First of all, as you can probably tell, I'm trying out a new format. No big changes, but I've added a picture to the banner (that really has nothing to do with anything except the fact that I enjoy being outdoors and if you use your imagination I could totally be shooting a bow in that picture), and done some color scheme tweaks. I can't say I love the blue, but the red was starting to grate. For now, I think it's a good change. We'll see what I think in a couple weeks.
Secondly, today shall henceforth be known as the day in which I began the weekly FORMATIVE INFLUENCE FRIDAY! I know, I know, could I think of a more boring name for anything ever? Probably not. That's why from here on out I'll pretty much always refer to it as FIF. Maybe even #FIF, because #hashtags are #awesome and #totallynotoutofstyleyet. But here's the thing: I've been meaning to talk about books, movies, and other media that I've always thought were awesome and have shaped me as a writer for some time, now, and what better way than this? Basically I'll just jump around the list on my Formative Influences page, eventually talking about each entry. Also, it'll be motivation for me to blog a bit more consistently, which is a good thing. I think. And, hey, maybe you'll learn something. Maybe I'll learn something, for that matter.
First up: Let me tell you about Chris Van Allsburg.
Basically, he's the man. As in he is really cool and if you haven't read any of his books, you should immediately because (1) they're children's books so they won't take much time, (2) they're beautifully illustrated, and (3) they are fascinating and creepy and even dark sometimes and I love them.
Believe it or not, many of you have probably already been introduced to Mr. Allsburg's work through the feature film Jumanji. Behold the trailer:
Yeesh. Were all trailers so long back then? Also, that was twenty years ago, almost. Weird. Also, yes, that is Kirsten Dunst. Anyway, the movie isn't awful, but Allsburg's book is better. If you don't recognize Jumanji, you'll almost certainly recognize The Polar Express, also based on an Allsburg book. And while both Jumanji and The Polar Express were solid Allsburg books, neither were my favorites. I preferred books like
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, about a boy who stumbles into massive garden of eerily sculpted topiary trees--a garden with a dark secret. Or
The Sweetest Fig, about a man who discovers figs that make dreams come true. He spends months studying dreams in an attempt to eat one of the figs on the perfect night, only to have his plans go tragically wrong. But then there's
The Wretched Stone, in which a ship finds a strange glowing stone on a remote island, a stone that the crew obsesses over, staring at it day in and day out (a thinly veiled but accurate metaphor for children watching television all the time).
And that's just naming a few. What I love most about Allsburg's work was the creepiness of it all. They were all children's stories, so nothing too crazy, but he still managed to create this eerie sense of worlds in which anything could happen. He paints fantastical places with both words and pictures. And, perhaps most of all, I loved how each of his stories made me think afterwards. There was always a mystery not quite answered, another hinted question behind the conclusion, that kept me thinking for days and weeks on end. For a little boy who loved imagining, there was hardly anything better. Allsburg's stories aren't hopeless, but they're certainly cautionary; and while perhaps not quite grotesque, they have their fair share of the absurd. Looking back, Allsburg's stories seems a strange precognitive echo of the effects Kafka would have on me much later.
So, if you haven't read Chris Van Allsburg, go read him. Now. Immediately. Read him to your kids, especially if you want them to just shut up and think for a few minutes (which is, I'm now realizing, a large reason my parents probably gave/read them to me...). Basically, Chris Van Allsburg is Kafka for kids. And that is freaking awesome.