Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Books & Writers Who Inspired Me

by Clare O'Donohue
Cinderella by Mother Goose (aka Charles Perrault)
I was four. My sister read Cinderella to me over and over, so eventually I memorized it. But I didn’t like the ending. I didn’t like that Cinderella had to be made pretty before the Prince could love her. I wanted the Prince to love her as she was. I was, apparently, a baby feminist. And a stubborn one. So whenever my sister would get to the part where Cinderella was transformed with a ballgown and glass slippers, I changed it. I eventually abandoned the book altogether and would tell my version of Cinderella with no fancy balls or ill fitting shoes or ugly stepsisters. Then I moved on to telling my sister my own stories - about the people who lived under the bed and other characters I made up. It’s funny to think of it now, but before I could read I’d become a writer. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I read this book when I was in the 5th grade. My mother was a high school English teacher so in our house we had Steinbeck, Hemingway, Shakespeare... I read The Great Gatsby because I was bored and looking for something to do. Four kids, one television. I didn’t always understand the story, but I fell in love with the words. I fell in love with the emotion that someone could convey in just a line of dialogue. I wanted to do that too. After that book I started writing stories and quietly imagining that someday, maybe, I could be a real writer.

Junior Year Abroad by Judy & Rosamond du Jardin
When I was about 12, I was given this second hand book that had been written years before. It was a kind of hokey romantic memoir about a college student spending her junior year in Paris, but it awakened in me a passion to travel. I began to study world maps and make lists of places to visit. I was from the South Side of Chicago being raised by a single mom, so the whole idea of being a world traveler seemed nearly impossible. But eight years later, I spent my junior year in London. It was no small feat to get me there. I worked 40 hours while going to school and my mom took a second job in part to help pay for it, but it was amazing. I’ve been traveling ever since. A few years back, a friend said he knew my favorite place in the world. I was surprised there was such a place, so I challenged him to name it. “Away,” he said. “You love being away.” This book was the first time I ever imagined such a magical place as “away” existed.

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
I was in an airport a long time ago, no idea when, but I was wandering the bookstore looking for something to read, and the title caught my eye. I hadn’t read a lot of mystery yet but I was open to it. Once I read this book – forget that – once I read the first few pages, I was in. At the time I was a newspaper reporter on a small weekly with no plans to write a novel, but I remember thinking then that if I ever did write a novel, I’d want to write about crime.

God Save The Mark by Donald Westlake
I had started to make my way through mysteries, reading the classics and the contemporary authors when I stumbled upon Donald Westlake. I loved that he wrote funny and he wrote tough. I loved that each book was different, but always good. God Save The Mark is probably my favorite of his, but it could tie with twenty others. What I learned was that if I wanted to be a mystery writer I didn’t have to choose between hard and soft. My two mystery series are very different from each other, and I often feel I got permission for that from Westlake.


Paul D. Marks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul D. Marks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul D. Marks said...

Clare, I agree with you totally about Fitzgerald. You fall in love with the writing and words and the emotions they express. Kinda makes you want to be a writer. -- Paul

(and sorry for two deletions. too early to be writing and be coherent...)

Robin Spano said...

God, I love the 4-year-old you. That's a seriously good point about Cinderella.

Meredith Cole said...

I love that your junior year abroad dream came true! How awesome.

My mother took me to Europe when I was 12 and I insisted on going to the Alps because of Heidi. It always amazes me how inspiring books can be...

Unknown said...

Hi Paul - I still re-read passages of that book and think, maybe someday...

Robin - Ha! So do I.

And Meredith - Don't you love that books take us places, and then make us want to see them in person. What an amazing effect to have on someone.

Susan C Shea said...

Love your story about making the dream of a junior year abroad come true, and yes: Donald Westlake is a wonderful read, and that may e my favorite Westlake too.

Lori Rader-Day said...

You were a pretty tough four-year-old.