Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Who Zoomed Who?

Date: 03 Dec 2004

Kevin wrote:

"Oh, there have been some great P.I. writers, but to be considered influential, you also have to sell beyond a small cult audience, and capture the imagination of the general public."

Thanks to Richard's comments, I figured out what bothers me about this statement. If speaking about influence, the general public is absolutely irrelevant. Influence is carried by writers, not readers. Readers only have a say in which of the influenced will be popular (and continue to be published). The analogy that comes quickest to my mind is in pop music. As Eno once said, the Velvet Underground didn't sell many albums, but everyone who bought one formed a band. It took decades for any of their albums to go gold, much less platinum (have any of their albums gone platinum?), but the VU were hugely influential, casting a shadow over art rock, punk and post-punk, inspiring bands like REM and U2, who have sold more copies of single albums than the VU's entire catalog.

And the same goes for literary influence. Richard makes this point very well. If enough authors say they were influenced by Crumley, then Crumley was very infuential. It's tautological.

On the other hand, selling huge numbers of books does not necessarily ensure influence. For instance, I don't think of Michael Connelly as being very influential. He does something and does it very well most of the time. He has been rewarded with good sales and the respect and admiration of his peers. Many of them enjoy his books, but not they are influenced by them. Frankly, as well as he tells a story, Connelly has not offered something new in the telling for people to be influenced by.

Of course, offering something new does not necessarily influence others either. First, as Richard noted about Sallis, you have to be read by enough other authors. However, even if you are, a new way of telling does not necessary lead to influence. I think Sallis and Jack O'Connell are great, but they are both such idiosyncratic authors that it would be hard for someone else to build on their work. And to tell you the truth, I'm dreading the probable influence of Ken Bruen. He has such a distinctive style, I can see others seeking to imitate the surface traits, but completely missing the substance interwoven with it in Bruen's execution.

One thing -- note that I have been talking about influence, not inspiration. It's quite possible for someone to be inspired by an author without its showing in their writing. It's even very possible to be inspired by a terrible writer -- I can do better than that!


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 03 Dec 2004 EST