Today someone asked the following question in a group I’m in: “Which women have been instrumental in shaping your writing career?”
I have two, and while it might be a bit of a lengthy account, I hope you’ll bear with me.
The first person who comes to mind is my 8th-grade principal, Sister Gerri. Back then, I had typed out this whole drama about an older woman and a younger man. I’m embarrassed to say it was a forbidden romance. Guess growing up in a very Catholic country didn’t stop my imagination from running wild. We also had a tenant in the back unit whose window was right in front of mine and she was some man’s mistress. He always came over when I was supposed to do my homework and so I had some pretty interesting sound effects which probably served as inspiration – and which probably explains the screenplay version of my story. But it wasn’t just sex or the hint of sex (it was in play format, after all). There was drama. Lots of drama and probably sexual tension.
Needless to say, that story was a hit among my equally horny classmates during homeroom, and each page was passed around by my avid readers until one morning, the homeroom teacher got a hold of one page that contained NSFW content and she had a fit. It didn’t help that when she shook with rage, one of the girls yelled, “You’re turned on!”
So she sent me to the principal’s office, and all I remember were threats of suspension and something about a trip to the guidance counselor to see if I was emotionally stable. When I was cleared of any emotional instability, Sister Gerri sat me down in her office (it wasn’t my first time in there; I was a regular) and she gave me two choices.
She would call my parents and tell them of the stuff I’d written, or she would escort me to the Poetry Club that met every Friday afternoon.
But I was in Drama Club, I protested. And Poetry Club was so not cool. It was for the nerds and the geeks! But Sister Gerri stood her ground, and so I allowed her to escort me from Drama Club to the Poetry Club that Friday, and the next two meetings, she even made sure to check that I was in attendance.
She never told my mother. And while my career as a budding erotic playwright came to an abrupt end that year, my poems ended up on the school paper and I never stopped writing. I even read and memorized a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets and grew to love Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a weighty tome that was later complemented by the graphic novel version my brother took home when he had to learn it for his senior year but didn’t want to bother with the book.
The second woman who has influenced my writing is my mother. She never said no to any Readers Digest classic hardcover edition set that came to her door. She collected books of all shapes and sizes (and she still does), and the house where I grew up was teeming with them. So I read all the classics before I was twelve or so – Heidi, Black Beauty, Robinson Crusoe, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and even limericks. I learned all about the Bermuda Triangle, haunted houses, and world mythology. And when I was around eleven or twelve, I found a stack of old paperbacks on the top shelf in my room. One of them had a torn cover but what wasn’t torn showed something very titillating – that bit on the upper right.
The books were The Adventurers, The Pirate, A Stone for Danny Fisher, and Stiletto – all of them by Harold Robbins. Except for Stiletto, I devoured them all and reread them again and again. I fell in love with Diogenes Alejandro Xenos or Dax, Baydr Al Fey, and Danny Fisher… and later that year, I would write that NSFW play that would get me sent to Poetry Club.
Interestingly, to this day, my mother denies ever owning any Robbins’ books, but that’s okay. It got me to where I am today and that’s what matters.
What about you? Who are the women who influenced your writing?