How did I get here? (And where am I?)
There are a lot of factors that led me to being a writer of speculative fiction. The foremost is probably being a reader of speculative fiction. I look at my daugter and wonder what I can do to foster that same love of genre in her that I have in me. So I’m tracing my footsteps through life to figure out how to get my little girl to be a geek like me.
I’ve loved reading as long as I can remember. The first SF author I probably read was Dr. Seuss: Wocket in my Pocket and The Grich and the conservationally mined Lorax. I read some of that to my girl now. Of course all the reading I can do with her will help turn her into a reader. Seeing Daddy read can’t hurt either.
When I started reading chapter books, my favorite was Encyclopedia Brown, really more collected short stories than chapters. The thinking was great for me, I suspect. I always loved the ones where he helped his dad with real crimes. I also read my share of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. These days, Harry Potter would just about fit that level, maybe a step above.
The local library had a summer reading program that we took part in annually, attempts to get our paperdoll hot air balloon higher than other people’s. I always took pride in reading books at or above my level while other kids would read the kiddy stuff and take credit for it…but I digress. It kept me reading through summers and my mother placed priority on that. I hope to do something similar when my girl gets old enough (a year or two).
Next came the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Remember those? Theyprobably did a lot to guide me into writerdom. Start at page one, then if you go to the spooky hotel you turn to page 47, if you stay with your weird Aunt Velma and her snoring cats you turn to page 111. They were good to read over and over without being the same and really turned out to be more short story than they were novel, based on the pages you read. I had a ton of them and checked out a ton more from the library. Space opera, high fantasy, straight mystery, you name the genre, I read a CYOA from it. It helped me find my taste. I bet I could still find a bunch on ebay…
I think the book that made me a fantasy fan was either The Riddle and the Rune by Grace Chetwin or Castle Roogna, the third Xanth novel by Piers Anthony. The latter was a gift from my grandmother who heard that was what kids my age were reading. I still own the first 12 Xanth novels and several scattered others. I visit Piers Anthony’s website often though I haven’t read any of his books in a few years. He was my favorite author for many years, funny and a little out there. There is no doubt he inspired me. I wrote to him when my first novel was “accepted” by Publish America. Thankfully he warned me away from them as a scam vanity publisher…but I’ve gotten off topic.
As for Chetwin’s book, I’m not sure where I got it. It was a great read for a kid, very Harry Potter but more in the linear quest format. There were three other books in the series (one before, two after) which weren’t quite as good, but good enough. She also responded to a query I sent her about publishing, since she now publishes her fantasy novels and a few other books by herself. But again…focus, Oso.
As for science fiction, I recall the Tripod Trilogy being a milestone in my reading. I may go back and reread those since I’m trying to write a YA sci-fi novel… Still, I think I ran with fantasy for a long time before discovering Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, of course. I may have been in college by then. In fact, I think I was out of college! Late bloomer.
There were other things. I subscribed to Analog for several years, but many of those stories were over my head in high school. Television and movies kept my sci-fi spark alive while I wasn’t reading it. I read Fahrenheit 451 in for a high school book report, and Piers Anthony’s novelization of Total Recall for another. I read Narnia books out of order, which made them a little complex to swallow but I still read them. Of course Lord of the Rings.
But it was when I read the Harry Potter books that I started to think “I can do this.” I was in college at the time and my mom gave the first three books to me for Christmas. My girlfriend (now wife) worked in a bookstore (okay, a store that sold a few books) and told me they were kids’ books. I eventually poked my nose in the first one and was sucked into the world. By the time Harry was at Hogwarts, I was hooked. By the time he was in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, I was a writer.
I keep a lot of these books around so my daughter can experience them herself. Will there be others that get her there instead? Probably. Thankfully the Twilight craze should be gone by the time she’s old enough to get into it. Maybe I’ll be publishing the next craze. (Wishful thinking.) I just wanted to share books from my journey in case other people need some guidance on their own (or their children’s) journey to speculative fiction geekdom. You have to start young.
Oh wait! I can’t conclude a post about speculative literature for kids/young adults without mentioning the magazine Beyond Centauri, specifically because their new issue has my story “Brother Goo” inside. That’s right folks, Beyond Centauri issue 27. Go buy a dozen copies. Or one’s fine, too.
[More links forthcoming]