Not the type of invite I would have conjured in my imagination, but it was an invite nonetheless. The promise was that there would be interesting people to meet.
While this promise tends to meet a raised eyebrow of suspicion, the good doctor extending the invite was a peculiar man himself. He probed with questions and comments that felt like smacks from a soft-faced hammer. Each one delivered with force, but tempered with a congeniality that obscured whether malice or a lack of social graces was behind the strike.
And there it was, both in the setup and the payoff in Neil Gaiman’s short story, “The Monarch of the Glen”.
There was the quiet war between the wealthy and the commoner. The agents in-between, manipulating people and events for unknowable masters for mysterious reasons. There was Shadow Moon, the character who fielded the doctor’s questions and got his invite to a party he never should have attended.
All these things played in to my own interests.
I love stories set along the red-velvet-roped battle line between classes. Gaiman’s story also held a candle up to the myths and legends we come to believe only after we perceive.
Neil Gaiman has done more than capture my imagination though. He’s cast a shadow over my own story worlds. Like any shadow, though, the image distorts when laid across a landscape already vibrant with life.
Here’s how Gaiman’s influence intersects with my imagination throughout The Gospel of Wolves (TGoW) stories.
One of my favorite characters of all-time remains Shadow Moon who appeared in both “The Monarch of the Glen” and “American Gods”. He’s flawed, but loyal. Capable in a fight, but loving. Gaiman gives vivid pictures of how Shadow fills a space with his presence and I use that influence in a couple of ways.
One aspect of Shadow Moon’s characterization is easy to spot. In TGoW, fledgling vocalist Tessa Carrillo has dubbed Andros Koresh as ‘Puppy’. Where Gaiman’s use of ‘Puppy’ is full of endearment between Laura and Shadow Moon, Tessa will one day divulge her use of the nickname for Andros is far from complimentary.
Less obvious to spot is how the descriptions of Shadow’s size captivated me and shows up in TGoW. This turns up as a character trait of Andros’ best friend, Truck. In Episode One of TGoW, Truck’s size wasn’t mentioned because it wasn’t relevant, but when it does come in to play, the descriptions will be tiny reader-geek homages to the way Shadow’s size came to life via Gaiman’s prose.
The quest for power comes in to play with any story, no matter how benign the stakes. Gaiman fascinated me the way he had those with power enlist and deploy their operatives. In both “The Monarch of the Glen” and “American Gods” there was a rich undercurrent to the characters that gave the stories dimension and depth that I take pains to add before putting that first word to paper (or screen as is often the case).
I don’t know Gaiman’s method for this, but he’s influenced me to ask myself why my villains are doing what they’re doing and how they rationalize their behavior and actions even as I begin pitting them up against my heroes.
In TGoW, Tessa Carrillo, Jackie Strickland and Peter Behrendt aren’t just randomly evil, I know their baggage and reveal it when it matters. This way, even you don’t agree with them, you can at least see a glimpse of why they’re doing the things they’re doing.
Another influence isn’t public yet, but is on the horizon. It’s inspired by the naming convention Gaiman uses for his short fiction collections. From Gaiman’s “Fragile Things, Short Fictions and Wonders” to “Trigger Warning, Short Fictions and Disturbances”, he adds a descriptor to the title, giving further insights on the type of stories and poems found in the collection.
As I research an work out my story arcs, I create the backstories of the minor characters who affect the primary ones. These backstories usually turn in to flash fictions that help color the story world and provide insight in to future conflicts. So far, I’ve kept them all in the Ranger membership on my website, but I want to release these in book form.
Using the Gaiman model, I now have a way of letting the reader know what types of flash fictions they can expect to get. Following the releases of my next two planned books, “By Fang or Feather” and “The Gospel of Wolves, Episode Two”, my first planned collection of flash fictions, poetry and fine art will be, “The False Monarchy of Lions: Flash Fictions and Rebellions”.
Within it will be the flash fictions that I can’t reveal until after the next TGoW book because the rebellions contain spoilers for it.
Lastly, there’s the way Gaiman mixes man and myth. Our histories, religions and even our self-images contain some element of myth whether we want to admit it or not and Gaiman has this poetically engaging voice that prompts me to explore the way mythology shows up in my own life.
In my stories, I explore our ties to mythology in two ways.
The first is that I find the myth in each of my major characters. Inspired by the conceptual new gods Gaiman introduced in “American Gods”, I took my mortal characters and found their internal dialogues on how they viewed themselves as the heroes of their own lives and use this as the motivational true north of their journeys.
The second way man and myth show up in my stories is in some of the unexplained phenomena that creeps into the stories. I’ve encountered and literally been touched by the unseen and I embed the nature, if not the actual experiences in to TGoW.
Neil Gaiman is one of several authors who enrich my reading life so drastically that it bleeds in to my writing life as well. The books mentioned above aren’t the only books of Neil’s I recommend, below is a list of a few other books I loved from him.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane
- Anansi Boys
Of them all, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is my favorite book.
It reminded me a bit of a Twilight Zone episode where a kid living in an abusive house found out that he could dive to the bottom of a pond in a field near his house and come out in a different world where there was a mom and dad who loved him.
But Neil took it much further and lore he created and masterfully crafted makes that another book I come back to again and again.
Which of Neil’s books do you like best?