In The Blood: How my family influenced me to become a writer

Typically when people talk about why they became writers, they share one or both of these reasons:

1) Insatiable love of books

2) Insatiable need to tell stories

You guys know I’m totally unafraid to talk about that magical pull to write, but today I’ve been thinking about another reason why I became a writer. The first reason, in fact: My family.

For the next few days I’m staying at my parents house while they visit my sister who’s doing spring training with her equestrian coach in Florida. Have I ever mentioned that my family is really into horses? As in, they bought a farm to turn into a stables and riding center? As in, when I moved out my little sister immediately moved into my old room and filled it with horse stuff?

I am not kidding:

Anyway, my parent’s house is for sale so they can move into their new house on the new farm, so I have to be here to clean in case a realtor needs to do a showing. But I’m also here to look out for my grandmother, who has been having a little heart trouble and shouldn’t be left alone, just in case.

Now, my grandmother is known for her reading. When we cleaned out her house after my grandfather died we moved an unbelievable amount of paper grocery bags of paperbacks out from her attic. Oodles and oodles of grocery bags, filled to the brim with dimestore paperbacks. Bodice-rippers, mostly. But my grandmother also read every Anne Rice book ever, the entire Clan of the Cave Bear series, and now she and my mother are working through the Diana Gabaldon books. Because my mother? Totally a reader, too. Those two aren’t very technically-minded (my mother still doesn’t know how to save a word document), and so instead of surfing the net for fun like I do, they read. They claim to go to bed early -like at 8PM- but we all know they stay up hours past ‘bedtime’, just reading.

For a myriad of reasons (the time period, small town, domineering men), my mother and grandmother bonded over reading. I feel like they used it as an outlet. Reading was something that was entirely theirs, a secret world hidden right in front of their men that they could slip into at any time. Come to think of it, the only times I can remember them complimenting people outside the family was if those people were talk show hosts (lol), or authors.

As my parents’ first, when I was a baby I was read to constantly. To the point where I had memorized every word of certain books and could recite ‘read’ them back to my mother. The importance of reading was strongly emphasized. I remember my first Hooked on Phonics kit – a huge, blue cardboard suitcase with flashcards and workbooks that we went through every night after dinner. I was sitting on my other grandmother’s lap when I read my first book on my own – Hop on Pop, by Dr. Seuss.

So what I’m saying is that I grew up seeing the women around me reading and gushing over their books. Is it any wonder I caught the reading bug, too? Reading by nightlight after light’s out, constructing reading cubbies out of blankets and toys under my bed, spending all my saved up money on books at Goodwill, and poring over every Scholastic catalog for the books I was most dying for my parent’s to order.

Now that I’m a somewhat professional writer, I keep my mother up to date on the status of my projects, though she’s never yet read one of my books. Just now as I was making tea with my grandmother, I started telling her about the part I’m working on in the sleeping beauty retelling, where we view a magical flashback of all the terrible things one of the characters was forced to do to survive. I told her about how the plot for this story is particularly tricky, with everyone lying about what really happened and the truth being just as convoluted as any of the lies, and my grandmother asked me how writers managed to keep it all straight. So I told her about notecards and pinning stuff to bulletin boards, and how I personally kept track of this story, which was by creating world building documents, and different documents for each version of the truth.

Then it hit me. My personal feelings about writing aside, what I became is more of a result of my family history than I thought. Somehow during the years I was growing up, I entered into the magical club my mother and grandmother idolized. I became one of the women who brings them the stories they turn to at night. I penetrated the world of books from the other side, and learned more about the process than they’d ever dreamed.

So while I give myself a lot of credit for how this all turned out, I’ve realized I didn’t really have anything to do with how it all started. That was my mother, and her mother. It was all the books they passed down to me, all the stories my mother waited until I was old enough to hear (reading The Witching Hour by Anne Rice is like a rite of passage in this family).

Of course I view being a writer as a rare, magical thing. This family managed to create one, and I want to honor what they gave me with true success one day. I always considered writing a form of giving back to readers, but today I realized it’s also giving back to my family.

So enough blabbering about it :-) Time to return to the sleeping beauty story. But if you want to share how your family affected your reading or writing, I will check back in later and read your stories.

<3, Savannah


7 thoughts on “In The Blood: How my family influenced me to become a writer

  1. Glaiza says:

    I blame my older sister for introducing me to books =). When we were kids, we never really talked and there was this unspoken rule about not being allowed to touch anything that belonged to her – except the book shelf. She dropped Harry Potter in my lap when I was 9 and later let me read the adult sci-fantasy books she borrowed in high school because I wasn’t old enough yet according to the library labeling system (I was 14, I think). So I blame her for pointing me to the door where I’ve been happily wandering through ever since then =)

    • Savannah Foley says:

      Ha! This reminds me of my relationship with one of my own sisters. My littlest sister is basically me 10 years younger. She looks like me, we have the same mannerisms, etc. But because I live in my own house I don’t see her much, and our relationship has basically morphed into me giving her books and asking later if she read them, lol.

      And as for the library labeling system… forget that! Thank God they didn’t have that when I was in school, but my little sister (Same one) had to deal with that. They basically wouldn’t let you read up. Made no sense.

  2. Ellen says:

    My parents are both huge readers. My mom is a reference librarian for the second biggest library in the state, and has been since before I was born. When my sister and I were kids, my mom would take us to the library every few weeks and wander us through–first the picture book, and then the MG shelves–pulling out books that she’d read, or books she thought we’d like.

    When my sister started learning to read she had a ton of trouble with it. I remember her insisting that she, “Just wasn’t going to be a reader.” My mom was the one who took her to the library and marched her through the entire thing until they’d found books she thought looked interesting. She and my dad took turns sitting with her and helping her learn, and now my sister is the person I most talk books with.

    My dad is a professional writer too–a newspaper reporter for a major paper near where we live. From the moment I decided that I wanted to be a writer, he was the one I looked up to because he’d been published. I’d read his stories and take notes of what he’d do and how he’d use language or include facts. Today, my parents are two of my best editors. They were the ones who turned my novel around enough for me to even attract the attention of agents, much less get requests.

    I wouldn’t even be close to where I am now if it hadn’t been for my parents. <3

    • Savannah Foley says:

      I firmly believe that intelligence and reading is strongly correlated. Good for your mom for making you and your sister learn how to read well! I think that kids who ‘don’t like to read’ both haven’t read the right books yet, and also don’t know how to do it. When you’re stumbling over the words and your eyes haven’t been trained to it so you get headaches, I totally understand how people could dislike reading. I think schools should take some time when introducing reading to tell students what reading is like AFTER you learn how to do it well. It’s amazing. Transportive. A movie in your mind.

      Anyway. Your parents sound amazing :-) I have so much respect for them for getting involved with your writing. I’ve kept my parents out of mine because they’re both not writers and I don’t want to show them anything less than perfect, lol. Plus it’s so personal, you know? Yes, somehow I can share my work with the whole internet, but sharing with my parents feels too squicky. :-)

  3. Tamara Walsh says:

    I wish my parents had lived long enough to know that I ended up a writer. Maybe not in the technical sense, (no agent yet) but in every other way. I think they’d have been proud. I’m 43, so I grew up without video games etc… We didn’t even have a VCR until I was sixteen. So we read. I still remember the first book I ever read by myself. The Plump Pig. I think I was about four. My kids aren’t as into reading as I am, (the internet is a big competitor for their time) but they DO read and they still (at 13 and 16) love being read to. We read together as a family almost every night, which is awesome. I hope they hold onto the tradition with their own kids. My parents never read to us, but I guess growing up surrounded by books was enough to instill a lifelong love of them. Hopefully I’m managing to do the same for my own kids. I didn’t discover until my late thirties that writing can transport me just as much as reading. I think I was too busy before that raising my kids. (I have two older ones as well, out of the house now) I can’t imagine ever giving it up though. It fills part of me that was always missing and I’ve been happier in the last five years of being a frustrated writer than I ever was before. haha. Now all I have to do is get that agent and make some money at it.

      • Tamara Walsh says:

        Thanks! It’s a lot of fun. We’re currently re-reading The Mortal Instruments by Cassie Clare (We all love those books, my little grandson is even named Jace after the MC) and we’re also reading The Gunslinger series by Stephen King, which is too old for my thirteen year old, but the ability to edit what she hears is one of the perks of reading out loud. haha. I love the new title for the Sleeping Beauty book. Very catchy! And those pics you posted were cool too, especially the second one with the girl covered in roses and kind of falling through the sky.

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