A WRITER’S JOURNEY: Part 16.1
The Books that Started it ALL
I won’t say it’s true for all writers (exception to every rule and all that jazz) but most writers can pinpoint a single book as the one that inspired them to write. I’ve heard all kinds of inspiration stories from my friends and peers. Children’s book writers wanting to capture the joy of hearing Dr. Suess read to them as a youngling. Horror writers hiding under the covers terrifying themselves with their first scary book. Or the writer so unimpressed with a horribly written book they are inspired to write something better.
We all have a story about the first book that made us want to write. More often than not, those same books have an influence on what we write. And it seems that for authors who write in certain genres, they can often share the same book or writer as their initial influence.
I credit a few books and writers on changing the course of my journey to becoming a full-time writer. But the one that made me say, “I want to be a writer”, is No Change, Please by Gordon Korman. Korman will probably be familiar to Canadians more than Americans or UK readers. Korman began his writing career at a very young age, barely into his teens he began with his Bruno & Boots books. The first in the series was This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall! begun during a semester in the 7th grade. His English teacher encouraged him to finish the book, which was published by Scholastic along with many of his 55 books that followed.
My grade 5 teacher was reading No Change, Please to the class and explained to us how Korman started his journey to the book we were hearing. That was the moment. Right there. Being told that a kid roughly the same age as me had written a book and had it published, inspired me to try and do the same. Well, I didn’t. I wasn’t published until I was in grade 8 and it was a short story in the photocopied school newspaper. I followed that up with a few poems in different issues of that paper and a couple more short stories and poems in highschool Writers’ Guild anthologies.
But I’d been bitten by the bug.
For this part of A Writer’s Journey, I decided to ask some of my peers to share their stories about the book that inspired them to write. They were all asked the same question and I was amazed by their responses. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Maybe you’ll find a book in their answers that will inspire you to write your own book. Or possibly you’ll take the time and read something by the authors themselves and find that spark you’re looking for.
Zoe E. Whitten
The first book to make me want to be a writer was Stephen King’s It. His characters were so real, and I wanted to create people just as flawed and believable.
I think I’ve wanted to write since I was 10 or so. Around that time I wrote a story called “The Lost Souls” (recently updated as the novella “Lost Souls” for THE UNDEAD: HEADSHOT QUARTET). At that time I was reading Louis Sachar and Roald Dahl, but I don’t believe they were as much of a direct inspiration as what I wasn’t allowed to read – the King books in my parents’ bookshelf, books my older sister had told me about and at which I sneaked peeks whenever I was home alone. It was more than likely IT that did it for me, as that’s the only one I can recall with clarity. I didn’t read the entire novel until I was in my twenties, and it is one of my favorite books today, if not my #1. As a kid, I think the mystique and taboo of the book was as affecting as what I actually glimpsed in its pages (and what I did glimpse was wonderful and scary and definitely left an impression). Between its title – emblazoned in giant blood-red letters on the hardcover – and the fact I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near it, the book took on a mythic quality which only drew me more to it and to that genre. I really do have my parents to thank for getting me into writing horror. I don’t think they’d take that too hard.
Mark Leslie (Lefebvre)
Wow. That’s a tough one. When I first heard the question I thought, oh, cool question – now what book was it for me? And then I realized that I couldn’t be 100% sure. Why? Because I’m pretty sure I wanted to become a writer long before I actually started typing out stories on my typewriter which was in my early teens. Of course, it was many years after when I started sending my stories out to publishers (which is often what I think about when I think about becoming a writer). But to be true to wanting to become a writer, it goes back even earlier than my teen years, it goes back to even before I wrote long prose tales. When I was a boy, I loved to draw cartoons; to tell stories via a combination of words and images. Before that, I remember creating epic adventures with either my Lego figures or my Fisher Price figures, compiling long complex plot adventures that would last weeks in short episodic segments.
And throughout all that time, there were a lot of books I read, many of which likely provided me inspiration to want to tell my own tales, produce my own stories.
So, nailing down a specific single book that inspired me to become a writer is a challenge indeed. I mean, if I go back far enough, it was likely a comic book (likely a poignany story told by Stan Lee about a young outcast teenager with the proportional strength, speed and agility of a spider) that inspired me to want to write my own tales. Later on in my childhood, it might have been one of Lester del Rey’s novels such as Marooned on Mars or Tunnel Through Time. In my early teens, there were books such as George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides that I remember enjoying so much and wanting to write my own post-apocalyptic tale.
And when I first pulled out my Mom’s Underwood typewriter and started seriously hammering out tales, Piers Anthony was a writer whose science fiction and fantasy novels I was avidly consuming. The use of my pseudonym of “Mark Leslie” was derived from reading about how this particular author’s full name was Piers Anthony Dillingham Jacob and he simply sliced off the extra names to get a “writer’s handle” that was easier to say and spell.
But in a nutshell, it might seem like a cop-out to the question, but it seems as if books have always inspired me to be a writer – and the books I read today continue to inspire me to write. When I was young and I read a tale that I marvelled at, that tickled my imagination, I would set forth and want to write my own story that would do the same thing for other readers. And when I write today, it’s not without that part of my mind that conjures up the feeling I get when I read a great story or book.
When I was twelve, an aunt gave me a copy of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Being at a very impressionable age, I devoured the entire novel in one sitting! King’s haunting portrait of an All-American family facing evil sparked my imagination—that’s when I knew I wanted to become a writer!
I’d like to thank all of the writers for taking the time to answer.
I’ll be coming back to this question again. Hopefully you’ll join me for the second half of this part of A Writer’s Journey.
Until next time, keep writing!