve been so many obvious influences, but also because there’ve been so remarkably few.
Yes. There are the writers who got me to read. Ian Fleming. Stephen King. Thomas Harris. Carl Hiaasen. Yet did I read them to find inspiration? Hardly. I read them because, at those times in my life, they were the writers who entertained me to the point of turning the page, getting to the end, and wondering where the nearest bookstore was so I could vacuum up the next tale in their canon. Essentially, it was the bookworm version of binge-watching.
Not that I was ever a bookworm. For as long as I could remember I was a movie nerd. Novels were merely a way feed my fiction addiction when I wasn’t near a movie theater. This, of course, was before VCRs and DVDs and On-demand. If I wanted to see a movie commercial-free it was on the big screen or cable, the latter being something that wasn’t yet available in my zip code. And if it had been, my parents sure as hell wouldn’t have paid for what came free over the airwaves.
Then came my movie career. When I wasn’t writing or watching movies, I was dreaming them up or doing what I could to distract myself from the endless film flicker that churned in my brain. Now, you’d think a good book would be just the tonic for that kind of ill. The answer is yes and no. I would still turn to reading as a way of redirecting my one-track mind, but fiction became more of a chore than entertainment. This happened after I’d taken jobs adapting other writers’ novels as features. From then on, the moment I’d open a book, I’d be adapting it. Instinctively figuring where I could expand and redact. What could be turned to visuals and how to spin the characters’ internal voices into picture, action, and dialogue?
Damn. Reading novels had become work.
I soon shifted all my reading to periodicals and non-fiction. Process-oriented features which explained in detail the how’s and why’s of life. Though this could also be considered work—as I’d cull from my non-fiction reading for use in my screenwriting—it was also a pleasure to be engaged with something that wasn’t constructed as a time-transporting tale.
Before going on vacation, I’d shop for books. Amidst all the non-fiction I’d bring along, I might pack one novel, the pages destined to remain either unfinished or unread. Well, at least I bought the book and writer made a royalty.
I still felt guilty.
Of course, there were non-fiction books that I’d read for entertainment and want to turn into movies. I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve made from some exotic locale to either my lawyer or my agent. I’d ask if they’d heard of the book and if it had been purchased yet for the film adaptation. Nine times out of ten it already had and a writer had been assigned. Which made sense because any book I’d found on the shelf of Barnes and Noble or in the Amazon queue would most likely have made the Hollywood rounds a good six months to a year in advance of publication. At least my taste was on the money. Most non-fiction I wanted to adapt had not only been scooped up by a major studio or producer, but the writers assigned were usually the A-list likes of Ted Tally, Scott Frank, or Steve Zaillian.
“Well if they screw the pooch on the adaptation,” I’d tell my agent or lawyer, “Let ‘em know I’m a big fan and I’ll love a shot at the next pass.”
Presently, I’d say my writing influences come from far and wide. I use both my ears and eyes for inspiration. Here are just a smattering of examples:
The late prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, famed for incarcerating the Manson clan. He didn’t write much non-fiction, but what he did was always clarifying.
Anything written and produced by David Simon of The Wire. His ear for authenticity and empathy for every character no matter the importance is without parallel.
The non-fiction work of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright. His books are mesmerizingly researched and detailed. He does more than report. He gets underneath the subject, effortlessly linking the micro to the macro.
Dirty Harry and Ray Donovan. Fictional characters, yes. But each has his own evolution—complicated people so desperate to keep life simple. Lucky Dey, my man in BLOOD MONEY and 99 PERCENT KILL, is built from parts of their DNA, with a dash of Tom Hardy’s performances in Warrior and Lawless.
Speaking of actors, I’d like to applaud the continued work by the world’s greatest actors (there’s a future love letter of a blog in this). My thirst to be stimulated by a great character interpretation is unquenchable. To watch brilliant actors elevate material conceived by a writer and staged by a director, to then own it and caress it, is a graceful gift to whoever is lucky enough to witness the work. It is nothing less than inspirational.
There’s so much more. Movies I can never get enough of. Dialogue that deserves endless repeating. Passages from lyrics, poems, and prayers. Even the best line in the worst play ever can be grist for my mill. It’s all for consumption. Processing. And somehow turned into my next book, screenplay, or blog.
What influences you?
Feeling Lucky? Download my first Lucky Dey thriller, 99 PERCENT KILL right now at Amazon.
I just think cinema inspires me. Just as a general art form I continually am inspired by the film itself and its great!
I have a library of films I watch at least once a year. I watch them, not only for the pure enjoyment they give me, but as references for outstanding dialogue and structure. I also try and get as many of their scripts as I can. And, yes, it seems like every time a read a good book, I start to picture it as a possible adaptation.
To this day, I’m still being influenced by the great success of a 16-year-old kid I once met while in high school many years ago. I remember that he was very enthusiastic about making movies. He even managed to get some of his early film efforts written up in the local paper. Years later, he made a movie about a shark, and began influencing a lot of other people, too.
Excellent blog, Doug… thanks for sharing, and great food for thought.