How can I talk about influences without mentioning the greatest influence in my life (in some ways,even more so than my parents), Kathleen?
I originally met Kathleen through her best friend, Dana. I had befriended Dana at the local community college and was at the time starting to date her. One of the primary connections between us was our gaming interests – both of us played RPGs of various types. So I ended up running a D&D game for Dana and her friend Kathleen.
At the time, I was… not terribly mature. I'm perhaps not very mature now, but I have become aware of some of the necessities involved in interacting with other people. At that time, I was loud, heedless of other people's reactions, and an odd combination of arrogant and uncertain that made me hard to get along with at times. While she had fun gaming with me, Kathleen apparently found me insufferable; many years later, I learned that her mother, upon hearing Kathleen's complaints, had said, "I have a terrible feeling that that is going to be my son-in-law". Kathleen, naturally, was utterly incensed by this.
I dated Dana for about five years. It was not a stable relationship – neither of us was really ready and we had conflicting personality traits, despite having true affection for each other and not intending harm to each other. Kathleen spent a lot of time during those years patching our relationship up. But even her efforts eventually couldn't patch something which was fundamentally flawed, and eventually we broke up. It was, at that time, not a friendly parting, especially on her part (not without reason, I must add).
During this same time, off and on, I was a member of a local writer's group that met regularly at the Scotia Library. I started going back there again, and I did maintain some connection to Kathleen, talking with her at various points. As she was also an aspiring writer, she asked me if I'd take her to the meetings. I took her there, and drove her home, and by the time I got her home I found myself turning towards her. I warned her I was going to make a very heavy pass at her, but if she said no, that was the end of it and I wouldn't bother her again.
She didn't seem upset… but she didn't seem certain either. The recent breakup, and the fact that she was still Dana's close friend as well as mine, hung over her.
But the next day she called up and said, "yes."
Our relationship has always been defined by how much fun we could have together. Our first date was going to a local fair together. And she made a hell of a first dinner for me, too (shrimp and lobster). We went to movies, we talked, and we gamed and wrote together.
And she introduced me to anime. Technically I'd seen some anime earlier, but I didn't know it was a subgenre or category of its own. Kathleen had also run a space adventure game set in the universe of Mobile Suit Gundam, but the character I'd played had been sufficiently different from the regular characters that my lack of knowledge of the setting had been more an advantage than a hindrance.
Now that we were together, she introduced me to her hobby with her pirated tape collection (for in those days, there were barely any legitimate sources). She showed me quite a few shows, but the one that caught my imagination most – and became, in many ways, the first great bonding element in our relationship, was Saint Seiya.
As a show, Saint Seiya was a lot more promise than fullfillment, although at the time I found it revelatory; it was my first time encountering many of the Japanese shonen tropes that I would later come to know so well. What was important about it was that it had enough mysterious background … translated haltingly and sometimes wrongly by various fans… that we could make it into an adventure world of our own. We ran each other in games set in the expanded world of the Saints, and then we wrote stories from those games.
As I've mentioned elsewhere, I learned to write from those fanfics. I was always good at basic language use, at writing action scenes, and at coming up with neat scenarios or tricks. But I hadn't really the faintest idea on how to write characters, while it was the characters that fascinated Kathy, that made the stories worth writing for her. The two of us dovetailed perfectly in writing those stories. I provided the excitement, the slam-bang action, figured out ways around the dangers of the adversaries, while she brought out the human side of the equation, and forced me to write that part too. We forced each other to try to match the other in their areas whenever we wrote our sections (I was responsible for Dragon Shiryu, Phoenix Ikki, my original character Erik Nygard/Windlash, and some other characters (villains and side characters), while she worked mostly with Pegasus Seiya, Andromeda Shun, Cygnus Hyoga, and many of the other cast members.)
Her influence on my writing was nothing short of revelatory, and not merely in that area; even today I'm probably only "okay" with writing characters. But it was while working with her on one of the games and stories that I suddenly realized one of the key facets of my own universe, and that transformed everything, made it all clear to me in a way I had been struggling to achieve for years.
Kathy also forced me to learn how to deal with people in social settings, recognizing that I rarely if ever deliberately offended people but could easily do so unintentionally and obliviously. So she would directly confront me, tell me where I'd screwed up, and what I had to do. Had she not done that, I might have never managed to get and keep any job worth talking about.
She also helped drive me in other ways. When I went down to Pittsburgh – after only about half a year or so of dating her – she followed me about a year later, and for a few years we survived in Pittsburgh on our own. Eventually we got engaged and moved back. She drove me to finish my schooling even as I had to work to support us in cheap apartments – drove me by her presence, not through force or argument, because pushing me that way was almost guaranteed to fail.
Ultimately, it was Kathy who got me published. When Eric Flint came to visit, she was the one who brought up my writing, because I felt that it would be too intrusive, maybe rude, to do so. He then inquired about what I had and I gave him the first three portions of what became Digital Knight.
This blog is mostly about my writing and related material, or I could go on about so many other things about her influence on me outside of the mere arena of writing. But all of them boil down to the simple fact that she has put up with incredible amounts of crap from me, I am astounded that she is still with me, and I love her more than ever.
She is, and will always be, my truest inspiration.