My son has learned to play electric guitar. One day, Black Magic Woman came on the radio. “Would you like to be able to play like Carlos Santana?” I asked.
“No,” my son said. “I want to play like Nicolas Bury.”
This comment really struck a chord with me. It seems to me that so many new fantasy writers are hoping to be the next George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. All you have to do is step into your local drug store to see the number of publishers and authors trying to cash in on the vampire craze. And the zombie craze. And a few brave souls trying to define the next craze. (Actually, I admire them a little.)
But what about the writers who are just trying to tell a story, hoping that maybe, just maybe, their idea will spark the next craze? How do they find inspiration in an age of copycats?
As I write this, I’m on vacation in Ogunquit, Maine. Pretty pedestrian, you say? Sure, it is. Pretty, but mundane. What is there to inspire the fantasy writer?Plenty. Look at a map of the ragged Maine coast — what could look more haunted?
Last week, I was in Stowe, Vermont, home of the nauseating Von Trapps. Saccharine, you say? Absolutely. But walk into the deep woods. Hike up the side of one of the tree-covered mountains. Take in a vista from a cliff-side. Breathe in the cold air that cascades down the cliff faces from the mountain tops. Feel the power, the majesty of the earthly powers in them.
I have always been struck by the history of New England, a history that goes back centuries, a history replete with legends of ghosts and more.
If you need inspiration, take a look around you. There are stories in everything and everyone.Ancient mythologies drew parallels between human behaviour and natural phenomena. The sea became the personification of mysterious, hidden power that could re-shape the land; mountains became the home of giants that laughed at humanity’s best efforts. Even trees were homes for spirits that could be benevolent or evil, or both.
I find far more inspiration in the natural world than in other writers’ stories, no matter how good (or, more often, lame) they may be. (Sorry to break it to you, Stephenie.)This is my message to new fantasy writers everywhere: don’t try to be the next anyone else. Instead, let’s go back to the original source of all magical and mythological stories: the natural world itself. Let’s try to write like the next “us,” and not the derivative of someone who’s been forced through the New York/Hollywood writing factory.