Writing and reading are the two main hobbies-turned-passions in my life. An unidentifiable moment sparked the writing flare within me, and I am forever thankful that before I ever set pen to paper with the object of writing in mind, I read for hours, completing hundreds of books over the course of a year. Over the last six years or so—the years of my growth as a writer and reader—two particular stories stand out in my mind, one a book I read, another one that I wrote.
As a sixth grader, I purchased EAST by at a conference dedicated to young writers. As written by Jennifer Hubert, it tells the story of “Nymah Rose, the last daughter of eight siblings born to a poor mapmaker and his superstitious wife, as a North-born baby. It is said that North-born babies are wild, unpredictable, intelligent, and destined to break their mothers' hearts because they all leave hearth and home to travel to the far ends of the earth. To keep her close, Rose’s mother lied and told her she had been born of the obedient and pliable East. But destiny cannot be denied. One day, a great white bear comes to the mapmaker’s door to claim Rose’s birthright. Everything that comes after, as richly imagined by author Edith Pattou, is the basis for one of the most epic romantic fantasies ever told.”
I fell in love with Pattou’s language, imagery, and style, and absolutely adored both Rose and the bear. I was young, and this romance instilled in me forever a sense of understanding of what shapes a person’s character. When I came back to it two years later, I didn’t expect to so easily fall in love with the book all over again, but I did, cementing it as one of my all-time favorites. At that point I was already an ‘official’ aspiring writer, which made the book even more special—I took away life lessons as a reader and later, as a writer, a message about quality storytelling.
I think every writer experiences a book that changes them as people and sets a precedent for what they will do as writers, makers of worlds and events and lives and dreams. Though in my writing now I use a different P.O.V. and write in a different genre, Pattou’s blurring of all things good stays in the back of my mind, and it makes one of my most recent projects a defining one. When I sat down to write THE SUMMER OF RED GERANIUMS, a YA tale about two girls and a boy—a triangle of friends, two of which later fall in love—I kept in mind how she took two characters , loving but mysterious and flawed, and injected my own characters with those traits.
The project ended as a mess. Unfixable, I think. But it was an experience that I would never trade for anything because I saw the first signs of technique develop in the stories I was telling, and I wrote from both a character’s perspective and my own, imagining reader reactions, trying to get those who would read to fall in love with the stories of Ebba, Bartosz, and Katarzyna, an American and two Polish youth in a world not their own. It’s the novel I wrote to learn how to fix things, and I’m well on my way to something better, I think.
These endless possibilities are why I write and why I read, and why I continue to urge readers to never stop reading, and writers to read, write, repeat. Each and every one of us finds the gem that spurs us to move forward with the paths we choose, and when that gem teaches us something, too, the experience is rewarding beyond belief.