The first book I ever read was The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree. I remember how my father pleaded with me to just try reading. I remember my tantrum, tiny fists pummeling the couch. “I don’t want to!” I said. “It’s too hard!” I thought that my mother and father were destined to read aloud to me forever.
My father threw up his hands, and left the book on the living room coffee table.
Enter my sitter, Ms. Faye, who quietly picked up the book.
“Three little bears. One with a light, one with a stick, one with a rope,” she read slowly.
I emerged from beneath the sofa cushions. For the next half hour, I struggled through the book, following the adventures of the three little bears. I was hooked.
For many years, I considered myself a reader, and only that; I knew my writing was poor. No matter how clumsily I tried to imitate my favorite Young Adult novelists, my pre-teen and teenage self was aware of the lack of skill behind my stumbling forth into literature. I resigned myself to the role of consumer, rather than producer, of written work.
When I went to college, I found that my appreciation, enjoyment, and prowess in creating work grew profoundly. In my time at Sweet Briar, I have been fortunate to work with some wonderful professors who have critiqued and directed my work with great patience. My fiction has been shaped through courses with both Professor John Gregory Brown and Professor Carrie Brown, and along with their guidance about my own stories, they introduced me to many authors from whom I draw inspiration today.
In a course on literature of the fantastic, I discovered Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud, who deftly weaves magical realism with touching, tender moments of reality. I was also introduced to Steven Millhauser, author of Dangerous Laughter, who brings humor and themes from everyday life into his short stories. In another creative writing workshop that focused on research and fiction writing, I read works by writers such as Emma Donoghue, who interpreted historical events in a way that was both unique and poignant to modern day readers. I’ve learned from these authors, trying to understand what about their stories makes them so brilliant.
Because I tend to write from a female perspective, I try to challenge myself in other ways; I like to test my abilities with characters who are very young or very old, who live in a different era or who experience something unusual. I am inspired by both the extraordinary and the very ordinary—and how and why the ordinary becomes extraordinary, through intimate detail and individual experience. In one of my stories, a nurse tends to a WWII veteran with a terrible disfigurement; in another, a couple waits for the world to end. In yet another story, an elderly woman reflects on the choices she made in life. I have tried to create characters whose lives are perhaps not particularly remarkable, but who the reader can understand and sympathize with as they are temporarily enveloped in the experiences of another. As my characters try to comprehend the world around them, so do I write to attempt to understand my own existence.