Week of Joy (Day Seven): “The Genre Books That Influenced & Inspired Me to Read & Write” by Stina Leicht

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It’s funny. While I’ve always loved books, I don’t remember the moment when I decided I wanted to be a writer — not any longer. You see, originally I wanted to be an artist, but during seventh grade I decided that writing was what I wanted to do more than anything else. From the moment I forced myself through the process of learning to read[1] I loved books. Books were safe. Books were also adventure. So, I quickly found favorites. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was the first author that I actively tracked down in my local library. I read everything I could find: The Changeling, Season of Ponies, The Witches of Worm, The Headless Cupid, The Velvet Room, The Eyes in the Fishbowl — most are out of print now. Some were Newbery Honor Winners. I think she was the author
that gave me that first spark, that first thought that I could be more than just a frightened little girl. I remember wanting to be ageless, free, and spritely like Ivy in The Changeling. I wanted to be mysterious like Amanda in The Headless Cupid. I wanted to ride standing on the backs of graceful, magical, cantering circus ponies like Pamela.

It’s good that I found Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s books before I found Francesca Lia Block’s — otherwise, I’d have searched the world for a pair of cowboy boot roller-skates, wore layers of wispy mismatched skirts with fairy wings, played with glitter, pierced my nose, and painted my hair purple long before I reached voting age.

And my mother would’ve killed me. A lot.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get glitter out of things?

Then there was Joan Aiken. I still say Lemony Snicket wishes he were Joan Aiken. She totally and utterly rocked my world. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Blackhearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds in Nantucket combined fantasy and history — technically alternate history — and hapless orphans who triumph over e-vile caretakers out to do… well… evil, of course. It was heady stuff. Throw in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and I was gone, gone, gone. Meg’s mother was a scientist! It was the first time I’d come across such a thing. I remember thinking how awesome that was. I wanted to be a scientist for a whole month because I knew right then it was possible. I wanted to cook dinner on a hotplate in a laboratory while working on something really important. Something about that seemed so cool.

The first book to spirit me away into the adult section of the public library, however, was Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.[2] My father read it aloud to me when I was twelve. I remember being frightened that the Library Police™ would find me among the adult book shelves. Because surely there was some sort of alarm that sounded when kids wandered in there. You know, I’m not entirely sure what I thought they’d have done if they had found me. I lived in terror of librarians. To be honest, I pretty much lived in terror of everyone in those days. I was a very shy, very skinny kid with frizzy hair, after all. The main thing was that I didn’t want to be thrown out. The library was my world. I loved the smell and the feel of the books and the hushed consecrated ground. Now that I think back on it, The Sharpstown library in Houston wasn’t very big — one floor, a dozen long shelves in the center of the building, and a magazine section. They didn’t separate the SF novels from the rest of the books in the adult section either. (I’m sure it was because they didn’t have enough to warrant it.) I remember asking the librarian[3] where the SF books were and being overwhelmed by the concept of sorting through all of the books to find what I wanted. Unlike the children’s books, I’d have to rely on the card catalog. The book covers weren’t as much help. It wasn’t long before I’d read everything they had that Bradbury had written. Then I moved on to others: Joshua Son of None by Nancy Freedman, Dune by Frank Herbert, Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clark, The Anything Box by Zenna Henderson, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien — I wandered all over until I found Stephen King. Then I kind of parked there for years like I did with Zilpha Snyder. But really, I think it was the combination of Zilpha Snyder, Joan Aiken, Stephen King, and Ray Bradbury that made me think about writing my own stories. They were the first to open the doors of my imagination. The were the first to open up my mind to the possibilities.


[1] I’m dyslexic.
[2] You should be sensing a theme here. If it was mildly spooky, off-beat, or magical, I was all over it.
[3] When I finally got up my courage to do so. I was shocked to discover that the librarians were thrilled to death that I wanted to read adult books. Of course, by that time I’d already discovered Dickens and Twain.

About the author:

Stina Leicht is the author of Of Blood and Honey and And Blue Skies From Pain, urban fantasy novels set during the Troubles in Ireland.  She is a two-time Campbell Award nominee and lives in the great old state of Texas, where she actively causes trouble (because she’s awesome like that — love you, Stina! :P).  You can follow Stina on her blog and find out more about her work (such as where to buy it) on her profile.

Note from the editor (i.e., Shaun):

If you haven’t read Stina’s work before, you should do so immediately.  Her Ireland novels are bloody amazing.  We interviewed her twice about them on The Skiffy and Fanty Show.  You can find every episode she’s ever been on here.  But first…buy her books!

Additionally, Stina mentions that most of Snyder’s books are out of print.  Many of Snyder’s books are available in ebook form now.  The wonders of electronics!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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