Writers: What Influences And Inspires You?

I’m at last getting back to work now that the house move is largely finished. You may recall that I’ve written previously that I managed to get through BOTH The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. (Author Herman Wouk is now 101 years old!) Written in the 1960s and 1970s, both massive novels (over 1,000 pages each) were famously adapted for American television in “big” productions in the 1980s and were huge hits.

But like too many other novels, I’ve felt those television versions, while they had their moments, didn’t really do full justice to the books. Yet maybe it is unfair even expecting that they could have?: the books are of an incredible scope and complexity. It’s almost as if the words “novel” or “book” are insufficient to describe them.

"The Winds of War," by Herman Wouk. [Photo by me, 2016.]
“The Winds of War,” by Herman Wouk. [Photo by me, 2016.]

One fault that can be found with them, however, is their scope is so gigantic that reading them can feel at times like trying to wade through an encyclopedia…. only suddenly to find yourself in the next chapter joining fictional characters trading barbed comments and sexual innuendoes at a formal dinner. That said, they also have some great characters and too many memorable bits to begin to recount. They are amazing writing efforts.

My “favorite” character is not one you might expect. I find “Leslie Slote,” the scholarly yet somewhat cowardly U.S. foreign service officer, to be extremely believable and well-written. While the television versions infamously had some “actor issues” (several just didn’t anywhere near capture the characters in the novels, and I’m not the only one to say that), I do have to say that the excellent David Dukes played the books’ “Slote” very well.

I had read both novels well-before I had Conventions in my head in any “organized” form. I had even had them in storage, and had not seen them for over six months until unpacking them in our new house the other day. I re-opened Winds last night briefly and once again there it was . . . that first page:

First page of "The Winds of War," by Herman Wouk. [Photo by me, 2016.]
First page of “The Winds of War,” by Herman Wouk. [Photo by me, 2016.]

I realized as I thumbed through some of it once more that how Mr. Wouk structured the novel hits close to home for me. He places his fictional characters squarely in Europe and America in the several years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Indeed, if you don’t know much about how the Second World War began and what “ordinary” people we’re thinking and experiencing, and can’t stomach the idea of reading “dry” history, this novel will drop you right into that era in a gripping way.

Perhaps that is partly what has also subsciously drawn me to the 1780s and 1790s for Conventions. In the late 18th century similarly an under-armed America struggled to find its place and steer clear of a growing conflict in Europe. In the 1780s-90s, as would happen much later in the 1930s and early 1940s, Americans in Europe would find themselves caught up in it.

Along the Seine River, Paris, 1994. [Photo by me, 1994.]
Along the Seine River, Paris. [Photo by me, 1994.]

It’s remarkable what can influence and inspire us as writers.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂