‘My favorite Authors’ (2011)

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Note the cover price–50 cents!

I can’t believe I left Walter R. Brooks off this list. His Freddy the Pig books are among my all-time favorites. Who else would have written about celebrity spiders?

My Favorite Authors

I know, I know–none of these has ever been called Serious Mainstream Literature. You’d never catch Tolstoy writing about celebrity spiders; and Jane Austen wasn’t big on lost cities inhabited by maniacs.

But these are the authors I’ve learned from, and these are the authors whose works I love–and return to again and again.

‘Freddy and the Bean Home News’

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Is it okay for me to review a book when I’ve only just started to read it? Yeah, well, why not?

Only Walter R. Brooks would ever think of starting a sentence with these words: “There was an ant named Jerry Peters…”

I got this for Christmas this year, Freddy and the Bean Home News. It’s one of the few Freddy the Pig books that I haven’t read. But I know I’m going to love it.

I read a lot of these when I was a little boy, scarfed ’em down like marshmallow peeps. Back then, it was the story and the characters that kept me coming back for more. But now I read them for the subtle wit and humor that went right over my head when I was ten or twelve years old. How many writers can write just as effectively for young children and mature (chronologically, at least) adults? I think I might enjoy them even more now than I did as a child–and that’s saying something.

What could be more soothing, more quietly hilarious, than a Freddy book? Mr. Brooks cranked them out for almost 40 years, and there’s not a bad one in the bunch. Ideal for reading aloud to your kids or grandchildren; and just as ideal for reading for yourself.

Many of these have been recently reprinted, and the rest are available online through used book services. Rejoice!

 

‘Bell Mountain’… and Mars

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Remarking that for some reason my character, Tughrul Lomak (one of King Ryons’ chieftains), reminds her of Tars Tarkas in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian novels, Heidi has asked to what extent, if any, those books by ERB have influenced my Bell Mountain books.

Tars Tarkas is a green Martian, a member of a race that has brutalized itself by practicing communalism–especially the communal raising of children: these guys take “It takes a village” to its logical extreme. But he has broken the law by loving his own daughter, which has made him capable of sympathy, friendship, and self-sacrifice. But he’s one of my favorite characters in the series, so thanks, Heidi, for mentioning him. Good old Tars Tarkas!

As to your question: Edgar Rice Burroughs has been one of my favorite authors since I first opened a paperback copy of Pellucidar back in high school. Over time, the Mars novels have become my favorite Burroughs stories. It’d be very unusual if I weren’t influenced by them.

But I’m old enough now to have learned not to try to imitate other writers, except in very general ways.

From Edgar Rice Burroughs I’ve learned everything I know about juggling sub-plots without dropping any, pacing, and moving the story continually forward, not letting it bog down anywhere along the way. No one ever did those things better than ERB.

Another thing I’ve learned from his example is that when the imagination wants to rip, let her rip! This is especially evident in one of my all-time favorites stories, The Chessmen of Mars, in which he created a place that’s weird and eerie even by Martian standards–and made it totally believable.

And I think it’s obvious to Tarzan fans that Wytt owes some of his inspiration to Tarzan’s easily-frightened little monkey, Nkima.

As a storyteller, I’m always on the lookout to learn from other storytellers. Self-education never stops. Something of all my favorite authors has gone into all of my Bell Mountain books. Sir Thomas Malory, Homer, The Mabinogion; Burroughs, Agatha Christie, Walter R. Brooks, H.R.F. Keating–and everyone else whose work I’ve enjoyed. Not forgetting Ross McDonald, who taught me how to write sentences that make themselves easy to read.

I could go on like this all day. But to sum it up–

If you want to be a writer… read!

Why I Watch Movies and TV

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Some of you are down on movies and television for celebrating immoral and even wicked actions and letting the characters in the story get away with it. Those are not unfounded criticisms.

As a fantasy novelist, I must plead guilty to writing in such a way that the story turns out as I want it to. King Ryons gets to Obann in time to save the city. Lord Orth passes through a phase of madness and idiocy to emerge as a true man of God. These things happen because I wrote them that way. It can’t be helped.

I watch a lot of old TV and movies. One reason is for relaxation. After a day of writing, I need to veg out. I don’t think any of you will accuse me of allowing these films to shape my moral outlook.

But there is another reason.

Writing a novel isn’t as easy as it looks. The only thing easy about it is that it’s very easy to mess it up. And as I write, I have two overriding concerns: character and story. Both have to be right, or the novel will be wrong.

So I watch for the same reason I never go to bed without a book to read until I fall asleep. I want to learn how to create and manage believable characters that my readers will respond to, and how to tell a story coherently, convincingly, and compellingly. I can’t learn that unless I immerse myself in other people’s stories. And because the story-telling art is so difficult, I have to keep learning all the time.

As hard as I try to avoid it, some of the stories I watch turn out to be dreck. From these I learn what not to do! From the others, the ones that are not pigs’ breakfasts, I pick up innumerable hints that I can apply to my own stories. From C.S. Lewis, Agatha Christie, Walter R. Brooks, J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Upfield, and many others, I learn the techniques I need to make my novels stand the test of readership.

And daily Bible reading is indispensable as a guide to what I ought to put into my stories and what I ought to leave out. As a writer, I can do nothing without God’s blessing and guidance.

A steady diet of B.S. fiction, consumed uncritically, unthinkingly, for no other purpose than “because it’s there,” has a really good shot at rotting the consumer’s mind.

If you want to be a musician, you have to listen to other people’s music. The same hold true for story-tellers.

A Wonderful Book for Kids–and for You

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How about a wholesomeness break? Yeah!

I had this book when I was a little boy, and now I’ve got it again. I loved Walter R. Brooks’ Freddy the Pig books when I was ten years old, and I love them even more, now.

If you’re looking for something wholesome, extremely funny, and full of unexpected twists and turns, either for your children to read on their own, or for you to read aloud to them, or for you to read in bed and revel in it, you can’t do much better than Freddy and the Perilous Adventure. Published in 1942, it doesn’t show its age at all. And if you really like it, there are 26 books in the series.

Brooks, who also created Mr. Ed the talking horse, is one of those rare authors who can delight children and adults on two different levels at once. If you think that’s easy, try it sometime.

In this outing, Freddy, along with two ducks and a pair of spiders, goes up in a balloon that won’t come down again. It turns into a somewhat intense predicament–especially when they get caught in a thunderstorm. Accused of stealing the balloon, Freddy not only has to devise a way to get back down to earth, but also to repair his reputation.

Try it! You’ll like it.