When I was a young girl, I read the books that little girls were supposed to read: books by Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, Carol Ryrie Brink. I devoured Nancy Drew and completed the entire Little House on the Prairie series. But there was something missing … an element of danger and suspense which none of these books were giving me.
So, I asked my father for advice. An avid reader and sci-fi/fantasy enthusiast, he eagerly brought me down to the basement, which could easily pass for a second hand bookshop similar to NYC’s The Strand. As we navigated our way through the maze of history and philosophy books, past the huge sections on the Middle East and humor, we arrived at the wood paneled shelf against the back wall. It was packed with books from floor to ceiling. He showed me alphabetized shelves from Piers Anthony to Roger Zelazny. Hundreds, if not thousands of battered paperbacks stared back at me, tempting me to open them. And for the next several years, I did. I read F. Paul Wilson and Eric Van Lustbader. I was drawn to Arthur C. Clark and Andre Norton. While my friends were reading E.B. White, I was reading Harry Harrison. Now, I still appreciated books which were more geared for my own age group, specifically Madeleine L’Engle’s science fiction books, Robert C. O’Brien’s fantasies and Lois Duncan’s horror novels. But, in the back of the basement, I found my true inspiration.
When I first met Michael Scott, and we discussed collaborating, I was thrilled to dive into the world of dark fantasy and horror which has long informed my tastes. And when I introduced him to my father, they talked like old friends: a similar taste of authors and books cutting through the awkwardness of their first meeting.
Like most authors, I became a writer because I was a reader.
I would maintain that you cannot become a writer unless you have been a reader, and a voracious reader at that. There comes a point in every reader’s life when they put down a book (usually in disgust) and say, “I can do better than that.” In that moment, writers are born.
The type of writer you become is dictated by your formative books. Science Fiction readers become Science Fiction writers, Horror readers become Horror writers.
The book series which really made me want to become a writer was Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, wonderful books about tiny people who live alongside us and “borrow” all those things of ours which go missing. I was perhaps ten or eleven when I first read The Borrowers at the start of the school holidays. By the end of the holidays, I had read the first three books from start to finish and started right over again. (I would have to wait almost thirteen years for the final book, The Borrowers Avenged, which appeared the year my own first book was published.) Mary Norton was shelved in the local library alongside Andre Norton. And there were shelves of Andre Norton. That summer, having finished The Borrowers, I moved onto The Witch World.
Andre Norton was published by DAW Books, and I quickly learned that all I had to do was pick one of the yellow-spined paperbacks. DAW published everyone: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Fritz Leiber, E.C. Tubb, Lin Carter, Thomas Burnett Swann. I read them all.
Is it any wonder I became a fantasy writer?
From the Tor/Forge December newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from our December newsletter:
- Scholar—Pursuit of a Different Dream by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
- An Hilarity Ensues by Lev AC Rosen
- A look back at my weird, cool life by Rudy Rucker