I suspect that many writers have a book that did it for them: changed their world, altered the course of their life, fostered their obsession with a fictional world, and made them realize that reading books wasn’t enough: They wanted to write one. (Or is it just me?) In any case, you’ve probably figured out by now that I have such a book in my sordid past: Kathleen Woodiwiss’s Ashes in the Wind.
Since I was a young child, I’ve been a voracious reader. I plowed through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, Nancy Drew mysteries, books by Judy Blume, E. L. Konigsburg, Madeleine L’Engle, and many, many others. In my early teens, I read science fiction, mystery, classic literature, contemporary novels, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Except romance. I’d heard it was stupid and trashy, so that was enough for me. I was too smart for something like that, or so I thought.
I have my mother to thank for changing that, quite by accident. Because my tastes were so varied, and because my mom went through a garage-sale shopping phase, she acquired the habit of picking up used books, usually for ten cents or a quarter, if she thought I might like them.
I gave them all the college try. There was Roots, by Alex Haley, which I could never quite get into. A young-adult novel about drug abuse that I liked but promptly forget. Journey to Ixtlan, by Carlos Castenada, and if I live to be 100 I’ll probably never figure out what in the world that’s about. And then there was Ashes in the Wind. To say that I read the book is an understatement. I read it, re-read it, and read it again. I had large sections of it committed to memory for a long time. And then I was on a mission: To get more books like this! Considering that this was the early to mid-eighties, it wasn’t as easy a task as you might imagine.
There were no bookstores near my house, and this was long before the Internet. That left the local library. I lived in a small town and was terrified that the librarians would forbid me from checking out such a book. (It’s comical when you compare it to the types of materials that kids have access to now on the Internet, and in the much more graphic books published today.) But ever-resourceful, I rode my bike to the library and read Shanna, The Flame and the Flower, and The Wolf and the Dove while sitting at a table in the library. I’d arrive on a summer afternoon, pull one of the books down from the shelf, and sit for hours at a time, working my way through each book in its turn. I’ve heard that many women named their children after the characters in these iconic novels, and I can’t say I’m surprised. I only know that with her stories, Woodiwiss created a world I never wanted to leave, and still don’t. I’ve been trying to get back there ever since. Sometimes, when I’m reading a great romance, or when I’m writing, I do, and that’s the best time of all.