Why am I obsessed with these guys?
Anthony Bourdain, David Sedaris and their secret weapon
The great thing about getting hired to write an original story for a Star Wars game is OMGSTARWARSfun! And the horrible thing about getting hired for a Star Wars game is OMGTHEINTERNETshit.
Fans have very.strong.opinions, after all, and you don't want to let them down.
(Also, you don't want to get burned at the online stake.)
So we thought long and hard about how to approach the project. One strategy we used was to look past Star Wars, and instead study the things that inspired George Lucas in the first place. Our hope was to find some fresh inspiration, while still staying true to the spirit of the original movies. So we watched a lot of WWII war movies like The Bridges at Toko-Ri, we read a lot of mythology books and we watched plenty of Flash Gordon.
(The man on the left is wearing a damn salad bowl on his head. Just goes to show you: inspiration can come from anywhere.)
I'm not saying all this as a prelude for gossiping about that old project. For one thing, I can't: we signed ironclad NDAs. And for another thing, the project never saw the light of day. We came up with a fun story, and then the project got rebooted (and later canceled altogether). That's game development for you.
I only mention this because the experience was a good lesson on how to find and nurture new ideas. The beginning of a project is a golden opportunity to cast the net far and wide, and see what comes back. The results are almost always surprising. (And sometimes they involve salad bowls.)
Pew pew pew!
As part of my recuperation/writing residency, I'm snooping on the writers and artists I love the most. I'm following the advice of Steal Like An Artist and climbing the family tree.
Every artist/writer/creative is influenced by what came before them. This writer knows what I'm talking about:
As I lay in bed last week, loopy on painkillers, I asked myself, Who do I love? Whose work amazes me? The first names that swam up from the darkness were Anthony Bourdain and David Sedaris.
(Not the names I thought I was going to say, but that's the power of drugs (and pain) for you, I guess - you don't waste time kidding yourself.)
I've always been a sucker for the smart-mouths: the guys who sit in the back of the class and mumble jokes about the teacher under their breath. I always jockeyed for a seat nearby, so that I could eavesdrop. Inevitably, they would say something perfect and rude, and I would (loudly) crack up. This would get the teacher's attention, and then the smartasses would get detention. So of course they hated me. But I LOVED them.
I'd be willing to bet good money Bourdain and Sedaris were guys that sat in the back of the class.
Part of what I find so incredible about them is how unlikely their careers are. They're unicorns. Bourdain was (by his own admission) a middling cook; Sedaris was a housecleaner. Statistically speaking, that's probably what they were going to be for the rest of their lives. But they both found the focus and the discipline and the "fuck it, let's do this" energy to put pen to paper -- and now look at them. New careers, doing what it seems they were born to do.
What's the deal? What's their secret? How did they get started? And most importantly, what inspired them?
Stalking Victim #1: Bourdain.
There are plenty of articles tracing Bourdain's inspirations. I decided to dig into a list that he himself put together: his favorite books. Here they are, in wee nutshells:
The Friends of Eddie Coyle: a crime novel
The Quiet American: an anti-war novel set in southeast Asia
The White Album: Essays by Joan Didion and Essays by George Orwell
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: gonzo journalism
Naked Lunch: junkie literature
Between Meals: An Appetite For Paris: a book on food writing
Ripley's Game: a novel about a sociopathic anti-hero
Crash: a novel about sexual release through car crashes (because why not)
True Grit: a classic American novel, featuring the greatest female protagonist he's ever read
Look at that list. Only one book on food writing made the cut. The rest of the list is all about characters (or authors) living wild, dangerous, doing-shit-on-their-own-terms kinds of lives. Which makes sense, when you read Kitchen Confidential, a book that describes professional kitchens as modern-day pirate ships, full of convicts and malcontents cursing and cooking and stabbing their way through dinner service, biding their time til they can get to the after-hours bar. And there's Bourdain, right in the middle of it all and loving every minute of it. What I love about him is that, while the food is important, it's the culture AROUND the food that matters most.
The other thing about his reading list is that it's full of works by great writers. Bourdain had a first-class education, and it wasn't wasted on him. He primed his literary pump for years, and when he had his chance to make his mark as a writer, he was ready to kill it.
Here's another guy who was ready to kill it, although you'd never guess it, based on this picture.
Sedaris is a hilarious human being, so I expected his list of literary influences to be hilarious, too. Wrong! With the exception of a collection of Dorothy Parker stories, and Kurt Vonnegut, his list of inspirations is all about straight, great writing, full stop. He loves language and it shows.
He is completely up front about how he studied these writers closely - imitated them - wanted to be like them. Bourdain is the same. And there is one writer idolized by both men.
That writer is Joan Didion.
I can look back through my diary and I can tell when I discovered Joan Didion because all of a sudden I'm writing like Joan Didion. I mean it's a very poor imitation, but there I am, writing like Joan Didion.
I wish I could write like Joan Didion.
This research project confirmed something I had sensed but never really understood about why I love these writers. I didn't love Bourdain for the food, and I didn't love Sedaris for (only) the jokes. I loved how carefully they paid attention to the world around them, and how much they luxuriate in life in all its bloody, messy, dirty glory.
Having this new awareness and understanding is like having someone wiser than myself taking the compass I've been holding in my hand and turning it around and gently saying, "You've been reading that compass all wrong. That. THAT is true north, dude."
What about you? Is there someone whose work you love? Who inspires you? Tell me in the comments! And while you're at it, do some Internet stalking. Find out what inspired them. The answers might surprise you.
As for me, what I am left with is the important question, Is Joan Didion a total smartass? I don't know. But I intend to find out.
Update: And then we say farewell, Richard Cory.
© 2018 | Susan O'Connor Inc.
We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!
OKSubscriptions powered by Strikingly