Thursday, June 5, 2014


As I watched the movie The Hunger Games (I have yet to read the Suzanne Collins series. See my post "Readarcolepsy" for clarification.) I couldn't help but think of how derivative it was of The Running Man, Rollerball (the original with James Caan) or Death Race 2000, the Roger Corman classic with David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone. The cynical-bastard part of me was quite harsh in this regard and kept me from enjoying the film more than I could have. 

It was later that I thought, so what? So what that it reminded me of movies I'd seen before. Doesn't a certain amount of formulaic expectation define all genres? It's dystopian fiction, ergo...

True, The Hunger Games is very similar to those mentioned above. I wouldn't be surprised if Collins was consciously influenced and inspired by Stephen King's writing in the creation of a work in her own voice, for a new generation. But, again, so what? In generations to follow I expect there will be another Games, or Divergent, or Matched, etc. In the 70's there was The Last Tango in Paris; in the 80's it was 9 1/2 Weeks. Now we have Fifty Shades of Grey. As Kurt Vonnegut might say, and so it goes. 

The novel I'm currently writing was influenced by three different sources:

First and foremost, Kevin Brownlow's book The Parade's Gone By... and his accompanying eleven-part documentary Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film. Together they are the most comprehensive, enlightening look at that bygone era.

Next, Peter Bogdanovich's Nickolodean, a droll, slap-stick comedy from my teen years that is still one of my all-time favorites. The fisticuffs between Ryan O'Neil and Burt Reynolds is, in my opinion, one of the best fight scenes ever.

Lastly, The Great Waldo Pepper with Robert Redford, a nostalgic look at the end of yet another era - barnstorming, and those cowboys of the early days of flight.

(Do yourself a favor and check out any one of those wonderful works.)

If all goes well with this next book, I'll end up with something "original," derived from the inspiration of past works. 

By nature, we long for the familiar. Again, that's the whole marketing behind genres. I know what to expect when I read Louis L'amour; that's why I enjoy his books. My wife and I watched the movie Taken for the very reason to see Liam Neeson kick ass in pursuit of his daughter's captors! No surprises, but who cares! (We've even seen it twice!) Why is the nutritionally deprived food of McDonalds so popular? It's comfortable. It's familiar.

Being truly original, on the other hand, is not always so popular. Charlie Kaufman, writer/director of such movies like Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, New York, has one of the few original minds in Hollywood. But while his work receives critical acclaim, you'll probably never see him associated with a multi-million dollar summer-blockbuster. In the 90's, while many groups were trying to be the next Nirvana or Pearl Jam, bands like Baldo Rex from Boulder and Trenchmouth out of Chicago were creating sounds all their own. And yet, how many of you have heard of them? Raise your hands? Anyone? Anyone?

(Hey, I wonder if my current novel isn't selling because it's not about vampires, zombies, or it's not part of a romantic series. No one's interested in my book because it's original, unique. Yeah, that's it! Of course! That's been it all along! ...Oh, sorry...I digress.) 

The most difficult thing for any writer today is to be original; every story-line that can be written has already been written, and contemporary writers, at best, merely engage in the literary equivalent of musical themes and variations. I challenge anyone to read any novel today and not think of the similarities in others that have come before it.

I recently came upon this quote from Kurt Vonnegut, author of some of the most unique works ever, describing his writing of the novel Player Piano:

[I] "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We." 

And so it goes.

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