Emma Rathbone: Influences and Inspiration

When people ask me what my influences are I always go blank. It’s like when people ask me what my favorite book or band is. Suddenly everything falls away and the only thing I can remember is the thing that I just read, and then something completely random like A Kiss Before Dying, a dusty murder mystery I got from my parents’ shelf when I was fifteen.

The truth is that I don’t exactly know what has influenced me as a writer, I just know what I’ve been inspired by, and what has compelled me to write, which, I suppose is what people mean when they ask about your influences.

I wrote The Patterns of Paper Monsters over the course of about three years. During that time I read a lot of books and was inspired by a lot of music, but here are some of the things I remember that spurred me to write.

The band The Clash, and especially the song “Clampdown” from “London Calling.” This song has a kind of majestic anger I find really appealing. In fact, there was a time when I thought I was going to use some lines from that song, “Let fury have the hour, anger can be power, d’you you know that you can use it,” as an epigraph for the book. I also listened a lot to a band called The Wrens, and a song of theirs called “Everyone Choose Sides” especially got me into the mindset of the book.

As far as books go, Lolita, which I reread and is my favorite book. The essays of David Foster Wallace, especially “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, for his perfect maintenance of tone. Look at Me by Jennifer Egan. (I am reading A Visit from the Goon Squad right now; she might be my favorite living writer). Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion…

These are books and writers that made me want to get up and write the way hearing a great song makes you itch to dance. They are also books that challenged me to try and write with a larger scope and at the same time more precision.

I was also sort of in love with the character Edward Furlong plays in Terminator 2, and I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure that influenced my conception of Jacob. And the Texas of my youth was an influence too. We moved there from South Africa when I was six, and so the atmosphere of Plano was very potent.

In that hot, aerosol environment, I remember watching and loving all those late eighties busted armor movies—the Terminators, Aliens, Predator, Blade Runner—they formed an American cultural matrix for me. And something of the man under duress, in post apocalyptic or otherwise untenable situations, staring into some toxic sunset and glinting with courage and vulnerability—all of that had to do with creating Jacob, too.

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