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Books That Inspire

For writers, great books shape us, inspire us, and make us want to become better writers. I’d like to acknowledge these books, as my writing would not be the same without them:

Judy Blume’s FUDGE Series – Ms. Blume is responsible for my first foray into thinly-veiled plagiarism, inspired by the funny, empathetic Peter Hatcher and his horrible younger brother, Farley (Fudge). When I was ten, I read the Fudge series, and was very sad that there were not more books to follow. Accordingly, I wrote my own – I still remember writing in cramped handwriting on wide-ruled paper, and then stapling it between two pieces of orange construction paper. At the tender age of ten, I was an author. Tada!

Beverly Cleary’s Everything – There is no book entitled “everything.” I refer to everything Ms. Cleary has ever written. What little girl did not love Ramona? Ms. Cleary did such a wonderful job with the story of that awkward, funny little girl. Ms. Cleary also wrote the MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE series.  Oh, Ralph S. Mouse, you had no opposable thumbs, but you could still operate heavy machinery and get into trouble. Literature needs more characters like you.

John Irving’s THE CIDER HOUSE RULES – I am not the kind of person who goes around calling works “beautiful,” as it sounds trite, but that word aptly describes THE CIDER HOUSE RULES. I prefer character-driven books, and the CIDER HOUSE RULES is the ultimate character-driven book. It also demonstrates an instance where an author includes a considerable amount of backstory without bogging down the reader. That is extremely hard to do. John Irving later won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, which was well-deserved – he did an amazing job of shaping the screenplay to do justice to the novel despite having to eliminate several major characters, plot threads, and time. (Interestingly, Roger Ebert gave THE CIDER HOUSE RULES a lukewarm review, and John Irving cheerfully bashed Ebert in his later UNTIL I FIND YOU when the main protagonist, a screenwriter, won an Oscar after receiving similar treatment by Ebert).

Stephen King’s THE STAND, IT, THE SHINING and ON WRITING – As I write books for children, it may come as a surprise that my absolute favorite writer is Stephen King, whose works should not be touched by children lest they have nightmares and/or require psychological counseling. Mr. King has a few stinkers, but overall is, in my humble opinion, the greatest writer of our time. THE STAND is a masterpiece, and I don’t use that word lightly. Or ever. People don’t seem to realize that Mr. King wrote works such as STAND BY ME, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and THE GREEN MILE (okay, maybe the last one is more well known). Mr. King’s writing is honest, vivid, and demonstrates an ability to effortlessly shift among differing points of view and across different periods of time. Also Mr. King is one of those writers who never gave up his dream – by the time he had his first story published, he had a rusted nail on his wall so overburdened with rejection notes that it was bending under pressure. If he had given up, the world would have missed out.

Rick Bragg’s ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN’ – This book would have been listed first, but I found it later in my writing career. I still remember that day – it was during my ten-minute break at Starbucks in Central West End, St. Louis, and it was on a side display. Without better prospects, and seven minutes of a break remaining, I figured it would do. And….wow. I don’t care how much I love writing, how hard I try, or how many workshops I attend. I will never write like Rick Bragg because it is in his soul. You can feel this when you turn the pages. His book is, in a nutshell that does not do it justice, a memoir of a dirt poor kid from the South journeying towards his end of winning the Pulitzer Prize as a journalist with THE NEW YORK TIMES. It reads like a stream, fast-moving and smooth, its ease demonstrating how truly great writers like Mr. Bragg are born, not made.

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