Recently my friend Gail Carriger had on her website the story of the book that changed her life. I thought I should share my story about the book that did the same thing for me.
Like most writers I have been a reader since I was a child. Unlike most writers as a child I liked non-fiction books much better than fiction books. I have always been a voracious learner and I can distinctly remember thinking I didn’t want to read story books because I wouldn’t learn anything from them.
One day in school we were assigned a book report to fill out. The teacher handed out an outline of what we needed to have in the report and then said we could go to the library and select our own books.
Well, being a science geek even at an early age I got myself a book about the planet Mars. I read the book – enjoyed it very much thank you – and then sat at the kitchen table and started to work on the report,
Title: well, that was easy enough. I copied the title into the outline format given to us.
Main Character: Mars
Plot or Conflict: Hmmm, I was stumped. I was sitting there, scratching my head trying to figure out what to fill that space with when my sister discovered me at work. My sister had been given a large amount of discretion in my schooling. She decided that I was not going to do a book report on a non-fiction book. Nope, that wasn’t going to happen. She grabbed a book from her collection and placed that before me.
I was going to read this book. I was going to write a report on this book. SHE would read and approve my report and then I could submit it to my teacher.
As you can see the novel was the Robert Heinlein juvenile, The Star Beast. The cover art you see is the cover art of the copy I read.
So I read the book. I liked it, but at this time I did not know it had changed the course of my destiny forever.
I turned in the report – I have no memory what sort of grade I earned with it, and then I went back to reading my usual selection of science books from the library.
A few weeks later I was walking through the kitchen of our home and I spotted a black bound book on the table. I picked it up and started reading the first page. Then I read the next page and the page after that.
Well, you know how that turned out. I read the whole book, throughly enjoyed myself, and now discovered I had a taste for this Robert A Heinlein fellow, as this second book was Between Planets.
Now I was lost. I quickly revised my rule about reading. I read non-fiction books and the novel of Robert Heinlein because clearly I could learn a lot from him. The sad thing is I quickly ran out of Heinlein juveniles to read. There weren’t that many of them and I was a fast reader. By the time that happened though I had discovered Isaac Asimov and his robot stories. My rules changed again and now in my little mind it was okay to read non-fiction and science-fiction (see, the science made it all okay).
Well that fell apart within a year or two when I read Beat to Quarters (in the UK it was known as The Happy Return), the first Horatio Hornblower story.
I gave up. I became a reader of all sorts of things, and more importantly the idea took seed in my brain that I might even write stories. I had never thought of that before, though I have always been cursed with an over-active imagination.
The one event of reading The Star Beast set me down the path of my life. It gave me my life-long love of written fiction and the crazy dream of being a published author.