Previously on my origin story, I got frustrated with a picture book in first grade and wrote my own.
The next phase of my writerly development concerned reading Charlotte’s Web–eight times. I read a lot in the 2nd and 3rd grade, but this book forced me to new levels of obsession. Sure, I wanted to live there in Fern’s world, the little farm girl desperate to save her pet pig Wilbur from slaughter. I wanted to go back to the beginning over and over while…
Charlotte was still alive.
More than that, I think I was studying E.B. White’s writing.I had a need to understand how he did it. How did he make Templeton the Rat such a cool character when he started out reprehensible? How did he reverse the black moment when all seemed lost and Wilbur doomed? How was it that a story that could be considered fairly grim–don’t get too attached to those farm animals you feed, kid; soon they’ll be dinner–turned out so engaging and exciting and just, well, fun?
White even killed off the title character and I still wanted to be there, though I admit to skipping the ending for a few of those eight reads. (Sorry, E.B., but I still haven’t forgiven you and don’t even try to be selling me this mess, “But it’s okay–Charlotte’s babies live on!” Nope. Not okay. It will never be okay.)
There was only one other early book I tore apart like I did Charlotte; The Witches’ Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carlton. Read it 11 times till the cover dissolved and the binding came loose. It was about these British orphaned twins who came to New England and ran around in the salt marshes until they solved a mystery. It’s out of print now–or is it? (Apparently, you can buy it on Amazon for one cent, or something.) I’d love to read it again, see why it caught my eye like that. Or do I? Maybe it will be cringingly bad and I’ll start to question my whole world view.
But Charlotte is still around and I’ve read it since grade school, and yes, it is that good. Basic, solid storytelling at its best. And I love the set-up of the gang of mismatched characters who band together to fight the bad thing. This would be a common theme in many of my future stories.
What were the “readovers” that played a huge part in your childhood? That shaped your ideas about writing, if you’re a writer?
Next up on My Origin Story: Part 3–Fits and Starts
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