So I set out today to write another post about books you might be surprised to learn influenced my writing -- even bigger surprises like Bridge to Terabithia and Rifles for Watie. Only, as I started to come up with the list, I ran into a roadblock:
Books that made huge impacts on me and my writing, but which I can barely remember well enough to identity.
I wanted to tell you about Terror in Yellowknife. I think I might have between twelve when I read it, but I'm not sure. We got it at the used bookstore in Wabash, Indiana. It was a western. A mass-market paperback. In fact, the edition I had was a double book, paired with some other western with a happier, Down the Long Hills type of feel. The book I remember, though, Terror in Yellowknife, was the first thing I ever read that was a true suspense novel. A crazed Indian, seeking revenge held the town under siege. I remember the picture on the cover of the angry Indian in the shadows, holding a knife. I remember being vaguely offended by what even then I took as some uncomfortable playing to stereotypes. But mostly I remember this book at the feeling it gave me of needing to read the rest of the story ever time I sit down to write my own suspense fiction.
But apparently I do not remember the title. Because Terror in Yellowknife does not seem to exist. Neither does Blood in Yellowknife. Or Siege, Savage, or Renegade of Yellowknife. Odds are, it's not even Yellowknife at this rate. I've looked through a couple lists of old double-print westerns, but nothing sounds right.
Then two there was a book I read when I was ten. Some kind of fantasy novel. Talking animals, adventure, and warfare. What I mostly remember is that there was a character called Bern. He was one of the bears. And he got killed. And the book essentially celebrated his death as a villain. I couldn't handle it. It traumatized me. I literally had a break-down about it. I felt that bear had deserved a chance at redemption and it killed me inside that he didn't have that chance. I mean, I was crying and hurting inside just about as bad as I ever have my entire life. It still gets me when I remember it. And I guarantee that reading experience is one of the main why every single thing I write grapples in some way with the idea of redemption. Every. Single. Thing. It's there. I promise you. Usually I'm quite aware of it. Sometimes it doesn't hit me until after. But it's in everything.
And yet, despite that strong experience -- or perhaps because of it -- I can recall nothing else about the book. I think it was part of a series. But I don't have a guess about title or author, or about any other characters, or even about the overall plot.
Now, I think I may have finally found this one tonight. I think it might be Niel Hancock's Wilderness of Four series. I remember that we had Dragonwinter, and a couple of the covers in that series look familiar, and apparently book one at least features bears. I found a reference to Bern the red Bear on a fan's comments on the fourth book in the series. So I think that's probably it.
But nothing about the series really rings a bell. I don't think I finished it once Bern was killed, because I hated it so much, but I had read a good chunk.
And then there was a book I read a little later in life. I think fourteen or fifteen. It was a fantasy novel, also part of a series. I think the author was British. Maybe Michael something? Honestly, I didn't even finish the novel, let alone the series. I couldn't get into the writing style at the time. Probably that's why I don't remember the particulars. But I do strongly remember the world the author created. Everything was built around light, and lights, and candles. It was part of the setting, part of the plot, and part of the symbolism. It was rich and it felt unique. It crosses my mind often, and has greatly influenced how I think about a book as an integrated whole, not a collection of pieces.
But that's all I remember.
And so, rather than give you a list of books that have influenced me, I give you those three puzzles, and the following reminder: No matter what you write, you have no control over what the reader is going to remember, and you cannot predict what impact it will have on another human being.
It's humbling and sobering to think about. It's also confounding. And exhilarating.