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“What was any art but a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself – life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.” Willa Cather
Ask a group of writers who’s inspired them and you’ll get a bewildering but revealing range of answers. I heard one artist say that her mother, a noted children’s author, was influenced by Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and the creator of Pinocchio.
Then one panel of authors, an writer said he was intrigued by the Agatha Christie’s mysteries he came across as a kid. He was fascinated by how she managed to kill off characters so cleverly that it almost seemed like magic, literary sleight of hand. And he decided that he wanted to create some of that magic himself — and that’s how and why he became a writer.
Another author talked about the Tin Tin stories and their amazing ability to combine action and humor — this strength is something he has worked hard to bring to his own storytelling by finding the rhythm of tension and laughter that propels a tale forward.
JK Rowling once told an interviewer that Little Women helped shape her life because the its main character was a rather plain girl named Jo who wanted to be a writer — and she saw herself within the novel.
When I think of authors who inspired me to want to write, I think of poets like Sara Teasdale and AE Houseman, and novelists like Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, and Emily Bronte.
But most of all, I think of Willa Cather. A teacher gave me a short story of hers called “Neighbor Rosicky” — and I just adored it. I began reading Cather like crazy.
Why? Well, for me, there is something so pure, so elemental, about her writing — and yet it’s filled with emotion. It’s as if she’s captured experience in a net of words and then found the essence of it and poured it into her stories. And she uses silence so masterfully. So much of the power of her writing seems to arise from silence, from words unspoken. To me this has always seemed miraculous and I wanted to find in myself that same power to move and illuminate, to touch life’s beating heart, through words.
How about you? What authors have inspired you to try to cpture that “elusive element” — life itself? Do you revisit them from time to time? I’d love to hear from you. Write on!