Saturday, November 19, 2011

Forced to Read

by Gary

I guess I’ve always been “out” as a writer to my folks. My mom Leonelle was a librarian and my dad a mechanic. She’d attended the University of Chicago and received her masters degree from USC. Dikes, my pop, dropped out of school after the 6th grade in Seguin, Texas and among other activities in the Depression to make ends meet, picked up bodies for the undertaker, worked for a bootlegger, and dug ditches as part of the WPA. Both of them revered education.

So when I’d walk home from grade school, I had to read after doing my homework and before I could go out and play. Dear reader, imagine a child told he has to read the likes of Pinocchio and Robin Hood. Oh, the humanity. Needless to say I developed the love of recreational reading early. When us kids were taught the Dewey Decimal system at 61st Street Elementary, it was off to the races for me and I happily scoured the stacks of our school’s library for books like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Beast Master by Andre Norton. Even when I played football in high school, I would invariably have a paperback of the latest Doc Savage adventure in my back pockets because in those days Bantam was reprinting his tales from the pulps.

Pretty much since I was in grade school, having been inspired by my readings, I’d also written my own short stories. Being a comic book fan then and now, I got to drawing and writing mighty struggles for truth and justice using character I created. In fact to make sure I wasn’t blowing my allowance on these funny books, pop would ask me what was that latest Daredevil or issue of the Flash about. I didn’t know plot and structure then, but I’m sure recounting those four-color outings of derring-do gave me a sense of the components of story construction. Comics for certain helped build my vocabulary too.

Sadly, it turned out I didn’t have much facility as an artist, but the writing, well that was something I could keep at – hone it, shape it, learn from my mistakes. As a teenager I read the classics such as Native Son and Huck Finn, but discovered the other classics as well; Hammett and Chandler. I was hooked. It would take more years later than it should have, but always in the back on my mind was the notion I’d tackle writing a mystery novel.

I’m glad my parents made me read as a kid. I suppose I might have gotten on to the habit anyway, but certainly knowing they liked books made it so much sweeter when I could produce a few as well, though they were gone by then. Still, I think they knew.

I leave you now with an unabashed plug for my short story “Feathersmith’s Excellent Plan” in the just released, all-original anthology, Dead of Winter from the Thalia Press Authors Co-Op, of which I’m a proud member. The e-book is valuable on Kindle and Nook.


Reece said...

Gary -- Nice post. You were lucky to have parents who pushed you to read. I think that's probably one of the best things parents can do for a kid. I also got started reading Jules Verne, who is enjoyng a little bit of a revival lately as one of the predecessors of steam-punk.

Gary Phillips said...

Indeed, Reece, here's to Mr. Verne. I remember this BBC series from a few years ago about the steampunkinsh adventures of a young Jules Verne. Pretty good I thought.