As a writer, there are hundreds of people that I want to be when I grow up. This number has gone up and down through various life stages, but has nearly always been tied to books.
As one of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy, says:
I take it as an article of faith that the novels I’ve loved will live inside me forever.
The first case of hero worship I remember having was for Louisa May Alcott. Most of her characters were amazing, but Jo (from Little Women) was the best. I read every Louisa May Alcott book I could get my hands on, whether it was the popular Alcott or some of her lesser known books. I can still tell you where I was when I first read Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, A Rose In Bloom and Under the Lilacs.
The real bonus of having a Kindle, in my humble opinion, is how inexpensive it is to read the Classics. I would have linked to all of the above books, but the Works of Louisa May Alcott (that would be 19 novels worth) are available on the Kindle for a DOLLAR. Yep, you heard me. One freaking dollar for hours of loveliness. I’ll wait while you fire up that Whispernet…
I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and read them voraciously but at some point they got tied into the TV shows for me. Wasn’t Michael Landon sooooo perfect as Pa? I definitely remember the books fondly, but not once did I dream of being Laura.
But Louisa? I wanted to be her for years. If you were a fan too and want to get some encouragement, here is a link to some of her most famous quotes. My fave?
Do the things you know, and you shall learn the truth you need
There are authors that make me stutter. Wonderful, glorious authors that I stare at like they are Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor and the British Royal Family all rolled into one person.
The list of my favorite authors is long and too numerous to discuss in detail, plus it changes all the time. Some staples in my life have been the usual Classics, plus popular authors like Margaret Atwood, Louis L’amour, Ayn Rand, Anna Quindlen, Lorna Landvik, Janet Evanovich, Ursula LeGuin, Jane Smiley, Nora Roberts, Julia Quinn, James Patterson, Karen Marie Moning, Anne Rivers Siddons, Jennifer Weiner, Jennifer Crusie and Marian Keyes.
(And yes, the entire time I wrote this post, I kept going back to the above paragraph and adding names. I can guarantee I still left some off – I’m counting on you to give them back to me in the comments. )
I love Jodi Piccoult as well but I could never imagine being able to write books like hers. Her plots are amazing and her writing is fantastic. There is always that twist, such as the one at the end of “My Sister’s Keeper,” that you do not see coming. Jodi is one of the most incredible writers I’ve ever read but I just can’t imagine being her. Research is my least favorite part of the book and I can tell she does a mountain of it.
Note: Yes, I know…I just cracked my halo with all my research-loving pals.
Who would I LOVE to be compared to? There are two writers that give me a glimmer, style and subject matter wise, that I might get to be them when I grow up…like if I just read enough, write enough, study enough Craft and reach inside as deep as I can (oh, and work my A$$ off), then maybe I could be in their league. Even five minutes in their league would thrill me beyond belief.
Who are these rockstar authors? Pat Conroy and Barbara (Samuel) O’Neal.
Both of their books transport me, each and every time. And you know what keeps me spellbound, chasing the tail of their comet? The two of them get better with every book. Seriously.
After I read “The Great Santini” I was convinced it was impossible to write a truer, more visceral, well-crafted book. I thought the same thing after The Lords of Discipline, The Prince Of Tides and (OMG!) Beach Music. Then I read South of Broad.
Jenny Crusie said something I’ve never forgotten during one of the talks I saw her give: Every character believes it is their book for the entire time that they are on the page. The trick is to bring every character to life for the reader and allow them to rule the page while they’re onstage.
Pat Conroy does this in all his books but he surpasses himself in South of Broad. You know what else he brings vividly alive? Charleston (South Carolina), desegregation in the 1960′s and the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980′s. I felt like I was there, experiencing all three of these American milestones alongside the characters.
If you haven’t read South of Broad yet, run don’t walk. It’s said that Pat Conroy edits every sentence at least 12 times and it shows. This is a breathtaking book.
Barbara Samuel O’Neal, another of my favorites, has been writing novels since the early 1990′s when she originally published as Ruth Wind. Like so many of today’s bestselling female novelists, she started at Harlequin/Silhouette writing category romance.
Nowadays, she is a solid voice in Women’s Fiction. It’s writers like Barbara that wrote the genre into being, starting more than a decade ago. I am eternally grateful to these writers that wanted to go deeper into the heroine’s story than the confines of traditional romance would allow. In the process, they brought forth a new genre that I love.
I came across Barbara’s books when she moved over to Ballantine and started penning novels like No Place Like Home and The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue. By the time I read Madame Mirabou’s School of Love, written as Barbara Samuel, I was hooked. You could taste the food and smell the scents that Barbara put on the page. When I turn the last page of one of her books, I always think, “I want to be able to write like that.”
Then came How To Bake a Perfect Life, which I finished a few days ago. As always, Barbara is an enormously sensual/sensory writer. Her images leap from the page in all their sounds, scents and visual glory. Throughout the book, I craved the bread the main character made and I’ve decided to try out breadmaking myself with some of her recipes.
Hunger pangs aside, the thing that made me genuflect in reading this book was the incredible use of theme and how she structured the novel around it. The imagery of bread and it’s baking was used in so many different ways, it made my head spin with ideas. I can’t even describe them all without gushing for another page and a half.
Still, here are a few examples without giving the whole book away:
- mother dough
- recipes (wisdom) that are passed down
- bread starter and how it is handed down through generations
- growing things (yeast, gardening)
- crusty outer shell/soft center
And those are just the surface images that I can share without spoiling things. Every single element of the book tied back to the theme of bread being the savior of the main character. Each aspect of breadmaking was reflected in the characters of the book.
I turned the last page and, as we discussed in yesterday’s post, I had to flip the book over and start again to study up on exactly how she did that so well. It was such a well-written book, regardless of what genre you normally read. However, if your staple is women’s fiction, I recommend you run to get this book.
Whether you are a reader or a writer (or both), what are the books you love? (I understand that the faves might be from this month or from when you were a child.) Which writer do you most want to be when you “grow up?” Which fictional character has haunted you the most? Enquiring minds always want to know at More Cowbell.