Most writers were lovers of the written word before they ever picked up a pen (or keyboard) to create work of their own. Whether their discovery of literature was facilitated by parents and teachers or simply wonder at the freedom to be found between library shelves, books have long been an integral part of their lives. Some of these books take on more a personal meaning than others, lingering in memory and influencing a writer’s own work.
The stories that stuck with me most of all beyond my formative years as a reader were those that were read to me. I have distinct memories of sitting on the floor as my dad read A Wrinkle in Time to my sister and me; the iconic Harry Potter series was introduced to me by a passionate third grade teacher who read aloud from them each day. When I went back to reread these books on my own later, the story was altered.
Something about absorbing the words audibly and being sucked willingly into the rhythm of the sentences was more entrancing than turning the pages on my own. I could close my eyes and fall into the fictional world more completely. My imagination ran rampant. Someone else had control of the story and chose when to set it aside for the day; someone else got to choose the cliffhanger. The waiting was torturous, but the anticipation for the next chapter was thrilling.
It is that lack of control over the experience that made those stories so memorable, but also the catalyst that drove my desire to create tales of my own. I wanted dominion over the narrative, to create characters of my own and form backstories that the reader may never even receive. Because of this, I gave my imagination the opportunity to sit on the other side of the desk. I allowed it to create its own worlds and find the right sounds and rhythms and flow of images to describe them. I am too old now for anyone to sit me down and read to me, but I miss the days of being able to completely surrender to a story that didn’t originate in my own mind.
by Sierra Offutt