I don’t find books. Books find me. The one that found me yesterday is On Writing. A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I enjoyed reading about the events that shaped his writing life. I also admired his brutal honesty about his drug and alcohol addition. And cheered his recovery. He also made me see how useful it is for one writer to read about another writer’s path. Thus, he has inspired me to share a bit of my – as he phrases it – C.V.
On Writing: My First Story
My 6th grade teacher Mrs. Wolfe assigned several creative writing exercises. The story I wrote that I remember most vividly is “Twistin’ Tony.” I created a detective named Tony who solved crimes while dancing The Twist.
While writing it, I had Chubby Checker’s song in my head:
I don’t remember the plot, but I do remember being very absorbed while writing it. It was the first time I experienced the pleasure of losing myself in a story. When Mrs. Wolfe returned it, I was pleased to see a big red A, plus the comment “Excellent satire.”
My 6th-grade self wondered, “What’s a satire?”
On Writing: Further Reading
The first book I read that set me on my current path was The Queen’s Grace by Jan Wescott. I was in junior high. My friend, Josie Weirich, had passed it along to me.
I remember exactly where I was and how I felt when I finished it: sitting on the living room couch, enthralled. I stared into space for a good long while, not wanting to leave the world Wescott had created for me.
The Queen in question was Katherine Parr, the 6th and last wife of Henry VIII. Wescott brought to life Henry’s court with all the intrigue and all the romance. I drank in the details of the clothing, the furniture, and even the food of the Tudor period.
Once I got to high school, I had received the cultural message that smart girls read “better books.” So, I read those better books. Which at the time meant writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Victorian novels. Russian novels.
In college I majored in French Literature. And read tons of existentialism. Jump-off-the-cliff-inducing quantities of it.
On Writing: Relief Is On the Way!
I wanted to go on for a PhD. But I knew I didn’t want to study literary criticism. Or creative writing. I was fortunate to find Linguistics, first at the University of Illinois, Urbana, then at UNC-Chapel Hill.
During my PhD program, I attended the Linguistic Society of America Summer Institute. There a student passed me Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion. Light bulb moment! It was light and fluffy and fun. These were the stories I liked to read. These were the stories I had in my head. Before reading Heyer, I didn’t know I could write them down.
Soon thereafter I began writing my PhD dissertation. And, at the same time, I began my first romance, My Lord Roland.
Ever since my scholarship in linguistics and my romance writing have continuously wrapped around one another.
On Writing: Final Note
“Light and fluffy and fun,” I just said.
From the beginning I guessed that making a soufflé as frothy as one of Heyer’s wasn’t as easy as it looked. I still love the idea that my stories might look easy. “Anyone can write a romance!” Hidden craft creates the magic.
Want my version of castle intrigue and romance? With all the details of the clothing, furniture and even the food of 12th-century England? Try Simon’s Lady
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen