Welcome back to another post in the Monday Inspirations series, where guest bloggers write about the books and authors that have inspired them. Today’s post is by Charli Mills, top buckaroo over at Carrot Ranch. You can check out OTHER Monday Inspirations posts here.
“Surprising what you can dig out of books if you read long enough, isn’t it?” ~ Robert Jordan
Ever since Mrs. Couch read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my third-grade class, I’ve come to my favorite series of books with a shovel. How can you not dig into works that span a great portion of an author’s life in creating? Not only do I relate to the characters over each successive book, I begin to relate to the author.
What I love about a good series is that when I finish one book, I can start another. I grew up with Laura Ingalls who then married her prairie sweetheart, Manly Wilder. After that series, my 7th-grade buddy loaned me his favorite Ian Fleming series, and I plunged my imaginary shovel into the brutal spy world of James Bond.
Yet, my favorite book series comes from my (current) favorite author, Robert Jordan. While many of the authors I read are dead, it breaks my heart that Robert Jordan died before I ever discovered his works. He’s an inspirational writer whom I would have loved to have met, share a mug of coffee and let him puff on a tobacco pipe and tell me the story of his stories.
Robert Jordan wrote the best-selling The Wheel of Time (WOT) series, a collection of 14 books that follows the discovery and demise of the Dragon Reborn. It’s a timeless fantasy book that expresses the hero’s journey. As a writer, I’m fascinated with the story arc of the hero’s journey because I believe it mirrors our own lives from birth to death – we are called to do something we are reluctant to do because it is hard, yet we do it anyways, meeting guides along the way, overcoming challenges, almost giving up, and then returning with the elixir that changes us forever.
It makes me think of writing as a heroic journey. We feel the call to write, yet feel we are not qualified. We set out to write the book anyhow, meeting helpful bloggers, readers and writers who mentor and cheer us through our process. We often fall into despair and enter the cave (or pit of doom, also known as the revision process). We fight the good fight (revise, rewrite, write again) and emerge with the elixir creating a book gives to us.
Not only do I relate to Jordan’s characters, I began to relate to him. First, a word on his characters. I’m an adventurous sort when it comes to imagination, yet as a female I often find that I relate more to the male characters. They do more. Perhaps I love Laura Ingalls so much because she lived the hardships of pioneer life as a tom-boy. Jordan’s cast of characters is immense and includes the kind of males and females that I can relate to. Both genders are action-oriented. Plus, I like the interactions, the subtle humor of the baffled males (over women as a whole) and the intolerant females (of male behavior). It’s complex, real, yet heroic to both genders.
Jordan has an author bio that I know by heart, simply because I’d read it faithfully at the end of each book. My daughter and her husband read the entire series aloud to one another and that’s how I came to hear of it. I’d listen to them read at holiday times, and more so after I moved in with them to finish my novel set in northern Wisconsin where they lived. By the time I left for Idaho, they had me reading the first series and I felt like I somehow “knew” this author.
Jordan was a combat-veteran and grew up in the state neighboring the one where my family left to come west. In South Carolina, he grew up reading classics, riding horses and collecting pipes. After his military career (he went on to graduate from the Citadel and serve as a nuclear engineer for the Navy), he reviewed dance under the curious pseudonym, Chang Lung. It’s difficult to articulate how, as a reader, I can feel like I have life connections with an author I never met. I feel as if he was someone I could have long and interesting conversations with, having both questions and points to share.
It was at the conclusion of Knife of Dreams (Book #11 in the series) that I realized, Robert Jordan was dead; that the next book would be one he didn’t write. His voice was gone. He wrote parts and outlined the series’ end and gave his wife permission (she was also his editor) to find an author to finish his work. What a measure of trust and what a gift to readers that the series did not die with him. Yet, the next three books are clearly in another voice.
Voice is something no author can imitate completely. I admire Branden Sanderson for stepping into Jordan’s boots and taking on the herculean task of completing another author’s series. Sanderson even wrote in the introduction that he could never write as Jordan. He wrote as Sanderson and finished the series brilliantly, yet I missed my author friend, Jordan. I missed his voice.
When I looked up the number of books in the WOT series, I discovered for the first time that Jordan wrote under other pen names (Reagan O’Neal and Jackson O’Reilly). He wrote an historical series that takes place in the Carolinas and a western that takes place beyond the Missouri wilds pre-Civil War. Both subjects relate to my current WIP. It’s as if Jordan was encouraging me, that he found these historic periods fascinating soil for sowing stories.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but a writer’s got to have one!
Dig what you can out of the books you read. Whatever you read as a writer, dig into it. Dig into what inspires you and who inspires you.