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Q&A: Which Writers Have Inspired You?
Where were you in the writing process when it happened?
Hi, Everlastings, time for another Q&A, this time prompted by our friend @AnnKadet, whose newsletter is a must-read for me—and I hope YOU. At our last Q&A she suggested this topic and it’s taken me this long to think about my own answer.
I think I was making up stories and writing them in composition books from the time I could put together sentences on paper, but it took two books, each so different but so compelling, to awaken the teenage writer in me.
They were both published in Europe first, then came out in the US in the same year—1952. One of them, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, awakened the writer in me, showing me that writing as diary entries, something I’d already been doing, might be the way to solve the fear problem. I was petrified to put my own words on paper. What if someone should read them? How mortifying! But this young girl did it while war was raging right outside her hidden door, while every day brought the threat of exposure and possible annihilation. How could I not feel ashamed?
That same year Françoise Sagan’s racy little story of a teenage summer romance sailed across the sea from France and hit America’s shores. I remember the fuss—that little girl was writing about sex!— and of course I wanted to read it, but since I was only 14 then I probably didn’t read it until I was a little older—at least 16, I’m guessing—a mere two years younger than Françoise was when she wrote Bonjour Tristesse.
Until then I’d never heard of a famous teenage author. It never even occurred to me, as I wrote my stories, that I could become a writer. I wrote them for myself and maybe that one cousin who read them and couldn’t get enough of them. But life happened and I set the thoughts aside until I was pregnant with my third child and the idea of writing something witty and/or saleable hit me again. Out of the blue. Then I wanted to be Peg Bracken or Irma Bombeck. I didn’t dare reach beyond housewifism. I didn’t know anything else.
Side note: Peg Bracken is most famous for her “I Hate to CookBook” but I loved “A Window Over the Sink”, her wise funny book about being a domestic in her own house. It came out in 1981. I was writing for newspapers and magazines by then but I desperately wanted to write a book of humor in that same vein. I wrote to her through her publisher and sent her one of my typewritten manuscripts. She wrote back and told me I was a writer and a good one and to keep it up, even in ‘these parlous times’. I had no idea what ‘parlous’ meant but every time I see or hear it now (which, admittedly, is rare) I think of her. I still have her letters (yes, letters—she was being kind, plus we both had no great love for Ronald Reagan) and I’m sorry if you’ve never heard of her. You’ve really missed something.
Later, the idea that a female activist could write about gruesome, startling subjects and still be roaring funny came to me as I read Jessica Mitford’s “An American Way of Death”. Then Molly Ivins came along, and Nora Ephron, and Joan Didion (not exactly a barrel of laughs, but still…). I found Dorothy Parker and Maya Angelou (not exactly soulmates, but this is about inspiration. It doesn’t have to make sense) and I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I could name dozens more—Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem, Molly Ivins, Zora Neale Hurston, Pearl Buck, Jane Austen, the Brontes—but I want to hear from you now. You’ll note my choices are all women. I’ve read plenty of male authors but none of them ever inspired me to write, which is the topic here.
How about you? Which writers inspired you and maybe started you on this path? I can’t wait to get this conversation going! (Men, too, of course. Always.)
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