Sunday, March 27, 2011

Influences & Inspirations

David Eddings gave me a gift every writer needs.  He made me love to read.

I discovered his Belgariad series in middle school at the height of that awkward teen age that most of us go through.  The pimples, the hormones, the timorous anxiety that someone, somewhere knew I was the biggest geek on the planet and would soon share that news with the whole world.  It wasn't a fun time.

My older sister brought me to the town library and insisted I pick out a book to read.  (Author's note:  It's the same library that has refused to let me read my own, now published book there.  Pretty sad.)

Her direction felt like torture.  Up until that point, I hated reading.  It was synonymous with homework.  Throughout my childhood, it had cut into my precious playtime, and I couldn't figure out what was so great about it.  Hadn't television replaced that old, quaint hobby yet?

I thumbed through the books looking for something--anything--that might be appealing.  That's when I saw it, Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings.  The cover was only semi-appealing, but the book was about a boy under the protection of his aunt, Polgara, who was secretly the Queen of Sorcery.  Together, they lived on a quiet farm hiding from an evil god whose minions were, of course, about to find them.

I took the book home, and the characters bounced off the page.  I wasn't just reading anymore.  I was IN the story.  I was there as it happened.  I knew the characters personally and rooted for their safety.  I laughed out loud. I worried.  It was awesome.

I had written my own stories before, but Eddings helped me see what made a good tale even better.  I tore through the five-book Belgariad series and learned to appreciate good characters, quick pacing, and the scattered gems of human insight.  For the first time, I bought books for pleasure and read them in my spare time.  For the first time, they brought me joy.

That seed stayed with me as I continued working on my own writing and labored on my own now-shelved fantasy manuscript.

When I got a little older, I also started reading the local paper. I never thought much about news stories.  They were usually pretty bland, but one writer really stood out: Gerry Boyle.  He did a tri-weekly column about crime and justice, only he took those big topics and made them human.

For example, if someone had been caught drunk driving, he found out why, what had happened in that person's life up to that point and how they planned to overcome it.  He looked into what that person's family thought, and what the justice process was like.

He wrote about people at their most vulnerable and made the reader see how important the cogs in the law were.

He covered "daily justice" like why local cops became local cops, what it was like to be a judge.  He made the people involved characters, not just stereotypes.  The police blotter came alive, and he showed the real people involved from the prosecutors to the criminals.

Every column told a true story, but each was written with the same type of  details you'd find in fiction.

Years later, when I became  newspaper correspondent myself, I recalled Gerry Boyle's writing style and how much I enjoyed his work.  He showed me that short, true stories can be every bit as powerful as fiction, except they carry even more weight because they were actually happening in our local community.

Boyle is now a crime novelist with two mystery series under his belt, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him and thanking him for helping me to appreciate the newspaper.  His latest book, Damaged Goods, is out right now.

Many hands have encouraged my writing skill over the years, but these two men were writers who touched me through their words.  Although they were strangers, they offered me insight, encouragement and a little relief from the trials of life.

To this day, I want to do for others what these two men have done for me.

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