I have talked to many fellow authors over the years who can point to a single book or author that inspired them to become writers. I can’t really say that. What I can say is that I’ve had a fascination with books for a long as I can remember. I loved how they could transport me away to places and times I’d never see for myself. But as I look back, there are many books and authors that stuck with me, and I believe that soaking up all those great stories led me down the path to becoming an author. While I, too, found my way to romance writing through the likes of Kathleen Woodiwiss in the 1980s, I’m going to focus on a much earlier relationship with books.
Like many writers I know, the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were an important part of my childhood. I had a natural affinity for American history, and so these books fit perfectly into my “have to read” list. In combination with the TV program based on the books (even though there were definitely differences), I learned about setting and characters that stick with readers. The books also fostered my interest in westward expansion and how tough life could be for settlers. As an adult, I came to realize how the settlement of the West came at a great cost to the Native Americans, but as a young girl I was simply enthralled by how different Laura’s life was from my own.
Another book from those early years that stuck with me was Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, a Newbery Medal winner set on Alaska’s North Slope. It helped form my fascination with Alaska, wild places and Native peoples. I’ve also always liked survival stories, whether they are a historic man vs. nature story or, more recently, man vs. zombies/the apocalypse/dystopian society/etc. I like reading about how mankind can either rise to its best self or devolve into animals in a real crisis.
The other book from my childhood that I can remember loving was Island of the Blue Dolphins, another Newbery Medal winner and story of survival, based on a true story about a Native American girl who was stranded on an island off the coast of California for years during the 19th century.
As I got older, I read Summer of My German Soldier about a young Jewish girl in Arkansas who befriends a German POW. A couple of the themes in this story — prejudice and self-esteem — are ones that I feel strongly about and that make their way into my own writing. Love of this story probably led me toward a future reading The Diary of Anne Frank and the beautiful The Book Thief.
What books did you read as a youth that stuck with you? Do you believe that they helped send you down the path to becoming a writer?