Reading as inspiration


One of many bookshelves in my house. The population is in a constant state of flux. Only the books I intend to read over and over or those of some intrinsic value remain. But that criteria includes a LOT of titles.

Yeah, I’m a big-time reader, although in all honesty, often my reading ends in my snoozing over the book. No matter how good the story is, I tend to crap out because I usually read in bed. Lately my reading has floated over a few books in my To Be Read pile, some of which started out on the wrong foot for me (within the first few pages, a child vanishes from her soon-to-be stepmother’s side, I don’t want to read that!) or simply lost my interest. I’m a pretty patient reader, but something has to start happening or a character has to be compelling for me to continue.

The last book I read, however, did not fall into either category. Sarah Gruen’s Water For Elephants was captivating and interesting, showing a glimpse of life in the circus during the Depression. And, as a writer, I now notice things that might have previously escaped my attention. For example? Ms. Gruen writes in first-person, present tense. It’s a little odd but it seems to flow well and I stop noticing it after a moment of reading. It makes you feel like you’re watching the events unfold as they occur. (Her previous novel Riding Lessons is written in the same way. Flying Changes is awaiting my attention as soon as I finish RL.)

This does sound like a big advertisement for Sarah Gruen’s books and maybe it is. But, as a writer, I want to read books that inspire me. Her do. Granted, RL and FC both involve horses, and all three books have animals as characters, a subject near and dear to my heart, but they also feature characters that are human enough to step off the page and situations that any of us might find ourselves in. 

Any writer wants to produce a work that their readers can identify with in some way. Even fantasy novels have situations that we Muggles can identify with: friendship and loyalty, betrayal, the companionship of a lover. All of these and more are things we all can imagine ourselves doing, either through experience of our own or tales from another. Sure, who among us has really faced down a dragon? But I bet we have all felt that jaw-dropping awe at seeing something truly magnificent and terrifying, all at once. And when that dragon foils Our Hero’s attempts at gaining the treasure (be it monetary, spiritual or otherwise), haven’t we all felt the bitter disappoinment that such a defeat would generate?

Write what you know doesn’t just have to be about (in my case) veterinary medicine, gardening and being an unfulfilled writer, though elements of all creep into my work. I know nothing whatsoever about *being* a werewolf, but I know what it’s like to have something I’d rather others not know about. I know what it’s like to fall in love and I know what it’s like to not have my love returned. Those things play roles in my werewolf story, as well as others. I guess what I’m trying to say is that a person could pick a worse example to emulate than Ms. Gruen. I hope to someday find my own works on a bookstore shelf. Having said book be reasonably successful wouldn’t go down too badly either.