Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Makes us the Writers We Are?

It was a combination of things that led to my storytelling. There weren't many books available in our house. There was no library or bookstore in town, except the small school libraries that were available once every other week for about thirty minutes. I read through the section of our school library within the first month of my school year, about three times by Christmas break, and had nothing left for the spring session. My family was too poor for magazines or outside entertainments. The best I could manage to feed my imagination after the holidays was to spend my evenings with an old set of the World Book Encyclopedia. All these obstacles and others came together to make me look inside for an escape from the ordinary.

I suppose I owe a debt to World Book for the flights of imagination it inspired. Far away places, historic events, and interesting people populated those pages. From those books, and the stories I read, I created adventures in my head. Long before I ever started writing, I told stories to my sister. A little boy who lived in a coconut shell entertained my little sister as she fell asleep at night. Princesses and spaceships, generals and giants wandered through our bedroom until she fell asleep and I crawled under the covers with a flashlight and the next volume.

A lot of things have changed since I moved away from that small town in Eastern Kentucky. I've traveled half-way around the world, and seen most of the places I read about. The stars above Tobago inspired poetry as did the school children of Nicaragua who studied in an open field while we built them a new school. I don't know if those nights of reading the encyclopedia by flashlight sparked my interest in poetry, or history, or the wanderlust that took me far from home. I do know that poetry inspired other writing.

Flash stories were my first love. They are lean, full of imagery, and as close to poetry as stories can be. Later I tried short stories, and then a novel. I don't know if I would have been a different sort of writer if I had come from another background. Maybe... but maybe the blend of history and mystery would have called to me from whatever path I followed.

We mystery writers are a strange group. We eavesdrop on other people's conversations. We visit places with an eye toward hiding a body or committing a murder there. I'm not sure what makes us who we are, but I would love to hear your opinion.

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