by John Carenen
There have been only a few literary influences on me and my writing career. I've always liked twisted humor, going back to my high school days when I wrote a collection of grisly, black humor, and disturbing poems entitled Inner Sanctum. I thought they were great, but my aging English teacher did not, especially after she read one in class without pre-reading it. It was about an old man on a ledge of a skyscraper threatening to jump. Finally, despite a crowd cheering him on, he relents. As he heads back inside, he slips and falls. The final line was, "and so the old man, near happiness, slipped and fell."
Robert Frost said a poem "begins in delight and ends in wisdom." I was just trying to channel Frost, but I was sent, with my poems, to see our principal. He liked them, then told me to stick around in his office so it would seem like I was being counseled. In the meantime, we talked about sports. A great principal.
Genuine literary influences, however, have been few and far between, but significant. Ernest Hemingway, to be sure, and his theory of omission, made an impact on me. Also Joseph Heller and his genius masterpiece, Catch-22. Loved the black humor and characterizations. But I have to say the late Robert B. Parker had the most influence on me through his Spenser novels. I loved the tough guy with a code in an urban frontier where the hero has to take on the forces of darkness and not capitulate to threats, corruption, fraud, and general ickiness. And Spenser's bud, Hawk, is a great secondary character, too.
In my novels, without consciously replicating that environment, I came up with an Irish protagonist in Thomas O' Shea, a genuinely tough guy with a sketchy past before he married and became a dad. But when his family is killed in a car-truck collision, his old skills come into play as he snoops around sketchy situations, raising the ire of nefarious types. And his sidekick, Lunatic Mooning, an Ojibwe Indian and bar owner, plays a similar role to Hawk. Now, I didn't even think about that until some readers asked me, and there it was. Tough Irish guy and his minority buddy.
I am Irish, and also Cherokee and Jewish, so I think maybe I'm the minority, but I am not a tough guy. Living vicariously through Thomas O'Shea is so much fun, however. Literary influences? A little bit. Personal wackiness? Just who I am.
John Carenen, a native of Clinton, Iowa, graduated with an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from the prestigious University of Iowa Writers Workshop and has been writing ever since. His work has appeared in numerous popular and literary magazines. His debut Thomas O’Shea mystery novel Signs of Struggle was published in October 2012. The sequel, A Far Gone Night, continues the exploits of the enigmatic protagonist and quirky characters of Rockbluff, Iowa. John is currently an English professor at Newberry College in Newberry, S.C. He lives with his wife in a cozy cottage down a quiet lane in northern Greenville and is a big fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Boston Red Sox.