Hello, dear readers, and welcome!
Today I wanted to write about some of the books from my childhood, and how they have influenced me -- and yes, say thank you to one in particular, without which I don't believe I would have ever decided to become a writer at all, despite my love for the written word and storytelling.
As I was reading a new issue of a writing magazine (I believe it was The Writer, but don't quote me on it!) at my beloved local Barnes and Noble, I came across an article speaking about just this, and decided to do one of my own.
I'll start off by saying that I don't think that children (or adults, for that matter) can ever read too much, or that it isn't important for them to read. I loved reading as a child, and I couldn't imagine not having read as a kid, though I know some people who used to hate reading and now love it. Books were a big part of my childhood, and they taught me many things; I learned early on that books are our conduits into other peoples' lives, into other times and dimensions, where we can learn new things. Books make people better, and I believe more understanding.
But, speaking from a writing perspective, here are some things that I believe my childhood favorites taught me.
When I was young, I absolutely loved the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park. Junie B. is a little bit of a weird girl (okay, she can quite a bit weird), she has an awesome best friend, and she's very funny, and I liked that about her.
But the thing I liked most is that she wasn't perfect. She often opened her big mouth way too wide, and said things she shouldn't. She could be mean, though she meant well. She didn't always do things the "right" way because she was different.
If I learned anything about writing from this series, early on, it's that it's okay for your characters not to be perfect -- actually, it's much better if they aren't. A character with flaws and fears is relatable, and even endearing.
I actually still have a copy of this book!
Dean Marney wrote an entire series of stories like this -- where the main character's family, generally, was eaten by different things, often during the holidays. The Christmas Tree That Ate My Mother was the first book in the series that I read, picking it up from the library, and to this day it is my favorite.
These stories were strange -- really strange, out of the box, odd with some odd on top. And of course, I loved them (a foreshadowing of my love for weird, dark tales).
From a writing perspective I believe that these books taught me that, one, it's okay to write "weird stories", and to like weird stories, something the strict private school I attended as a child often shunned. But I also learned that it's good to surprise your readers, to keep them guessing, and to think outside of the box. No matter how odd the story, in fantasy you can do anything, and often the odder and more beautiful the story, the more it stays with the reader.
I don't remember when exactly in my childhood I read The Hobbit, but I had to add it to the list, because it meant (and means) so much to me.
Not only was this book the first book that I remember my older brother picking out for me specifically (and yes, I still have that copy he picked from the shelf), it was the first story, that I recall, that opened up the world of fantasy for me, and took me on a journey. I had read other classics, of course, quite a few of them fantasy (The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, is another favorite), but none hit me quite like The Hobbit did.
There are a lot of writing lessons learned from this book, but the best ones for me to take away were that we can, as authors, create new worlds, so big and large that we want to explore them, so intricate that we feel as though we are being shipped off-planet. Not only that, but often the least likely hero is the one who ends up being most heroic, and making the most difference.
Plus, I can't leave out the fact that sometimes a song is the best idea, after all.
I put these books together because they are, in ways, similar, at least in what they taught me about writing.
Both are wonderful stories, and feature characters you might not expect them to feature -- people who are different, not the "typical"...and that's where my lesson began. These stories taught me, not only as a child but as a writer, to be more understanding of others, to try and see the best in them, to be open to new things and new ideas, even if at first they might scare you.
As a writer, I am always trying to be aware of what I may tell my reader. Of course, you are never going to be able to control what the reader might take away from your story, what they might gain from reading it, but I believe that it's important to go into a story with something to say, because books can speak in ways that we, when we speak words, can not.
And The (Anti)Hero Of The Hour Is...
There are many reasons that Artemis Fowl takes the cake when it comes to not only favorite childhood books (teen books, actually), favorite book series, and book that helped me most to become an author, but I'll start at the beginning.
Before I read Artemis Fowl, I was at that point in my reading life where I was getting bored. Kids books were great, but I was getting older, and wanted something a bit different, but I couldn't read adult books yet, and at this point the YA section was just beginning to grow, and I wasn't into the supposedly drool-worthy love triangles with guys who worked on cars and went to the gym (ugh). So, I was literally on the precipice of not reading anymore, because I couldn't seem to find anything that sparked my interest (now I've learned that maybe I just wasn't looking in the right place). I've always been a picky reader, and I sometimes have trouble even now (and I had yet to discover Mrs. L'Engle at this point), but here I was willing to give up because finding something interesting was proving futile.
It sounds ludicrous, right? But that is how I felt. And then I went to the bookstore with my beloved sister-in-law. We were browsing the clearance isle, and I happened to see a box with strange looking lettering, and shiny books nestled inside (literally, they were shiny, like metal). I was drawn to the box like a moth to a flame, and what do you know, inside of it there was the first three books in a series I hadn't read, but that sounded really interesting. My sister-in-law and I went back to the kids section and checked out the books while they were outside of the box, and I was originally going to buy just the first one, but she encouraged me to get the set.
I'm so glad she did, because I went home and read the first book in one sitting, and the second two shortly afterwards. I fell madly in love with this book series, and its terrible yet wonderful main character. I was inconsolable when I finished reading the last book.
But I wouldn't want to change it, because this story made me into a writer. I remember it clearly: halfway through Artemis Fowl, sitting in a car while my mother ran into the store (because I refused to stop reading), I decided that I wanted to become a writer, so that I could write things as wonderful as this. And the rest is history.
But I'm getting a bit off track, aren't I? What I learned about writing from Artemis encompasses a bit of what I learned from the books above. Write the unexpected, weird story you want to write. Try and see through another person's eyes, because what we look like on the outside, and what we are on the inside are often quite different. Make your character have flaws. Open up an entirely new world for your readers to explore (even if it happens to be part of the world they already know). And my favorite: your hero doesn't have to be the cookie-cutter, overly virtuous hero, but can exist in the grey area, or have thinking outside of popular belief.
I loved this book series because Artemis isn't your typical hero, and Holly really isn't your typical heroine. They learn a lot from each other, and neither is perfect. In fact, in the first book Artemis is a pretty terrible person...and he slowly but surely gets better, and even then he's never perfect, and definitely doesn't see things the way that "most" people do; life works the same way, slowly, and it's the people who have alternate views who I think make the world interesting. It was wonderful, for me as a kid, to see a character who was neither good nor bad specifically, but who was human -- and wickedly intelligent, which is always a major bonus for me.
I'm really grateful to this series, not only for giving me great books to read, but for helping me to decide to become a writer in the first place. Thank you, Artemis, and thank you, Mr. Colfer.
What are some of your favorite stories from childhood,
and how have they influenced you?