When I was 11 years old, it was a one-two combination. And it wasn't so much books as authors, the many books those authors had written.
Every Sunday night back then, "60 Minutes" on CBS was always on in my household. I remember it well because there were so many car commercials, but it was most important to me because of Andy Rooney and his commentaries.
Even with all the books I had read up to then, I thought writing involved fully-formed stories, characters who moved from one stage to another in deeply affecting ways, and that it was never ordinary. Certainly I read nonfiction books, attracted to such books as "A Week in the Life of an Airline Pilot" by William Jaspersohn, but flying a 747 never seemed ordinary.
And here was Andy Rooney. You mean you could write about the different styles of restaurants? You could write about working in your woodshop at home? About how cold it gets during winter and how you cope?
My family and I went to a thrift store in South Florida during that year, and I found a three-book collection called "The Most of Andy Rooney," which contained "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney," "And More by Andy Rooney," and "Pieces of My Mind." I pored over that book, reading favorite commentaries often, and decided that I wanted to write like him. Literally write like him. I don't remember what I wrote about in my own life that I tried to write in his style, but it was then that I realized what a writer's style was. It varies with each writer. I couldn't write like Andy Rooney because I wasn't him. I had to find my own style.
That's where Natalie Goldberg came in, she of the Taos, New Mexico residency who instilled a nascent interest in me to want to visit New Mexico, but which I didn't realize until a certain novel set me full-blown on that desire (more on that later), and who showed me that yes, in order to be a writer you have to write, but you also should write what gets you excited.
I constantly read her "Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life," with that inviting tan cover and the marker-based drawing of that cafe with the red tablecloths and the overhead fan at the top of the red frame, and the bakery case to the side, and that hardwood flooring. I loved reading not only her advice which still guides me to this day, but also her "Try This" exercises, in which I wondered if I could really write about all those things. Did I have anything to say about them, such as "a subject, a situation, a story that is hard for you to talk about"? Or how about sitting down to write something that I "have never managed to get around to"? Of course, back then, I was 11, and was only just starting. There's plenty now that I have never managed to get around to......yet. I hope.
From there I went to her "Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within," and I now own nearly all her books, including her novel "Banana Rose," all sitting on a shelf in my main bookcase, my permanent collection, the books I will always keep. I don't yet have "Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer's Craft" or "The Great Failure: My Unexpected Path to Truth," but I'll remedy that upon reorganizing my book collection after moving soon.
As to that book that makes me want to visit New Mexico so badly, I must have been entranced with the name Taos, which appeared in Goldberg's bio at the back of her books. What was Taos? What kind of community was it? I didn't think anything of it beyond that and briefly mulling over those questions, but it apparently became firmly entrenched in my mind, only to surface years later when I read "The Secret of Everything" by Barbara O'Neal and wanted to leave right then and there for New Mexico. If Barbara O'Neal could describe New Mexico like THAT simply from the fictional town of Las Ladronas, what must it be like in person?
One day, I will find out. But it was because of Natalie Goldberg and her Taos that gave me such a desire to see it. And I've no doubt that it's because of her, and Andy Rooney, that I'm a writer today.