The prompt: As writers, we all love to read good books for inspiration. What book inspired you as a writer and why?
I cannot remember a time when I didn’t – or wasn’t – reading. Family lore says I taught myself to read using the “funny papers”, which is what I called the comics. Not sure if that’s true, but I do remember crawling next to my dad in his “chair” and looking at the newspaper along with him as he read.
I read all the standards a chick my age should read growing up – “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler;” “James and the Giant Peach;” the Encyclopedia Brown series; the adventures of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and my favorite book as a girl: Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”
However, my theoretical library wasn’t limited to “age appropriate” material. Oh no. We had a set of supermarket encyclopedias that featured book synopses in the back – some of which had some serious adult content. Of course I cannot remember the titles now, but let’s just say that my parents’ pride in my interest in the encyclopedias was a little misplaced…
With the condensed version of “Tobacco Road” serving as my gateway drug, I worked my way up to more complete and interesting works. Patrick Dennis’ “Auntie Mame” and “Around the World with Auntie Mame” became favorites. “Gone with the Wind” was read over and over again. I would save my allowance to buy the most recent installment of John Jakes’ Kent Family Chronicles as soon as it was released. Our shopping center had a small bookstore with a fantastic used book section in the back (behind the dirty magazine section even… go figure) I would pour over the titles, turning my head sideways and walking down the rows until my aching neck could take no more. I would read the books – Collins, Krantz, Sheldon, Susann – as fast as I could, turn them back into the store for credit, and start the cycle again.
And of course, in addition to all this “personal” reading, I was doing an equal amount for language arts/ English classes in school. I came to love Hemingway’s Spartan style and precise use of words and Fitzgerald’s sumptuous storytelling. Steinbeck’s symbolism and themes.
I was a very well-read young teenager – in every sense of the word.
But the real influence on me wanting to become a writer came during my middle school years and from a most unlikely source: the Harlequin romance.
Yeah – you read that right.
Harlequin romances were my pleasure reading of choice as a young lass. The reading was easy, the stories compelling to me at the time, and there were a JILLION of them, which was perfect for a speedy reader like me.
It was those very qualities that made me think that I too could be a Harlequin romance writer. Never mind that I was 11 years old. Never been kissed. And in seventh grade.
I was going to be a romance novel writer. Picked out my pen name: Whitney L’Amour. My dad read a lot of Louis L’Amour and I thought that name was totally wasted on a guy who wrote Westerns. Ergo my taking it for my own use.
My hero: Van Doren (he must have been a distant relative to Mamie.) Strong, masculine. Virile. Oh yeah. Hairy chest. Tight pants.
My heroine: Cassie Wilson. A champion swimmer. I also watched a lot of classic MGM movies in the day – so think Esther Williams.
I didn’t get very far with this tale of star-crossed lovers, family fights, land battles and disco, as my attention was diverted by the school play and my latest crush and well, more books to read.
But the whistle had been whet. The pen poised. The fire lit.
I wanted to write. Liked to write. Needed to write. And over the years, I played at it, goofed with it, took it seriously, ignored it, thought about it, toyed with it and embraced it.
I no longer read romance novels. But I will forever think fondly upon them. For they were my first muse, she said with a smoldering look in her eye and a yearning in her heart… and elsewhere…