Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Sparked My Fire...

Since I volunteered to round up some guest bloggers for Feb, I’ve been ‘talking’ with my author eFriends about content for their posts. All the talk about their writing journeys has got me thinking about mine. A lot. So, for this post I thought I’d let you know how I became interested in books and the impact they had on my life.

My favorite all-time book is The Poky Little Puppy (A Little Golden Book). Why this book? After a lot of introspection, I think it’s because the poky little puppy was different. When everyone else was playing together, he was doing his own thing... alone. That’s me. I spent a lot of my childhood in my room reading or making notes in a scribbler.

The next book I remember made a huge impact on my life. I wish I knew the title and although I’ve searched, I don’t have enough information to identify it. Maybe someone here will recognize it and let me know. It was the story about a young girl 8-12ish who lived in colonial America. Captured by Indians, she is taken to their village. I can’t remember if she was adopted by a family or worked as a slave. However, in one of the scenes, another child gets badly hurt but just sits there – stoically without expression. The girl captive asks why he’s not crying and he answers something like 'it serves no purpose except to show weakness' or something like that. As you can see, the details are sketchy after 40 years (ouch!) but that simple thought was a ‘light bulb’ moment. It had never occurred to me that you could hide your emotions. What a concept!

But, the other big thing about that book was that it sent my imagination soaring. Suddenly, I was reading every book on Early Americana that I could find. And when I’d read everything about the subject in our school library, I thought I’d burst... until I found an outlet by writing stories using that knowledge, with settings like historic Williamsburg and the wagon trains heading west, etc.

At the age of 14, I started my first book. It was the story of Mary-Anne (14) and Bruce (16) who were travelling west with their respective families. One day, the wagon train is attacked by Indians while Mary-Anne and Bruce are out exploring away from the camp. They are the only survivors and the book is how Bruce must now take on the responsibility of a man while they find their way back to safety.

Since I was writing in long hand in scribblers, I was still working on my story the following year when my Gr 10 teacher asked us to write a short story. That was easy. I imagined what would have happened if Bruce had still been in the Conestoga wagon when it was attacked. I set the time for night and wrote about Bruce hearing a noise outside and then the ensuing struggle with an Indian inside the wagon. Invariably, Bruce overpowered him, set off the alarm and saved everyone. After polishing my story, I handed it in along with 2 dozen other girls in my class. For some strange reason, my homeroom was all girls that year.

Anyway, a few days later, my teacher said normally she’d have marked our short stories herself, but that week, the school had the benefit of an 'Official Marker' and she had sent them all to him. She started calling out names and when she got to mine, she said, ‘The cream of the crop’. I’d never heard that expression before and said, ‘What?” She said she wouldn’t have given it a very good mark but he (the Marker) had so she couldn’t do anything about it. However, she told me I should have written a romance like all the rest of the girls. Well, truth be told, I had written romantic scenes between Mary-Anne and Bruce, but I wasn’t going to bring them to school! Anyway, the teacher made me stand in front of the class and read my ‘Attack on the Conestoga Wagon’ story while the class tsked and twittered.

It was the last time I showed my writing to anyone until I took a Creative Writing course almost 8 yrs later.

Is there a book that had an emotional or psychological impact on you? Do you know when you started writing? Do you remember what sparked your genre?


Karen said...

Great post, Anita. I wrote an essay for a Grade 11 English class on one of Shakespeare's plays and I worked very hard on it. When the teacher returned it she said she'd given me the highest mark she'd ever handed out but only because I had b/s'd so well. Man, that hurt.

Anne of Green Gables was my inspiration. I adored Anne and I felt we had much in common. I am a happy endings kind of gal and I have always read romance so there was no question of what genre I would concentrate on when I finally settled down to write.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karen, thanks. Yes, Anne was such an excellent role model in the way she followed her heart and didn't take no guff from Gilbert. And of course, LM Montgomery was a good role model, too.

Ouch on the teacher comment. Teaching is one of the hardest professions and it's such a tremendous responsibility to know you share in shaping the life of a student, but that's exactly what teachers do. And, it's sad that what seems to be some of the harshest comments are upon students who've poured their heart into a project only to have it stomped on. Please understand I am not putting down teachers...I'm allowing that they are human with their own's just that sometimes a teacher's words can cut deep.

Karen, that you for sharing.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
My favorite books as a kid were the "Little House on the Prairie" series. I read most of what was in our small town library, which wasn't a lot.

I wrote a book report in high school that my English teacher accused me of copying from a book blurb, which I didn't. He didn't believe I could write that well. I had several less then stellar teachers, but my Grade 12 English teacher (not the same one as above) instilled in me a love of reading and literature. In addition, he worked us hard and taught us stuff about grammar and language that still serves me well today.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana - I was only aware of 2 Little House books - On the Prairie and In the Big Woods, but yeah, they were great and fitted well with my historical fascination.

Thank goodness your Gr 12 teacher was able to offset the words of the other teacher or you might not be a Prairie Chick today. I shudder at the thought - seriously. I appreciate you telling us about it.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Anita,

It's interesting how much impact comments like that from teachers can have, for good or bad. I can't believe yours would have told you what you *should* have written.

There are a lot of early books that got me into reading, but one in particular that made me want to write. I actually talked about it recently in a travel scholarship proposal (fingers crossed!) It was Michael Tod's The Silver Tide, a story I read when I was 8 or 9 about red squirrels fleeing a park in England due to the invasion of the greys. It had a really gripping, epic quality to it and pulled no punches when it came to hardship and suffering. I think I've always appreciated that Tod had the guts to kill some of my favourite characters throughout the trilogy. When it was over, I didn't want to leave that world, and started writing my own sequels.

Anita Mae Draper said...

BTW - I should have said, I was only aware of 2 Little House books while growing up...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hayley, that's fascinating because you write fantasy now and it just seems like an 'aha' moment, eh.

My 10 yr old would be interested in The Silver Tide I think because he's hooked on the Erin Hunter cat books right now. Last summer I took him to the library and he borrowed Firestar's Quest, a 500+ page book from Erin Hunters Warrior series. No pictures. It took him about 4 weeks, but he was reading more often than watching TV or playing video games. (I was so proud I took pics.)

When the library ran out of the cat books, he discovered that Erin Hunter authored a similar series on bears called The Seekers. Actually, the book report he worte the other night was on a Seeker book.

Thanks for stopping Hayley. I'll tell my son about The Silver Tide

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Anita, sounds like Tod's books might be right up his alley. I've seen those Warrior books around. I think I would have loved them at that age. Tod's trilogy (collectively The Woodstock Saga) are out of print now, I think, which is a shame. They can probably still be found in libraries though, and there's a trilogy volume available on Amazon. My own copies are falling about (especially the first) so I should really pick of another, or they'll be dust by the time I can pass them on to children/nieces!

sheandeen said...

Anita Mae--I wonder if the book might be Lois Lenski's, Indian Captive:The Story of Mary Jemison. I loved that story--it is about a 12 year old girl taken captive from a farm in Pennsylvania by the Seneca Indians. She then lived in the Genesee River Valley in western New York state. There is a cabin and statue of her out south of Rochester, NY. I remember visiting it when I was young.

Janet said...

Hey Anita - great post. The book I remember most from my childhood was about a little mouse who is told not to be late - she has her nose stuck in a book and, yep, ends up being late. She enlists the help of othe animals to get her where she needs to be - and uses her own wiles on the last leg as she floats across the lake in her hat. I have no idea of the name, or how old I was, but I loved that book.

For help with your book, if sheandeen wasn't right, go to A great site that is called Stump the Bookseller - it's all about children's books and it's amazing.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Nancy - so nice of you to pop over again.

Maybe - I've just spent some time checking and it could be Indian Captive but some parts didn't match. As soon as I heard the title, however,I remembered Calico Captive. So, I went to check and there is a Calico Captive where a 12 yr old girl gets captured but things in the story didn't match their either. It could be too that after all these years, because I read so many similar books, my mind has managed to mix the facts together.

The other thing is that you mention visiting the heritage site when you were young and yet Indian Captive on Amazon was only pubbed in the 90's. So, there's probably another book out there on the same girl with another name.

Thanks for helping me search, Nancy. You've been a terrific Member of the Month at eharl and worthy of the 'crown'. Hugs.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet - isn't it interesting that you were attracted to a story where a mouse can't get her nose out of a book - that's precious!

Wow, what we did as kids sure played a role in our lives, eh.

Thanks for the heads up on the book search site. I'll try checking there.

And, thanks for sharing.

Suse said...

Hi Anita,

When I was growing up, reading wasn't encouraged in my home. I think part of it was that Mom didn't enjoy reading, and my parents didn't have money for extras. I do remember being in the drugstore when I was about six and noticing the children's books. I bugged and bugged Mom until she actually bought me a book - "No Good, The Dancing Donkey." I still have that book, and I read it to my children when they were young.

Another book that made an impact on me was called, "Ruth". It was a fictionalized account of Ruth and her courtship with Boaz from the bible. It was probably one of the first romances I ever read.

But the best book I read as a teen was "Mara, Daughter of the Nile." Mara was a slave girl in the time of Hatshepsut, Pharoah of Egypt. Mara was recruited to be a spy by one man, but then became a double spy for another man. This story had intrigue and romance. Now that you've made me think back about this book, Anita, I'm going to see if I can still buy a copy of it. I loved that story.

I also read a lot of Helen MacInnes books- intrigue and romance stories. Now that I think about it, I wonder why I don't write those types of stories.

Because I wasn't encourage to read outside of school, I was also a terrible writer. Whenever we had to do creative writing in school, I could never get more than a paragraph. Then one day in grade three, a story just poured out of me. Unfortunately, that didn't happen to me again until grade eleven. In grade twelve, I had Stephen Scriver, the "Hockey Poet", as my English teacher. I think he made me realize that writers could live anywhere. Then when I first was teaching in Kennedy, and Mary Balogh in Kipling (next town over) had published a romance, it really made me think this is something I could do too.

I'm sorry that you had a teacher who judged you harshly, because as bad as one teacher can be, another can be very encouraging. I'm lucky that I had the latter.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Suse, my parents thought I was weird to stay in my room and read although my mom's mom was an avid reader. I guess they thought I should have done it in public.

You mentioned the book Ruth - if it was the one by Lois T Henderson then I have it here in my hands. :-)

I'm glad you had a good teacher. Thank you for telling us your experiences.

Suse said...

Hi Anita,

I don't think it could be the same book. I would have read this book somewhere between 1974 & 76 (when I was still in high school), but the one by Lois T Henderson was written in 1981.

sheandeen said...

Hi Anita: The original copyright date on Indian Captive by Lois Lenski is 1941, it was then renewed in 1969. The book book amazon shows both of those dates and the current book has: First Harper Trophy edition 1995. BTW, Lois Lenski lived from 1893-1974.

I remembered this book from my girlhood and purchased the 1995 edition for my girls because it was one of those books that sparked my interest in reading and writing. My number one book that sparked my love of reading was Little Women

Anita Mae Draper said...

Suse - I'll have to look for your Ruth book, then. Ruth is my fav book in the Bible. And, even though some people think she's a 'doormat' for obeying Naomi without question, I think she's such a role model for young girls, and yes, even women because she showed clear respect for the wisdom of an older woman concerning life issues. And found a HEA because of it.

Nancy - glad you came back and thanks for the info. I'm going to see if I can get a copy of it then and reread it. I hope it's the one. I'll let you know at eharl if I post the answer here.

mcd - nichol said...

i am intrigued by this 'indian captive' book because i think i read it too in junior high. unfortunately i can't help any as i have NO idea what the title was. but all the points you've brought up sound oh so familiar. it's funny how you can look back and see how books like that shaped your imagination.

Anita Mae Draper said...

mcd-nichol - thank you for letting me know you've read this book, too. If you ever find it, please come back and comment on it.

I've clicked on your name and checked out your website. Your jewelry is absolutely gorgeous. What an imagination!

btw - my daughter in Vancouver makes and sells polymer clay beads, too. :)

Thanks, again.