Five Things That Influenced Me

SCREAM (film) — Hilariously, this was my first date. It didn’t go well, because the guy in question thought I needed hand-holding, when I was in fact enthralled with and delighted by Kevin Williamson’s post-postmodern take on how horror had nothing new left to say, and how the fact it had nothing new left to say was something brand-new and exciting to say. At one point, a character named Randy is watching John Carpenter’s Halloween and slurring “He’s behind you!” at Jamie Lee Curtis on his television. All the while, the masked killer in his own home is standing right behind him. Concurrently, a journalist who’s placed a bug in that room is watching the feed, so she and her cameraman are shouting “He’s behind you!” at Randy on their television, who’s still shouting “He’s behind you!” at Jamie Lee Curtis on his television. The movie, and that moment in particular, is a remarkable commentary on the way cinema has blurred the line between the real and the reel. Sublime.

GEORGE GRAY (poem) — Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology is a collection of poems centered on a fictional cemetery in small-town Illinois. Masters created over 200 chattily deceased characters and brought them to vivid life, often using only a handful of lines. In my favorite, a dead man named George Gray contemplates his tombstone. I recommend you read it. Daily and desperately, I try to live its lesson.

THE X-FILES (TV show) — I got hit by a car while crossing the street when I was thirteen. I was thrown ten feet and broke my right arm so badly they had to put a plate and six screws in the humerus to mend it. But before surgery, as I was being wheeled through the ER, my mother ran up to the stretcher, took my good hand, and sobbed my name. “Mom?” I said, sounding as pathetic as Oliver Twist with anemia. “What, Gina, what?” “Tape The X-Files.” She came through. It was the episode with a mutant who fits through air vents and makes nests out of newspapers and bile. I watched it approximately two-dozen times, eating bowl after bowl of recuperation ice cream. There was nothing else on TV like The X-Files, and there hasn’t been since. Its trademark mix of the creepy, the funny, and the incredible was a revelatory juggling act. It inspired me to try my own unlikely hybrids of genre.

CELEBRITY SKIN (album) — “Oh make me over/I’m all I wanna be/A walking study/In demonology” Courtney Love is America’s greatest living lyricist, tied dead-even with Leonard Cohen. I found her when I was seventeen and so, so sick of behaving. Hers were the words I screamed along to when my world fell apart in silly, splattery teen fashion. Hers were also the words I screamed along to when my world fell apart for real. She didn’t tell me to be nice, or to put on a pretty smile, or to pretend everything was fine and nothing hurt. She told me that if I hurt, I had every right to shout, tear my hair, make a scene. So much the better if I learned to do it eloquently. So much the best if I took every iota of eloquent rage and pain and sorrow and joy I’d ever felt and turned it into something beautiful. “And I want you/And blessed are the broken and I beg you/No loneliness no misery is worth you/I’ll tear his heart out cold as ice it’s mine” I wouldn’t be the writer or the woman I am without this record.

IT (novel) — As the King once wrote, “The most important things are the hardest to say.” It is a wild ride, a magnum opus ghost story, the fastest thousand-plus pages you’ll ever read. But It is far, far more than that. It is an elegy for childhood, arguing vociferously that although growing up can feel like a leeching of our potential, our faith in our finest possibilities lives on in the people we loved when we were young, as well as in the miraculous survival we accomplished together. And finding that faith again is as simple as reaching out, taking hold, not letting go until the evil you’re facing is bested. “Be true, be brave, stand. All the rest is darkness.”

Gina Wohlsdorf was born and raised in Bismarck, North Dakota. An insomniac in childhood, she crouched over her pink desk in the wee hours and wrote illustrated storybooks that no one but she could follow. Her father, a high school English teacher, began bringing Gina the novels he was teaching and giving her quizzes on the material to demonstrate to his students that an eleven-year-old girl could ace the tests they were failing. Once she got to high school, she attempted to write a novel and discovered, to her embarrassment, that she was still the only person who could follow it. She triple majored at Tulane University. Following graduation, she lived in northern Florida, southern France, and Minnesota. She held a variety of jobs that afforded her time to write, including bookseller and massage therapist. She found, after two decades of trying, that her novels had begun to make sense. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. She currently lives in Colorado.