Whether we know it or not, we all have creative minds. That can be good or bad—God knows we’ve been creatively killing ourselves since the dawn of time. Necessity isn’t the mother of invention. War is. I tackle the theme of war in The Wastelanders, the insanity of it taken to another level. Hemingway said, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” Interesting from a man who wore it like a badge. Yet for the moment I’d rather focus on something else Mr. Hemingway said—“The writer must write what he has to say, not speak it.”
I’ve said this before but it’s worth saying again. Many people talk about becoming a writer because they like the idea of being a writer. However, they lack the work ethic it takes because they don’t follow Mr. Hemingway’s advice and actually write what they have to say. Writing is hard. Good writing is even harder. For instance, anyone can scribble “he looked old and addled” but it takes a Moira Young to write “Jest like the land, Pa’s gittin worse an his eyes look more’n more to the sky instead of what’s here in front of him.” That’s from Blood Red Road—a great read! So I try to follow Natalie Goldberg’s advice: “Use original detail in your writing.” Of course, that’s easier said than done, but that’s also why writing is a contact sport.
As a teacher, it drives me to the brink of madness when a student tells me he doesn’t read because he doesn’t want to be influenced by a particular writer. That attitude is wrong on so many different levels; I want to bang my head against the wall. We wouldn’t have West Side Story if Sondheim, Robbins, and Bernstein thought along those lines. I tell my students that any artist worth her salt is influenced by the artists that have come before her as well as by those with whom she associates. Recently a quote by Stephen King has been floating around twitterland: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Yes, simple as that. I tell my students to read, imitate, and learn. It’s what the Beatles did in their early days playing in Germany, and talk about the original work they produced. I fully admit to being influenced by Mr. King, Frank Herbert, and Philip K. Dick when writing The Wastelanders. The trick was turning the novel into my own work. And I think I pulled it off.