Where Did THAT Come From: Why Such a Jumble of Influences

I began making up stories at a fairly young age, 5 or 6 years old, I think. At that age, my family moved around a fair amount, lived out of hotels from time to time, and some of our videotapes didn’t necessarily have the whole movie on them.

Basically, I spent a lot of time experiencing other people’s storytelling: J. R. R. Tolkien, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, L. Frank Baum, Disney, Star Trek, George Lucas and imitators, 1970s-1980s syndicated cartoons. But more importantly, I spent a lot of time experiencing fragments of other people’s storytelling, and trying to figure out how the story went from there. A little bit later in life, my family bought a massive, highly illustrated book about the making of the Wizard of Oz movie, as a gift for someone we knew who was collecting Oz memorabilia in a small way. But it was six months or a year before we managed to make contact with the gift recipient, so the children (mostly meaning me) were permitted to read the book as long as we handled it as carefully as a museum artifact. I already knew the movie and the book pretty well, and had noticed the differences between the two, but here was the explanation of where those differences came from, wedged in between pictures that showed the paths not taken: a calmer-looking Tin Man, a blonde Dorothy, a glamorous Wicked Witch.

Then came Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales. I’d already read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and would go onto read the Silmarillion and some of the more interesting volumes of the History of Middle Earth. The Unfinished Tales were another glimpse behind the curtain, into the idea that stories were not big black monoliths that dropped out of nowhere and zapped our minds. They were things people made, sometimes after a lot of confusion about how they wanted to handle a particular element. Sometimes the author couldn’t make up his mind about a particular element and just shrugged and offered up two different versions: “…but which one is true, only the wise know.” The author could change his mind about what pieces to use and where they went, right until he shared the story with other people (or he died and his son Christopher shared it with other people, if his name was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien).

Since then, I’ve often been drawn to stories that don’t quite work right, or characters that tower above the rest of the story they’re in. Or sometimes two perfectly good stories invented by other people collide in my head and I have to pick up the pieces out of the wreckage afterwards. This is more of a thing for me with film and TV storytelling, because stories in those media are faster and easier to process than a text-based or videogame-based story.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a whole junk shop of salvaged characters, historical/cultural trivia, and story pieces that to me, seemed to need a new home. I engineer a new framework for them, try to put these pieces together in a way that makes sense to me, and build new parts to replace the missing ones. Then I polish my new stories and share them with other people by putting them up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. I feel like the results are truly my own take on classic tropes and ideas. But I wouldn’t have any stories to tell without the junk shop of broken stories to supply me with parts.

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