Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Building Blocks

Writing takes a lot of building blocks. You start with one, and build on it. Last night I tried to place another block in the building, and realized that I've been building on a solid foundation of reading good writing from the early days in school.  I've been thinking about what books I've read that have influenced my writing.  What was I reading to build up my own writing?

You need to be a reader to write. Stephen King says in his book, On Writing: "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."

Then he goes on to say that he's a slow reader, but still manages to read 70-80 books a year.

I spent my first five years of school in a Christian school with very strict rules about what I was allowed to read. It was pretty tough on me because if I could've, I would read everything I could get my hands on--and did--when I could. But in sixth grade I went to a public school and had a Jewish man as my teacher. He loved books and read to us everyday after lunch. But what really opened my world of reading was when he read to us the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. I never got over that. My heart pounded and I had to have more. His voice was rich and the words pulled me into the story. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was something I had never experienced before.

We were able to buy books through Scholastic Reading Club, and my mom and I would scan the papers and she'd buy me a couple books each time. I remember it was in sixth grade that I bought a paperback version of one of my all-time favorite books--My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber. I read that book over and over. It still makes me laugh.

Then, the summer of magic happened. The summer before I entered 7th grade, my mom decided I could finally read Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. She actually owned this book, and I still have this book. I read it nearly around the clock for almost four days. I barely ate, and only stopped for necessary breaks (oh, I probably took it with me...) I was so fearful that she would change her mind and take it back, so I read it as fast as I could. It was so good, I read it again, this time savoring the scenes and characters. You can be that passionate when you're 13.

Then, that same summer, mom gave to me To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. They say there are books that change your life. That change you for having read them. Now, I can list many books since then that affected the way I thought, but that book startled me. I ended up reading that book over and over. I read it just to read certain parts. I read it through completely 21 times. I still pull it out to read sections. I wrote my own stories and they sounded like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Because I had been so protected as a child in reading books, it wasn't until I was in seventh grade that I read all of the Nancy Drew books. I could read one a day. I had never heard of Nancy Drew. Then, I read Mark Twain. I fell totally and completely in love with Mark Twain. I did reports on him, thought about wearing white suits and longed to see the Mississippi River.

In high school I had the best English teachers and I took every single English course my high school offered. I won the English department award and was even an assistant to one of the English teachers who had me teaching reading to students (mostly boys) who had trouble with reading. One time we read aloud, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. For my own enjoyment, since I worked in the high school library, I read almost every book we had. I found the likes of Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck--but I also went back to pick up all the childhood books I should've already read.

It wasn't until I was studying to be an elementary teacher that I discovered Roald Dahl. One of my all time favorites that he wrote was Matilda. I felt like Matilda. The very first chapter is titled, "The Reader of Books." I understood Matilda. Roald Dahl was a genius in my book. 

When I became a sixth grade teacher, I read to my students The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Since my students could barely read themselves, were kids who were kicked around and "outsiders," they related to that book above all of the books I read to them that year. It changed them. They became readers that year.

So, recently I was told to make a list of books I loved and felt passionate about to help me focus my own writing. I had to give up in frustration. Reading books is a joy, and I love to discover a new book. I love books. I have published around 1000 book reviews and have books stacked to the ceiling. But of all the current books I've read, A Girl Called Zippy by Haven Kimmel is my favorite in modern times. I finally realized that this book is at the top of my list. Something Is Drooling Under the Bed by Bill Watterson is probably up there close to the top, too. (In case you don't know, this is a Calvin and Hobbes book.)

Anyway, here are a few books. I'm sure it will change soon. It's not necessarily in order, either!

1. A Girl Called Zippy by Haven Kimmel
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
3. On Writing by Stephen King
4. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber
7. A Heart for God by Sinclair Ferguson
8. On the Anvil by Max Lucado
9. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Burns
10. Jan Karon’s Mitford Series
11. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
12. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
13. Centennial by James Michener
14. Matilda by Roald Dahl
15. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
16. Columns written by Will Rogers
17. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
18. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
19. Lighthouse series (3) by Eugenia Price
20. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

21. All Things series by James Herriot
22. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
23. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
24. Lake Woebeggon by Garrison Keillor
25. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
26. Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
27. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
28. O’Malley series by Dee Henderson
29. All of Julie Klassen's books

Ok, I have to stop there for now and I haven't even listed a single Hoosier ACFW book--and I've read a lot of them and love them all. 

What are a couple of your favorite books?Any in particular that stand out from your childhood? Any that have changed you or influenced your writing?

Crystal Laine Miller


  1. I loved To Kill A Mockingbird and Little Women when I was young. You hit it on the head, TKAM was a startling book.

    I guess I could say, Charlotte's Web, made me want to be a writer when I was a child in the 3rd grade. I loved that story. It was the first book that made me feel that I was there - part of it. I wanted to write like that.

  2. My husband's third grade teacher had an emotional breakdown that year, but before her total disintegration (which was understandable, her son had died that year) she read Charlotte's Web over and over to the class. I think about that every time someone mentions Charlotte's Web. But it's a great story, Loree!

    I love your description of it: "that made me feel that I was there--part of it." If only we could all write like that. That's awesome, Loree. Thanks for telling us about that. I am going to file that quote away!

  3. Crystal, thanks for your blog. I thought of dealing with something similar in mine and had discarded that idea. So hope you don't mind if I give a list of books that influenced me.

    Let me start with when I was young. Books that really influenced me were Follow My Leader by James B. Garfield (about a blind boy and his guide dog) and especially the youth baseball story The Phantom Homer by John R. Cooper. Here are others that made an impact on me (and I'm including non-fiction -- hope you don't mind). Like you, in no particular order.

    The Dead Zone by Stephen King
    Where Eagles Dare by Allistair MacLean
    Fear Is The Key by Allistair MacLean
    And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
    The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie
    The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
    The Body They May Kill by Audrey Stallsmith
    To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    Directed Verdict by Randy Singer
    Self Incrimination by Randy Singer
    Ransomed Dreams by Amy Wallace
    Healing Promises by Amy Wallace
    Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti
    Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow by C. Peter Wagner
    The Firm by John Grisham
    Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
    The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell
    You Are What You See by Scott Nehring
    The Complete Idiots Guide to Writing Christian Fiction by Ron Benrey
    How to Write and Sell a Christian Novel by Gilbert Morris
    The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
    The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
    Discipled Warriors by Chuck Lawless
    Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur
    The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
    Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
    An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith by Dave Hunt
    God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew
    The Cross and the Switchblade by Dave Wilkerson
    The Seduction of Christianity by Dave Hunt and T. A. MacMahon
    The Incendiary Fellowship by Elton Trueblood
    Four Views on Eternal Security by Michael Scott Horton, Norm Giesler, Steven Ashby, and J. Steven Harper
    Dark Horse by Ken Ackerman
    Chester Alan Arthur by Zachary Karaball
    William McKinley by Kevin Phillips
    Core of Conviction by Michele Bachmann

    You asked for it!