My parents sometimes claimed that I spent my entire childhood with my nose in a book. But, I didn’t learn how to read until I was five. Before that time I chose books with intriguing pictures in them so that I could make up the stories in my head. Essentially, I withdrew from the world into books every time my family moved to a new location, which was almost every other year. As I grew older I found my hours spent reading were only as good as the materials I read. I recall perusing our set of World Book encyclopedias and checking out library books as often as I could.
However, the real reading adventure occurred when we moved to another state. What kids thought was cool in one place, was no longer cool in the next location. We leased the house of an education professor, and I found his personal library on the enclosed porch. The limerick book was amusing for a while. Gulliver’s Travels was a bit of a challenge. I understood most of that book but did not discern the politics it portrayed.
Soon I learned to expect more from reading and to enjoy a well written factual book as much as fiction. There are only so many fiction plots, which means I now demanded more creativity from them. I discovered that many of my favorite authors suffered the same fate as I, either being confined by illness in their youth, or moving to distant places so that books became their companions.
Later I heard the theory that creativity involved taking ideas that were no longer in fashion, and modifying them until they become something new, which made perfect sense to me. The more that I read, the more that I searched for that kind of novelty. My idea of a quality book has changed over time. Realism became more attractive than the exciting, yet predictable adventures that I read as a young adolescent.
In college, I dabbled with writing poems and fables. However, the best story turned out to be very similar to my brief infatuation with a promising music student who would never become a great musician despite his ability. In my late twenties I started writing a novel based on my own experience in art school and faltered for lack of a cohesive plot. My life simply did not have the exciting people and events that I thought interesting books required. When my children were young, I started writing short stories. I soon discovered that plots ripped straight from my own life were still the best.
Now, I hear people extol the popularity of mysteries, suspense and thrillers or whatever one calls an action packed book where the hero tracks down a murderous villain while dodging dangers. There are parts of these stories that I like, but the tendency to repeat the same plots has made them not as desirable for reading.
So, decades after I started writing in college, I realized the wonderful, imaginary things I wanted to put in the stories didn’t work as well as real life situations that took on a new perspective of the world. Character-driven stories are time consuming and not easy to write, or easy to end as the major villain to conquer is the character’s own weaknesses. Sometimes writing itself becomes a sacrifice, but still provides enough joy for me not to give up on it.