“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir, he engages in an activity.”
– William Stafford
We had books at home.
I loved to read: Mother Goose, the Anderson Brothers and the Brothers Grim fairy tales, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Reader’s Digest Versions of Greek and Roman myths, Time Life collections of modern classics; Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson and others.
I was neither encouraged nor discouraged from reading those books, I read them of my own volition.
I began playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was seven years old. I was entering the 2nd Grade.
The game was brand new to the world, all of the rules were written in a couple of thin pamphlets, and in the back pages of a magazine.
I played with my older brother and his friends.
I read the rule books that came along with it. They were mostly charts, with statistics and tables detailing the odds and likelihoods, chances of success, and the consequences of failure.
In the 2nd grade the librarian at Kenwood Elementary would not let me check out books that were above my grade level, which at that time were all picture books.
We had a very nice copy of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, which I began reading in the third grade.
It was hardcover, and dark green, with fine milled pages, and glossy illustrations, and it sat on a shelf in a case for its protection.
It took me a long time to finish it, and when I did, started over, and began to read the Lord of the Rings, and other modern fantasies as well; the Chronicles of Narnia et al…
I read and re-read the books that enjoyed. I read them over and over. I read them in a round, like I was singing Row Row Row Your Boat.
My mom was critical of the fact that I was not reading more broadly, she thought I was stuck on Tolkien and Lewis, or stuck in a science fiction/fantasy genre, she pushed me to read other things
She only knew about the things she saw me reading, She did not know the other things grabbed my attention, and I did not always tell her.
The librarian at the Walker Library gave me a lot of attention.
She talked to me and listened to me tell her about what I was reading and she helped me branch out into unedited/unabridged version of Greek and Roman myths, and especially King Arthur. My relationship with her began in the summer after the 4th grade, when I would stop at the library after the Wednesday afternoon monster matinees at the Uptown Theatre near my house.
The guys who ran the comic shop on 32nd and Hennepin encouraged me to read, not only comics (which I read in abundance), but other authors as well; like George Orwell, Dostoyevsky, the books they were reading in college.
The comic shop was called Comic City then, it is called the college of comic book knowledge now.
I hung out there several days a week usually stopping on my way to and from the library.
I had a big brother from the Big Brothers Corporation of America, his name was John.
He bought me books, and he tried to get me to branch out fantasy, into science fiction, to read authors like Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury.
He gave me a copy of Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, part one of her Merlin Trilogy, which I read in the summer after the fifth grade.
Reading that book, exposed to me for the first time, a well formed idea of ancient Celtic culture, to the Druids, and to the Roman mystery cult of Mithraism.
This proved to be crucial for my developing interest in religion.
He also encouraged me to read magazines like: Discover, Scientific America, and Omni all of which he subscribed to and he would give me his old copies.
My friend Cecil gave me his copy of the bible, the margins were full of his notes. He gave this to me when I was in the sixth grade. It was the first bible that I ever read from cover to cover (complete with his notes).
My teachers at Lyndale Elementary encouraged me to read, and beginning in about the sixth grade they encouraged me to write.
Starting in the 5th grade they would release me from the classroom during the daily reading time, and let to go to the library where I pursued my own program.
My teacher, Ms. Wangerin heavily encouraged, she devised reading lists for me.
I read everything put in front of me, and I wrote book reports for her.
This same year I memorized a poem, and then recited it in front of my class.
I was moving at a very rapid pace beginning to read two or three books at a time, always reading or re-reading something by Tolkien or C. S. Lewis, always reading something new.
In the 6th grade I began to read Tolkien’s more complicated books, his Silmarillion and his Unfinished Tales.
In the 7th grade I was branching out into reference books relating to Middle Earth, and then I read a biography of Tolkien.
When I started reading Tolkien’s autobiography I began to get a picture of what a writer’s life was about.
I wanted to emulate him.
His life story inspired me.
I wanted to read more about all of the authors that I liked, and to learn about how they constructed the worlds they described, and the epics they heralded.
My mom bought me a book of poetry when I was in the 8th grade, I no longer have that book, but the poets name was Kavanaugh.
I began writing poetry that same year, and the following year my sister’s bought me a collection of The Best Loved Poems of the American People, that book is on my shelf still.