I was raised catholic so the idea of confession is an easy one to call up. Haven’t been to an actual confession booth in about twenty years. If I cared to go again, I’d probably have to book a block of time to fit in a cataloguing of all my transgressions.
Alas, my confession is not religious in nature (I’m not religious in nature either).
The genesis of my novel was truly a spark of inspiration rather than a desire to craft a certain type of story based upon those tales I’d already loved to read. From all of my forum surfing, comment perusing and blog stalking, I’ve gleaned that this is the usual path for most writers. They’re readers first.
I wasn’t. (Is that bad?)
Not that I didn’t read. I’ve always been a casual reader, usually at bedtime or on vacation or airplanes while traveling for work. But my reading material was 95% non-fiction and covered topics from the history of the American west (I love reading about the Indians of the high plains- Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides and The Heart of Everything that Is by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin) to astronomy to anything by Sebastian Junger or Jon Krakauer. Scientific American is my favorite magazine, and I understand a solid ~46% of any given issue.
But I ended up writing a young adult science fiction (and arguably some fantasy) novel. Was I reading in my category? Certainly not.
I can’t name one single science fiction book I read before writing this book. How insulting that must sound to those who came before, to those who do write in the category and are masters of it! And how presumptuous of me to simply dive in to their world without surveying it first! But this is the order things happened for me. The idea struck when it did.
What about fantasy, Chris? Certainly you read in that category before you undertook noveling, right? Eh. Not really. And noveling isn’t even a word.
My list of fantasy reads was anemic, paltry, pathetic, sad. In my entire life, I read The Hobbit (as a kid), all of A Song of Ice and Fire, A Wrinkle in Time (as a kid), the first book and a half of Chaos Walking (still working on that), the first part of In the Name of the Wind where Kvothe is still a fucking minstrel. I mean, does he stay a minstrel for the whole series? I once caressed Wheel of Time at a Half-Price Books.
And then there’s Harry Potter. I read that, at least, right?
So there I was, January of 2015. I’d just seen the movie Interstellar. Loved it. Loved it. Inspired by it. Couldn’t stop thinking about the beauty, the science of it. Was plagued by the time travel paradox that stands as the movie’s single flaw. I read The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne, director Christopher Nolan’s science consultant and Cal-Tech astrophysicist. I was obsessed with space and stars and dimensions and I thought to myself that the magnitude in terms of size, beauty, mystery, etc., of the universe was too much to keep inside and that’s when the premise for my story literally popped into my head.
It’s fun to look back and consider that premise. In retrospect it is idiotic and not very interesting. But the story that evolved from that tiny seed is something I’m immensely proud of, published or not.
Getting back to the point–once I had the meat of the story on paper, I knew I’d need to read in my category/ies. Just to make sure I wasn’t reinventing the wheel but also to check the calibration of my story against these others. I waited until I had the first book almost written and the series completely mapped so I wouldn’t be unduly influenced by my reading. Naturally, I started with The Sorcerer’s Stone (I am getting through The Chamber of Secrets), then on to Ready Player One, the entire His Dark Materials series, and have now undertaken the Dune series (the sci-fi bible, if you will).
The rest of the Harry Potter books and Neal Stephenson’s Seven Eves are on my nightstand along with numerous others.
I’m reliving so much of what so many other writers certainly have. It’s amazing how you can invent a story, character, concept, plot point, magic, world-build, etc. and then find out the exact thing has already been done. Did you know I invented Buggers (not by name, but the creatures)? Yeah, and my wife suggested I look at a little book called Enders Game. So I had to change that.
I read the first forty pages of the Golden Compass a little over three years ago when my wife suggested we name our as-of-yet unborn daughter Lyra. I couldn’t really get into it. It sat unread until February of 2017 when I picked it up again with a different perspective, having now written and polished a novel with a precocious young heroine at the helm. I blasted through the entire series. Cried at parts, wished for it to never end. And when that ending inevitably came, I sat in my bed humbled. I felt a profoundness to the story and the way it unfolded that will stick with me forever. I was genuinely moved by a work of fiction for the first time in my life. And I realized what others were getting that I’d been missing.
I won’t go into all the obvious advantages of actually reading books and how they improve your writing. I get all of that and have experienced it. But forcing myself to read for the sake of my writing made me a fan of the category for the sake of my reading.
**I’m a bad person.