Saturday, February 5, 2011

What inspired me, April Henry, to be a writer

When I was a kid, I loved to read. Loved, LOVED, LOVED.  For Christmas, when I was nine, I asked for nothing but books.  I was deliriously happy and read at least two that day.  I'm sure at least one was a Trixie Belden mystery (written by a variety of authors under the nom de plume Kathryn Kenny), which started me on my lifelong quest to a) write my own mysteries and b) someday be as rich and beautiful as Trixie's best friend, Honey.  (Since I'm unable to whistle, I didn't even dream of being able to make the Bob-White call that was their secret signal.)

All those writers made me a reader.  Another writer was Evelyn Lampman.  I had trouble finding scans of her book covers, but I did find this:  "After marriage, she left her job and was forbidden to drive; her new husband thought operating an automobile unseemly for a woman.  Widowed at 35, with six- and three-year-old daughters to support, she had her late husband's suits cut down for her (the two were the same height) and returned to writing for radio. In 1947, Doubleday published her debut novel, Crazy Creek, a story about pioneer life in Oregon for older children; two years later, when Doubleday accepted her second book, Treasure Mountain, she quit her day job."  Now there's an inspiration for you!  She published 40 historical and science fiction novels for kids.  I still remember finishing one and turning back to the first page to start reading it again.

Then there was The Silver Crown, by Robert C. O'Brien.  I loved that book so much I stole it from Roosevelt Elementary in the spring of sixth grade. (I was stealing a lot - working through some issues - and later went back and tried to repay everyone.  Let's just say it's not easy to get convenience stores to put money in the till for something you took ten years earlier.) My absolutely favorite part of the book is when someone who appears to be the the main character's savior betrays her.  This book held up well when I read it to my daughter about 36 years later. And I've used that same twist many times myself in my own writing - including in Girl, Stolen.

Enchantress from the Stars was a wonderful sci-fi novel that stayed with me for years and years.  Here's the description. "Elana, a member of an interstellar civilization on a mission to a medieval planet, becomes the key to a dangerous plan to turn back an invasion. How can she help the Andrecians, who still believe in magic and superstition, without revealing her own alien powers? At the same time, Georyn, the son of an Andrecian woodcutter, knows only that there is a dragon in the enchanted forest, and he must defeat it. He sees Elana as the Enchantress from the Stars who has come to test him, to prove he is worthy. One of the few science fiction books to win a Newbery Honor, this novel will enthrall teenage and adult readers."   A few years back, I found out that the author lives only 90 minutes away, which was like discovering a movie star lived next door.  I tried to arrange to take her out to lunch, but alas, she is in poor health.  She is still writing, though.  

And then there's a book I read in high school (you should really read the book before you see the movie):  Marathon Man. (For some reason, dentists loathe this movie.)  Again, the book and movie have the twist that someone is not who you think he is.  In fact, you are wrong twice over.  One reason it's interesting to read the book and watch the movie is that the same man, William Goldman, wrote both, and it's fascinating to see what changed from page to screen.

This story would not be complete without mentioning the author who first helped me get published:  Roald Dahl. When I was 11, I sent him a short story about a six-foot frog named Herman who loved peanut butter.  He sent me this postcard in response - and then took the story to lunch with him and shared it with an editor for an international children's magazine.  She contacted me and asked to publish it.  (Perhaps foreshadowing my future experiences, I got paid nothing and had to subscribe to the magazine.) 

How about you?  What inspired you?

4 comments:

  1. What great stories! I was in love with the Trixie Belden books (and still have an almost-complete collection, it's missing a few due to broken bindings and missing pages). Except back then, I didn't know the authors weren't real people. I sent them some fan mail and got back a catalog for more books I could buy...
    erica

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  2. How cool that Roald Dahl wrote you back!!

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  3. Yes, absolutely--how incredible that Dahl was an advocate of your work! (I love how that story ends, though..."Royalty statement" shock...)

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  4. did you have an inspirtation to write Girl Stolen.?

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