Childhood Book Influences

I read an article this week about what childhood books influenced a writer. So that got me thinking about what books I read as a child and how they influenced me.

I voraciously read animal books, particularly horse books. I owned the entire Black Stallion series and read them over and over. I read almost all the Jim Kjelgaard books, as well as the Marguerite Henry books. A childhood dream came true for me when I lived in Chincoteague for 8 months and not only visited the Misty museum, but saw the famous Pony Swim.

Yet, I do not write animal books. You will see horses appear in most of my books, and the occasional dog, but they are not my focus.

I also read–and reread—The Chronicles of Narnia, which definitely seeded my love of fantasy.  I was fascinated by the idea of magic portals, of the interconnection of everything seen and unseen. Many of my books deal with magic and the ripple effects each of our actions cause.

But perhaps the biggest influence on my writing was Madeleine L’Engle. I read her Time Trilogy until the covers got tattered. Although most people know the first book in the series, A Wrinkle In Time, my favorite was the third, A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

It stars my favorite character, Charles Wallace, who had to find and reverse the one event that would change history to prevent nuclear war, and it has a time-traveling unicorn. How could I not love it?

I see a lot of the themes in L’Engle’s writing coming through in my own. The intersection of magic and mystery with everyday. The connection of everything, everywhere. The understanding that love gives you more strength than hate. That being true to yourself and what you believe in is the most powerful magic of all.

Those are some of the influences on me. Who are some of your childhood favorites that shaped your writing and your worldview?

Empathy: Curse or Blessing?

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suspect most creative types are highly empathetic. I sometimes think I feel other people’s emotions more strongly than my own. While I do feel things deeply, I can usually control my emotions and focus on what I need to do.

However, when someone else’s emotions overflow, it is hard for me to control myself. At a friend’s mother’s funeral, my tears didn’t flow until my friend’s did. When I hear of a crime, I feel the terror of the victim. During mass tragedy such as 9/11 or Sandy Hook, I go numb with the overload of grief. The reason I have never seen Schindler’s List is because the images and emotions would stick with me far longer than with most people. I become haunted.

Cover of "A Swiftly Tilting Planet"

Cover of A Swiftly Tilting Planet

I find it hard to explain how vividly I can feel other people’s emotions. In Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Swiftly Tilting Planet, main character Charles Wallace goes “Within” other people. His soul enters other people’s consciousnesses, so he can experience what they experience—physically and emotionally. This is a good way of explaining how I sometimes feel—as if I am inside the other person, feeling what they feel.

Sometimes I think this intense empathy is a curse. It aggravates my anxiety. It makes me wary of social interaction. It makes me want to hold people at arm’s length—although even that precaution is not enough, since even the stories of strangers can bring me to tears.

On the other hand, this sort of empathy is a blessing. It helps me create characters with feeling. It allows me to help people with the kind of help they most need. It helps me relate to people different than me, because I can feel what we have in common. It makes me more compassionate.

In the final analysis, I have to consider this empathy a blessing—because I would rather feel too much than nothing at all.

What about you? Do you find yourself overloaded with empathy?


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