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Fiction Author(ities) who influenced me

No matter what field someone enters, they likely had influences along the way. I'm not talking about the current definition of "influencer" that is thrown around so casually in places like Instagram, youtube and the other social media sites. Perhaps it's a sign of my age, but I don't buy sneakers, clothes and the like based on what some would-be celebrity recommends. The influences I'm talking about are the kind who propel you to follow your passion, whether it be sports, an individual skill, the arts, or in my case, writing.

My favorite authors have all influenced me in some way, shape or form, starting from the time I first jumped into reading in my usual manner–with both feet.

As a child my favorite series of books centered around a young boy from Mars who went by the name Zip Zip. The name originated from the sound he made due to the earth's atmosphere, and Zip Zip was featured in a trio of books by John M. Schealer-Zip Zip and His Flying Saucer, Zip Zip Goes to Venus and Zip Zip and the Red Planet. Don't bother trying to look for them, since they have long been out of print. I was finally able to locate them a few years back on e-bay and likely overpaid for this glimpse into my past. Alas, as the old saying goes "you can never go home again," and this was true for me. While they were still entertaining to read as an adult, the books weren't quite as captivating as they were to my 11-year-old self.

The same cannot be said for one of my other favorite childhood authors, the legendary French writer Jules Verne. Mysterious Island was my favorite, while his better known works include Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in Eighty Days. I got off to a slow start but became a fairly decent reader as a child, and because of this they occasionally let me borrow books from the high school library. That's where I discovered Mr. Verne, a true early master of the imagination. Speaking of imagination, I would be remiss if I didn't include an American stalwart of mystery and imagination, the one and only Edgar Allan Poe. Reading The Tell-tale Heart and his poem The Bells to my English classes was a true highlight of my years as a teacher. Anyone familiar with his life knows how much he struggled for acceptance while living in poverty. The sad thing is, if he were alive and writing those stories today he'd be a very rich man.

I won't go into detail about my love for J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and L. Frank Baum, as I have likely gushed enough about all three of them in my blog about my personal literary favorites. I will, however, wax poetic about the man I call "the living Tolkien," Terry Brooks. On the recommendation of a life-long friend (thanks Pick!) I checked out The Sword of Shannara and was instantly hooked. He recently released the 30th and final book of the Shannara series and as was the case with every one before it, I enjoyed it immensely. His series The Word and The Void and Magic Kingdom of Landover are also must-reads for anyone who enjoys epic fantasy. A few years ago in 2016 my wife and I were fortunate enough to meet Mr. Brooks in person, and it was a moment I will never forget. As great as he is as a writer, he was an even nicer man. He thanked my wife, a school librarian, noting that he has a special place in his heart for the librarians of the world (a sentiment that I share, especially the one they call Mrs. Senecal). I'm not one to get my picture taken with celebrities, but I made an exception for Terry Brooks, (see the photo above) the writer who has probably most inspired me and whose books dominate the shelves of my personal library.

I'll admit that I was not initially taken with J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. But as an English teacher whose students were going ga-ga over her work, I felt compelled to discover what all the noise was about.

And boy am I glad I did.

The term "page-turner" is way overused, but like Terry Brooks, Ms. Rowling has created a series of true page-turners. If you're a Harry Potter fan and you haven't visited Universal Studios and experienced The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (not Harry Potter World, like I often called it before my wife set me straight) you owe it to yourself to check it out. Barb's not much for motion-dominated rides, but has made an exception every time we visit Orlando thanks to the soothing powers of dramamine.

The first super hero comic book I owned featured Iron Man and Captain America. As someone who is always "all-in" when they find something they like, I became a Marvel Comics fanatic. Long before they sold shirts, hats and dozens of other comic book merchandise I was getting into trouble running around the neighborhood with a garbage can lid doing my best impersonation of ole' Cap himself. From there I discovered the Fantastic Four and most notably the Silver Surfer and Galactus. I owned them all, Daredevil, X-Men, Captain America and a host of others. I also followed Batman, Superman and the Flash from DC Comics. I only wish my parents hadn't tossed my comics to the curb when I went to college, as they threw away a small fortune without even realizing it.

I got away from comic books for a while before returning to the paneled pages during the comic book boom of the early 1990s. By then the characters had taken on a much more "grim and gritty" persona. One character who caught my eye was Shadowhawk, a dark vigilante created by Jim Valentino of Image Comics. In an amazing stroke of luck I wrote Jim and requested permission to photocopy the six page introduction story of Shadowhawk as a means of teaching the basic short story elements to my freshman English students. Not only did he say yes, he also offered me a proofreading job which turned into my role as the editor of Shadowhawk. My daughter Mariah, a main character in Mr. Tout's, dressed as Shadowhawk for Halloween as a small child and was featured in the comic book. Those were exciting times as I got to co-write the mini-series The Pact with Jim and also had my story, "The Shadow of the Hawk" (think Three Muskateers) included in Shadowhawks of Legend along with comic book legend Alan Moore.

By this time the comic book world had expanded well past super heroes and villains, which led me to another favorite author, Neil Gaiman.

I was first introduced to Gaiman's work through his award-winning DC Vertigo comic book series, The Sandman. I'll admit that it took me a few issues to understand what was going on, but once I got the hang of it I was hooked. His adaptation of one of my literary favorites (see related blog) A Midsummer Night's Dream won the World Fantasy award, and the way he incorporated characters and creatures from various world mythology is second to none. When I taught poetry I was always fascinated by personification, the art of giving human characteristics and emotions to non-human things. This is evident in the talking (and singing) animals, trees and even statues in Mr. Tout's Magical Forest. But what Neil did that really struck me as special was the way he personified unusual things like Destiny, Death, Desire, Delirium and Destruction. My understanding is that Netflix is going to release The Sandman as a television series. Fingers are crossed that they go about it the right way.

And there you have it, some of my greatest literary influences. If you've made it this far, thank you! And when you're finished with The Uninvited Guest, check a few of these authors out–I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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