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.

8 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...
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Paul D. Marks said...
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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...

Clare ODonohue 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.