All writers–not that there’s a real distinction between people who create words and people who create more compelling or lucrative words besides money and self-identity–are voracious readers (despite this often feeling like a guilty pleasure), and any writer will tell you that when they read the work of a particularly flavorful, influential, or admired author, his or her own prose tends to mimic that of the idol.
I have seen this in my own blogging in the past, notably with respect to Carl Hiaasen, a wonderfully sardonic columnist and offbeat mystery novelist whom I admire chiefly for his concern for the environment and his ability to rhetorically demolish distinct organs of the uniquely corrupt leviathan serving collectively as the Florida political machine. I wish I had found a way to meet Hiaasen, whom I have mentioned here often, when I lived in the South Florida city in which he grew up. (Hiaasen, having attained the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, once famously ripped the publisher of his own newspaper for his plans to run for governor, and the response from on high was, at least outwardly, warm appreciation.)
Recently, I have been reading a lot of H.L. Mencken and Hunter S. Thompson, with the latter, I am not at all surprised to learn, being a champion of the former. The result has certainly infused the few recent contributions I have made here with a particular cynical (but not unpleasant) toxicity, with the ingredients of this miasma being those found in all of my favorite literary recipes: up-the-middle swipes at religion, sarcasm, half- or full-frontal profane neologisms, and a certain winking disdain for the limp-along machine we have labeled humankind. (I am not, of course, equating the quality or vigor of my writing with that of the greats; I’m merely remarking on how my savage appreciation for these two has fed into the shaping of my own prosaic style.)
Is this bad? I don’t think so; what it translates to is sound and necessary practice. Thompson, early in his writing career, was known to type out entire novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and others in order to gain a sense of how different writers blended economy of word, bombast, far-reaching adjectives and overall narrative acumen to create something the world would never forget.
Another writer Thompson (who, to no one’s surprise, shot himself dead in 2004 with his wife in the next room) admired was the late William Styron, whose chilling autobiographical exploration of abject depression, Darkness Visible, stands as the single most influential inside treatment of mental illness ever produced, relegating Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation to the laughable piece of self-indulgent break-out-the-popcorn tabloid-style jerk-off it should have been recognized as when first published.
I’m not really going anywhere with this, other than to say that it’s something I’ve always appreciated, and that it is relevant because a large part (but not the entirety) of my absence from the Refuge is the result of my trying like hell to plug away at something greater. If I am at all successful, I should not have to announce it with the same overstated self-indulgence I’ve treated myself to here. Also, because I am writing about external influences on my writing voice, this post was written entirely in my own, complete, I’m sure, with far too many adverbs (although I refuse to check),
You people, by the way, say nice things. That’s why I like going away; when I come back I get praised just for coming back.