Thursday, July 14, 2011

Under the Influence...of Books

One thing I know about fiction writers. All fiction writers.

We're readers.

It's how we got into doing what we do—we read books, loved them, wanted more and ended up so obsessed with stories that we had to start telling our own. Many of us taught ourselves to write by reading good books, picking up on the subterranean rhythms of story structure, sentence structure and world-building. Readers do this, too, pick up on the same things. It's how you know whether or not a book works. Whether the story makes sense or the pacing keeps you reading. You just don't feel compelled, as writers do, to tear a story apart to see why and how it works.

And because we're all readers here, there's something else that we share: we've all experienced books that changed the way we look at things, or sparked our interests in subject matter we'd never thought about before we read that particular book.

I've had a few experiences like that. When I was little, one of my favorite books was Charlotte Baker's Green Poodles. The story of British girl Fern, who crossed the Pond with her poodle Juliet to stay with her American cousins and ended up raising and showing poodles with them, captured my imagination on a lot of levels. The idea of training dogs for the show ring had never crossed my mind (believe me, my mutts at the time would never have passed muster!). The idea that people would actually steal dogs came as a surprise (yes, there was a suspense subplot that I found thrilling, even at that young age). But the thing that really stuck with me all these years was the fact that Fern named the poodle Juliet's puppies after Shakespearean characters.

I'd never heard of Shakespeare at that young age, but my curiosity led me to find out more about the Bard. By the time I hit college, I had become a Shakespeare fan (making my English major a lot easier to earn), and I truly believe it all started with a little poodle named Juliet and a book that I read over and over, every time it was available at the library.

Another book that affected me in a similar way were the Luis Mendoza mysterys written in the 60s & 70s by Dell Shannon. I discovered them at a used book store, since by then she wasn't really writing anymore, and read all of them I could find. They were police procedurals, which I discovered I loved (and which had an effect on the way I write as a romantic suspense author). They also featured a Mexican-American police lieutenant who sprinkled Spanish throughout his dialogue. I became interested enough in Spanish to eventually minor in the language in college. I think it all goes back to Luis Mendoza.

So how about you? What elements of the books you've read have changed your life in some way? Did they inspire new hobbies? Change your opinion on something? Spark a lifelong interest in something you'd never considered before you read the book?

Do tell!


Heather said...

The Great Brain series by John Dennis Fitzgerald sparked my love of reading when I was in elementary school. After that, I read anything I could get my hands one. It is hard to say which books influenced me more than others. Reading your blog entry makes me want to go through my bookcase to revisit so my old friends.

Paula said...

I used to love the Encyclopedia Brown series, and of course I read all the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden and Dana Girls mysteries I could get my hands on. When I thought for a while I wanted to be a nurse, my cousin Judy, who was a nurse, let me some of her old Cherry Ames nursing books, which I loved, too.

I spent a lot of time thinking I wanted to be a nurse, a doctor, a medical technician, a detective, a policeman--when what I really wanted to do was write about people who did all those things.

Louisa Cornell said...

I would have to say Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and Georgette Heyer changed my life, but I had to wait for the change to come full circle.

I was introduced to these writers when I was a young girl living in an English village. (Air Force brat) I knew then I wanted to write historical romance.

My music career sort of sidetracked the writing, but I'm on my way to making my childhood dream come true thanks to those wonderful ladies!

Paula said...

I didn't read Jane or the Brontes until high school--actually, I think it was probably after college for Jane. But Austen is an all time favorite of mine now, and I try to read P & P at least once a year.

Carla Swafford said...

Actually, it was my interest in horses that got me to reading more.

But I don't remember being influenced by one. As a kid, I would watch a period movie and then pull out my World Books to read more about it. That's how I became interested in historical books.

The only classics I read as a kid was BLACK BEAUTY (horse), FLICKER (horse), KING OF THE WIND (horse), etc. You get the idea. LOL!

Of course, that's how I found Roberta Gellis's book, BOND OF BLOOD. A knight on a rearing horse caught my attention. :-) My first romance.

Lexi said...

Laura Ingalls Wilder's FARMER BOY and HEIDI both made my mouth water with their descriptions of food. Of course, I've always liked the chow, but I think that's one reason I take such great delight in describing food in my books. I have always loved whimsy and authors who have a sense of the ridiculous, which is one reason I love Georgette Heyer. Freddy in COTILLION and Rupert in Ms. Heyer's THESE OLD SHADES and DEVIL'S CUB are good examples of this!