Like many readers, and writers, I have a few key books that stand out above others. As I reflect on what those books were for me, it’s interesting to see how they relate to the journey I’ve taken from reluctant reader to writing novels of my own.
GARFIELD, by Jon Davis: As a child, my mom took us to the library as religiously as she took us to church (that would be weekly :-) She was a voracious reader and she, of course, encouraged us to love books as well. Alas, I did not love books. There was always something better to do. To pacify her, however, I checked out Garfield. They were the only books I was interested in, at least until The Far Side started publishing comic books as well. Certainly, the literary value of these books were minimal, however, I enjoyed them and I think that enjoyment was a key point in my personal development.
THE DANGEROUS YEAR, by Era Zistel: In the third grade I found this book on the shelves of the school library. I still had no interest in books but we had to check something out. I believe this was the last book on the fiction shelf and it had skunks on the cover. I didn’t like to read anything, but if I had to read, I preferred to read about animals due to the fact that people were so uninteresting. The Dangerous Year was about a family of skunks, most of whom get killed off over the course of a year, hence the title of the book. I really liked the story so I checked it out nearly every week for 3rd and 4th grade. This was an important part of my journey because it was the first book I ever loved. It didn’t cross my mind that I might love other books as well, but it was a good start.
THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, Elizabeth George Speare: In 7th grade I put off a book report until the night before it was due. I didn’t like books, and I thought all the stuff the teacher wanted us to write about was stupid. Symbolism, characterization, story arc meant nothing to me, but my parents were teachers and I couldn't get zeros. At home, after failing to get my mom to help me by using the book she was currently reading, she handed me a copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond and assured me I would not only like it but that I would be able to read it that afternoon and turn the book report in the next day. I thought she was a danged liar, but I had no other options so I pouted to my room and accepted the miserable experience ahead of me. Well, it turned out my mom was right—I did read it and I did like it. Beyond that, I realized that a book could completely capture me, if I let it. This was a pinnacle day for me and broke me out of my determination not to like reading—other than a few select books here and there—and showed me that through a good story I could be transported. I finally understood why my mom read so much. I finally understood what it meant to become part of the story.
HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL, by James Frey: Fast forward a decade and I’d read thousands of books. I was as voracious as my mother was and we had hot dogs for dinner a lot because I needed to read just one more chapter. During a difficult pregnancy I started writing what I thought would be a short story while on bed rest. I had played around with another story a few years earlier, but never thought about publishing it. I didn’t think about publishing this one either until friends encouraged me to do so and I decided why not. I mean, I wrote a BOOK, that must mean I’m some kind of genius, right? It was inspired, it was perfect, it was my way of blessing the whole world with my brilliance! Or not. After a few rejections I realized there was more to publishing a book than simply writing the story. So I went to the library looking for books on writing. I found Frey’s book and was amazed at how much I didn’t know I didn’t know. This book led to other books on writing which provided my education on how to write a book. I’d been learning about structure and characters for years through the books I read, but now I knew how to do it myself. I used the skills I learned and rewrote my book. A year and a half later, it was published.
HARRY POTTER, by J.K. Rowling: I heard about the series for years before I picked it up. It was a kid’s book, and I didn’t read kid’s books, not even when I was a kid myself. I was happy for Rowling’s success, but it did not grab my attention until a friend of mine, who also didn’t read kid’s books, told me how good it was. I decided to give it a try, but bought the paper book version for $7 so I didn’t invest too much in something I was still pretty sure held little interest in me. I finished the first book in a day, and by the end of the week had spent $80 on the next four books in the series. I couldn’t believe I liked it so much, so I dissected the story, the characters, and the setting in my head, focusing on those things that stood out to me. In the process I found flaws in the story and the writing (as always happens when you’re reading critically) and yet, overall, I still loved the books. This was an important day for me because I realized how much I had learned to the point where I could critique someone else's work. Being able to critique someone else meant I could critique myself. My writing improved because of this, and I waited in line for every other book in the series as soon as it came out.
LEMON TART, by Josi Kilpack: I realize it’s very arrogant for me to use my own book, but I can’t give a fair view of my lifetime relationship with books and leave this one out. It was the first book in my Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery series, but wasn’t written with that intention. I wrote the first chapter for a contest I didn’t win, but I loved the story. I loved Sadie and after writing several books in my faith based market, I was ready to try my hand at a mainstream novel. I worked on it for a few years before presenting it to my publisher. I wasn’t sure they would want it, seeing as how it was so different than my other books, but they loved it and I realized I was entering a whole new level of writing, promotion, and overall storytelling. I’d become comfortable where I was, but suddenly there was a whole new world of writing for me to explore.
DEVIL’S FOOD CAKE, by Josi Kilpack: Okay, not I’m really coming across as arrogant. Sheesh. But, the fact is that this book was a big deal in terms of my journey. Lemon Tart had done really well, as had the second book in the series, but Devil’s Food Cake amplified the series into an actual SERIES. Suddenly, it seemed more real and with the great reviews of the earlier books my confidence in the future books grew even more.
And so, here I am three books into an eight book series and working hard every day to rise to the challenge of it all. I’m also a mom of four kids and encourage them to not just read, but to read what they love in hopes that whatever their journey may be, they might find books to be a worthy companion, helpmate, and vacation as they go.
Thanks so much, Josi, for stopping by to "talk" with us!!