This month I’m bending the lines around the topic of inspirations. Instead of writing about the music, books, and other media that inspired my writing, I chose to write about people. Not the “now” people, but those early in my life who made books and writing an important part of who I am.
My first inspiration was my mom, Roberta, who filled our home with books and showed me the joy of reading by her example. I can’t remember which books Mom read to my brother Dan and me, and, sadly, she’s not longer around to ask. But she--and my dad to a certain extent—let me know that reading was fun, exciting, and relaxing all at the same time.
Mom inspired me to write, also by example. She won a high school poetry-writing contest and kept both the poem and the award to prove it. I heard the story several times about how nervous she was reading her poem in front of the entire school. But what stuck with me was that she had written something other people thought was worth an award. How cool would that be!
Mom’s mother, Eva, also encouraged my love of books. Before she married my grandpa Bert, she taught in a one-room school. She and Mom passed books back and forth and discussed them. Since Mom worked fulltime, Grandma escorted me to our small town library and pointed me toward books she thought I would like. I usually did.
My teachers also fostered my love of books and writing. One that stands out for me was Mrs. Russell, my eighth grade English teacher. She gave creative writing assignments that I loved and praised me liberally for my efforts. She also encouraged me to enter speech and oral interpretation contests in high school, which played perfectly into reading, writing, and my love of hamming it up.
Mom, Grandma Eva, and Mrs. Russell also lived a bit outside the lines. Mom became a politician in her 40s, ran for County Auditor, and held the position for 23 years. Grandma Eva took up painting in her 50s and learned to work in mediums like oils and acrylics. Mrs. Russell began teaching in an era when female teachers had to be single. She married secretly and continued to teach until that archaic rule changed.
One last person I want to recognize was my oral interpretation professor at Grand View University, Mrs. Noyes. She had a reputation for being critical, but she challenged me to do my best. Mrs. Noyes didn’t teach writing; instead she taught me to notice and appreciate the rhythms and nuances of great literature. I remember taking my turn at the poem “My Last Duchess” and struggling with the inflections. Finally, she said, “You haven’t lived enough yet to understand this poem.” Now I know what she meant.
Although those amazing women who inspired me passed away years ago, they were instrumental in shaping my life. I paid tribute to my mom by dedicating FAIREST OF THEM ALL to her. Eva (and Bert) are the names of Oribella’s great-grandparents, and Mrs. Russell is her English teacher. I haven’t named one of my characters for Mrs. Noyes yet, but she’ll show up in the future.