Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Old Anthologies

I remember it very well. I was twelve and was accompanying my mother on one of her frequent yard-sale shopping excursions. On a table loaded down with kitchen supplies, lamp stands, and delicate ceramic figurines, was a dog-eared paperback Anthology of American literature. I don’t remember the publisher or the edition; I don’t even remember what range of time the literature contained therein represented. I just remember that for my twelve year old self, that anthology was inspiring. I read from that anthology voraciously. And it wasn’t long after, that I knew I wanted to write. I wanted to create rich settings and complex characters that could occupy those settings. When people asked me what I wanted to be “when I grew up,” I would tell them that I wanted to be a writer. I had the impression that they thought me just a bit odd.

My first attempt at fiction was impressive for my age. I wrote nearly 100 pages of text, a sweeping saga of an errant knight and his trusty companion, “Cedric.” Of course there was a damsel. Though, in my story, she was hardly a distressed one. She was defiant and hot-headed, but not incapable of being swept entirely off her feet by the heroic knight.

There were other projects I undertook as well. And always, I read. Historical fiction continued to be a major inspiration. One of my favorite books was The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, a children’s historical novel written in 1958. I continued to return to that old anthology of American literature, as well, which by then had lost its paperback cover as well as the first few introductory pages, so that the “cover” was now the table of contents.

Over the years since acquiring that old anthology and my first forays into creative writing, many other influences have shaped the way I come to that blank page. I am still deeply interested in historical perspectives, but have come to love contemporary fiction as well. I love watching people, and making up stories about them in my head. For me, it’s always the “why” questions that arouse me to creative writing. Some formative influences can only be understood in retrospect, and this curiosity about human motivations is one of those. I think I love writing, because I love asking questions about human behavior. I think, too, that this curiosity is something I’ve always possessed. When I was very young, for instance, I believed that one should always look directly at a person if they were speaking. Hence, I sometimes wondered why my mother would continue looking into the pot on the stove or the sewing in her lap while responding to a question I had asked her. You can chalk that up to youthful solipsism. Still, there was that deep curiosity about why people do the things that they do that I’ve retained, and that still captures me today when it comes to writing human experience.

What about you? What made you want to write?

On Inspiration
Check out these bloggers—all writing about the ways they were inspired to write!

  • Magen Toole writes flash fiction horror/fantasy.
  • Shaun Humphreys lives in London and works as a freelance web journalist
  • Lane Cockrell writes about living a full life and being a grandfather to five.
  • Shah Wharton is a poet and short story writer with a BSc in Psychology and writes about art as catharsis and many other subjects.

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