I think that what makes me a writer is that I simultaneously want to know secret worlds, yet can’t know, so I make something up. I am always looking for answers to why life is the way it is, not only by imagining what goes on in those other lives, but by reading.
As a young reader, books showed me a vast, colorful, limitless world. A world that looked totally different than the one I happened to inhabit as a child growing up in a big family in the small brewery town of Golden, Colorado. There was nothing in those books that indicated to me that that vast, colorful world was off limits to me, an ordinary girl. The stacks and piles of literature I read – Great Expectations, The Last of the Mohicans, every single Nancy Drew book, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, Cheaper by the Dozen, Perry Mason mysteries, Indian captive narratives, Alfred Hitchcock mysteries, The Grapes of Wrath, The Good Earth – all of those and mountains more, I devoured, barely finishing one before starting the next.
In fact, I am worse now as an adult. Now I often do not finish one book before starting the next. Now I have stacks everywhere, and I am often reading five books at once. (Unless it is a new collection of stories by Alice Munro or Annie Proulx or Richard Bausch or James Salter or Richard Ford. Those I usually gobble down in one prolonged, heavenly sitting.)
Although I do favor fiction by contemporary women authors, I often go back to The Early Stories (1953-1975) by John Updike. Reading his short stories written throughout the decades of the fifties, sixties, seventies is like traveling back to those times in a time capsule and seeing life peeled open and revealed in all of its beauty and its heartbreak. I marvel and re-read. How does he make writing seem so precise and effortless at the same time?
I wrote my first short story when I was fifteen years old. I was working the register at what was then called the “five-and-dime” when suddenly I had an idea for a story. This idea (I couldn’t tell you for the life of me now what it was), filled me with such a sense of joyful purpose that I scribbled down several paragraphs on a brown paper bag in between ringing up purchases. When I got home from work I wrote my story, a story that no longer exists except that it gave me my first sense of purpose, my first real dream, other than meeting and marrying Paul McCartney.
Because of this newfound passion for writing, I became co-editor of my high school newspaper, the Golden Trident, for two years. And I continued to read. I remember in college staying up all night reading two books: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin and The Shining by Stephen King. Pure storytelling bliss. And I was in college, so I could sleep all the next day…
During the next several years during which I was a waitress (I seemed to specialize in restaurants that served pie), and a fitness instructor (a job that counteracted the pie), my dream of writing – of being a writer – stayed on the back burner. I still frequented the library though. No matter where I lived, and I moved a lot during my twenties, one of the first things I would do was find the library and get a library card. No matter where you live, or what kind of crummy job you have, you can always go to the library and leave with a stack of treasures to take your mind somewhere else.