Monday, August 11, 2014

Guest Post: Writing Inspiration

 Today, Jade's blog is pleased to welcome author U.L. Harper!

To this day I get asked about my inspiration. Where do I get my ideas from? I think I’m inspired by what everybody is inspired by.

Being Inspired

For the longest time I thought I was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut. Damned proud of it too. Cat’s Cradle is a classic in my book, and Slaughterhouse Five opened my eyes to the world, even if I never read the first four (just kidding). It impressed me and still does.

After reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, I was sure that it was the prototype for every first-person present-tense novel. Violent, honest, sardonic, moving, and funny with a twist, not to mention short and at a third grade level. I figured I was influenced by Chuck, and proud of it.

And then there was Clive Barker and his Weaveworld, Imajica, Great and Secret Show novels. Works to live by. I’m not even going to bring up Hellraiser because that’s opening a box I don’t have time to explore right now. When I was reading him, I figured Barker was an influence too. His language, his special kind of action violence… Yep. Clive was my guy, and proud of it.

They were just a few of my influences, until I started actually writing novels.

Once I started writing, I didn’t see Kurt Vonnegut’s wit or timing or poignant yet lighthearted storylines coming out of me. I had none of Barker’s eloquence, and I had no idea how to present a horror or fantasy idea. Not at all, well, until recently.

This is what I found: I’m influenced by the people around me. I’m influenced by the life surrounding me. I liked Fight Club for its coverage of social issues for young men. A book for dudes my age at the time. I was twenty something when it came out. Don’t do the math. I’m not afraid to say I’m twenty-one again in December. It’s the same reason I loved Cat’s Cradle so much, as well as Slaughterhouse Five. They weren’t influencing me; they were what I needed at the time. Yes, a map. A guide, but my writing has almost nothing related. They’re part of me but not necessarily as a writer.

Let me put it a different way. It’s imperative for everyone out there to know that ideas aren’t made in a vacuum. Authors don’t sit in a room writing down ideas not knowing where these ideas come from. The ideas, the inspiration is close to us. Or, at least they’re close to me. I’ll just speak for myself, I guess.

Here’s an example of a story idea. Took my whole life to come up with:

When I was a kid, in return for a house, my parents took on the responsibility of taking care of my great grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. The experience rocked me. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why she was urinating in the closet and flinging it out into the kitchen. It felt odd to have her eating dinner after we ate. I just couldn’t quite handle the idea, but it stuck with me. My mom later told me that my great grandmother believed she was a young child in Kansas and that she basically had no idea who we were.

Now hold that idea. Jump forward about eighteen years when I get a phone call right before work telling me that my grandfather had died. You know, in my first novel, I mixed my grandfather, in his post-stroke wheelchair and pot belly with my Alzheimer stricken grandmother and there you had my influence for my main character in The Flesh Statue. Not the protagonist, for those keeping track, but the main character.

Years later, having the environment on my mind a little bit I came up with another bright idea.

For my novels In Blackness and its sequel In Blackness: The Reinvention of Man, for influence, I found myself looking out at the world and asking the question that everyone asks at some point: Why are we not food? I’m going to tell you right now that that’s how horror novels start. No vampires, no werewolves, no demons, but still, why are we not food? Then I found the answer.

The point is, the world around me has always been a huge influence. Why do people react to certain things? What’s the history on why they reacted to it? What’s their background? The authors I love so much? Well, I still dig them, and they have a place, but that place is for entertainment value. What gets me going is the same thing that gets people up for work every morning. I get my ideas from the same place kids do when they say uncontrollable wacky things. I’m inspired by the same thing that inspires probably every artist.

I’m inspired by the world around me. Yes, the whole thing.

Keep reading for an excerpt of In Blackness: The Reinvention of Man by U. L. Harper



Lenny sipped from a cup of coffee at his booth. The Best Little Road House, a diner in Salem, Oregon, was warm, dry and safe. Most of the tables were filled, with only a few waitresses helping serve everyone.

All these people eating and ordering food as if nothing was wrong. Like The Visit never happened. He couldn’t begin to forget, couldn’t shake the moment when dozens of people were beheaded and skinned right in front of him. Sometimes when he closed his eyes he’d helplessly replay the event in his head.

Because of the experience during the invasion four weeks ago, Lenny had been fueled by fear. The aliens that slaughtered so many had subsequently given him the mission of bringing people who had been given implants like him back to San Pedro.

His stomach muscles tightened. This happened for one specific reason—his implant affected him physically when another person with one was near. The other person didn’t necessarily know they had an implant. It took him his entire life to find out that he had one. He had followed the signal into the diner. Hopefully whomever he followed, they would become obvious.

 At the beginning of his journey he wondered how long his trip to find subjects for the aliens would be. How far would he have to go? Realistically, his small amount of money would dictate the length of his travels. All of his savings from his pizza delivery job was spent on meals, motel rooms and gasoline.

A girl about eighteen, his age, exited the restroom. She had on hiking boots and an oversized backpack. Her partial dreadlocks fell over her shoulders. Heading his direction down the aisle, she stopped next to him and made eye contact before taking a seat at the booth next to his. Leaning forward, she wriggled her arms out of the backpack straps. The look she gave him made him self-conscious. Did he look as dirty as he felt? He didn’t normally grow a lot of facial hair but when he did let it grow, like he did now, it grew in patches of peach fuzz.

“Are you okay?” he said to her.

She showed him a weak smile. “Just need to sit. Looking for a ride.”
 
“To San Pedro?”

Her eyes lit up. “That’s a hell of a guess. How would you guess something like that?”

She was definitely the one. “Crazy you come sit right next to me. Go figure.”

“Yeah, go do that. You’re heading to San Pedro too?”

“About to split town.”

“Then I’m Celeste. I can get a lift, yeah? I travel light.”

“You just have that?” He nodded to her backpack.

She picked up the bag with one hand and then let it drop. "Jesus, a ride would be nice. Where are you from?"

“Washington, actually.”

“Where in Washington? I’m from there.” The pitch of her voice became high when she mentioned Washington. Her bad grooming led him to believe she had been traveling for a while.

Celeste moved across the aisle to his booth, leaving her backpack in the aisle. “You seem all right."

"I pass the murderer test?"

"I mean you seem all right." She leaned forward and whispered, “I haven’t eaten all day. Can I drink some of your water?”

“Have at it.”

She drank down half the glass. “So what part of Washington are you from?”

“Lowery, originally. Small little place, right…”

“I know Lowery. My dad was born there.”

“Lowery doesn’t have a hospital,” he said. “Nobody’s actually born there.”

“Delivered in the kitchen, I shit you not.” Although she seemed embarrassed by the fact, she chuckled.

“Well damn. I was there up until I was nine or something. Maybe ten.”

She finished off his glass of water. “I need to get there.”

“Need to? To San Pedro?”

“I guess need is a bit heavy but, yeah, whatever. I need to.”

“Did you hear what happened there during the invasion? You wouldn’t want to go there if you knew about it.”

“It didn’t only happen in San Pedro. Plenty of people suffered.”

“Did you lose anybody?” he said.

 “Everybody.”

“A lot of people lost everybody.”

“I’m one of them,” she said. “You lose everybody too or is this your idea of small talk?”

“I’m just saying why San Pedro? I didn’t mean to be insensitive. Still, San Pedro?” She didn’t know she was going there to have a meet and greet with the aliens and probably be killed. He’d help her get there, nonetheless. It didn’t feel right but he had to do it.

“Why are you going?” she said.

“Family.”

She gazed at the ceiling and then looked around, avoiding eye contact. “Just a feeling I have. I can picture myself there. You know?”

He leaned back in his seat. If she knew him better she’d know that guilt had taken him by surprise.

“Let’s get you something to eat,” he said. “A sandwich?”

“You’re offering?”

“Only this time.”

“Ham and turkey. I’m vegetarian but fuck that I’m hungry.”

“I’m Lenny. Good to meet you, Celeste.”

“Thank God I met you, Lenny. Thank goodness for rides. Lucky.”

“I wouldn’t use that word luck too loosely.”

She unzipped the big pocket on her backpack, looked inside it and then zipped it back. Then she unzipped a smaller pocket, looked inside and closed it, too.

He knocked twice on the wood table. “You have gas money?”

“I thought you were already going there.”

“It’s still gas, right?”

A waitress stopped at their table and asked to take their order.

Moments later a turkey and ham sandwich with mustard and mayonnaise oozing from the sides of it was set on the table.

With her mouth full of sandwich, Celeste looked like a rodent storing nuts in her cheeks.

She spoke a garbled, “Thank you. Starving.”

This might have been what it was like feeding the homeless on skid row.

Once she finished her sandwich they prepared to leave.

Outside, his four-door hatchback waited for them in the wet parking lot.

Celeste tossed her backpack in the back seat as he started the engine.

“Here we go,” he said.

***

He hid his dread of being inside the motel room from Celeste. For the time being, he had a hard time in the dark, in enclosed places. He couldn’t keep his hands from shaking, thinking of his experience during The Visit. If he could make it all the way back to San Pedro without sleeping he would. Since that wasn’t the case they had stopped for rest. No way would he let her drive his car. She seemed cool but why trust her?

She drifted to sleep, leaving him alone on the end of the bed to stare at silent news clips on television. One of the clips enticed him to turn up the volume. In the clip, the alien ship slowly fell through high puffy clouds and blocked out the sun. Daunting in scope, the ship had spanned from San Pedro to Washington. The sight of it would be talked about for generations and then some. His biggest fear was right there on the screen.

“Have you seen that before?”

He hadn’t realized she was awake. “Oh, no. Never seen that. Don’t know why. I guess in the few weeks since it happened I haven’t stopped to really… Wow.” The television showed another visual similar to the one he had looked at seconds ago. This time the amateur video caught news helicopters flying far underneath the ship, really nowhere close to it. During the time the footage was taken, he and Saline were in Lowery, Washington, being captured and shipped to San Pedro. On the news is what the general public had seen. What the living public didn’t see were the aliens. Basically everyone who had seen them had been murdered in the slaughters.

Looking at the screen she said, “Does this feel like the end of the world to you?”

“I think it’s the start of something.”

“So it’s the beginning, not the end?”

“My thought is that nothing can go back to how it was. Not completely. I don’t think so.” Then he lied down, accepting the consequences of closing his eyes.

"You don’t think the worst happened?”

“I saw people getting their heads chopped off. We were in a room with people getting skinned. Just… Crazy like you don’t want to know or see.” He shook his head. “I don’t want to picture it.”

“I’ve never heard… How’d you get out? You escaped?”

“Just thinking about it screws me up.” He held his right hand out for her to observe its shaking.

“I’m sorry.”

It was nice showing someone how much of a basket case he had become. It felt like confession. All this despite the fact that she’d be dead soon.

Someone knocked on the door.

He dragged his feet over to it and stuck his eye to the peephole. A woman in her early to mid-forties was smiling at him. She waved, and then knocked again, in her jeans and black hooded sweater.

He unlatched the lock and cracked the door open.

The woman kicked the door into him, smashing him in the forehead so hard that he saw stars. He fell to the floor grabbing his face with both hands. The intruder slipped past him.

With his face to the dusty carpet he heard two gunshots and then the thud of what he thought was Celeste hitting the floor. He looked up at a handgun aimed at his skull. With the gun at his head, cowardice took over. “They made me do it.”

“Wha...” The woman gazed at him in disgust and slightly confused.

She still had the gun pointed at his head but he figured second thoughts about harming him had entered her mind.

He turned his head and got a glimpse of Celeste’s motionless ankles and legs. Breathing heavy, he turned his attention back to the gun aimed at him.

“Who made you do what?”

“The aliens. They made me get her.” He hoped on everything he loved that she respected the notion.

After some consideration the woman lifted her weapon and smacked him over the head with it. She hit him again with a fist to the cranium, and then kicked him in the stomach. Still catching his breath, he coughed as she ran out the door.

Curled in a ball and in tears he let the initial pain run its course. Attempting to push himself to his feet, he placed both hands on the floor, groaning.

The woman rushed back into the room. “We’re pulling that implant out of you.”

“Wait! Wait!”

She shut the door behind her. “Yell again and I kill you.”


About the Author



U.L. Harper is an author from Long Beach, California. A former newspaper writer and poet, he published his first novel, The Flesh Statue in 2005. His hobbies include, skateboarding, basketball and the occasional glass of bourbon. Yes, bourbon as a hobby. 
You can reach him at ulharper1@gmail.com. His latest novels are In Blackness and its sequel In Blackness: The Reinvention of Man. You can reach him on twitter @ulharper

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