Nancy J. Cohen
My daughter, who is a busy career woman, would rather watch TV to relax than read a book. No matter how much I try to convince her that reading novels can be valuable, she is not a Fictionista. I started thinking how books have influenced my life.
In the early days, I read Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and Judy Bolton mystery series. This initiated my love for the genre but it did more than that. Reading about Cherry Ames made me want to be a nurse. I wanted to ease people’s fears in the hospital and help them deal with illness. And so I volunteered in the local hospital and took employment, when of age, as a nurse’s aide for a summer job. Nursing school loomed in the future following high school.
A career choice faced me. I was also a student of ballet and could have auditioned for a professional company, but that would have meant daily rehearsals and giving up my ambitions to be a nurse.
Nursing won out, and I graduated with a bachelor’s degree. If you take a look at a site like www.testprepselect.com/medical-nursing/best-mcat-books/, you’ll get an idea of the sort of books that I would have had to read while I was at nursing school. As I am a big fan of reading, I did not find it boring or hard work. In fact, it kept me going. Plus, I was constantly learning something new daily.
Meanwhile, I was still an avid reader and had even tried my hand at some short stories. But it wasn’t until grad school in nursing that I decided to write a novel. Stories by Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney inspired me to write romantic suspense. I bought a book called Structuring Your Novel and that’s how I learned to write a full-length book. I wrote six books before one sold. My romantic suspense never got anywhere. When I combined my love of scifi with romance, that’s what sold. Now I had two blossoming careers. What next?
I discovered humorous cozy mysteries with Jill Churchill. Oh, my. These were great. I liked the humor. I liked the structure. And so I wrote one. That sold, and the Bad Hair Day mysteries were born. Now I’m retired from nursing but the writing career is still going strong. Thanks to these books I’d read, not only did I become a writer, but I practiced ten good years as a registered nurse.
What books have inspired you in life? Have any of them led to a career other than writing?
When I was in fifth grade, I volunteered a summer in our local library. For some, it may sound like a dull way to spend the time when the days are free and the sun is shining, but for me it was a slice of heaven. I grew to love the smell and feel of books. One task, placing identifying stickers on book spines, allowed me to pick up and read dozen of dust cover jackets. I picked up, checked out and absorbed several books that summer on working with children with autism or disabilities. Later in life, I worked in higher education, and yes, eventually working with students with disabilities. What a joy to see that thread in my life actualized! Great post.
How wonderful that a summer job inspired your career, Julie. And all from picking up a few books and reading the dust covers.
The Cruel Sea inspired me to be a writer. Ulysses created a love of complexity; Finnegan’s Wake convinced me otherwise. And the Gulag Archipelago profoundly affected my view of human nature and politics, which I later carried with me as a Foreign Service officer.
That’s cool, Steven. If only more people would appreciate how we can learn different viewpoints and philosophies from books as well as get a taste of foreign cultures.
Nancy Drew and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, of course. But I also loved John Jakes’ historicals, esp the Kent Family Chronicles. He wasn’t the greatest writer going but man could he spin a good yarn. There’s a lot to be said for a writer who can “merely” tell a good story.
Don’t remember who, if anyone, inspired me to write. But I remember reading Truman Capote later in life and wanting to give up!
That feeling of discouragement is all too common. Other writers are always better, more prolific, more everything than we are. But we are each unique, and we have to shove aside that inner demon and carry on. Look at how much you’ve accomplished because you persevered.
Nancy, I was an avid reader as a child and teenager but my love of reading was really fostered by Enid Blyton and Elinor M Brent Dyer (who wrote the Chalet School Series – making me wish I could go to a finishing school in Europe!). I always wanted to write stories but don’t recall anyone really encouraging me. When I finished high school I was basically told, ‘you have the grades to go to law school why would you want to do liberal arts/be a writer’. Took me a long time to realize that you need to follow the dream rather than the bucks…
You can still follow your dream. There’s no age limit on writing. But we writers do need that wage earning career, so you were smart to get a practical education first.
The book that made me into a real reader was “Gone With The Wind.” In 6th grade, Mrs. Francis saw me picking another easy book off the shelf and said, “not so fast” and handed me GWTW as an assignment. Whole new world opened up for me – the land of “hard books.” Mitchell quickly led to Michener.
“Grapes of Wrath” is also another personally important book. I discovered it in high school. Just to turn one phrase like Steinbeck would allow me to say I had done my work as a writer.
I’ve read Gulag Archipelago, but it was “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” that stuck with me. Deceptively short, for me, it carried the whole experience of Soviet Russia and even the modern prison system. “I had to admit, that after all this time, I had more in common with the Estonian than I did my own family.”
Books = Joy
Do you think those books would have sold in today’s fast-paced digital market? I don’t believe people have the patience anymore for long passages of description or introspection.
Probably not, especially Grapes of Wrath. On the flip side, historical romance writers have been trying to recapture GWTW ever since with varying degrees of success.
As the youngest in my family of enthusiastic readers, I read whatever others left lying around: Mitchner, Burroughs, Hitchcock, Heinlein, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Christie. I always wanted to tell interesting stories like those authors, but I didn’t know how. It frustrated the heck out of me.
My oldest brother had a subscription to Analog Science Fiction and Fact. I remember sprawling in a lawn chair in the shade and gobbling those through the summers. Fast-forward forty-five years and a checkered career path, and I’d become a tech writer with a longing to write fiction. My first ever query, which also resulted in my first ever sale, was a novella and companion science fact article to Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Talk about Cinderella! Now I write mysteries in futuristic and fantasy settings. I finally feel like I’m doing what I was born to do.
Congratulations on achieving your dream! All your other achievements led you to this path. My husband still reads Burroughs.
I got hooked on reading because if my love for horses. I read westerns, but eventually got into crime fiction. Discovering Robert Ludlum made me want to be a writer.
That’s cool how you liked horses and started out reading westerns. If you think about all the sheriff and outlaw confrontations in those stories, it kind of seques into a crime novel. So there you are.
I know, right? But when I realized that alpha male lonewolf kind of guys rode those horses, my interest changed. That and puberty. Ha!
My childhood reading list included all the Tintin books, Illustrated Classics, and believe it or not…the World Book Encyclopedia (1958 version my dad got when he remodeled a school) and Encyclopedia Britannica (1980 version my dad bought because I’d memorized the old one but my knowledge history stopped at 1958…10 years before I was born)both of which I read cover to cover and every volume.
I eventually graduated to Louis L’Amour, and Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan series, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth, et al.
I think rather than one book, all of these combined with a lifetime of telling stories contributed to my eventual decision to write. That and a really boring job where I couldn’t read anything but did have a keyboard and MS Word to make up my own stuff with.
Oh and the Bible…there are some really incredibly good dramatic stories in the Bible.
Wow, you have a well rounded repertoire! A real boring job can do the trick. Making up stories is the fast track to escapism.
I nearly forgot about my young self books. When I was just a kid, we were dirt-clod poor. One Christmas, from one of the missions, I got a used and incomplete set of “children’s classics.” I read them over and over again until the bindings wore thin. I still have 3 of them: The Peterkin Papers (best clean and absurd comedy ever), Pinnochio (not the Disney version!), and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (also definitely unabridged and unsanitized). Those books spark my imagination to this day (especially the blood-curdling fairy tales)
And those books probably encouraged you to read for the rest of your life. Sometimes we forget that underprivileged children don’t have the same access to books as we enjoy.