Last year I picked up a Jim Butcher book I chanced upon at the library where I write my books. I’d heard about the author for years, but mostly during the debacle of the 2015 Hugo Awards when his Dresden Files novel, Skin Game, was no-awarded (which means voters are saying the book was so awful that it should never have been shortlisted). Was it really that bad? My experiences with contemporary fantasy novels hadn’t been successful in recent years, so my expectations weren’t high.
My reaction? Within a few months’ I’d not only devoured the entire 15-novel Dresden Files series but during an enforced break in my book project at the time (War Against the White Knights) I started writing a series of my own that in my head was ‘Dresden Files in Space’. It’s not a copy, and many details are completely and unrecognizably different, but in my little author’s head I was channeling the excitement Jim Butcher delivers in spades. And my characters too were more vivid in my imagination than ever before. I’ve been reading novels for over 40 years, and that must mean hundreds of authors — thousands — but I’ve never encountered an author who could write characters as convincingly as Jim Butcher. The guy is a writing genius. And that makes him a powerful source to channel.
I think that when creatives inspire each other to new heights, then this channeling idea is how it often works. If you try to copy another artist’s work, you’ll get an uninspired dull echo. But if you fill your head with the same vibe you get from your inspiration, and then allow your own unique creative juices to flow, then you get a much more special result. And the most gifted among us will keep that virtuous cycle going by then going on to inspire others.
I remember reading an interview in the mid-80s with Gene Simmons of KISS talking about a bass player in a contemporary rock band who was inspired by Simmons’s bass licks on the early KISS albums. Simmons was bemused by the whole thing because he couldn’t hear any echoes of his playing in his devotee, but that didn’t matter because the inspiration worked. [I’m not certain which band Simmons was talking about, but I think it might have been Toad the Wet Sprocket].
So there’s my writing tip for the day: fill your head with something good and then get writing.
Were the results of my Butcher inspiration successful? I think so. Certainly they were the most enjoyable novels to write so far. You could always find out for yourself. I launched the second novel in the series yesterday, and for a few days it will be available for 99c/99p. So will the first book, Hurt U Back.