In my last post along these lines, I pretty much gave E.R. Burroughs full credit for the inspiration for my novel-in-progress. Then, not long after I posted that, it hit me that I also have another author whom I should probably be thanking. This post, as usual, has a little bit of backstory.
When I was young, I was a tomboy. Big-time. I still am, in many ways. But that’s besides the point. When I was about five, I fell in love with horses, and by six it was ranch life in general that fascinated me. I wanted to be a cowgirl. My room gradually shifted from being decorated with flower prints and dolls to leather skins and model horses. I was in deep. My sister, on the other hand, was my opposite. She loved pink and frills and Victorian style everything.
I had always loved reading and was in a constant state of looking for new books to read. I liked American Girl and The Boxcar Children but I never really found any good books with the shoot-’em-up cowboy action that I wanted. My sister was into Anne of Green Gables and was trying to convince me to read the series but I wasn’t buying. I thought it was dumb. (Don’t worry, I’ve changed my ways.) She was also reading a book with a big kid riding a horse on the cover? I thought it was dumb, too, some sort of Victorian romance rubbish. That is, until I read it.
The book was called Tucket’s Travels. She finally got me to pick up her battered copy and I was in love by the end of the first page. This book had it all. Rifles, little sisters, mountain men, Indians (if you’ll pardon the expression), buffalo, cowboy types. I was hooked. It wasn’t a ‘cowboy’ book, per say, but it was awesome anyway, or so eight-year-old me thought.
I still think it’s awesome, actually. Written by Gary Paulsen, it is a compilation of a five- book series that tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy, Francis, who was kidnapped by the Pawnee after he strays too far behind his wagon train when he receives a new rifle for his birthday. It follows his journey from boyhood to manhood and from frontier to home. I loved the way it showed me Francis and his horse and especially his rifle. I loved how Francis was always getting himself into nasty predicaments beyond his control. I loved how it made the reader feel what Francis was feeling, whether it was fear, anger, love or any of the other emotions that a teenager’s roller coaster heart feels.
I loved the way it described everything in perfect detail. How Francis narrowly escaped death, lied to save his hide, found happiness, and learned how to be ‘savvy’. I loved Jason Grimes as Francis’s mentor and was angry when he screwed things up. I loved how it illustrated the life of a survivalist in a cruel wilderness.
I can’t pinpoint exactly how this novel of Paulsen’s has shaped my writing style, but I can tell that it has. It influenced parts of the plot of Though He Slay Me and showed me how to write in a descriptive way I wouldn’t have thought of had I only been going off of Burroughs. It doesn’t really make sense, but it has. I think every writer picks up different styles and techniques from almost every author they read. For that matter, I’m sure parts of my writing style is similar to that of Beverly Lewis, Jerry Jenkins, Ron Roy, Kate DiCamillo, and so many other novelists that I have loved and may be loving still.
I did this post mainly to give credit where credit is due and it somehow turned into a rambling account of my book reading habits as a child. Anyway, I really do owe some recognition to Gary Paulsen. If I hadn’t have read Tucket’s Travels, I probably wouldn’t be writing. Like I said, I can’t pinpoint why, but it has definitely influenced me. Maybe I’ll do another post similar to this once I understand what makes it different out of all the hundreds of other books that I’ve read. It’s fascinating to think about, the way one book can touch and change so many lives while being irrelevant to so many others.