Sunday, May 06, 2012

Red Asphalt: Under the Influence

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Plagiarism is a crime. Somewhere in the middle lies influence.

When I began writing, the voices of those artists and authors that passed before me kept whispering into my sub-conscious as I struggled to find my own voice. I didn’t try to ape anyone’s style or appropriate anyone’s prose, at least not intentionally. But the more that we are exposed to the works of others-the great, the good and sometimes even the bad, something is bond to stick. Once it’s all on the page, it’s pretty easy to spot the inspirations, allusions and furry lil’ copycats.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of structure. I basically had all the components for my movie memoir IN THE DARK, but didn’t really know how to tie it all together until I read Anthony Bourdain’s KITCHEN CONFENDENTIAL and I’ve made no bones about it. I’m pleased that I was able to tell him that when I attended his book signing here in Portland back in 2003. (Bourdain also gets a cursory nod in PLEASE HOLD THUMBS)

For RED ASPHALT, since it was a novel, I thought I was starting fresh. Now in retrospect, it’s downright obvious to me who and what stimulated my imagination in one form or another as I scribbled my story. It’s high time I acknowledged them.

First up, CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger: To me, the first person narrative of a smart-ass loner who thinks he’s better than everyone is more than just a Holden Caulfield reference and more of a blatant steal. I unashamedly admit that RYE is my favorite novel of all time and even fantasized adapting it into a screenplay back in my twenties. Of course, I missed the point. I haven’t gotten smarter over time, but at least I finally recognize that this would have been impossible and realize the long lasting impression it has made on me since I first read it as a teenager.


TAXI DRIVER, written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese, obviously shares this theme as well. Travis Bickle is Holden Caulfield inside out and Calvin Wheeler is a degenerated clone. Travis’ wanting to rid society of the scum of the earth isn’t very different from Calvin’s wanting to be the World’s Handyman, fixing all of its problems. Shooting off the middle finger in my book could have come from the multiple digits in TAXI DRIVER.

(Jesus. CATCHER IN THE RYE and TAXI DRIVER. I’m a regular John Hinckley.)

Stephen King: The inclusion of the synopsis for ABRACADABRA, the book my main character is obsessed with writing, ain’t a far cry from what King did with MISERY. The tortured writer going over the brink is a familiar King device. Now it’s one of mine.

Oddly enough, Joel Schumacher’s FALLING DOWN, written by Ebbe Roe Smith is NOT on the list. This vigilante tale actually came out after I came up with the initial story for RED ASPHALT and it is because of this film that I shelved it for a few years until it became (hopefully) a distant memory. When I appeared on the MILES AROUND radio show to promote ASPHALT, one of the hosts mentioned it but since that was a nerve-wracking first media appearance for moi, I shrugged it off. The thing is that as much as I like FALLING DOWN, I had to distance myself from it for a couple of reasons. First of all was the similarity to my story. Second and most important was that ASPHALT is based in part on my job working as a lab courier for Smith-Kline Beecham Clinical Laboratories and my everyday uniform was identical to Michael Douglas’ wardrobe in FALLING DOWN. Too close for comfort. Good thing I wasn’t inspired by that show.

“Look out! Jm J Bullock has a gun!”

Anyway, I backed off of RED ASPHALT until near the end of the decade because of FALLING DOWN. Distancing myself from it for a period actually helped. I don’t recommend that tactic for everything. I have one project I’ve been trying to put together since Betty White was an ingĂ©nue for the same reasons as RED ASPHALT. Other works have popped up that are too damn similar. But at this rate, I’ll be dead before I’m anywhere near finished. It all becomes procrastination very quickly and that is a crippler of epic proportions.

I have no delusions of grandeur about my writing. I don’t think RED ASPHALT is fit to be mentioned in the same breath as the works of Salinger, Scorsese, Schrader, King or even Schumacher. But at the end of the day (somewhere around 11:30), whatever stimuli I digest filters through me, sometimes causing me to riff on their ideas, themes and ambiance, sometimes prompting (gasp!) originality.  Whenever inspiration strikes or from whatever source, it has to be welcomed with an open mind or it just ricochets into oblivion.

It's a gift. Treat it as such.

RED ASPHALT is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon. To read an excerpt, please visit my website: WRITTEN BY SCOTT CHERNEY
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