Saturday, April 28, 2012

Editors - What They Are & What They're Not

Having just signed a contract with Musa Publishing for an ebook, I’m looking forward to another editorial session.  Not a lot of it, this time, since the story’s only around twelve thousand words, but knowing something of the company, I expect it to be thorough.  So I thought this would be a good time to talk about some of the common misconceptions of the editorial process.

Ideas about editors go all the way from believing they’re an optional extra to assuming they’re there to fix all the problems the author should be paying attention to.

So, first: no, the editor’s job isn’t to fix all your typos, poor grammar and random punctuation.  Of course, an author who chooses to hire a freelance editor can ask them to do anything they want, but that’s still not a good reason for doing it that way.  Language is a writer’s main tool, and expecting someone else to fix it is like a musician relying on the producer to edit the bum notes out of their recordings.  You might get away with it, but you’re still faking it.

As for a publisher’s editor, unless you’re a celebrity, your uncorrected text won’t even make it as far as being edited.  The editor’s job is to work with the author to put a polish to the nth degree on the work, not to do half the author’s job.

Nor is the editor’s job to rewrite your precious work and force you to accept the new version.  A good editor may sometimes suggest a particular rewording for a phrase or sentence, but the feedback will more normally be something like, “This doesn’t read smoothly.  Can you rephrase it, bearing X and Y in mind?”

The author doesn’t have to accept the editor’s recommendation, but is obliged to take it seriously.  There have been times I’ve disagreed with what an editor has said, and I’ve explained why it needs to be that way, which editors will usually accept.  Or else I’ve accepted why they don’t like my version, but haven’t agreed with the suggested alternative and have rephrased it in a different way.

On occasion, an editor will suggest a more radical change, even to the extent of adding an entire scene.  That happened to me on one occasion.  My first reaction was huh?  My second was to go for a walk and think about it, and I came up with a way to approach the change.  I wrote the extra scene, and the story was immeasurably better for it.

A professional editor is something most authors don’t encounter at any other stage of the creative process.  Every one of the pieces I’ve had edited have been revised, polished, beta-read (often by several people) and revised and polished again, but there’s always plenty for the editor to pick out for improvement.  The editor is professional and disinterested (yes, I know – go and look the word up in a good dictionary).  They’ll hopefully be enthusiastic about producing as polished a final product as possible, but they’re not your mother, your best friend, or even your dog.  They’re going to be frank, based on a wide knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, about what’s in front of them.

And this is one of the main drawbacks of the current self-publishing craze.  There’s nothing actually wrong with self-publishing, as long as it’s done properly, which includes using a professional editor.  The problem is, of course, that this (like hiring a professional artist/designer for the cover) can be expensive, and the vast temptation is to skip that stage.  The result is an avalanche of self-published books which, even if they’re worthy of being published in the first place (by no means all are), are put out half prepared, with all the clumsiness that an editor would help to smooth out.

None of this is any reflection on the author, any more than a musician would feel belittled to need a producer, or at least a recording engineer.  Not only are the author’s and editor’s talents fundamentally different, but few, if any, authors can achieve enough impartiality about their work to see what a good editor will see. 

Personally, I have a reasonably good opinion of my ability to polish my work, but I’d be extremely reluctant to allow anything longer than a short story to be published without having been through the editorial process.  I’m looking forward to working with Musa’s editor.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Politics in Fantasy

Politics in fantasy.  No, I’m not talking about a story having a political message – though that does happen, with varying degrees of subtlety – nor about politicians living in a fantasy world – perhaps the less said about that the better – but how politics works within the fantasy world.

It’s easy to dismiss politics as something belonging to the contemporary world, but every human society known throughout history has had its political aspect, and it even goes beyond homo sapiens.  Challenges for leadership of a herd are primitive politics, while chimp society has episodes of intrigue and coups that could come straight out of a Shakespeare history play.

Classic fantasy generally has a political side, too.  Take Lord of the Rings: it has global politics (who’s going to rule Middle Earth, and how), international politics (alliances made and broken), and internal politics (Denethor’s resistance to the return of the King, or Grima and Eomer competing for influence over Theoden).

Modern fantasy often takes this a great deal further.  Both Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Hobb’s  Farseer Trilogy deal very largely with political intrigue and conflict, and there are many other examples of this.

The area where fantasy politics tends to fall down is the lack of variety it presents of political systems.  Almost every fantasy land has a king (or sometimes a queen) who rules absolutely.  He’ll have “counsellors”, often without any defined rank or role, who give advice which the king then accepts or rejects, doing as he chooses.  The only limitation on such a king’s power is his personal strength of will against conniving advisors.

Now, systems of that kind do appear in history – though usually rather more involved and formalised – but so do many others.  Monarchies, even in pre-modern times, were usually organised to formally incorporate the influence of interest-groups within the kingdom, whether the nobility, the priesthood or the mercantile classes.  A successful king was often one who could juggle these influences adroitly.

Royal succession, though, hasn’t always happened the same way.  Most people assume that succession is always to the eldest child (or the eldest son, depending on the society’s attitude to female rulers) but that isn’t always the case.  Sometimes, a king would name his favourite son as the heir, or sometimes succession was decided on a last-man-standing basis among the heirs – as with the Merovingian Franks, whose government has been described as autocracy tempered by assassination.

On the other hand, kings were sometimes elected – not by the ordinary people, but by the royal council.  This was traditionally the legal method of succession for the English crown, and officially it still is, although for many centuries now the “election” has merely rubber-stamped the lineal succession.

Other methods have been used.  In Greek legend, which sometimes offers hints of bronze-age or early iron-age culture, Menelaus became King of Sparta purely by virtue of marrying Helen, daughter of the reigning king – or, perhaps more to the point, of the reigning queen.

History offers us a great many different forms of government.  Many societies have been republics, back at least as far as the cities of Greece and the Roman Senate and People.  Judging by the architecture, the cities of the bronze-age Indus Valley appear to have had neither palaces nor temples.

There are various forms of republic, including dictatorship, oligarchy (or plutocracy), stratocracy, theocracy and democracy, the first two being probably the most common historically.  A dictator (or tyrant – the word originally didn’t have its current negative connotations) differs from a king only in terms of succession.  A dictator will have seized power in some kind of coup, often with popular support in the first place, but once the position is passed on in any kind of succession, as Augustus passed the rule of the Roman Empire to his step-son Tiberius, it becomes indistinguishable from monarchy.  I’m sure we can all think of a notorious present-day example.

Oligarchies come in various shapes and forms, but typically they’re systems which have institutions similar to a democracy, but only selected citizens are allowed to take part.  This might be based on class, wealth, ethnicity or some other criterion – when it’s based on wealth, it could be described as a plutocracy (rule by the rich). 

In practice, the line between a broad-based oligarchy and a democracy can be blurred.  By modern standards, the Athenian democracy can be discounted as denying membership to many groups of its subjects, but the same standards would mean that the UK didn’t become a democracy till 1928, and the US till 1964.  The Athenian system founded by Kleisthenes was based on the principle that all citizens should participate in government.  After that, it becomes a debate over who counts as a citizen.

Stratocracy, or military rule, isn’t usually stable, but it’s often a factor in the transfer of power, as it frequently was in Rome, both in the last decades of the Republic and during the later imperial period.  Theocracy, on the other hand (rule of priests) can be one of the most stable forms of government, if the religion that’s in charge commands a broad respect.  In fantasy, theocracy probably suggests sinister, black-robed priests performing human sacrifice to summon demonic gods while grinding the people under their heels.  That makes great sword & sorcery, but the reality can be much more mundane.  Remember that modern Europe includes a theocratic state – the Vatican City.

If you’re trying to decide what form of government your fantasy realm should have, remember that power tends to follow three factors: economic power, military power and religious power.  The changes in Europe from the mediaeval world to the early modern was influenced by all three.  The rise of a mercantile middle class, combined with a labour shortage in the wake of the Black Death, undermined the power of the feudal aristocracy.  The reliance of armies on first the longbow, then guns, meant that battles were being won by lower-class soldiers, rather than the traditional knights.  And the general loss of trust in the Church – again partly as a result of the Black Death – transferred religious power to ordinary people, as was seen very clearly in the English Civil Wars.

Of course, power doesn’t always shift immediately or in entirely predictable ways, but sometimes it works very clearly.  Comparing the Greek city-states, it can be seen that the older regimes, controlled by monarchies or aristocracies, tended to be those that relied on cavalry, since a cavalryman’s equipment was insanely expensive.  In the states that relied on hoplites – the heavily armoured foot-soldiers that the Romans later transformed into their legions – the somewhat-less-expensive equipment allowed the middle classes to participate, and these tended to be wealth-based oligarchies.  The Athenian democracy, however, relied for its strength on its navy.  This was traditionally made up from the lower classes, who were expected to bring no equipment except themselves.

Another thing to remember is that all political systems, even run by the most autocratic of monarchs, need a great many people to run the day-to-day affairs of state: ministers, a royal council, scribes, tax-collectors and the like.  Most of all, they require a civil service.

Civil services, like politics and economics, aren’t the preserve of modern civilisation.  The bronze-age palaces of Crete and Greece appear to have been run by a considerable civil service, and it was these primarily who used the ancient writing found on baked clay tablets.  Babylon had an extremely complex system, and it was largely thanks to this that the city survived, relatively unchanged, occupation by Assyrians, Persians and Macedonians: no-one could actually run the place without letting the existing civil service do it for them.  And China, of course, had an incredibly sophisticated civil service dating back at least to the Han period.

If this all sounds dull for a fantasy story, it shouldn’t.  Details of the political system and the running of the realm won’t necessarily be in the foreground of the tale, but hints that it’s there will not only make the whole thing seem more real, it also opens up the opportunity to have a huge amount of fun with background characters and incidents.  Politicians and civil servants aren’t going to be that much different from the ones we know and... well, know.

I’ve tried to give some ideas of how political systems have usually tended to work in real history, but there are always oddities, like Sparta, which had two kings who were essentially war-leaders, a council of elders who actually ran the state, and an essentially standing army who were its powerhouse.  Pretty much any political system you can think of could well be tried.  You want a country that’s run each day only by the people born at the same phase of the moon, so the government changes on a daily basis?  Go for it, and see how it works.  The more inventive, the better; but remember history, and learn what kind of things any political system is likely to need to make it work.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

To Rewrite or not to Rewrite?

I’m currently rewriting a story that I originally wrote eight years ago.  Some writers regard this kind of thing as a waste of time, or an unhealthy obsession with stories that should be left behind, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

I have many, many stories in my files that simply aren’t good enough to be published.  Most of these are stories I wrote twenty or thirty years ago and seemed a good idea at the time, although there are also recent attempts that... well, also seemed a good idea at the time.  For the most part, I leave well alone – but not always.

In the past year, I’ve had two stories published that I’d recently “done up”.  One was actually a reprint, but its original publication, back in the 90s, was in a little amateur magazine, and I doubt that I could have got that version into any of the markets I’m aiming at now.  After rewriting, which included changing it from omniscient 3rd person to 1st person, it was accepted by a pro magazine.

Another was a story I wrote in 2005, which had spent the interim garnering quite an impressive tally of rejections.  After I’d gone through it, fixing POV errors and tightening up the style, it got (I believe) one rejection from a high-rolling magazine, then was snapped up.

So what is it that makes some stories worth revisiting and others only fit for the “chalk-it-up-to-experience” file?  Well, one factor is how interesting the basic concept is.  One of the stories I have no intention of ever trying to get published, for instance, is a piece I wrote back in the early 80s about an author whose muse turns up on his doorstep.  Back then, it felt like an intriguing and novel concept.  Nowadays, it appears on many magazines’ “plots we’ve seen too often” lists.

Other stories might have interesting ideas, but the characters are flat, or the plot doesn’t do justice to the concept.  Or it might just be that all the story’s elements are OK, but not especially exciting.

Sometimes, though, stories I really believe in have spent years being rejected by all and sundry.  It might, of course, just be that I haven’t yet found that one special editor who “gets” the story enough to publish it, but it’s far more likely that there’s something wrong with the way I’ve written the story.  Maybe something fixable.

In the case of the story I’m working on now, I believe the two main characters and their relationship were interesting and the basic plot was sound.  (It may be that I’m deluding myself about that, of course, but that’s the way I call it).  The most obvious fault was the opening, where the POV sloshed around awkwardly and, for reasons I may have understood at the time, I was trying obsessively to hide the identity of the main character.

There were other issues to be fixed, ranging from technical faults in the writing to some minor plot holes.  Nothing, I believe, unfixable, and I really believe that, once I’ve sorted out the story’s problems, I’ll have a piece with a good chance of being published.  Better than throwing a decent story on the scrap heap.

In the early 1970s, the American SF and fantasy writer Poul Anderson republished his fantasy novel called The Broken Sword, written nearly twenty years earlier.  In an introduction, he explained why he’d chosen to revise and polish the novel by saying “I like to think that the author would have been glad to take the advice of a man more experienced”.  I’ve never found a better explanation for my own desire to improve some of my older works.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Thomas H. Pugh - The Rollicking Tales Blog Tour

Today we welcome the Rollicking Tales Blog Tour, in the person of author and publisher Thomas H. Pugh, whose first pulp-style anthology, Rollicking Tales: The Farmer's Almanac, is currently open to submissions.

Rather than a formal interview, Tom and I have decided to have a more relaxed chat about our experiences of writing.  I kick off, talking about moments of inspiration:

NB - The biggest inspiration I ever had as a writer came while I was walking the dog at the age of fifteen.  I had the idea for an epic fantasy story that I called The Winter Legend, which involved heroes battling an evil sorcerer called the Winter Lord.  I didn’t come home till I had the idea fixed – I knew I’d get distracted if I did – and the poor dog was exhausted, but I had the story.

I still haven’t finished it, though it’s changed almost beyond recognition by now.  The story spread out, though, into a world I’ve now chronicled over seven continents and ten thousand years, and an immortal called the Traveller who wanders through it.

Have you had a similar moment of crucial inspiration?

TP - I don’t think I’ve really had an epiphany with regards to writing. On my father’s side I have a large rural family, where storytelling has always been a part of everyday life. It was impossible to have a family gathering of more than three people with out the old stories being wheeled out like family heirlooms, stories that everyone knew but none the less got pleasure from their retelling.

From an early age I was exposed to tales such as how my great-great-grandmother refused to give up the tenancy on the farm after her husband died, and threw the new tenant in the water trough when he tried to move in. Or how my granddad burnt out his pickup when someone closed the gate while he was stubble burning.

My mother was a more literary influence, as a child I read a lot of her books: Tolkien, Hardy, Mallory. I think these two factors where the main my influence, not only in wanting to create worlds and stories but also to share these products of my imagination. There is something about the timelessness of story telling, how it stretches back to our earliest history, prehistory even, for a long time before anything was written down stories were shared around the campfire. I feel very aware of this legacy and I want to be a part of it, to pass my own stories on.

So what happened to this story of yours between the age of 15, when it was first conceived, and now when you finally getting it out into the wider world?

NB - Well, initially I tried to write it in verse, which was one of those things that seemed a good idea at the time.  The original story was what’s now part three (Dreams of Fire and Snow), but I fairly soon got the idea of a “prequel” set a few years ealier, which now forms part one (The Tryst Flame). 

I wrote several versions of The Tryst Flame over the years.  Initially, it was very old-school heroic, with characters who willingly took on dangerous quests because it was the noble thing to do.  Gradually, my attitude to the story became much more realistic, leading to the characters as they are now – brave, to be sure, but also scared, clueless and muddling through.

For a long time, I only had two parts to the story, which didn’t have any obvious link, except that the different sets of lead characters were fighting the same enemy.  I knew there was some unfinished business from The Tryst Flame, but it didn’t seem enough to make a novel out of.  Then, after writing version #3 of The Tryst Flame, about twenty years ago, I got the crucial link and wrote the first version of part two, Children of Ice.

Neither of these, however, got anywhere with publishers (which, having rewritten them now, I can understand) so I didn’t go on to write part three.  Eventually, during the 2000s, I did radical rewrites of both and went on to Dreams of Fire and Snow – the first time I’d tackled the story since 1969. 

I ground to a halt with it about three quarters of the way through, for some reason (maybe even a slight fear of finishing something that’s been with me most of my life) so instead I did further rewrites on the other two.  The Tryst Flame is ready to go; Children of Ice need a further substantial revision and a bit of polishing, and I’m more or less ready to finish Dreams of Fire and Snow.

In the meantime, the world and supporting characters that gathered around The Winter Legend have taken on a life of their own, but that’s another question.

How did you go about turning your love of stories into creating them?

TP - Well, first of all I put on the kettle. A story is always easier with a pot of tea to hand.

I’m still finding my feet a little bit with what works best for me, but generally I will have an idea which will either die off or thrive in my mind over the next few weeks. I rarely put anything down on paper at this stage.

If it thrives then I will eventually get down to jotting some notes about it. Usually at this stage the massive plot holes are revealed, sometimes I will be able to solve them at the desk, working through them logically, what character x’s motivation is or why situation y might arise. Sometimes though I need to incubate the ideas for a bit longer, thinking them through in idle moments.

Eventually I will have an outline I am happy with. I will jot down more notes, major plot points and the like. Sometimes I will rough out the chapter outlines, more often I will just start writing though.

So, you’ve been working on this idea for a long time. Have you found it difficult to maintain enthusiasm? For me sometimes going back to an old project can feel like failure, I suppose I think if it was worth doing I would have done it before.

NB - Ah yes, the kettle’s essential, though for me it’s to make coffee.

No, I’ve never found that going back to an old project feels like failure.  I have (somewhere) a copy of Poul Andersen’s The Broken Sword, which is a revised edition of a book he had published when he was fairly young.  In the introduction, he comments that he’d like to think the young man who wrote the book would have been happy to take advice from an older and more experienced person.

I think of it in the same way.  I first had the idea for The Winter Legend at fifteen, but there’s no way I could have written it as it currently is back then.  It’s an organic thing – a bit like Tolkien’s image of the tree, where you start with a leaf and gradually add the twigs, branches and trunk, and finally the landscape around it.  It’s a process that can take a lifetime, and that’s OK with me.  Though, of course, I hope this version is going to be the one that’s published.

An idea isn’t the same as its execution.  If I haven’t done justice to it the first time, I’ll have another go.  Finding faults in your past work is really a measure of how you’ve improved.  When short stories have been around for a while and no-one wants them, I often go over them again and improve them.  I can think of at least two I did that to last year that got snapped up pretty quickly after I’d worked on them.

Which of your writing projects, past or present (or future, come to that) do you feel most excited about?

TP - I’m excited about all of them. I don’t try and write what I think will sell, I try to write stories that I would love to read, and I read pretty wildly. At the moment I am putting the finishing touches to a novella that is going to be the first in a series, provisionally called the ‘Walls of Tamorria’. I have some pretty big plans for the series as a whole; it is an epic dieselpunk fantasy, with action sweeping a whole world, though it is going to be a long time before it is finished. The characters that I have created are really beginning to come to life and I am chomping at the bit to start on Book 2.

I’m also working on a Victorian murder mystery and a Cthulhu Mythos/Steampunk cross over. Both of these are short stories and are being written for particular markets and I am very excited about both of them.

Do you tend to write a short story with an anthology or magazine in mind or do you try and find a market after you’ve written the piece? I find I do a mixture of both, though having a market in mind does help with word counts etc.

NB - I very rarely write for a specific market, though I have done so on occasion.  On the whole, my short stories tend to come about one of two ways – or sometimes a mixture of the two.  One is that I have a number of recurring characters – the Traveller, Eltava, Kari and Fai, and a few others – and I’ll sometimes get an idea for either a continuation of their stories, or else an idea that can fit into the sequence somewhere, often in a way that’s a bit different from the other stories.

The other way is that I write a lot of stories (or sometimes beginnings of stories, which I continue later) in response to challenges, of varying degrees of formaility.  Some are just for fun, but the results can often be interesting.  Something like “write a story where a character’s returning after a long absence”, say.  Sometimes, the story will involve one of the recurring characters.  About a dozen of the stories I’ve had published or accepted have started that way.

Actually, the story I’m writing at the moment is a combination – it’s a story about Eltava, which started as a challenge, and I have an idea about the anthology I want to submit it to.  That’s rare, though.

Then again, I am looking for ideas for a story involving agriculture to write for a certain anthology.

Dieselpunk fantasy and Cthulhu/steampunk suggest you like to try the unusual.  What’s the appeal of doing that, rather than writing squarely in a familiar genre?

TP - To be honest, although I have been looking at genre a lot while editing Rollicking Tales, I don’t normally think about it too much when I am developing a story. Obviously when I am aiming at a market that demands a certain element, I need to give it some consideration, but generally I find that thinking of stories in terms of their genre can be restricting. It is all too easy to say to yourself ‘this is a high fantasy/sword and sorcery/Steampunk story therefore it needs to contain x, y and z.

I prefer to look at each piece as a free standing story, and try to encumber it with story elements that are added simply because they should be there. Even when I know the finished story will have to fit into a given genre I try and give thought to how it is constructed. Sometimes missing or changing something that is considered de rigueur for a genre can lead to interesting possibilities.

It wasn’t until I had finished Book 1 of The Walls of Tamorria that I gave any consideration to what genre it actually fell into, even then that was only so I will be able to pitch it to publishers.

How important do you feel genre actually is? Is it a useful tool that allows readers to know if they will like a book or is it constricting?   

NB - I’d agree with you – it’s more a marketing issue than anything.  It can be a useful shorthand to indicate the kind of story I’m writing, but if it starts to become prescriptive instead of descriptive, it can lead to cliché and formula.

I like to try and do different things.  Because a good deal of what I write is set in the same world, and spread over thousands of years, I introduce different types and stages of civilisation.  Traditionally, other-world fantasy tends to be set in an iron-age/mediaeval kind of era, and I’ve written plenty of those, but I’ve gone early too (bronze age, and even neolithic) and also later – flintlocks, Victorian-style industry, airships, and even a modern-style computer age.  But these stories are still based on the same overarching assumptions of my world, and aspects from the past turn up.

I like to mix it up, too.  I’ve had stories in standard fantasy setting where someone’s created a steam engine, or even in one case an atomic bomb.  In another story, one of my regulars from a pre-gunpowder culture finds an obscure corner of the world that has a steampunk civilisation – steam-powered super-computers, and clockwork androids.

So no, I don’t bother much about genre while I’m writing.  Sometimes, I have to try and figure it out afterwards, though.

It’s a cliché of fantasy for heroes to start out as farm-boys.  As a farmer, what do you think of this kind of portrayal, and how do you portray agriculture differently in your work (if you do)?

TP - I can understand where the cliché has come from. Everybody loves a rags-to-riches story and if you are looking at a pre-industrial society then most people in rags are going to be involved in agriculture somehow. It is not too far off the mark to suggest a young farm labourer would probably be naïve and would not have seen much of the world, and this does make an ideal character to push into the greater world. His learning informs the reader in way that a world-weary soldier’s wouldn’t.

The trouble is that this has been done so many times that if this is the route you want to take to take you will have to be very careful as a writer that you are not just retelling the stories that have gone before. Like most clichés I think it can be done, but it shouldn’t be the default setting, if this is the road you go down it needs to be done for a reason and the writer needs to be aware of the clichéd pit traps that await them.

I suppose being a farmer I am well placed to bring a level of realism to agriculture that some people may struggle with. Having said that I haven’t really included it as a major component in any of my stories yet. Obviously when it comes to world building agriculture is always going to be there, no matter what technological level your world is at, that’s why I chose it as a subject for an anthology. In ‘The Walls of Tamorria’ there are a few references to agriculture; quite often it is the little incidental details that make a world for me. The main character though is very much an urbanite and hates the countryside, I suppose this is taken from the attitude of some people I have come across – how can you live in the middle of nowhere, type of thing.

How has your work influenced your writing?

NB - I’m not sure that my work has influenced my writing that much – other than that I’ve less time to write when I’m working, of course.

Well, let’s see.  My first “proper” job (apart from a whole string of short-term ones) was as a bookshop assistant – in a bookshop entirely devoted to horses (books about horses, that is, not books for horses).  That inspired me to take riding lessons, though I never got into riding all that deeply, and I suppose both that and what I learnt from the books has helped me when I’ve written about characters riding horses.  That tends to loom large in the more traditional types of fantasy.

A good deal of my working career involved caring and advocating for people with learning disabilities.  I’m not sure I can think of any specific influence from that, although it must have helped my general understanding of human nature, especially seen in extreme circumstances.  I think it reinforced that humans are always humans, however different they might seem.

My most recent job, before my current position of fall guy for the government’s austerity measures, involved reading newspapers and magazines all day.  OK, not just reading them – I had to find cuttings for clients too – but again, all that reading about current affairs (from national and international politics to local flower shows) must have rubbed off.

One of my greatest idols, Bob Dylan, said “Open up yer eyes an’ ears an’ yer influenced an’ there’s nothing you can do about it”.  So yes, it’s all influence.

The Various Electronic Missives of Thomas H Pugh
Rollicking Tales: Pulp Stories for the 21st Century