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  • Writer's pictureDouglas James Troxell

The Five Muses

Every writer has those individuals who inspired him/her to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard...which sounds less sophisticated). Just as there are soulmates out there who we form an instant connection with, there are writers whose words and works we connect with immediately, that speak to us, that tell us things we already knew because we've whispered them to ourselves in the dark. These are the writers who form our writing style and philosophy. Here are my five muses.

#5) Joseph Heller (Catch-22)

My favorite novel of all-time is Catch-22. No other writer better captured the absurdity of World War II. The novel is hilarious and tragically sad in the same moment. To me, it is the pinnacle of absurdist literature, which is my preferred genre, and every time I write a work of absurdist literature I try to match what Heller did in Catch-22.

#4) Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club)

Chuck was my mentor for the adolescence of my writing career. I found him via my favorite movie (Fight Club) and then backtracked to the book. It was the philosophy that drew me in (borrowed from another inspiration...just wait...) but it was Chuck's style that made the biggest impact on me. Before Chuck, my sentences were overly long and the word count on my first novel was over 120,000 words (which is beyond ridiculous). Chuck taught me about minimalism, about the brevity of sentences. More words isn't better. BETTER words are better. If you can get an idea across in three words instead of ten, do it in three. I became a better writer after Chuck.

#3) Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)

It may seem strange to have a comic writer on this list since I do not, nor have I ever, written anything close to a comic, but here he is. Calvin and Hobbes is my favorite comic. Easily. The philosophy, the humor, and the heart of the comic (and Bill) are all aspects that speak to me. Bill's range is amazing as he can be incredibly deep in one panel and show Calvin's butt crack in the next. Bill taught me the importance of having a variety of tools in one's writer's toolbox and to remember that humor and heart can make up for a lot of other shortcomings when it comes to the written word. Is there a more sweet, hilarious, and complex relationship in literature than that of Calvin and his stuffed tiger?

#2) Henry David Thoreau (Walden)

First things first: Thoreau is a terrible writer. His sentences go on FOREVER! But it's his ideas that have influenced me more than anyone else. Minimalism, nonconformity, self-reliance, the power of the individual, civil disobedience, a focus on nature. These are all parts of my own personal philosophy and those ideas drive and influence everything I write. And, yes, when I was 20 I had a friend drop me off in Hammonton, New Jersey (The Blueberry Capital of the World) with nothing but a backpack to see if I could survive on my own in the wilderness Thoreau-style. And you know what? I totally rocked it...for one week. "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity."

#1) Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle/Slaughterhouse-Five)

Vonnegut is my favorite author. Unfortunately, a lot of his books are shit. He would not deny this as he famously put a letter grade on all his famous works and many of them scored less than stellar grades. But what sets Vonnegut apart from all others is his distinct voice. When you're reading a Vonnegut novel, you know it. Reading a Vonnegut novel is like sitting at the bar having a drink with the man himself. He's funny, he's sad, he's poignant but above all, he is Kurt Vonnegut. Kurt taught me the power of voice and how sometimes it's not what yous say that matters but how you say it.

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