Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Book That Changed My Life

by Amanda Stevens

Your weekend warrior reporting for duty at long last.

Recently I was asked to do an essay on the book that changed my life.  That took a great deal of pondering because so many books and authors have impacted my writing at various stages of my career.  But when I look back...way back...there is one book that started me down my love-of-everything-Gothic path.  Here, then, is my essay:

I grew up in the country, miles from the nearest neighbor so most of my childhood companions were imaginary or literary.  I loved books from an early age.  The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder became my first obsession.  We lived in the rural south and my father was a farmer so it wasn’t hard to cast myself as the young, precocious Laura and my older, quieter sister as the stoic Mary.

Like most girls of my generation, I went through a Nancy Drew phase and devoured every Amelia Earhart biography I could lay hands on.  Those stories fueled my imagination and instilled in me a love of mystery and adventure, but the very first book that made me want to become a writer—a book that changed my life, in fact—was The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton.

 The tale of lost children, hidden rooms and enchanted dream riddles was so hauntingly beautiful and so profoundly different from anything I’d read before that the lingering imagery became almost mystical to me over the years.  A few Christmases ago, my daughter presented me with a new copy, and I was delighted to learn that the story is as spellbinding now as it was then.  It has everything that I’ve always adored in a book: insightful characterization, compelling plot and a strong sense of time and place all tied up with a transcendental bow.  And the story has purpose and soul.  Life lessons learned through an ethereal filter.

It’s interesting to look back and track my writing path over these past twenty-five years or so.  I’ve devoured many kinds of stories from many different authors, but it’s easy to spot the lasting influences.  From Mary Stewart, I learned the art of visual storytelling.  From Pat Conroy, I learned to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly of my southern heritage.  From Charlene Harris, I learned the importance of unfurling my freak flag and finding my own niche.

But without a doubt, my deepest writing roots can be traced all the way back to the magical realism of The Diamond in the Window and to those captivating dream riddles of the Hall children.


Jordan Dane said...

I would have to think about books that influenced my writing, different from books I loved reading. Great post, Amanda!

Amanda Stevens said...

Yes, exactly!! And thanks! :)