During author visits around the globe, I’ve given all kinds of answers to the author’s most-asked question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve said it’s a mystery (true), that they come from paying attention and asking questions (also true), and that they’re manufactured for me by a gnome called Guido who lives in my backyard (I’ll let you guess about that one).
However, it would be just as true to say that often my story ideas have their roots in my childhood. A reluctant reader at first, I was nevertheless a big fan of monster movies and comic books. Then, on a tragic day my family still calls The Day the TV Broke, my parents began reading aloud to us. The Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs were what turned me into a reader, and I find that his influence still lingers.
For instance, about eight years ago, I wrote a hybrid graphic novel series called Underwhere about these kids who discovered a world beneath us. Not until after it had been published did I recognize echoes of Burroughs’ Pellucidar books in my wacky tales.
Flash back to little kid time: After we finally got a new TV, I used to love watching old Humphrey Bogart movies with my dad. The rat-a-tat dialog and tough-guy attitudes enthralled me, and the plots intrigued me. Years later, this influence came out in my Chet Gecko mysteries, which borrowed heavily from film noir. In fact, that hardboiled voice came so easily, I had to make a conscious effort to move away from it for other books.
I felt a certain comfort and familiarity writing about a subject and characters so close to home. That’s one of the joys of returning to a childhood influence. And yet there was a freshness to the process as well. Unlike me, the book’s narrator is Latino; and unlike those Universal movies, the monster is a made-up one: a were-hyena. Something old, something new.
As I grow more aware of my early influences, I feel freer to stray from them, to play with them, to mix them up with other notions. That’s what the creative process is about, after all. But I know they’ll always be there, informing my writing and providing a wellspring of ideas. In case, you know, Guido the gnome ever gets tired of churning it out.