by Alexa Padgett
We were eating dinner outside last night. The breeze cooled my skin, softening the heat of the setting summer sun. I’d just taken a bite of grilled chicken when my daughter asked, “What book made you decide to write?”
In that moment, I chewed with deliberation, taking my time, readying an answer I’d never really considered before. That seems silly, still, today—why didn’t I know the answer to that question?
I swallowed and said, “E.B. White. Charlotte’s Web. Or maybe the Narnia series. Hmm, Gone with the Wind?”
She went back to poking at her food, satisfied.
I pondered her question and my answer throughout dinner. I wasn’t pleased with my answer because I think the answer is all those books, plus Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and A Wrinkle in Time, which scared the crap out of me when I read it in third grade, maybe Dave Duncan’s and David Eddings’ fantasy series—you mean I create whole new worlds?—or maybe Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ Shana, the first romance I ever read. Or, later, as I discovered mysteries by Agatha Christie or Grisham’s legal thrillers or Stephen King’s Mercy. That book showed me how scary a transcript could be! Or maybe my love of historical fiction, especially through Sharon Kay Penman’s British history lessons.
As we readied for bed last night, my younger two asked me to read them another chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This is my fifth—you read that right—fifth read-through of this series. I read it a few years after it was first published, to understand the hype, then again in my late twenties, and with each of my children as they’ve shown interest.
I woke this morning ready to tackle the final edits of the print edition of the sixth novel in my Seattle Sound series, and I realized all these books impacted me, made me want to write, to strive to tell as good—maybe, one day—better than these writers I hold in such esteem.
But it’s not just novelists. I’ve taken to reading poetry again, another love I rarely indulge. Last week I re-read the words of Maya Angelou’s powerful Caged Bird and it brought forth much different sentiment in me during this tumultuous time in my life and the world than it did when I read it originally in college. Both Pablo Neruda’s and Emily Dickinson’s poems lay on my bedside table, waiting to be thumbed through again.
And my eldest is reading Fahrenheit 451 for her summer project—she doesn’t understand the nuance of the story at the fifty-percentage-mark, and I’ve been fascinated by her high schooler’s take on the subject matter.
All these stories impact me as a writer. I’m not sure any one makes me want to write, but they all make me want to write better.
My middle child walked into my office just now and said, “I wrote something, Mom. Want to hear it?”
I did. I loved the words fitted together, the pitch of voice, her excitement in creation.
That’s why I write: to consider, to explore, to know.
My kids? Right now, they read to question, to imagine, to connect.
Maybe that’s the answer to my daughter’s question: All books I’ve read make me want to write. To explore my experiences and emotions. To be human.
Or maybe it was just the simple tale of a loving bond formed between a spider and a pig that made me realize the power of words and stories.
I still do love that book.