Guest Blogger W.D. Gagliani : How Movies Made The Reader, And Then The Writer
I am so happy to have one of my favorite authors guest blog today, W.D. Gagliani. Readers are devoted to his werewolf books, a delicious combination of crime noir, sexy werewolves (yeah, you heard right) and good old fashioned blood and guts. You may have read some of them (Wolf’s Bluff, Wolf’s Trap and Wolf’s Gambit just to name a few), and if you haven’t, do so now! His latest book, Wolf’s Edge, is now out through Samhain Publishing. The cool part about being one of the Samhain gang with him is that I’ve gotten to know him as more than just this dude who writes books that I buy, and I’m beginning to suspect he may be my brother from another mother. Enough of my babbling, let the Wolf Man tell you how he came to be…
My parents took me to see Midnight Cowboy when I was about eleven.
Why, you may ask? Well, either they couldn’t afford a sitter (which was very possible) or my dad thought it was actually a cowboy movie. English was his second language, so he might have misunderstood. And it really wasn’t the kind of movie he would have chosen. At least, I don’t think so. But the thing is, when the plot became clear, he didn’t hustle us out of the drive-in theater to save my young eyes from the evils of “bad images.”
Nope, we stayed to the sad and bitter end. I learned about a side of life (and New York) I hadn’t known existed. My eyes recorded everything they saw.
I think I was a seventh grader when my parents took me to see The Godfather. I was the only kid in my parochial school class to see that movie, R-rating and all. I was older and didn’t need a sitter, but still pretty young and they took me anyway. You know what, I didn’t become a wiseguy. But I did immediately start to read the novels of Mario Puzo, and an endless series of nonfiction Mafia books like The Valachi Papers and Mafia, USA, while still in high school. My parents were also responsible for me seeing Serpico, and then I was off on reading the book, as well as other gritty Seventies cop books like The Super Cops and The Blue Knight.
I remember the ultra violence of The Wild Bunch. Yup, my folks didn’t bat an eye when those people bought it in glorious color and slo-mo. Add to that list movies like The Getaway, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Straw Dogs (I guess we were a Peckinpah family), and such violent fare as The Anderson Tapes (Sean Connery as a thief, trying to ditch his Bond image). You know what? I went to read any books on which those movies were based, and when I couldn’t or they hadn’t been based on a novel, I sought out “just like ____” recommendations. My folks took me to the original Death Wish. And yes, I think they also took me to A Clockwork Orange, though I might have been too young to remember it. There wasn’t a spaghetti western I didn’t see on the big screen – I still think of them as the film noir of the western genre. There were horror movies, too: The Other, The Oblong Box, The Omen, The Exorcist. Eventually, my parents and I would watch just about every major ABC Movie of the Week: The Norliss Tapes, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, When Michael Calls, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Satan’s School for Girls, A Cold Night’s Death, Gargoyles, Duel… need I say more? If some don’t stand up today, be certain that they were rather effective for an impressionable kid who was already writing monster stories for school projects.
Oddball movies, too, led me to oddball books, and thank God for it. The Sterile Cuckoo, Little Big Man (made me a Thomas Berger fan for years and years), The Graduate (I still consider this my favorite movie) sent me to Charles Webb’s novel, which could be used as a scriptwriting textbook. The Seventies produced a lot of oddball movies. I think 1965 to 1979 may have been the best film era, because, on the whole, movies were made that were damned near uncategorizable. Some of the best oddball movies I saw in high school, as part of a progressive English program that showed movies on a big screen to all English classes and encouraged adventurous teachers to create writing assignments. I can still list the eclectic line-up I was thrilled to watch as part of my school day: David and Lisa, A Thousand Clowns, Harold and Maude (another favorite to this day), The Brothers Karamazov, The List of Adrian Messenger, Doctor Zhivago, and many more.
So what does this column about writing have to do with all these movies?
We are like sponges, especially when young and impressionable. We may not all want to admit it, but writers of thrillers and horror can very well be inspired and influenced by anything, and we are. In my case, I can thank my exceedingly liberal parents (considering they weren’t even born in the U.S.) for never censoring my viewing and reading habits. Well, there was this period in which my dad decided I was reading too many Hardy Boys books and banned them (which only led to a free-flowing black market operation). But all those movies they allowed me and even encouraged me to see, even if by mistake, turned out to be essential in making a solid foundation for a writer.
Movies led me to books – Bronson in Cold Sweat led me to Richard Matheson, Roger Corman led me to a million great things, Goldfinger led me to Ian Fleming and the British thriller authors I still revere). My desire to mix genres in my books and stories can probably be traced right back to the strange mélange of movies and books I consumed almost without restraint as a kid. I count myself lucky to have had parents who, despite the typical parental flaws I might have enumerated, never, ever tried to clap their hands over my eyes or ears. They never tried to “protect” me from the world and its imagery, or from history, or from the seedier side of life as portrayed in movies like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Klute, The Last Picture Show, Five Easy Pieces, Adam at 6 A.M., and so many more. These were the days of the Middle East (the Six-Day War happened about the time I learned to speak English), the Vietnam War on the television news, and more upheaval than I can even remember. Yet all these movies made sure that a curious kid writer would want to explore strange, dark, and never safe themes in his stories.
Movies and books are truly the basis of my entire writing career. In all the good ways, they inspired me to imitate what I saw and read. And they challenged me to learn about things I’d never seen, or would have seen, if the folks hadn’t for some inexplicable reason felt I could handle even the strangest, offbeat subjects.
Thanks, Mom and Dad. I think I owe you more than I realized.
You can follow W.D. Gagliani and get all the latest news on his website at www.wdgagliani.com or follow him on Twitter at @WDGagliani. And by all means, pick up your copy of Wolf’s Edge today!