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Wheatyard - Unconscious Influences

I just started reading a book that I've owned for more than three years, whose first chapter brought me an oddly pleasant pang of recognition. The book is Plainsong, Kent Haruf's critically acclaimed novel of life in a small Colorado town. Our local Starbucks has a book case which the store encourages customers to permanently take books from, provided that the customers donate a book of their own to the shelf. Sometime in mid-2005, I visited that Starbucks with my family, having brought along another book which I had started, not enjoyed at all and then abandoned, and I figured I'd give that book a chance at finding a more welcoming home than my own. I deposited the book on the shelf and was quite pleased to see Plainsong, which I had been meaning to read for some time. I read the first chapter as we savored our coffee, then I took the book home, shelved it and didn't finally return to it until yesterday.

The first chapter of Plainsong involves a father, two sons and an all-but-invisible mother who live on the outskirts of the small town of Holt. Their house stands directly opposite a set of railroad tracks, on the very sensibly named Railroad Street. When I read this chapter yesterday (for the second time, the first having been at Starbucks in 2005), it suddenly seemed very familiar, and for very good reason.

I started writing Wheatyard in November 2005, several months after reading the first chapter of Plainsong. The eponymous protagonist of Wheatyard just so happens to live - you guessed it - on the outskirts of a small town, directly opposite from the railroad tracks, on Railroad Street. (Albeit childless and unmarried, in Central Illinois and not Colorado.) Although the similarities between Wheatyard and Plainsong end right there, I find it very interesting that these fairly minor elements of Plainsong found their way, unconsciously, into Wheatyard. Until yesterday I had completely forgotten that first chapter, and had absolutely no idea that Haruf's book had at all influenced my writing of Wheatyard. But the influence is definitely there, although to a very small degree.

Other than the name Elmer Glaciers Wheatyard (which my daughter Maddie made up) I have had really no idea where the concept of Wheatyard came from. At the outset, I simply reasoned that anyone with such an odd name had to be quite an eccentric, so I just started with the idea of an eccentric protagonist and improvised from there. Or that was what I presumed to be the extent of influence, until yesterday. Now that I recognize the fact that I borrowed some basic story elements from Plainsong, I realize there is undoubtedly a myriad of similar influences that went into the creation of Wheatyard, most of which I'm still only vaguely aware of. I expect the revelation of other influences in the future will be a similarly rewarding experience.

May 28, 2008 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink