The books that inspire us

Me, Ocean Park, WA, 1972.

As I finished the final draft of my memoir, I spent some of my free time reading other memoirs, a genre I had always been drawn to. As I worked through my own story, my grief, purposefully cutting out stories that I liked but that ultimately had little to do with my book’s theme, I took note of what I felt worked and didn’t work in these other books. This brought me to my biggest Aha moment as an author. Who is to say it doesn’t work? And, no doubt, what works for me may not work for you. It was well after the publication of that first book of mine, when I learned my most important author lesson – I am writing for me. What works for me, will resonate with some, and not with others. And that, is okay. As a people pleaser for much of my life, fortunately today to a much lesser degree, this was a huge leap.

Now, with my fourth book to be released in January 2022, like other authors I understand how a publication date in the future seems both far away and yet too soon. That emotional smoothie, expectation commingled with fear, and added snippets of joy and excitement, discrete particles that appear at different minutes like extra bits stick to the blade of a blender. Humanity’s Grace: A Linked Short Story Collection will be released by Bedazzled Ink Publishing early next year. And some day after that release I’m sure I will talk about about how this book came to be. Unlike my other works, I remember the exact minute (I was waiting for Tri-Met to go to work) when I knew what I wanted to craft. In the meantime, as with my memoir, I continue on as always, avidly reading others’ works.

Like many if not most writers, I can’t remember a time when books were not my best friend. In My Music Man I write about how I tried to sneak books to dinner and breakfast, hiding them under the table until Dad noticed. Books allowed me to escape noisy family car trips, thankful not to get motion sick, and when upended from our Wilsonville riverside home to LaGrande, I spent the summer before entering junior high with stacks of books from the nearby Carnegie Library. My favorite part of those otherwise friendless weeks was biking from our Grande Rhonde Valley home to the library to check out the maximum number of books. A short 18 months later, feeling so different than my peers as a new mid-year transfer student in one of Portland’s highest income elementary schools, I gratefully discovered within walking distance, Multnomah County Central library. And today, as most of my friends know, I’m happy to meet for a beer or coffee but I need to ensure I have time that evening to go home to my books, reading even more when I’m not in the middle of writing.

Here are some of the books that have helped lead me on this latest journey, crafting linked short stories.

First, I credit my writer friend Evan Morgan Williams whose collection of short stories, Thorn, I read a number of years ago. I agree with those who cite Williams’ stories as capturing the spirit of characters and sharing the longing of each soul, as well as his writing of the West. I look forward to the September 2021 release of his next work, Stories of the New West. (Incidentally, Williams also encouraged me to join a writer’s group. That was one of the best things I did during the pandemic. More about that another time.)

Another local author whose work I discovered only after finishing my final draft of Humanity’s Grace, is Jeff Fearnside, author of short stories, poems and essays, and the collection Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air. I particularly appreciate the way Fearnside gets into his characters’ heads and relationships, and their interaction with place. I am eager to read his new work, Ships in the Desert, releasing in 2022.

Not long before the pandemic I read Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again. Soon after doing so, I re-read many of her earlier works (Olive Kittredge, Amy and Isabelle, The Burgess Boys). Besides being a fabulous creator of character and story, I was intrigued by Strout’s resurrecting of characters from a previous book into her newest, and her portrayal of older characters. I am eager to read her next work whenever it is released.

Always a favorite author of mine, rereading the short stories of Alice Munro was a must. Lives of Girls and Women was one of the earliest collections of linked stories that I remember reading, and I reread it late last year. Some have called Munro an “intuitive” writer (less concerned with form, sometimes coming off as disorganized) which may be part of what I connect with!

A number of Toni Morrison’s books rest on my “keep forever” book shelf. This one I had intended to reread for some time. Recently I chose to do just that as my upcoming collection delves into both mercy and forgiveness.

Knowing that Flannery O’Connor is considered to have been one of the best ever short story writers, I knew it was time for me to read this author, and as I did, I identified O’Connor immediately as a gifted writer of short fiction. I must say, the violence of story, along with dated references of people and ultimately such sadness cut deeply into me during the already pandemic blues I was feeling .

Is any other author able to infuse humor into messages of compassion and grace like Brian Doyle, a forever remembered author? I try to read one of the essays from this book most nights.

Finally, Fredrik Backman’s brilliance in creating laugh-out-loud descriptions while still creating vulnerable characters sets his writing in an almost class of its own for me. I am now enjoying his newest work, Anxious People, quick to identify his inclusion of a father and son who both work in policing: something shared in my upcoming book.

The amazing thing about books, is the never-ending supply of good works that one has never (yet) heard of. While this may feel overwhelming to new authors trying to get others to notice their books in a universe of good reads, it is also a joy-filled expectation we can continue to rely on.

And here is when it comes back to the importance of writing what is truest to one’s own heart. For, although it may sound trite, no other person can write what it is that is unique to each of us.

See also:

Books as a refuge in times of fear

3 thoughts on “The books that inspire us

  1. Loved reading this! Thankyou for highlighting these wonderful authors and their books ; some familiar and some not.
    Your passion for reading and writing is so inspirational!
    Jan ~


  2. I really appreciated your a happy moment – and it resonated with me, too – as I go forward on my writer’s journey. I wonder how many writers stop it give up because the voices of others drown everything out?
    It reminds we of Virginia Woolf:
    “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others. Let my name stand among those who are willing to bear ridicule and reproach for the truth’s sake, and so earn some right to rejoice when the victory is won. “


    • It looks like I may have inadvertently merged two quotes. The first sentence is Virginia Woolf and the second is Louisa May Alcott – so we know that this is not a new idea, particularly for female writers, who I think are often scrutinized more. To write and to share it will always invite criticism, but I think you are coming from exactly the right place when you hear it, but don’t heed everything you hear. Very much looking forward to Humanity’s Grace.

      Liked by 1 person

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