Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Book's Influences

Two weeks ago I reviewed Rock Bottom by Michael Shilling, the day after that my local paper, The Boston Globe, gave it a very positive review, last weekend I saw that he was a featured blogher advertising post, and then Tuesday I announced that I was giving away the book as part of the One World One Heart event. This guy's everywhere, and now he's here with the Evil Overlord for my first ever guest post. I am very excited to have a truly interesting and literary person share his writing influences with you!
I'm so happy to guest blog for the Evil Overlord, because it is such a pleasure to speak directly to readers, especially those who are not part of, if you'll forgive the marketing term, my book's target audience. In Elizabeth's post on my novel, Rock Bottom, she mentions that she didn't think the book would be her cup of tea, but that it surprisingly was, so I got in touch to see if I could introduce myself to her readers and talk a bit about the books that influenced the creation of
Rock Bottom.
First and foremost on the influence list is William Faulkner's
As I Lay Dying. Now what, you might ask, does a Gothic story of the 1930s deep south have to do with a bunch of LA rock musicians from the present day? In a word, family. In the case of As I Lay Dying, the Bundren family involves themselves in a bizarre quest to bring their ailing mother, Addie Bundren, to her final resting place, physically moving her across the county as she, you guessed it, lays dying. The setup is surreal, but Faulkner uses that surreality to delve into each family member's sense of the role they have played in their family dynamic, the weight they literally carry on their backs and figuratively carry in their hearts. This process of reckoning - moving, strange, and unforgettable - inspired me to not hold back when plumbing the complications of the family that is a rock band. Instead of carting a dead body through the rural southern heat, Blood Orphans are carting a dead dream across snowy Amsterdam.
Another book that shaped the writing of
Rock Bottom was The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen's novel from 2001, which managed to win the National Book Award yet become more known for the infamy/arrogance/flat-out stupidity of the author, when he said "Thanks but no thanks," to Oprah. The Corrections is a book people love to hate, but I kind of hate to love it. The people in the book are so unpleasant, so regrettable, so . . . foul, but Franzen's brilliance is such that he is able to make these people three-dimensional and utterly deserving of our sympathy, while also being extremely funny. I dislike it when authors seem to hate their characters, and have created them just top be mean to them (paging Chuck Pahluniak). Franzen does quite the opposite, taking some of the most limited Homo Sapiens on the planet and imbuing them with a fullness of complexity. Reading The Corrections helped me see how to take the less-than-likable - which everyone in Rock Bottom could be described as - and honor their suffering on the page to provide them with some kind of warped dignity.
Bruce Wagner's
Force Majeure also informed Rock Bottom's creation. This 1991 novel is a satire that concerns a Hollywood screenwriter named Bud Wiggins, on a long and fruitless quest to sell his screenplay. The book is a take on Cervantes Don Quixote, in which our hero stumbles through a series of delusions (or are they?) both heroic and tragic, while others prosper around him. It's a brilliant book about the LA dream machine; much of the back-story in Rock Bottom concerns the band's place in that machine, in all it's sorrow, pity, and heroic loss. I am fascinated by the Hollywood mirage, and Force Majeure was useful in helping me see how to effectively portray those so starved to see their name in lights that their spirits go horribly astray.
I hope you all enjoyed reading about the books that influenced Michael Shilling in his creation of Rock Bottom. I had never heard of these second two, so I'm going to get them from my library. That'll be 2 books to add to each of my reading challenges!


Dorte H said...

What a great post! I always enjoy hearing about a writer´s tricks-of-the-trade :)

Elizabeth, I don´t remember if I have said this before (but I think it every time I visit your blog); your banner is so beautiful and imaginative! COOL!
- so beginners like me can certainly learn a lot by keeping an eye on your blog.

Shelia said...

Hi Elizabeth! Great post and I always enjoy hearing about different books! I wish I had a little more time to read now!
Oh, you are the most craftiest one! You're an expert, Dearest!
Be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

Justine said...

Wow, how fantastic that he took the time to write this out for your blog!

Justine ;o )

Melissa said...

I have been a little behind and I I am glad I stopped by. How incredibly cool to have your guest blogger! I am so fitting this book into my free time(HA HA). I love Faulkner, so to hear that he was an influence has made me want to read this book even more. Thanks again Elizabeth for sharing.