To be a writer, you have to be a reader first. And don’t stop reading, either.
The books that capture your imagination early in life will always be with you. What you want to read about will shape what you choose to write about.
All About Strange Beasts of the Past flicked my imagination switch. I was only seven years old when it came out, and nine or ten years old when I read it. Roy Chapman Andrews, the explorer who first found dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, wrote several of these Allabout Books. His All About Dinosaurs I read over and over again until it fell apart. Strange Beasts I kept checking out of the library.
Andrews had a gift for making prehistoric worlds come alive. In practical terms, he used this gift whenever he had to schmooze J.P. Morgan into funding another expedition. When he wrote for children–well, as far as I was concerned, it was just like being there.
Everybody knows about dinosaurs, but I got really into prehistoric mammals, especially the gigantic hairy ones. Strange Beasts introduced me to creatures that have inhabited my dreams ever since; some of them now inhabit my own Bell Mountain books. Andrews’ “Beast of Baluchistan” appears in The Thunder King just in time to rescue the city of Obann from being sacked by the Heathen host. The saber-toothed cat, seen on the cover of Strange Beasts, features in the climax of The Last Banquet. The saber-tooth’s prey, the giant ground sloth, makes cameo appearances in several of my books. I haven’t yet found a place for the spectacular “Shovel-tusked Mastodon” of Strange Beasts, but I expect I will.
Books were a big deal in our house. My mother was a reader, and filled several large bookshelves with her favorites. I took after her in that department: I just could never get my fill of stories! History and science, in my view, also counted as stories.
But nothing could ever top the creatures I met in Roy Chapman Andrews’ books.
P.S.: Andrews was widely believed to have been the real-life model for Indiana Jones. To that I must say “Pshaw!” Andrews’ adventures were real.
P.P.S.: For some reason which I can’t remember, as a very young child, I formed the expectation that my Aunt Betty, a nun, would somehow provide me, someday, with my own woolly mammoth. Please don’t ask me to explain this. She did try–gave me a vaguely mammoth-shaped little furry something which, I am sorry to say, did not quite live up to my expectations. But she did try, and for that she gets full marks.