Writing Influences

By Demetri Capetanopoulos

Words matter.  They are essential for collaboration, have the ability to manipulate human emotion, and there are countless examples of how they have changed the course of history.  We might well wonder how it could be that everyone is not drawn to master a craft possessing such power.  But it wasn’t a compulsion to wield oratory or literary power that drew me to writing, it was the desire to be able to create rich and compelling landscapes, share ideas and messages I thought important, and explore how characters of my own making might surmount arduous circumstances. 

I was fortunate to have a solid grounding in the classics – Stevenson, Kipling, Poe, Wells, Twain, Verne, Bradbury and the like.  But there came a fateful day when I read Endurance by Alfred Lansing which recounted the true, yet scarcely believable tale of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, when I realized within the nooks and crannies of history, non-fiction tales could satisfy every thrill, wonder, and amusement provided by fiction.  I have seldom picked up a work of fiction since and so, have come to appreciate the nuanced difference between authors who can competently relate a compelling history and those gifted few who possess “a way with words” that elevates the narrative to something poetic.  Fate is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann stands near the top of this non-fiction art in my mind.  

Perhaps it is the engineer in me, but I like writing with constraints.  Constraints offer challenges to the writer that require imagination to resolve and inspire innovative solutions that enrich the resulting work.  Some might be physical, like the format, page limit, and shorthand of a screenplay.  Others might imposed by the laws of physics or the credible bounds of character, but whatever set of requirements an author choses to respect, establishes the maneuver space of their writing world.  When I began to write as a kid, my favorite format was the short story, possibly a reflection of my writing endurance, but more likely inspired by the genius of Arthur C. Clarke to weave extraordinary outcomes grounded in reality, in surprisingly few lines.  Like all good entertainers, his work always left you wanting more.  As I took in some of Alistair MacLean’s moodier works, I began to experiment with tone and using setting as a character.  My first attempt at a novel as a young teen was undoubtedly fueled by reading stories of WWII submarine patrols, notably Run Silent Run Deep by Ned Beech and Up Periscope by Robb White.  Years later I found myself working in Antarctica which inspired me to create a concept for a television series.  As I educated myself on that genre of writing I found the challenge of working within the constraints of a screenplay tremendously satisfying.  For The Design and Construction of the Nautilus, the principle constraint I have imposed is to remain faithful to Verne’s novel while remaining credible historically and as a professional submariner.  I have relished the challenge of applying maximum technical rigor to the fictional submarine that inspired my underwater career.  Executing that project helped crystalize my artistic philosophy, which I call “Precise Imagination”.