One of my former professors recently asked me who my early influences were. I gave it some thought, and it was difficult to give a concise answer. I think, as writers or people, we are all the sum of everything we have read or experienced (I wish I could bleach my brain of “The DaVinci Code.”) My answer was Edward Abbey, William Wordsworth, and Homer. I could have added Thoreau, Conrad, London, Tolkien, Kipling, and Vonnegut. Extending the deadline beyond “early” I could add Kingsolver, Stegner, McGuane, Bellow, and Dillard…among many more.
I think the three I provided are generally indicative of what I strive to write. It is not lost on me that none of them are novelists (yes, Abbey did write novels but was best known for his nonfiction). My work usually involves the natural world and the struggles of humans, in our epic and little lives, within it. I like being in the wilderness. I like being in places without humans. I like writing about those places. I like to “wander lonely as a cloud,” as Wordsworth did. I think there is an epic struggle, if only for the individual, in every daily life.
This former professor, Rick Carey, is an uber talented writer of the natural world. Craig Childs is another former professor who is ridiculously skilled in writing about the world around us. Abbey was Abbey. He maybe spawned the genre. Stegner may have preceded him, but Abbey created the angry voice crying out in the wilderness. I am none of them. I wish I were. I’m not a botanist, ecologist, or even that astute at observation. I’m good at wandering around and vaguely competent at describing what I encounter. Rick, Craig, and certainly Abbey, can drill and peel and show the reader how and why things happen and make the reader care passionately about it. I like to describe ferns. Occasionally, I describe ferns well.
I mentioned Annie Dillard as a later influence. Her writing just staggers me. I want my writing to be Annie Dillard’s. I want to write about a muddy trail so vividly that the reader feels it squishing in their toes and then seamlessly segue into the life and death struggle of a butterfly and make the reader cry for that butterfly. Dillard can do that over and over. I’d like to do that just once.
If one looks at the influences I’ve cited, it is easy to see the threads of naturalism and struggle and a strong western bent. Ironically, I don’t think that is what I write. I want to. I try to. I think my writing shares more DNA with Nabokov or Carver. I’m not suggesting I write as well as either of these masters; just that my scribblings more closely approximate theirs than the authors I want to emulate. My writing has angst, angst up the wazoo, and big conflict from small issues. I am a non-expert describing the shit that interests me. I might be Bill Bryson. I’m cool with that. Bryson is just trying to be Wordsworth.
“And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.” – Wordsworth
You may not know that I have a book deal. I may have mentioned it in every social media venue a few thousand times. I thought getting a book deal would legitimize my efforts; that I could confidently sit at the grown up table. Really, it has had the opposite effect. I am immensely proud that my book was purchased and is getting published. The writers I admire, both the ones I want to emulate and those I probably do, do it over and over.
I’m Darren, and I need to write.